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Entries in Palermo (41)

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
Mar012015

Sicily’s Scarface: Is This Retired Cop a Former Mafia Hit Man?

Numerous witnesses place a man “with the face of a monster” at the scene of notorious Mafia crimes. Most agree he worked on behalf of Italian Secret Services.

by Carl Russo

Giovanni AielloACROSS FROM PALERMO’S palm and plane-shrouded Piazza della Vittoria lie the headquarters of Sicily’s state police department, accessible to authorized personnel through an arched entrance in a stately old villa. This genteel setting can turn in an instant to a scene of pandemonium following the arrest of a Mafia boss; squadrons of police cars, sirens screaming and lights strobing, descend upon the station like a military blitz. Crowds of citizens who’ve heard the news gather to cheer as one or another godfather of notoriety is frogmarched through the archway by his hooded captors.

It was during a moment of quiet at the department, in early 2014, when a 48-year-old Sicilian woman approached the armed guards stationed just inside the archway. Her ordinary appearance belied her pedigree as Mafia royalty. She was Giovanna Galatolo, daughter of a dynastic clan that controlled Palermo’s lucrative produce market for more than half a century. Her father, brothers, uncles and cousins were integral pieces of a killing machine that eradicated a slew of police officials and judges back when when capomafia Totò Riina ran the Sicilian mob, a generation ago. Now Giovanna was ready to betray her family to the police. “My life is my own,” she told a magistrate. “They can’t control me.”

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Wednesday
Dec242014

Malarazza: Rocking in the Old World

Sicilian “hicks” strike from the heartland

by Carl Russo

Pino Puglisi“AMMAZZARU lu parrinu!”—“They killed the priest!”—are the words heard rising above deafening cicadas in the dusty Sicilian countryside. A distraught little boy shouts them as he tears across an abandoned ranch, cuing a band of musicians to strike up a rocking lament for the slain cleric. The folkloric tune, recorded in 2012 and titled “Zio Pino,” has just been released as a music video, and it’s become a minor sensation in the land of the Mafia.

Father Pino Puglisi, the “uncle” of the song’s title, was assassinated in 1993 for his very public stance against the mob operating around his tiny parish on the outskirts of Palermo. His story has inspired numerous tributes, from staged plays to comic books to TV cartoons. This rousing number is performed by Malarazza 100% Terrone, a name that reclaims two epithets frequently heaped upon Sicilians by northerners who should know better. Loosely translated: malarazza = bad blood; terrone = hick.

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Saturday
Nov222014

Mmm Mmm Bonu! Campbell’s Inedible Sicilian Soup

Palermo’s new museum of vintage objects features a gruesome Mafia exhibit

by Carl Russo

Carlo Alberto Dalla ChiesaI DID A DOUBLE take when I came across this photo of a sculpture at Spazio Vintage (Vintage Space), a museum in Palermo overflowing with retro artifacts. The assemblage is a Warholian stack of soup cans under the brand name of Campbello di Licata, a play on the southern Sicilian city of Campobello di Licata.

Siccu, or, in Italian, secco—the word for dry—is a type of thick stew (usually made with beans) that can be eaten with a fork. Sealed with a golden Trinacria, you’ve got a clever faux product that no Sicilian would ever want to eat.

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Saturday
Aug022014

Bad Bambino: A Chat with a Sicilian-Englishman about His New Mafia Memoir

Author Francesco Scannella was groomed for a life in the Sicilian mob from age seven

by Carl Russo

Francesco ScannellaTHE ENGLISH GRAPHIC ARTIST Francesco Scannella has always felt the pull of a childhood spent in the land of his Sicilian immigrant parents. Sicilian Shadows, his newly published memoir of that period, reveals a fascinating dual citizenship of the mind. At a tender age, “Frank” was torn from the suburban idyll of 1960s Surrey and thrust into a Mafia backwater in Sicily’s blazing interior. All the passions, superstitions and ancient codes of the island were openly displayed in Mussomeli, Frank’s new home for several years, but mention of the Mafia was punishable.

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Sunday
Jun292014

Joe Petrosino: The Facts about the 1909 Mafia Murder that Stunned New York 

A braggart has just named one of the celebrated cop’s unknown killers

by Carl Russo

Joe PetrosinoMY FATHER’S UNCLE was named Paolo Palazzotto. He committed the first murder, the first murder, the first policeman killed in Palermo. My uncle killed him. Joe Petrosini, the American policeman who came here to investigate. He arrived from America, and he fucking came here to incarcerate and investigate the Mafia. So they killed him on behalf of Cascio Ferro.”

What sounds like someone ratting out his great-uncle is actually a grand boast by one Domenico Palazzotto to a fellow mobster, caught on police surveillance tape. “We’ve been mafioso for a hundred years!” he says, claiming that in 2009 his family celebrated the centennial of New York cop Joe Petrosino’s assassination, news of which was received as a national calamity in the United States in 1909.

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