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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

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Tuesday
Dec032013

Beneath the Palms: A Mafia Landmark in Palermo to Close

Is it last call at the hotel Lucky Luciano made famous?


by Carl Russo


Lucky Luciano

AFTER WORLD WAR II, America’s population of junkies swelled to hysteria-inducing numbers, courtesy of the New York Mafia families that pushed French-made heroin. The Narcotic Control Act, passed by the US Congress in 1956, took a sledgehammer to the illegal trade: two hundred gangsters suddenly found themselves serving forty-year prison sentences. Their brethren in Sicily, while finding it lucrative to smuggle morphine in orange crates, were still more invested in peddling contraband cigarettes. Lucky Luciano’s Mafia summit of October 1957 changed all that. The Sicilian-born gangster, recently booted from America, summoned New York boss Joe Bonanno and his associates to Palermo for a four-day convention with the leaders of Cosa Nostra.”

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Wednesday
Nov132013

The Blurb is the Word

Authors opine on The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide

by Carl Russo

Detail of book coverTHE SLOW REVVING UP up of my book release begins with an Amazon preorder offer (great price!) and that helpful promotional device called The Blurb. Although the US book launch has been delayed by a few weeks to February 1, 2014, followed by a UK rollout a few months later, I'd like to share the opinions of some respected authors kind enough to indulge my manuscript and blurb it. (I thank them.)

Here are few by-the-numbers details for the curious: 244 pages, 55,000 words, 202 photographs, 1 map, 5.5 × 8.5 inches, $18.95 at the brick-and-mortars. Here's a closeup of the cover, and here’s the final page index.

Media inquiries are welcome via email.

 

AUTHORS RECOMMEND

The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide

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Saturday
Oct052013

Klieg Light in the Piazza

by Carl Russo

MY LOCAL VIDEO STORE has something Netflix doesn’t: a beautifully rendered bootleg DVD of The Day of the Owl (a.k.a. Il Giorno della Civetta, a.k.a. Mafia; 1968). I’ve waited years to see this filmed version of Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia’s greatest work. Considered the first accurate depiction of the Mafia in fiction, the crime novel was a hot controversy when it was published in 1961—years before the existence of the criminal organization was officially acknowledged in Italy.

Leonardo SciasciaThe film has all the trappings of a sixties international co-production: a widescreen format, slightly garish Technicolor, a dub job of varying accents and an international cast. The Hollywood name attached to the project was Lee J. Cobb, the great heavy who plays untouchable godfather Don Mariano Arena. His American-accented baritone is the only original voice you hear in this English-language version of the film. (I’d like to see and hear the Italian version as well, but then I’d lose Cobb’s essence.)

Claudia Cardinale plays the wife of a disappeared Mafia lackey. Fending for herself, she expresses fear, rage and dignity at once with a furrowing of her brow. (The sixties icon, born of Sicilian parents in Tunisia, commanded the screen five years earlier as the demure Angelica in a more famous coproduction, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, based on Tomasi di Lampedusa’s celebrated Sicilian novel).

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Sunday
Sep082013

Daughters of Darkness

by Carl Russo

CIAK! Sicilian supremodel Eva Riccobono’s latest comments about her home town have caused anti-Mafia leaders to wish she’d practiced omertà: “I go to Palermo once a month to recharge my batteries,” she told Italian Vanity Fair, “but some things about the Palermitans I don’t like, like the Mafia mentality. I hate the ones who always complain and expect favoritism [la raccomandazione], and especially family tribalism [familismo] and harassment.”

Ninetta BagarellaSpecial Anti-Mafia Commission president Sonia Alfano shot back: “What [Riccobono] said about Palermitans is very serious and ungenerous, for several reasons. To say that the Mafia mentality is dominant in Palermo is a sign of profound ignorance and superficiality.”

As the daughter of journalist Beppe Alfano, murdered by a clan of Messina province, Ms. Alfano is justifiably attentive to how the anti-Mafia struggle is framed. This center-left politician is a reliably trenchant talking head on legal and historical matters of Mafia.

But Alfano and others who object to Palermo’s characterization as a backwater of patronage seem to miss the point. It’s all too easy to mistake a fashion model’s candor for “superficiality.” Despite the strong gains of activists, the arrests of numerous bosses and the seizure of their considerable assets, Palermo is not yet rid of the Mafia. One need only read the dozens of online comments left by frustrated residents below reports of the model's indiscretion. These can be summed up in four words: “Eva speaks the truth!”

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Thursday
Aug082013

Mad Dons and Englishmen

by Carl Russo

THE NEWS WIRES are burning about today’s capture of Domenico Rancadore, a convicted Mafia boss who skipped Sicily to become a travel agent in the UK. I thought the Internet had rendered that profession obsolete, but, apparently, booking holidays was enough to let Rancadore cruise the streets of London in Jags and Mercedes (Mercedeses?). Unless he had some side bets going.

Bernardo ProvenzanoI learned something about jolly ole England from this news: Mafia association is not a crime there. It wasn’t a crime in Italy either until a string of high-profile assassinations compelled Parliament to pass restrictive laws, in 1982. That would explain why the news agency ANSA could report the following: “Convicted of Mafia association and sentenced to six years incarceration, Mafia boss Domenico Rancadore, 62, is living in London with his wife and two children, say Italian police.” The article was dated eighteen months ago!

An interesting coincidence about this ill-tempered mobster known as “u profissuri”—“the professor”: like his fellow Caccamo boss Nino Giuffrè, Rancadore was a teacher-turned-mafioso. Giuffrè became a pentito—a witness for the state—and gave authorities a wealth of information about Corleone godfather Bernardo Provenzano’s underground business empire. I’d put money on Rancadore’s turning pentito, too, if only to save his own culo.

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