Search
Saturday
Mar082014

Tales from the Crypt

Why are coffins stealing the headlines in Sicily? (Short answer: who knows?)

by Carl Russo

Detail of a tombstone in PalermoWHAT’S UP WITH SICILIAN COFFINS this year? You just can’t keep ‘em down. It started with an article in La Repubblica last month about a finely crafted pine box that showed up at a wedding, in 2012, as a cruel gag gift. The bride also received a sinister message on her answering machine: “This coffin is not for your husband but for you and your entire malarazza”—a colossal dis of her family.

A trial bringing harassment charges to two men and a woman, former friends of the couple, began on January 30. Although the targets of the prank have decided not to sue, they issued the following (under)statement: “We’re not interested in money, but these are things you just don’t do.” The couple has left Sicily permanently. It was a truly sick joke, but at least the coffin was empty.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb072014

Sacred and Profane: The Heavens Open Above a Mafia Stronghold

The Sistine Chapel of Sicily is restored after 46 years in the dark, and Riina sings (by accident)

by Carl Russo

Totò RiinaTRAVELERS FOLLOWING the itineraries of my new book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide, might be surprised to encounter something beautiful in Castelvetrano, a city darkened by its criminal history. Notorious as the place where the bandit Salvatore Giuliano was gunned down, and now the home base of fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro, the Castelvetranesi can be proud of one thing: they’ve got the Sistine Chapel of Sicily.

Beginning today, the first time since the great quake of 1968 forced its closure, worshippers and wanderers alike may behold one of the finest spectacles the Late Renaissance has to offer: a sixteenth-century masterpiece by Antonino Ferraro of Giuliana, Sicily.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan152014

Mean Cuisine: Why Mafia, Meat and Murder Go Together

Take the gun, try the cannoli

by Carl Russo

Salvatore InzerilloMAFIA BOSSES WORK BEST on a full stomach, notes Michael Day in Sunday’s The Independent. He brings up a banquet held six years ago in Palermo’s Zen district, a traditional Mafia stronghold. An excerpt from my new book describes that gathering of Sicilian bosses at the Villa Pensabene:

 

As lookouts circled the premises on scooters, fifteen mobsters strolled in, a mixture of old blood and new. A Sicilian antipasto of chickpea fritters and oysters whetted their appetites for the daylong champagne luncheon.

The business agenda was full that day: infiltrating jobs at the city’s new soccer stadium, vengeance for past offenses and, most important, forming a new Mafia Commission now that godfathers Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore Lo Piccolo had been arrested.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan012014

In With the New

January 2014 book release: The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide

by Carl Russo

THE DARKEST DAYS of winter behind us, we’re revived by a faith that the new year will be better than the last. Yeah, good luck with that.

But hark! What soulful cry drifts over Mediterranean waves, a seductive song resounding across millennia, beseeching us to come ever nearer? A Siren, serenading us with her ancient, haunting melody. Sure, it just might be the wailing of a police cruiser in Palermo, running down street soldiers of the neighborhood Mafia gang. But it’s too late, we’re mesmerized—Sicily beckons, and Mount Etna roars with approval.

Fantasy aside, there’s no better time to ask Sicily to give up her secrets, and not just because airfare wars have reduced the price of European plane tickets to the cost of pizza for two. February is the perfect month to visit. The thaw below the peaks will be well under way. This is a picture I took last February, not far from the city of Caltanissetta.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec252013

Santa's Got a Brand New Bag

Saint Nick vs. the Sicilian Mob: A True Story

by Carl Russo

‘TWAS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, when all through the malls,
The local extortioner was making his calls.

Mafia Exposed’s favorite yuletide tale has its origins, according to historians, in the ancient settlement of Misterbianco, a suburb of Catania, circa 2010 A.D. It’s an old chestnut about the jolly fat man working pro bono in front of a housewares store during the holiday shopping crunch.

Santa Claus spent his days handing out candy to the good little children at the mall, waiting to catch the naughtiest boy on his list, Salvatore Politini, a “tax collector” for the Santapaola clan.

The secret Santa was, in fact, an undercover agent of the Carabiniere, Italy’s militarized police. The squad placed cameras around the store that for more than a decade had been forced to pay the mob 260 euros a month.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Dec192013

Unsung Heroes, Unstrung Hooligans

A beating by the Mafia didn’t change the mind of one stubborn shopkeeper


by Carl Russo

OUR FASCINATION with the Mafia is in part a leer at the organization’s endless capacity to apply brute force in creative ways. To wit, last month’s story of a screaming victim tossed to ravenous pigs. But we’re also drawn to Mafia stories for the old good/evil dichotomy, Davids versus Goliaths armed to the teeth and cruel.

Giovanni BruscaOne news story with classical overtones is set in Noce, a traffic-snarled quarter of Palermo known as a Mafia stronghold since the late nineteenth century. A series of police crackdowns between October 2012 and March 2013 rid the local business community of pesky extortioners—for a few months, anyway. Cosa Nostra abhors a power vacuum: a new set of “tax collectors” soon descended on Noce merchants, demanding the pizzo—“protection” payments.

Those who hesitated to pay were duly punished, among them an artisanal carpenter who lost his Alfa Romeo to arson and was shot in the leg. Reporters noted that the new Mafia leader behind the attacks, 37-year-old Giuseppe Castelluccio, was also a carpenter. That irony grew darker with another reprisal against a holdout merchant, this time involving a blunt tool essential to the craft trade. But let’s take it back to last summer

Click to read more ...