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Entries in Calogero Vizzini (4)

Saturday
Aug022014

Bad Bambino: A Chat with a Sicilian-Englishman about His New Mafia Memoir

Author Francesco Scannella was groomed for a life in the Sicilian mob from age seven

by Carl Russo

Francesco ScannellaTHE ENGLISH GRAPHIC ARTIST Francesco Scannella has always felt the pull of a childhood spent in the land of his Sicilian immigrant parents. Sicilian Shadows, his newly published memoir of that period, reveals a fascinating dual citizenship of the mind. At a tender age, “Frank” was torn from the suburban idyll of 1960s Surrey and thrust into a Mafia backwater in Sicily’s blazing interior. All the passions, superstitions and ancient codes of the island were openly displayed in Mussomeli, Frank’s new home for several years, but mention of the Mafia was punishable.

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Saturday
May072011

Pompous Circumstance

by Bluto Ray

Some years ago, an old man opened a musty little shop of Mussolini souvenirs in the abandoned ruins of lower Ragusa. All your Fascist needs were priced and on display, from a painted antique trunk commemorating the dictator to postcards depicting his visit to the baroque city to black cigarette lighters bearing his face. In the collective memory of Sicilians, the Fascist reign over the island was an epoch of extreme repression and violence that followed Mussolini’s 1922 inauguration as the Prime Minister of Italy. But many old-timers still hold a flame for the Blackshirts who struck a decisive blow against the Mafia.

Cesare MoriThe crime bosses enjoyed a boost of prestige as the politicians they controlled were courted by early Fascists eager to align themselves with Palermo’s conservative leaders. But Mussolini’s suspension of electoral democracy in 1925 suddenly choked off their access to local politics.

Sicily was an unruly child in the mind of the Duce, and the only cure would be the firm hand of Fascist discipline. His methods had subdued the left-wing parties of the north--a success that increased support for him on the mainland. But reforming Sicily was essential if the strongman were to realize his dream of a totalitarian state. He had caught a glimpse of the island’s unique power structure a year earlier on the official state tour that passed through Ragusa.

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Sunday
Feb132011

Big and Little Wars

by Bluto Ray

A tiny dot on the map of Sicily called Villalba was a locus of Mafia activity thanks, in no small part, to the American Allied occupation of the island during World War II. With the Fascists in retreat, local Mafia bosses--effectively stifled under Mussolini--were being tapped by US commanders to fill the power vacuum and restore order. In rural Villalba the mayoral post was given to Calogero Vizzini, known to the peasants who kissed his hands as Don Calò.

Don Calogero VizziniThis barely-literate, cartoon-like mafioso with rubber features, fedora, and balloon pants hiked over his enormous belly had nevertheless been the territory’s most skilled powerbroker since the early twentieth century. The archetypal estate boss, who deftly manipulated the black markets in both world wars, was legitimized by a family of Catholic priests entrenched in local politics.

Though accused of dozens of murders and lesser crimes, Don Calò was reliably cleared with clergy support. (Part of his sizable fortune came from a land sale he brokered for a Parisian nobleman and a local bank run by his uncle, a priest. Don Calò kept five hundred acres as commission.) He was equally at ease cutting deals with industrialists in London or providing marital counsel to neighbors in Villalba, where he was respected, loved and feared

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Sunday
Dec122010

Dead or Alive

by Bluto Ray

Salvatore Giuliano

Mafia Exposed’s inaugural blog post concerns one of the Mafia’s most enduring mysteries, the life and death of Salvatore Giuliano. He is commonly referred to as Sicily’s most famous bandit, but in his home town of Montelepre, many still regard him as a hero sixty years after his death.

Giuliano’s early career as a wartime black marketer led to deadly confrontations with carabinieri forces, so he took to the foggy mountains around Montelepre with a gang recruited from the dirt-poor field workers and army deserters of the impoverished region. This is the point at which opinions about dashing young “Turiddu,” as he was called, divide.

Turiddu epitomizes the idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Reporters from around the world descended on tiny Montelepre in hopes of scooping an interview with the Sicilian Robin Hood famed for his daring robberies and romantic peccadilloes. But his involvement with a radical separatist group eager to see Sicily made into United States territory led to a murderous bombing campaign against the police.

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