Search

Entries in Michele Pantaleone (2)

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.

Click to read more ...

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

Click to read more ...