I was surprised when I saw a tee shirt in Sicily with Marlon Brando’s likeness as the Godfather. I don’t remember any Brando scenes that were shot in Sicily, but his Godfather image adorns souvenirs all over Sicily–coffee mugs, lighters, ashtrays, magnets, aprons. While the likeness of Al Pacino, who did have scenes in Sicily, appears on souvenirs, sometimes paired with Brando’s face, Brando’s image overwhelmingly predominates. (I only saw one tee shirt with Homer Simpson as the Godfather. I surprised myself by not buying it.)
This Godfather imagery also surprised me because it now seems accepted by Sicilians that the mafia has severely harmed the region. Histories indicate that while the organization may have had nineteenth century roots, Benito Mussolini effectively suppressed it in the 1920s and 1930s. However, the mafia emerged again during and after World War II, with the aid of the occupying United States army. (The histories differ on whether the US wittingly or unwittingly helped the mafia resurgence.) The mafia siphoned off money that was meant for the postwar reconstruction of Palermo and other places keeping Sicily a backward place longer than was true for other Italian regions. The mafia’s protection rackets harmed commerce at every level grossly damaging Sicilian business; its smuggling of cigarettes and other items hurt governmental revenues; and the Sicilian mafia was brazenly violent, killing many people of all ranks including mayors and other politicians.
In the 1980s investigating magistrates led by Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino went after the mafia, resulting in the Maxi Trial in 1986. Almost 500 mafioso, including all the major leaders, were put on trial in a specially built, bunkered courtroom inside a Palermo prison. Three-quarters of the defendants were convicted. While a few of them had their convictions reversed, an appellate court in January 1992 upheld the convictions and sentences of the rest.
The mafia response was brutal. Nearly a ton of explosives was placed under an elevated highway, and Falcone, his wife, and several police officers were blown up on May 22, 1992, when the explosives were detonated as Falcone’s motorcade passed on the highway. Two months later Borsellino was assassinated by a car bomb that also killed five police officers. Today, Palermo has memorials to and commemorates the anniversaries of the two magistrates’ deaths, and there are memorials around the city to many others who were mafia victims.
The Maxi Trial may have lessened the power of the mafia, but most think it still has power. Arrests of mafioso continue, but however it may have been viewed in the past, fewer Sicilians today see it as something romantic or quaint, and more see it as a brutal organization that has harmed Sicily.
For these reasons, I was surprised to see all the souvenirs of The Godfather.
I saw no tee shirts with the likeness of Salvatore Riina. You can look him up.
Perhaps because of scenes from The Godfather, I had expected Sicily to be brown and dusty. Instead, it was lush and green, maybe because of unusually heavy rains in the weeks before we came. Whatever the reason, the countryside was beautiful.
The guide more than once mentioned that with solar and wind power, Sicily could be energy independent. It has intense sunshine for much of the year, and the island has nearly constant winds. Even so, I spotted only a few solar panels and power-generating windmills. I thought back to a trip to Turkey where many homes had solar panels to heat water. It seemed like a good idea, but I saw nothing comparable in Sicily.
I noted the gasoline prices. They were quoted in Euros per liter, but my rough calculations had the cost at about $6.50 per gallon. I wondered how Americans would react to such prices. A Sicilian response is to drive small cars. They dominate the roads; I spotted few SUVs. In some way I envied the high gas costs. I wish Americans drove smaller cars and used less fuel. On the other hand, I drive and like low gas prices. I want, as I could in my youth, to get three gallons for a buck and also get a steak knife if I fill the tank up. I checked my memory and looked up gas prices from fifty years ago, and it was correct: I could get three gallons for a dollar. However, an inflation calculator told me that thirty-four cents in 1968 was the equivalent of about $2.47 today. The last time I filled up, I paid less than three dollars a gallon, so I don’t really pay much more for gas now than I did back then. But I no longer get a steak knife with the fill-up. The car from back then is gone (see post of October 17, 2018), but a steak knife or two from those days may still be around.
The guide told us that Sicilians do not have clothes dryers and, therefore, laundry is hung outside. This is also true for Lisbon, but in Portugal the drying clothes seemed colorful and charming while in Palermo they seemed only utilitarian.
“Sicilians care about their own private space, but the public dimension rarely engages them.” Joseph Farrell, Sicily: A Cultural History.
(Continued November 28)