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Entries in Brancaccio (9)

Wednesday
Dec242014

Malarazza: Rocking in the Old World

Sicilian “hicks” strike from the heartland

by Carl Russo

Pino Puglisi“AMMAZZARU lu parrinu!”—“They killed the priest!”—are the words heard rising above deafening cicadas in the dusty Sicilian countryside. A distraught little boy shouts them as he tears across an abandoned ranch, cuing a band of musicians to strike up a rocking lament for the slain cleric. The folkloric tune, recorded in 2012 and titled “Zio Pino,” has just been released as a music video, and it’s become a minor sensation in the land of the Mafia.

Father Pino Puglisi, the “uncle” of the song’s title, was assassinated in 1993 for his very public stance against the mob operating around his tiny parish on the outskirts of Palermo. His story has inspired numerous tributes, from staged plays to comic books to TV cartoons. This rousing number is performed by Malarazza 100% Terrone, a name that reclaims two epithets frequently heaped upon Sicilians by northerners who should know better. Loosely translated: malarazza = bad blood; terrone = hick.

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Wednesday
May292013

Deal Me In

by Carl Russo

Italy’s trial of the century will probably last for another century. But, unlike past Mafia trials that prosecuted hundreds of mobsters at the same time, this one is down to only ten defendants. And they're not only mafiosi but also high-placed public officials who are being charged.

Nicola MancinoThe crime? Brokering a secret deal in the early 1990s: in exchange for lighter punishments for its members, the Mafia would stop killing so many of those high-placed public officials. You can read the details of the historic trial—the so-called Trattativa (Negotiation)—here.

This video was shot outside the Palermo courtroom hosting the trial. Nicola Mancino, Italy's Interior Minister during the years of the alleged Trattatvia, is jeered by protestors shouting, "Shame! Shame!"

Mancino is accused of hiding evidence of the covert talks from prosecutors. Earlier, on the stand, he bristled at appearing "in the same trial as the Mafia," i.e., in the company of reviled godfathers like Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. Mancino wants to star in his own trial, maybe?

Those red books being waved by the demonstrators represent Judge Paolo Borsellino's missing journal, swiped from the wreckage of his assassination site twenty years ago.

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Saturday
Feb162013

Love is Cold

by Carl Russo

Of the two Sicilians killed by gunmen on motor scooters this week, only one was a member of the Mafia. It happened in the notorious Brancaccio quarter of Palermo, site of the 1993 assassination of anti-Mafia priest Pino Puglisi. In fact, the victim, a 50-year-old man named Francesco Nangano, was considered close to hitman Gaspare Spatuzza, one of the cleric's murderers.

Gaspare SpatuzzaNangano was driving along Brancaccio's waterfront yesterday when two men on a scooter caught up with him. One fired six bullets, stopping him cold in front of the neighborhood gelateria.

Though only a mid-level mafioso, Nangano has had his fair share of media attention. After serving a few sentences for Mafia association before going on the lam, he was caught, tried and sentenced to life for a murder he didn't commit. Released after nearly five years behind bars, the Italian state cut him a €270,000 check to make up for his "unjust detention."

But there's a soap-opera element to Nangano's story. As a fugitive, in 2001, he carried on a love affair with a social worker who served on the jury of a number of Mafia trials. She defended her man, believing him innocent of every charge they threw his way. Naturally, the woman was relieved of her juridical duties.

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Friday
Nov302012

Boondock Saint

by Carl Russo

A famed anti-Mafia priest gets the Scooby-Doo treatment in the animated kiddie show, “La Missione di 3P.” (After all, “anime” is Latin for “soul.” ) 3P is Padre Pino Puglisi, whose impolitic sermons against the gangsters of his outpost parish in Brancaccio earned him a fatal “rosary of gunshots,” as they say in Italy, in 1993.

As seen in the trailer below, the RAI-TV series adds hair to the ecclesiastic and casts him, appropriately, as a crime fighter. The jazzy show-tune theme has a catchy chorus anyone can translate:

Pino PuglisiIo parlo con Dio, Dio parla con me.

Pio, amico mio, Pio parla con te.”

But the production is cheap—farmed out to a Korean animation house?—and the didactic tone won’t earn too many young converts. (For junior do-gooders with A.D.D., I'd recommend the new book, Invasion of the Cockroaches: The Mafia Explained to Kids.)

Puglisi is in the spotlight on terra firma as well. His remains will be transfered to Palermo’s grand cathedral and Pope Benedict plans to beatify him in May 2013. I’m all in favor of canonizing a cleric who demonstrated bravery instead of magic tricks, but if kids actually tune in to “La Missione di 3P," we’ll have the miracle, too.

Click to see the photosI’d also like to see sainthood bestowed on another 3P, Pastor Pietro Panascia, even if he wasn’t a Roman Catholic. Panascia organized a protest in 1963 after a car bomb in Ciaculli blew up seven officers of the carabiniere. His demonstration, which he titled “An Initiative for the Respect of Human Life,” was shrugged off by Palermo Archbishop Ernesto Ruffini as “a ridiculous attempt by a speculative Protestant.”

That was the same Ruffini who considered the Mafia to be nothing more than simple Sicilian delinquency and/or a communist plot.

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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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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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