Meet the real good­fel­las

Fifty years since The God­fa­ther was pub­lished, a trip to Mafi­a­land re­veals new wise guys, says Mike MacEacheran

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - - Travel -

IT’S late af­ter­noon in Sicily. The town of Cor­leone is framed by cac­tus- dot­ted fields and hilly coun­try­side. From the im­pos­ing So­prano Rock, a raw lime­stone knuckle to the town’s north, you can look upon bell tow­ers, baked earth roofs and bal­conies hung with yes­ter­day’s wash­ing. At street level, in the mid­dle of it all, a ray of sun­light falls onto a cen­tral pi­azza, high­light­ing a band of men skulk­ing in shadow. Col­lars turned up, they sport flat, crowned caps, and yet the way they dress re­ally doesn’t mat­ter, be­cause I’m fa­mil­iar with who they are. The hand­shakes, whis­pers and air kisses con­firm this is in­deed the heart of Mafia coun­try.

“Ev­ery­one knows the Mafia myth, or at least they think they do,” says Edoardo Zaf­futo in Cor­leone’s main square. We have en­tered Caffè Rug­girello, a for­mer mob­ster meet­ing place with enough wise-guy sto­ries to fill a Scors­ese script. Zaf­futo points to the leg­ends writ large on the walls: to grainy pho­tos of Lucky Lu­ciano, a still from Francis Ford Cop- pola’s The God­fa­ther and an ad­vert for Li­mon­cello Il Padrino (sup­pos­edly favoured by movie mafia don Mar­lon Brando). “This i sn’t the real Sicily,” Edoardo says.

Only a few years ago, Cor­leone’s streets would have given off a dif­fer­ent vibe. One hour east from cap­i­tal Palermo, the town earned its rep­u­ta­tion from a suc­ces­sion of crim­i­nal syn­di­cates and fam­i­lies who be­came the drama­tis per­sonae in a vi­o­lent power strug­gle that en­gulfed the is­land.

But in the past decade, anti-Mafiaa tour-tourism has gained a foothold. While pay­ing­pay­ing pizzo, or pro­tec­tion money, is stilltill a way of life, there’s now a safe way out with Ad­diopizzo, Zaf­futo’s bold d grass­roots move­ment. Law-abid­ing shop­keep­ers, restau­rant own­ers and hote­liers can now sign eth­i­cal con­tracts with his non­profit, re­fus­ing to make any pay­ment to the Mafia by pledg­ing to o “sup­port those who do not pay”.

“We didn’t know how the Mafia fia would re­act,” says Zaf­futo, who tookook a risk when start­ing his char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion. “The way the mob­sters abused­abused so­cial con­trol over peo­ple, it made me s i ck. I knew s ome­thing had t o be done.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment echoed at the Lab­o­ra­to­rio della Le­gal­ità, Cor­leone’s an­tiMafia mu­seum. “Lit­tle by lit­tle we make a dif­fer­ence,” says di­rec­tor Mar­ilena Ba­garella, as she shows us the cen­tre­piece: a series of blood-red mu­rals. “We’re giv­ing a voice to the pain of the fam­i­lies who re­main si­lent. Many still don’t have the courage to speak out.”

Our tour be­gins out­side Teatro Mas­simo, the world’s third-largest opera house but bet­ter known for its role at the cli­max of The God­fa­ther tril­ogy. It’s one of many glo­ri­ous tem­ples to the arts in Palermo, built dur­ing a florid pe­riod of wealth in the late 19th-cen­tury. And yet most vis­i­tors come to ob­sess over where Michael Cor­leone (Al Pa­cino) is gunned down.

I’d heard a ru­mour that some of the cop­po­las, the flat-topped hats sym­bol­is­ing the Mafia’s coun­try­side roots, are sold nearn­earby and Zaf­futo takes me to La Cop­pola Storta, a bou­tique owned by Tin­dara Tinda Agnello. “The cop­pola has al­ways alwa had a strange his­tory but we are re­gain­ing own­er­ship of it,” it the de­signer says. “Once these t hats were sym­bols of crime. Now they’re an em­blem for the city’s cre­ative en­ergy.”

In Palermo at An­tica Fo­cac­ce­ria cer San Francesco, in busi­ness since sinc 1834, I learn about the Con­ti­cello brothers, the cafe’s for­mer pa­trons whow worked un­der­cover with po­lice to gather ev­i­dence to get lo­cal mob­sters convicted. These days, the restau­rant has be­come an­other Ad­diopizzo cham­pion.

“At­ti­tudes are chang­ing,” says Zaf­futo. “And that means ev­ery­one can share in the wealth. There’s now enough can­noli for ev­ery­one.”

DE­TAILS SICILY

Ryanair flies to Palermo from £26 re­turn. ad­diopiz­zo­travel.it

Cap­i­tal city: above, Palermo and the Teatro Mas­simo. Be­low: the cop­pola hats that are still sold to­day in Cor­leone

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