Zero tolerance Italian-style
Is the Bel Paese turning into the biggest nanny state in the planet? It's well known that Italy surpasses all of its European neighbours when it comes to devising picky laws that drive its citizens and unsuspecting tourists to distraction, but this summer, Berlusconi's government has really lost the run of itself. First, public kissing came under the knife. Then sandcastles got the boot. Now the latest crime against humanity is possession of a squeaky sandal.
If you're taking a trip to Capri, pack your sling-back stilettos at your peril. The merest hint of an offending click from your heels as they hit the pavement could leave a serious dent in your holiday money.
Fines worth thousands of euro are being slapped on residents and visitors who breach this new raft of petty laws aimed at 'protecting public security' and maintaining 'decorum' in a country that fancies itself as the cultural capital of the world.
Other bizarre bans imposed up and down the boot of late include feeding pigeons or wild cats, hanging towels out of windows to dry, or building sandcastles on the beach in case they obstruct the passage of people strolling on the sand.
If you eat a slice of pizza or take a snooze on Rome's Spanish Steps, you're technically a criminal, while authorities on the glamorous island of Capri will track you down if you have the temerity to wear wooden clogs, save a spot on the beach with your towel, or accept a massage, a breach that could cost up to €10,000.
And if you're dropping into nearby Positano, don't wear your wedges. They too have got the chop on its precipitous streets. Over in Eboli, near Salerno, a mere hug between consenting adults in a car can result in a fine of €500. Bikini-clad women who wander away from the beach in some cities are also breaking the law, and watch out if you happen to take a seat on a park bench in the city of Novara. Two people may sit on it, but if a third comes along, and the clock has struck 11pm, all three will be targeted with fines.
This new public-order clampdown comes courtesy of the country's interior ministry, partly to ease anger among local councils over budget cuts. Mayors have been given carte blanche to draw up their own laws against personal gripes that raise their temper and police have been enforcing them with rigour.
The Italian press has been scathing about Berlusconi's so-called 'security emergency', calling it a return to the fascist, 'straightjacket days' of the Mussolini era. At the last count, the number of new local prohibitions soared to 150, according to the daily 'La Stampa'.
Last month, two friends were fined €160 each for daring to sit on the steps of a statue in Milan. In another case, an Austrian pensioner who gave a street vendor €7 for a fake Louis Vuitton handbag had to fork out €1,000 in a fine after being spotted by police on a beach near Venice.
At Ostia, Rome's most popular beach, helicopters stalk the skies overhead for vendors of counterfeit designer bags, making for a truly relaxing holiday experience.
Even Vatican City is getting in on the act with a new dress code being enforced throughout the state this month which previously applied only to St Peter's Basilica. A ban on 'immodest clothing' now extends to shorts and 'shoulder-revealing tops' across the holy city. La dolce vita? We don't think so.