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Entries in Ninetta Bagarella (8)

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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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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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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Friday
Mar222013

More Letters from Sicily

by Carl Russo

Below are more excerpts of emails sent to the funders of my Sicilian Mafia photo shoot, which concluded March 2. Where are all the photos? I'm saving them for the book, of course!

Ninetta BagarellaFEBRUARY 23: It took me four trips to Corleone over the years to get every photo I need, and the collection is now complete. Only in the last year did I find home addresses for godfathers Luciano Leggio and his protege, Totò Riina. Totò's sister still lives in the Riina house, but she has never been a problem. Getting the house of Riina's wife, Ninetta Bagarella—that's been intimidating.

She was born into the Mafia in this house and became the first woman to be convicted of Mafia association. Her husband Totò "the Beast", her eldest son and her brother are all behind bars. But with with the youngest son out of prison (living north) and a daughter who married a mafioso in town, I didn't want to let any menfolk catch me taking pictures of the house….

By my luck, I chose Saturday morning, the time the old women beat their rugs on their balconies and waddle off to the market. I waited for one to finish her errands—too short to be Ninetta—then powered up my tiny backup camera in my pocket and walked down that alley. I got to #24 and took three automatic shots of varying exposures. No screams, no guys yelling "O! O!"….

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Friday
Oct142011

The Second Coming of Junior

by Bluto Ray

Those cultured hooligans at the UK zine Sabotage Times have reprinted another piece from this blog—I’ve always wanted to work with Brando!

Which brings me to the biggest news for Mafia watchers this month: the release of convicted hood Giuseppe Salvatore Riina from prison. “Salvuccio” (“Bad Sal”), a.k.a. “Riina Junior,” is the son of a true-to-life godfather from Corleone, Totò Riina, who will stay in prison forever.

Giuseppe Salvatore "Salvuccio" RiinaIt was the second time the paparazzi had staked out the prison gate waiting for Salvuccio's liberation. In January 2008 he was let out early, six years into an eight-year sentence, while the court deliberated over his case. The image of the junior boss emerging from the maximum security fortress in a snow-white puffer vest and pink shirtsleeves had a creepily incongruous Milan Fashion Week vibe. At the end of the catwalk he stepped into an idling black Mercedes to reunite with the notorious first lady of the Cosa Nostra, Ninetta Bagarella, a.k.a. “Mamma.”

The European press ate it up, but the citizens of Corleone—the convict’s old neighbors—were appalled to have him back. (“He’s socially dangerous!” said the mayor.) Within a year, Salvuccio was ordered to finish his sentence for Mafia-related crimes; back to jail he went.

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