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Entries in Graviano brothers (3)

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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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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Sunday
Mar132011

Pushback

by Bluto Ray

You’re late for an appointment in downtown Palermo. The traffic was insane, the one-way streets ran you in circles, but, at last, you’ve found a space in a dark alley just big enough for your car. As you open the door and step out, a young man approaches.

“How long will you be?” he asks, smiling. You’re taken aback. You realize he wants money and you’re intimidated.

Vincenzo Conticello“About fifteen minutes,” you respond. It’s a lie but he might be a car thief. “How much is it?”

“Whatever you want,” he says with a shrug. You cough up a few euros and he thanks you graciously.

After an hour passes, you rush back to find your car safe and sound. As you pull out of the alley, you pass the young man who nods and flashes another smile. You feel taken and curse him under your breath. But as time goes on, you start to look for illicit parking attendants like him, and even feel uncomfortable leaving your car without paying somebody to protect it.

In southern Italy, paying the pizzo (in Sicilian, “u pizzu”) can feel like the natural order of things. The nineteenth-century grain farmers who turned over most of the harvest to overlords were expected to give an additional scoop, the pizzu, or beakful, to the estate guards. Thus, “wetting the beak” (“fari vagnari u pizzu”) became the tribute paid to the middlemen--the mafiosi who guaranteed distant landlords a smooth operation under threat of violence.

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