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Entries in Corleone (23)

Saturday
May092015

Born to Run: Angelo Provenzano’s Mafia Burlesque

Despite an uproar from Mafia victims, the godfather’s son still entertains tourists in Sicily

by Carl Russo

Bernardo ProvenzanoNobody envies Angelo Provenzano his childhood. As the son of a fugitive boss—the boss of Cosa Nostra from the late 1990s to the mid-aughts—the boy suffered a bizarre and paranoid upbringing. The Provenzanos were kept on the run for the first sixteen years of his life. “I was born and brought up in captivity,” he said in later years. Things barely improved when his mother took Angelo and younger brother Francesco Paolo, in 1992, to live in the family’s hometown of Corleone. The boys had to run a gauntlet of paparazzi on their first day of high school. Police raided their home at all hours in hopes of catching their father on a secret visit.

During those years, investigators had no idea that Bernardo “Binnu the Tractor” Provenzano was holed up in a tiny shack on the mountain that overlooks Corleone, the Mafia city of fact and fiction. Binnu wanted his common-law wife Saveria Benedetto Palazzolo to raise their sons openly, giving them a normal life and a proper education, and steering them clear of the illicit career path of most Mafia sons. But constant police surveillance, intense family secrecy, and a strained relationship with their fugitive father took a toll on the boys. Little Francesco Paolo was especially resentful of Binnu’s absence. After high school, their job prospects were blocked wherever their father’s reputation had preceded them.

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Sunday
Apr062014

Last Days of the Lo Piccolos, part 1

The rise and fall of a father-and-son Mafia team

by Carl Russo

[This two-part article is a prequel to the chapters about the Lo Piccolo crime family in my book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide.

Salvatore Lo PiccoloGASPARE PULIZZI WAS DIGGING at a plate of tortellini with sea bass when a car pulled up to his house. Inside the vehicle were two men, one freshly killed, and Pulizzi was told he’d been assigned to bury the corpse by the bosses responsible for the murder: Salvatore Lo Piccolo and his son Sandro.

The dead man was racketeer Giovanni Bonanno, the son of tough Palermo gangster Armando Bonanno, who had disappeared when Giovanni was just a teen. Now it was Giovanni's turn to vanish, into the soil of a makeshift Mafia graveyard by the freeway a few miles west of Palermo. Pulizzi, following orders, stepped into the car.

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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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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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Saturday
Jun082013

Strange Breadfellows

by Carl Russo

Giovanni FalconeA TAVOLA! The Corriere della Sera reports on the tasteless pub grub of a Vienna eatery inspired by both The Godfather movies and the slain anti-Mafia heroes of Sicily. The name of the establishment? Don Panino, of course, where the menu offers the Don Peppino, a sandwich based on the murdered activist Giuseppe Impastato. The dish is described as “a loud-mouthed Sicilian cooked by a bomb like a barbecued chicken.”

The pièce de résistance is the Don Falcone—a dubious tribute to Sicily's beloved Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, blown up in 1992. It's a pork sausage that comes with the legend: “He earned himself the title of the greatest rival of the Mafia in Palermo, but unfortunately he will be grilled like a wurst.” Makes your mouth just water, doesn't it?

Someone was offended enough to launch an online petition protesting Don Panino's “advertising strategy on the glorification of awful crimes perpetrated by the Mafia in Italy.” At the time of this writing, the restaurant's website is down.

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Saturday
May042013

Teasers R Us


by Carl Russo


Giuseppe Impastato

“Giuseppe Impastato used every available medium to battle the Mafia. In 1976, he founded a small FM radio station and called it Radio Aut. His signature show, Onda Pazza—“Crazy Wave”—was a series of satirical dramas about life in “Mafiapoli,” a substitute for Cinisi. Music and sound effects wryly underscored the dialogue of Peppino and friends. Local politicians were lampooned mercilessly to the porcine snorts of Pink Floyd’s “Pigs.” An obvious caricature of Don Tano Badalamenti depicted the capo praying for a Christian Democrat win, mixed with the ricochets of bullets from an old western. Young people brought portable radios to bars and listened in groups. The show was a hit." 

 —excerpt from The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide by Carl Russo, coming in 2014 from Strategic Media Books

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