di Marcello Mento
Jesolo, October 28 - Giulia Arena, a 19-year-old Sicilian-born university student with a Dante quotation tattooed above her heart, was crowned the 74th Miss Italia in this seaside town near Venice Sunday night. Arena's triumph was the first shown on independent left-leaning broadcaster La7 after State TV RAI dropped it following a long row sparked by House Speaker Laura Boldrini accusing it of feeding perceptions of women as eye candy. Amid talks on who would carry the show, Boldrini slammed it as sexist and anachronistic, saying: "only 2% of women on television voice their opinions or even talk. The rest are dumb and often scantily clad". The 63 contenders responded by parading along Jesolo's seafront in T-shirts saying "Neither nude nor mute". One of the presenters, Neapolitan comedian Alessandro Siani, denied the show was a waste of taxpayers' money, telling the audience Italy needed to cut taxes, political corruption, bank aid and the influence of the mafia before "dashing these girls' dreams". Arena, the green-eyed, light-brown-haired daughter of a tax-police officer and a homemaker in Messina, has just enrolled at Milan's Catholic University to study law. She said she was influenced in her choice by a "passion" for English fuelled by trips to the United States, Canada and Malta. Arena is an animal lover who has two dogs, two parrots, two squirrels, a rabbit and several tanks of fish at her parents' home in the southeastern Sicilian city. The Dante tattoo just below her left shoulder bears some of the most famous lines in the Inferno, a stirring exhortation by Ulysses to his veteran crew to make one last daring trip in search of knowledge beyond the Pillars of Hercules. "I'm a proud daughter of Dante," said Arena, who succeeds another Sicilian, Giusy Buscemi from Agrigento, as Miss Italia. Audience figures Monday showed that, far from flopping as many media critics had predicted after its migration from RAI's flagship channel, the pageant won a sizeable 16% of ratings when the crown was placed on Arena's head. Miss Italia, first broadcast on the radio in 1950, has tried to address feminist concerns since its first live TV show in 1987. Starting in 1990 the chest, waist, and hip measurements of the contestants have no longer been judged, and in 1994 the contest was opened to married women and mothers. The 1987 winner was disqualified when it was later discovered she was married. In 1996 Denny Mendez, originally from the Dominican Republic, became the first black Miss Italia before finding TV success and getting a small role in Ocean's Twelve. Among the other participants who achieved later success in cinema and entertainment, most of whom did not win the competition, are: Silvana Pampanini, Sophia Loren, Lucia Bosè, Stefania Sandrelli, Simona Ventura, Anna Falchi and Martina Colombari.