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Entries in Leoluca Orlando (4)

Tuesday
Dec032013

Beneath the Palms: A Mafia Landmark in Palermo to Close

Is it last call at the hotel Lucky Luciano made famous?


by Carl Russo


Lucky Luciano

AFTER WORLD WAR II, America’s population of junkies swelled to hysteria-inducing numbers, courtesy of the New York Mafia families that pushed French-made heroin. The Narcotic Control Act, passed by the US Congress in 1956, took a sledgehammer to the illegal trade: two hundred gangsters suddenly found themselves serving forty-year prison sentences. Their brethren in Sicily, while finding it lucrative to smuggle morphine in orange crates, were still more invested in peddling contraband cigarettes. Lucky Luciano’s Mafia summit of October 1957 changed all that. The Sicilian-born gangster, recently booted from America, summoned New York boss Joe Bonanno and his associates to Palermo for a four-day convention with the leaders of Cosa Nostra.”

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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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Sunday
Sep082013

Daughters of Darkness

by Carl Russo

CIAK! Sicilian supremodel Eva Riccobono’s latest comments about her home town have caused anti-Mafia leaders to wish she’d practiced omertà: “I go to Palermo once a month to recharge my batteries,” she told Italian Vanity Fair, “but some things about the Palermitans I don’t like, like the Mafia mentality. I hate the ones who always complain and expect favoritism [la raccomandazione], and especially family tribalism [familismo] and harassment.”

Ninetta BagarellaSpecial Anti-Mafia Commission president Sonia Alfano shot back: “What [Riccobono] said about Palermitans is very serious and ungenerous, for several reasons. To say that the Mafia mentality is dominant in Palermo is a sign of profound ignorance and superficiality.”

As the daughter of journalist Beppe Alfano, murdered by a clan of Messina province, Ms. Alfano is justifiably attentive to how the anti-Mafia struggle is framed. This center-left politician is a reliably trenchant talking head on legal and historical matters of Mafia.

But Alfano and others who object to Palermo’s characterization as a backwater of patronage seem to miss the point. It’s all too easy to mistake a fashion model’s candor for “superficiality.” Despite the strong gains of activists, the arrests of numerous bosses and the seizure of their considerable assets, Palermo is not yet rid of the Mafia. One need only read the dozens of online comments left by frustrated residents below reports of the model's indiscretion. These can be summed up in four words: “Eva speaks the truth!”

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Friday
Apr222011

Whacking the Hive

by Bluto Ray

At a time when the Cosa Nostra enjoyed its greatest power--the late 1970s and early 1980s--the word “Mafia” was nowhere to be found in the Italian criminal code. Many politicians were still denying the existence of organized crime even as their colleagues were being systematically murdered. An independent-minded politician named Pio La Torre became the Mafia’s biggest enemy after he proposed a series of harsh new laws. He won in the end, even if he didn’t survive to see them enacted.

Pio La Torre

La Torre’s biography would fit into a behaviorist’s thesis that similar environmental conditions produce like personalities. Like many other young Sicilian men who embraced political activism in the postwar years, he was of hard-luck peasant stock that eked by under Mafia exploitation. He stepped in to replace the murdered Placido Rizzotto in the Corleone land reform movement, surviving at a time when dozens of other leftist leaders fell to the assassin’s bullet.

Born of illiterate parents in 1927, La Torre’s father, a former soldier, spent most of each year away from home working the citrus orchards outside of Palermo. His mother had higher hopes for young Pio and his four siblings, imploring them to get an education “so you won’t be forced to labor and die of hunger.” After receiving a law degree from the University of Palermo, he joined the Communist Youth Brigade in 1945 and took to penning hard-hitting newspaper editorials attacking the Mafia.

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