In the early 1920s, Curzio Malaparte was summoned to meet Benito Mussolini. The young Italian diplomat, who went on to become a renowned foreign correspondent, had been overheard in a Roman café mocking Il Duce for wearing ugly ties. Having apologized for this potentially career-destroying jibe, Malaparte began to exit the dictator’s cavernous office. He then turned on his heels and said, “You’re wearing an ugly tie today as well.”
Such insouciant sprezzatura was typical of Malaparte (born Kurt Erich Suckert), whose adopted name could be loosely translated as “badass.” He would later be repeatedly imprisoned or placed under house arrest for various faux pas, such as bad-mouthing the aviator Italo Balbo, a much-revered folk hero in Fascist Italy.