Meet the real goodfellas
Fifty years since The Godfather was published, a trip to Mafialand reveals new wise guys, says Mike MacEacheran
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.”
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