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Entries in Partinico (4)

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
Mar152013

Letters from Sicily

by Carl Russo

On March 2, I returned from a very productive photo shoot in Sicily, the last such trip to gather locations for my upcoming book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide. The opportunity was made possible by a generous group of donors to my Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. Below are excerpts from my near-daily reports sent to these contributors by email.

Gaetano BadalamentiFEBRUARY 20: I touched down on my beloved Sicily a few hours ago. On the very day that two former CEOs of Alitalia were indicted for "alleged wrongdoing" during the airline's bankruptcy in 2008, I feared the worst for the JFK > Rome > Palermo leg of my flight. But everything went off without a hitch: no delays, a very decent chicken dinner with a restaurant-worthy tiramisù, a fascinating effervescent red wine (gratis, of course), and an escort to lead us across the daunting Fiumicino airport in Rome to connect with the final flight. Take that, United!

Maybe I read the Italian papers too much, but I seemed to be the only one who noticed that Pier Ferdinando Casini was on board our flight to Palermo. He's the former president of Italy's Chamber of Deputies and perennial centrist politician possibly implicated in a recent bribery scandal…

To land in Palermo is to be immersed in the Mafia. The name of the airport is Falcone-Borsellino, the two judges blown up weeks apart in 1992. The reason the airport is where it is—too far from the city and too close to the sea for proper landing strips—is because the Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti owned the land and steered all the building contracts his way.

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Thursday
Nov012012

News Muse 11.1.12

by Carl Russo

If you squint hard enough, you can see something good in Sicily’s kooky regional election this week. The shockingly high amount of voters who boycotted the race—57 percent sat out Sunday’s polls—can be read as a sign that the orgy is over for Silvio Berlusconi’s compromised cadre. More important for Sicilians, it shows that the Mafia can no longer deliver the votes to the party it favors.

Rosario CrocettaNow enter the victorious center-left governor, Rosario Crocetta, a tough-minded pol with the kind of anti-Mafia bona fides to put mobsters on notice. He hails from Gela, an industrial city on the southern coast so lousy with crime that it has its own homegrown mafia, La Stidda. (Language lesson: stella, “star” in Italian = stidda in Sicilian.)

As Gela’s seven-year mayor, Crocetta purged the city government and even the local carabiniere of stiddesi, closed eighty of their housing projects, and persuaded many shopkeepers to quit paying extortion fees. Soon elected to parliament, Crocetta served on the EU’s Anti-Mafia Commission.

Click to see the photosCrocetta also survived a 2008 plot involving a Lithuanian hitman hired to assassinate “that communist faggot,” according to a boss caught on tape. That he is gay excites the mainstream press which has tried to come to terms with this inversion of Italian machismo. Then again, Crocetta is no powder puff. (Compare Berlusconi’s makeup and painted-on hair. And no jokes about Palermo’s soccer colors.)

Second place in the governor’s race went to Beppo Grillo, the comic-provocateur who taunts Berlusconi publicly, calling him “the Psycho Dwarf.” (The former prime minister, tarnished by sex scandals and plagued with a big mouth, was slapped with a tax fraud conviction last week.)

Grillo’s protest vote further reveals strong disaffection in Sicily, a red state-like conservative bastion. If anything, he split the left vote and still managed to trounce the Dwarf’s candidate, Sebastiano Musumeci, who came in third.

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Monday
Jul112011

Night Terrors

by Bluto Ray

Sixty-four years have passed since the May Day massacre at Portella della Ginestra, yet the events of that dark moment in Sicily’s history remain mired in confusion. Were the cold-blooded murders of eleven men, women and children at a rural labor festival committed by the bandit Salvatore Giuliano, by the Mafia, or by some other dark entity? And were high-placed political figures pulling the strings? The story is meat for a thousand conspiracy theorists.*

Salvatore GiuilianoGiuliano claimed that he had sent a squadron of hired men to Portella to kidnap his political nemesis, Girolamo Li Causi, the communist leader who opposed separatism. (The bandit king had been recently recruited by a monarchist-backed group that sought the island’s annexation by the US.) But as Li Causi had been a no-show, his men called off the abduction and left Portella before the killing began, according to Giuliano.

In the aftermath of that fateful holiday of 1947, the police rounded up dozens of Mafia suspects, only to release them for their uncannily airtight alibis. Suspicions, at any rate, were starting to fall on Guiliano after two of his henchmen were arrested; each admitted some knowledge of the slaughter. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing the outlaws--including Giuliano--in the vicinity. The police found it politically convenient to pin the blame on the bandits. Some of the inspectors, however, smelled the influence of untouchable Mafia bosses.

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