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Saturday
Feb182012

Shock Doctrine

by Bluto Ray

The word "polemicist" was invented for people like Vittorio Sgarbi, the conservative art critic and, until next week, mayor of Salemi, Sicily. A typically polarizing Sgarbism came during the winter holidays when he announced—echoes of “bunga bunga”—that his vice mayor should be a young woman with no political strings attached.

Vittorio SgarbiEver the curator, Sgarbi opened a Mafia museum in the middle of Salemi's old center in 2010. More Halloween spook-house than cultural institution, the attraction that bore a blood-splattered logo was made adults-only after the “slaughterhouse cabin” display reportedly sickened two visitors.

To his credit, the mayor refused a judge’s order to remove a newspaper blowup from the museum’s wall depicting the arrest of Salemi natives Ignazio and Nino Salvo. Nino’s widow had made the initial request, adding that her husband, though indicted, had died days before his trial. (The Salvo cousins, entombed in the town cemetery, were decidedly mafiosi per investigations.)

Yet Sgarbi the freedom fighter has threatened to sue art critics over unfavorable reviews. The headline-stealing curator who holds the contemporary art world in contempt made a keen mockery of it when he curated the Italian exhibit at last year’s Venice Biennale. According to a write-up,

 

“”The resulting display has the sprawling randomness of a flea market. There are works featuring sex, religion, violence, nudity, as well as a giant pomegranate and a polar bear. Also on show are multicoloured mummies in flagrante, and a beaten-up doll next to a sign that declares 'I'm a warrior not a doll.' In the middle of it all there are occasional gems such as Giovanni Iudice's depiction of refugees, Humanity, 2010, but unfortunately these get lost in the visual mess. Many are wondering if Sgarbi's exhibition is an ironic gesture—or an attempt to undermine Italian contemporary art.”

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Sunday
Jan292012

Homecoming

The kid who took on the Mafia's toughest killers

 by Carl Russo

Sutera, an isolated town in Sicily’s hinterland, is a captivating hodgepodge of adobe dwellings and baroque churches decaying quietly off the beaten tourist path. The picturesque locale, dominated by the jutting Mount San Paulino, was sufficiently antique for filmmaker Michael Cimino to use it as a stand-in for Salvatore Giuliano’s village in The Sicilian. Like the legendary bandit, Sutera’s favorite son eventually came home in a wooden box—minus the paparazzi and headlines.

Calogero Zucchetto

Calogero Zucchetto couldn’t wait to become a cop. He left his sleepy village of Sutera at a young age for the excitement of the big city. Before his twentieth birthday, he was on the team of bodyguards escorting Judge Falcone through the streets of Palermo. But the earnest and gangling “Lillo,” as his friends called him, was anxious to step out into the field as an agent—deadly work in the early 1980s, the hunting season of Cosa Nostra.

As soon as Zucchetto made the ranks of Palermo’s Mobile Squad, he insinuated himself into environments foreign to him: the bordellos and betting rooms of the city where he was sure to rub shoulders with the Mafia.

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Saturday
Dec172011

Plus Ça Change

by Bluto Ray

The rest of Italy may be falling apart under the eurozone crisis, but the agents of Sicily’s anti-Mafia police have been busy earning their Alfa Romeos. Big busts—the kind that steal headlines and inspire politicians to speechify—have been coming in rapid-fire succession. Whether the clans of the island are being “decapitated” (to use a favored term of the Italian press) or just being set back remains to be seen. But details emerging from current investigations point to the stubborn entrenchment of the Mafia in Sicilian society.

Enzo FragalàThere’s a persistence of irony as infuriating as amusing to news like the tidbit from Wednesday’s predawn capture of twenty-eight mafiosi around Palermo. On the sucker’s list of businesses extorted by the controlling gang of the Porta Nuova district is, allegedly, the production company of Squadra antimafia, a TV crime-soaper which enjoys high ratings on a Berlusconi network.

Neighborhood boss Calogero Lo Presti and his boys provided transportation, food and even cocaine to the cast and crew, according to the informant Monica Vitale, a former Mafia “tax collector” and ex-girlfriend of an imprisoned boss. (The real-life cops recorded a phoned complaint to the dealer who couriered the nose candy by scooter: “My ‘photocopy’ isn’t as good as those other ‘photocopies.’ How come?”) And just like a strong-arm union rule, the producers were forced to install a gang member on the crew.

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Sunday
Nov272011

A Deadly Peace

by Bluto Ray

For many years, Caccamo was a model city of the Mafia. The charming mountain village east of Palermo was run with the kind of criminal efficiency that only an iron-fisted boss can demand. Despite the thirty seats occupied by the City Council’s deputies, the one that counted was unelected: an easy-chair reserved for Don Peppino Panzeca.

Mico GeraciIn the mid-twentieth century, all of Caccamo’s public moneys ran through Don Peppino’s fingers, as did the town’s permit process. Those wishing to run for office or buy land or open a shop sought his approval. He settled marital disputes and baptized babies by no one’s authority but his own. Mafia murders were what happened far away from his placid dominion.

A succession of crime bosses continued to enforce the peace in Caccamo, leading to Nino Giuffrè, a former professor at the town’s technical school who joined the Mafia in 1980. Giuffrè was quickly befriended by the powerful capo Bernardo Provenzano, a civilized Dr. Jeckyll from Corleone at odds with his Hyde-like partner, Totò Riina.

Giuffrè was soon given a seat on the Mafia Commission where he and Provenzano represented the pacifist wing in discreet opposition to Riina’s sanguinary modus. After Riina’s arrest, Giuffrè became Provenzano’s right-hand “Manuzza,” so nicknamed for his deformed hand.

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Friday
Oct142011

The Second Coming of Junior

by Bluto Ray

Those cultured hooligans at the UK zine Sabotage Times have reprinted another piece from this blog—I’ve always wanted to work with Brando!

Which brings me to the biggest news for Mafia watchers this month: the release of convicted hood Giuseppe Salvatore Riina from prison. “Salvuccio” (“Bad Sal”), a.k.a. “Riina Junior,” is the son of a true-to-life godfather from Corleone, Totò Riina, who will stay in prison forever.

Giuseppe Salvatore "Salvuccio" RiinaIt was the second time the paparazzi had staked out the prison gate waiting for Salvuccio's liberation. In January 2008 he was let out early, six years into an eight-year sentence, while the court deliberated over his case. The image of the junior boss emerging from the maximum security fortress in a snow-white puffer vest and pink shirtsleeves had a creepily incongruous Milan Fashion Week vibe. At the end of the catwalk he stepped into an idling black Mercedes to reunite with the notorious first lady of the Cosa Nostra, Ninetta Bagarella, a.k.a. “Mamma.”

The European press ate it up, but the citizens of Corleone—the convict’s old neighbors—were appalled to have him back. (“He’s socially dangerous!” said the mayor.) Within a year, Salvuccio was ordered to finish his sentence for Mafia-related crimes; back to jail he went.

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Thursday
Sep222011

Patricide

by Bluto Ray

“Don Puglisi would not be proud of the Sicily of today, a Sicily that doesn't show more indignation,” declared a conservative politician last week at a gathering to commemorate a much loved priest. “The truth is that the Sicily of today isn’t worthy of the martyrs who fought the Mafia.” He berated the island’s young people as “dormant” and “embarrassing.”

Don Giuseppe PuglisiBut the politico’s words rang hollow later that evening as hundreds of teens took to the streets—along with parents, grandparents and teachers—in a torchlight procession to the spot where the cleric was murdered for his opposition to the Mafia.

The name of Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi will be forever associated with Brancaccio, a beat-up fringe of Palermo whose impoverished denizens are doubly cursed by urban decay and Cosa Nostra crossfire. Wedged between cliff and sea, railroad and freeway, smoggy Brancaccio sits in a historic battle zone of mafiosi.

Fearsome hoods like Michele “The Pope” Greco, Pietro “Little Mister” Aglieri and Stefano “The Falcon” Bontade trafficked and killed from Ciaculli to the south to Santa Maria del Gesù to the west. The atmosphere of violence and crime led the Sicilian-born Puglisi to take over the godforsaken parish in 1990, turning down plum assignments in richer neighborhoods despite his illustrious thirty-year career.

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