As I leave Lucca, I open up my book, Let the Games Begin by Niccolo Ammaniti. ‘A raunchy and satirical romp,’ says Ian Rankin. ‘Debauchery on an epic scale,’ writes Big Issue. But I’m struggling. Take the characters for a start. There’s Fabrizio, in his crumpled designer suit, who is struggling to write a best seller and beds beautiful woman for breakfast. And there are the four Wilde Beasts of Abaddon, a Satanic cult, led by Manos, a frustrated furniture salesman who rapes his wife. They’re not even effective Satanists. Their most recent demonic act has been painting graffiti on a viaduct.
But Manos, fearful that his followers will defect to a rival cult, comes up with a plan. The Wilde Beasts of Abaddon will kidnap and kill Larita, a pop star, at a party to which every Italian celebrity has been invited. The host is rags to riches tycoon, Sasa Chiatta, who has bought up Villa Ada, previously a public park and is eager to show off his new-found wealth. Wild animals roam the grounds and, after lavish lunches, people go off on safari hunts. The occasional guest gets eaten by a crocodile and Zombie, a Wilde Beast of Abaddon, manages to blow himself up when cutting off the electricity power. The earth falls in and people tumble into tunnels where ex-Soviet sport stars have been hiding since the last Olympics. It’s as if I’m in a fantastic Fellini film with none of the director’s flair or elegance. Berlusconi and his bunga bunga parties would be mere sideshows at such a gathering.
As the train approaches Rome I lift my head up. There is graffiti everywhere – on the railway sidings, on public buildings and scrawled over publicity hoardings. I get off at Rome central station and take the metro. More graffiti on the inside and outside of trains, at the stations, in the lifts and along the escalators. I get out at Valle Aurelia, a concrete jungle in the shadow of an aqueduct. I look up. More graffiti on the steel pillars above me. The Wilde Beasts of Abaddon, those that have survived, must have gone on a rampage. A middle aged man, shifty, asks if I am lost. Do I need help? I feel an ill wind at my back. I turn round just in time to stop a member of this demonic, pickpocketing cult from stealing my purse. My backpack is unzipped and wide open.
I ring the b&b and the owner kindly comes to get me. But now I’m on high alert. The inside of the b&b looked so nice from the photographs with blood red napkins folded neatly on a black formica table. But there were no images of the outside of this Mussolini inspired block of flats. The corridors are the perfect hiding place for Satanic cults. And there’s not a restaurant, bar, museum or historic monument in sight.