By Stephanie Holmes
BBC News, Genoa, Italy
"We're all suffering from Berlusconi-itus!" exclaims Luigi Pastorini, an 85-year-old pensioner.
Voters have a bewildering array of parties to choose from
He has lived in this prosperous and traditionally left-leaning northern port city his whole life.
"It's a disease that attacks the organs of the state," he says, his white moustache barely hiding a smile. "But, don't worry, it isn't fatal. We just succumb to bouts of it now and again."
Across this city of 600,000, people are heading to the polls to decide who they want to govern Italy.
Former economics professor Romano Prodi is heading a centre-left group of parties against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the flamboyant media mogul who has led the country's longest-serving post-war coalition government.
Strong trade unions representing the thousands of workers in the port's heavy industries and a well-respected university have shaped Genoa's proudly leftist character.
In the narrow alleys and dark streets that criss-cross each other next to the port sits the Lorenzo Garaventa primary school.
Here the earliest voters have newspapers tucked under their arms and a few stop to grab a slice of the region's famous dimpled focaccia bread for breakfast.
Genoa has Italy's biggest port and is traditionally left-leaning
Massimo Giacometti and Francesco Dell'Orto, a former chef and hairdresser respectively, say they voted for Prodi's centre-left Union coalition.
"But we voted for the centre-left a bit grudgingly," Massimo says.
Francesca nods in agreement. "There were all those insults! And Prodi just refused to fight back," she adds.
Italy's parliamentary election campaign has been aggressively acrimonious, with mud-slinging and insults on both sides obscuring facts and policies.
Giovanni, 32, who works in a record shop in the city centre, is more outspoken. "I voted for the Communist Party. I hate Berlusconi and I want to get rid of him. He's embarrassed us internationally. It's made me almost ashamed to be Italian."
"I'm voting for the Lega," says defiant 68-year-old Elio Perdiucci, to the consternation of his wife.
Italy's Lega Nord is a small but vocal right-wing party advocating federalism for the country's richer northern regions and campaigning on a strongly-flavoured anti-immigration ticket.
"They, at least, are clean - they haven't had their fingers in the till!" he says, referring to the numerous corruption scandals that have shaken Italian politics.
"But Elio, that's not true," protests Francesca, who voted for Mr Prodi.
"This is a democracy, my dear. I can say what I like, can't I?"
Church, cake and state
On the other side of town, perched on a hill overlooking the bay, sits Castelletto. Here the streets are broader, lined with trees, and numerous pasticcerie - cake shops - tempt passers-by with their pastel-coloured tarts and chocolate eggs wrapped in ribbon.
By mid-morning the steps leading into the Mazzini school are crowded with people in their Sunday best.
The city takes pride in its rich, colourful history
Mass has just ended and now, clutching woven palm fronds in one hand and electoral cards in another, people are coming vote. Their next stop will be the cake shop for something sweet to round off their Sunday lunch.
"I voted for the centre-left for the Chamber of Deputies and for the centre-right for the Senate," said 33-year-old Chiara as she left the polling station. "I don't feel that there is a single party which really represents what I feel, so I ended up voting for both sides."
"I'm a practising Catholic and I always used to vote Christian Democrat," explained Signora Adrianna, 77. "But there are so many parties now that I'm confused. So I voted for the Pensioners' party - so that they start to listen to us."
Augusto Ettore, a 44-year-old office worker, says he voted for Gianfranco Fini's centre-right party, the National Alliance.
"I went to hear him speak a couple of weeks ago and I was very impressed. He is self-confident, assured. The centre-left can forget getting a vote from me - they're just spinning fables."
Two nuns stumble up the steps and then down again, moments later, rather flustered. "We've got the wrong polling station!" one smiles apologetically as they head out into the drizzle.