"Silent and humble manual tasks" are not something to which Silvio Berlusconi has ever felt naturally drawn. Before big business and politics he sold vacuum cleaners and sang on cruise ships.
Now, however, thanks to the Italian legal system, a very different kind of activity awaits him. His lawyer has said he intends to ask to serve his sentence for tax fraud in a community service placement.
Franco Coppi said that barring any last-minute changes, the former prime minister’s legal team would submit the request to the Milan courts by the end of this week. It would be then up to the judges to decide how to proceed.
The embattled 77-year-old billionaire has until the middle of the month to decide how to spend his commuted one-year sentence, which his lawyers reportedly hope will be further whittled down to nine months for good behavior.
Berlusconi could yet opt for house arrest, but for a man who continues to nurse great political ambitions despite recent setbacks, the logistical restrictions would perhaps prove unacceptable.
Last week he was forced to perform a humiliating U-turn in parliament following an unprecedented party rebellion, only for a committee then to recommend he be expelled from the senate due to the tax fraud conviction.
Community service, however arguably undignified, would allow Berlusconi to remain in the public eye in some capacity. It would also be unlikely to begin before the spring, buying him yet more time with which to try to rebuild a political power base that has never looked so shaky.
It remains unclear quite what publicly useful activity he would be assigned, but there is no shortage of charities and organizations keen to offer him a place.
"I would like very much to have him among my guys - not as an act of mischief but to work for his redemption," Antonio Mazzi, a Catholic priest from Exodus, a rehabilitative foundation, told La Repubblica. "I would like to be the one who gets him out of bed in the morning and tells him to make his bed. I would like him to do silent and humble manual tasks, starting with cleaning the bathroom."
Mazzi added: “At the moment he feels like the idol of the masses, but I think that inside he has something saveable. But he will have to sink his hands into the earth, plant his tomatoes in silence.”
This is perhaps not the likeliest of scenarios. Some of those close to Berlusconi object to the community service option because it usually implies a desire for rehabilitation and admission of guilt, neither of which the center-right leader – who has always insisted on his innocence – appears close to expressing.
Writing in La Stampa, the commentator Jacopo Iacobini suggested a more likely possibility: that Berlusconi would regard community service as a chance for rehabilitation of not his soul but his political brand.
He could be seen spending time “among poor children, troubled adolescents, 20-somethings with drug problems, young people with disabilities, abandoned elderly people”. It could yet prove, remarked Iacobini, “a glorious propaganda opportunity”.