Sicily’s Sect

by Andrew Stein

“In Palermo dialect the adjective ‘mafioso’ once meant ‘beautiful, ‘bold’, ‘self-confident’. Anyone who was worthy of being described as mafioso therefore had a certain something, an attribute called ‘mafia’. ‘Cool’ is about the closest modern English equivalent: a mafioso was something who fancied himself.” (Quote form Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie)

The start to Godfather IV should occur on Meridiana’s direct flight from Palermo to New York. While in Sicily, I read Dickie’s book detailing the history of the mafia called “Cosa Nostra.” Along with providing a history of the mafia and how it came to be, the book also does a nice job of outlining recent Sicilian history. Interestingly, much about the mafia was not understood until about two decades ago in 1992 when Giovanni Falcone, an anti-mafia investigator and prosecuting attorney, headed the famous Maxi Trial. Of 474 Mafia members charged in this trial, 360 were convicted of serious crimes. In addition, Falcone was able to convince Tommaso Bruscetta to be the first ever Sicilian Mafia informant. It is through the words of Bruscetta that so much is reliably known about the Mafia today. Sadly, to retaliate, the Mafia kills Falcone and his family soon after the trial on a highway outside of Palermo.

For the most part, the three of us were hidden from the corruption of Sicily; however, there were several small examples that we experienced along the way. One such example occurred on our first afternoon in Palermo after parking our car in a public lot. We were approached upon getting out of the car and told that someone would watch our car while we were away for 3 euros. Our car, however, would not need watching if that same someone would not mess with the car when we don’t pay him the money. Although the sum of money wasn’t huge and the whole situation benign, small occurrences like these confirm some of the shadiness that exists on Italy’s southern island.