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Entries in Totò Riina (27)

Saturday
Mar082014

Tales from the Crypt

Why are coffins stealing the headlines in Sicily? (Short answer: who knows?)

by Carl Russo

Detail of a tombstone in PalermoWHAT’S UP WITH SICILIAN COFFINS this year? You just can’t keep ‘em down. It started with an article in La Repubblica last month about a finely crafted pine box that showed up at a wedding, in 2012, as a cruel gag gift. The bride also received a sinister message on her answering machine: “This coffin is not for your husband but for you and your entire malarazza”—a colossal dis of her family.

A trial bringing harassment charges to two men and a woman, former friends of the couple, began on January 30. Although the targets of the prank have decided not to sue, they issued the following (under)statement: “We’re not interested in money, but these are things you just don’t do.” The couple has left Sicily permanently. It was a truly sick joke, but at least the coffin was empty.

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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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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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