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Entries in Paolo Borsellino (11)

Friday
Feb072014

Sacred and Profane: The Heavens Open Above a Mafia Stronghold

The Sistine Chapel of Sicily is restored after 46 years in the dark, and Riina sings (by accident)

by Carl Russo

Totò RiinaTRAVELERS FOLLOWING the itineraries of my new book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide, might be surprised to encounter something beautiful in Castelvetrano, a city darkened by its criminal history. Notorious as the place where the bandit Salvatore Giuliano was gunned down, and now the home base of fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro, the Castelvetranesi can be proud of one thing: they’ve got the Sistine Chapel of Sicily.

Beginning today, the first time since the great quake of 1968 forced its closure, worshippers and wanderers alike may behold one of the finest spectacles the Late Renaissance has to offer: a sixteenth-century masterpiece by Antonino Ferraro of Giuliana, Sicily.

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Thursday
Dec192013

Unsung Heroes, Unstrung Hooligans

A beating by the Mafia didn’t change the mind of one stubborn shopkeeper


by Carl Russo

OUR FASCINATION with the Mafia is in part a leer at the organization’s endless capacity to apply brute force in creative ways. To wit, last month’s story of a screaming victim tossed to ravenous pigs. But we’re also drawn to Mafia stories for the old good/evil dichotomy, Davids versus Goliaths armed to the teeth and cruel.

Giovanni BruscaOne news story with classical overtones is set in Noce, a traffic-snarled quarter of Palermo known as a Mafia stronghold since the late nineteenth century. A series of police crackdowns between October 2012 and March 2013 rid the local business community of pesky extortioners—for a few months, anyway. Cosa Nostra abhors a power vacuum: a new set of “tax collectors” soon descended on Noce merchants, demanding the pizzo—“protection” payments.

Those who hesitated to pay were duly punished, among them an artisanal carpenter who lost his Alfa Romeo to arson and was shot in the leg. Reporters noted that the new Mafia leader behind the attacks, 37-year-old Giuseppe Castelluccio, was also a carpenter. That irony grew darker with another reprisal against a holdout merchant, this time involving a blunt tool essential to the craft trade. But let’s take it back to last summer

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Wednesday
May292013

Deal Me In

by Carl Russo

Italy’s trial of the century will probably last for another century. But, unlike past Mafia trials that prosecuted hundreds of mobsters at the same time, this one is down to only ten defendants. And they're not only mafiosi but also high-placed public officials who are being charged.

Nicola MancinoThe crime? Brokering a secret deal in the early 1990s: in exchange for lighter punishments for its members, the Mafia would stop killing so many of those high-placed public officials. You can read the details of the historic trial—the so-called Trattativa (Negotiation)—here.

This video was shot outside the Palermo courtroom hosting the trial. Nicola Mancino, Italy's Interior Minister during the years of the alleged Trattatvia, is jeered by protestors shouting, "Shame! Shame!"

Mancino is accused of hiding evidence of the covert talks from prosecutors. Earlier, on the stand, he bristled at appearing "in the same trial as the Mafia," i.e., in the company of reviled godfathers like Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. Mancino wants to star in his own trial, maybe?

Those red books being waved by the demonstrators represent Judge Paolo Borsellino's missing journal, swiped from the wreckage of his assassination site twenty years ago.

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Tuesday
Apr022013

Final Dispatch

by Carl Russo

Here’s my final letter, dated February 27, 2013, sent from Sicily to the patrons of my photo shoot. The images mentioned will appear in my upcoming book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide.

Massimo CianciminoEscape from Palermo! As much as I love the intrigue of the capital city of Sicily (and the Mafia), three days of maneuvering the confusing streets with cut-up squares of a city map on my lap and no street signs is tedium, not adventure. The saving grace is that it's not roaring hot as in previous trips. If the technology were cheap, I would've attached a live web-cam to the hood and broadcast the ride.

At any turn, you go from a speedway to ancient labyrinthine souk where the cobblestones crack into dirt, and you find yourself face-to-face with an old man shoeing a horse. Add to that cars coming at you from blind corners at all moments. Cross traffic at intersections is a free-for-all, the driver in front of you screeches to a halt in to buy artichokes from a roadside vendor, pedestrian wander into traffic, and yet it all works, without American-style road rage.

Let me catch you up on one uncomfortable moment I mentioned at the close of my last letter. I was parked across the street from the palazzo of Massimo Ciancimino.

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Friday
Aug312012

Paolo Borsellino: The End

by Bluto Ray

One day in that terrible Palermo summer of 1992, already darkened by the recent killing of top anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, two magistrates entered upon a scene that deepened their despair. There at his desk in the Prosecutor’s Office sat their colleague, Judge Paolo Borsellino, head in hands, crying repeatedly, “A friend has betrayed me.”

Paolo BorsellinoIt was disturbing behavior for the heroic public servant who, as Falcone’s right-hand investigator in Italy’s famous maxi-trials, had helped clap the irons on nineteen powerful Mafia bosses for good. Borsellino’s breakdown came from more than just the exhaustion of working day and night to find his partner’s killers. He had been telling everyone: “I’m racing against time. I’m looking directly at the Mafia. I have so much work to do, so much work...”

His work was cut short a few days later. On July 19, Borsellino drove from his villa in a nearby suburb to a modern apartment complex in downtown Palermo, led and followed by the two other cars of his bodyguard team. The judge was coming to fetch his mother for an appointment at her cardiologist’s office. The doctor, a family friend, was unable to make the house call because someone had set fire to his car the night before.

Click to see the photosThe convoy entered the cul-de-sac of Via Mariano D’Amelio where its three drivers went into their familiar defensive positions. Borsellino parked and stepped from his Fiat Croma, lit a cigarette, and smiled enigmatically as the men moved to surround him. They were well-practiced in the “human turtle” formation used to move the judge through public spaces.

At that instant, a great fireball exploded, piercing the quiet Sunday evening and flinging the cars into the air. A column of thick black smoke obscured the men’s severed limbs jettisoned several stories high. People rushed to the scene to discover the horror of the latest Mafia attack: Paolo Borsellino and five of his escorts blown up less than two months after Judge Falcone met the same fiery fate.

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Saturday
Feb182012

Shock Doctrine

by Bluto Ray

The word "polemicist" was invented for people like Vittorio Sgarbi, the conservative art critic and, until next week, mayor of Salemi, Sicily. A typically polarizing Sgarbism came during the winter holidays when he announced—echoes of “bunga bunga”—that his vice mayor should be a young woman with no political strings attached.

Vittorio SgarbiEver the curator, Sgarbi opened a Mafia museum in the middle of Salemi's old center in 2010. More Halloween spook-house than cultural institution, the attraction that bore a blood-splattered logo was made adults-only after the “slaughterhouse cabin” display reportedly sickened two visitors.

To his credit, the mayor refused a judge’s order to remove a newspaper blowup from the museum’s wall depicting the arrest of Salemi natives Ignazio and Nino Salvo. Nino’s widow had made the initial request, adding that her husband, though indicted, had died days before his trial. (The Salvo cousins, entombed in the town cemetery, were decidedly mafiosi per investigations.)

Yet Sgarbi the freedom fighter has threatened to sue art critics over unfavorable reviews. The headline-stealing curator who holds the contemporary art world in contempt made a keen mockery of it when he curated the Italian exhibit at last year’s Venice Biennale. According to a write-up,

 

“”The resulting display has the sprawling randomness of a flea market. There are works featuring sex, religion, violence, nudity, as well as a giant pomegranate and a polar bear. Also on show are multicoloured mummies in flagrante, and a beaten-up doll next to a sign that declares 'I'm a warrior not a doll.' In the middle of it all there are occasional gems such as Giovanni Iudice's depiction of refugees, Humanity, 2010, but unfortunately these get lost in the visual mess. Many are wondering if Sgarbi's exhibition is an ironic gesture—or an attempt to undermine Italian contemporary art.”

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