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The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)

Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II

Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II. Click for credits

The theme of the Mafia has come out in many discussions. While reading up on it I was surprised how well the Mafia seems to fit into the topics of this blog.

Here just a few notes freely based 1) on the book Padrini, by Roberto Olla, Mondadori 2003, Milano [translated into English with the title Godfathers], and 2) on the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Men of Respect, Intelligent and Cynical

The word “Don” is used in Italian when referring to a priest or to an aristocrat. A godfather is in fact a man of respect. He is an aristocrat of crime, a prince of evil, no matter his appearance or his clothes – this may be one reason why Hollywood movie-goers have found the Mafiosi so attractive.

One common mistake – argues Roberto Olla – is in fact that of considering the Mafiosi as simple gunmen to defeat. Don Vito Cascio Ferro had no guns. He was one of the first godfathers who operated both in Sicily and in the United States. His force lay in his cynicism and intelligence and in the network he was able to create thanks to well ingrained traditions. He distributed favori, favours, to everybody, but something was asked in return.

In short, mafia had/has history. How a Mafia network was / is built is well expressed by Mario Puzo in The Godfather:

“Don Vito Corleone [Puzo’s fictitious character] was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promise (…) Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart (…) His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don” (…) some humble gift – a gallon of home-made wine etc.
It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.”

This network implied protection, various forms of exchange but also ruthless exploitation (for example the pizzo or protection money one could not escape).

Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery

Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery

Long centuries of oppression or absence of the state had favoured in Sicily a kind of anti-state or alternative organization. The American police officers and the ‘nordic’ Italian state found themselves unprepared – Olla continues.

Focusing on America, “the US policemen were searching in the underworld. But it was in the upper world that they should have searched. They should have searched among the ‘similar’ and not the ‘unlike’, since those men came from an ancient culture.”

How to Face Aliens From an Ancient World?

Let us try to better understand. America at that time – Olla observes – distinguished between the good guys and the bad guys, and reacted severely to the latter. When though meeting the ‘men of respect’ the US found themselves facing unheard-of souls. They were unprepared when fighting these mafiosi who were too similar to the people from the upper world. It was not a matter of jacket and tie or of wearing a social mask.

“It was a blend of morality and immorality which produced people able to commit the most ferocious crimes and, at the same time, to show respect for religion. People capable to plan a massacre while in everyday life they defended the good principles and healthy traditions.”

An unheard-of humanity? Well, my readers know well what I mean: we are dealing here in my opinion with alien moral codes stemming from pre-Christian, Greco-Roman antiquity, something more or less unknown to [more truly Christian] northern Europe where the American culture mostly came from.

The mafioso had to be seen – as  Giovanni Falcone, a famous Sicilian magistrate killed by the mafia in 1992, once said – like the old sage who administered justice sitting under the big oak tree in the name of a non-existent state.

The Irish had no Chance

“Morality and immorality, respect and abuse, honour and violence.” When the Italian and the Irish organized crime faced each other in the American ports [Olla, again], the latter didn’t have any chance, regardless of the many advantages the Irish had had – they had migrated earlier, they spoke the language, and some of them were perfectly integrated: Irish crime had to face a more ancient and mysterious culture.

Surprise attacks, great speed and extreme determination in their raids – behind the big godfathers I remember Mario Puzo flashing the shadow of the Roman emperors [imperatores], with their ruthlessness and organization. It is exaggerated, but certainly the Mafia the Americans had to fight had already in its genes some formidable military qualities, among the rest.

Different from the Irish is the case of the Jewish criminals, some of which (like Meyer Lansky associated with Lucky Luciano) well integrated themselves into the Italian Mafia (due to their common Mediterranean origins? It is tempting to think so.)

Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer and pioneer in the fight against Mafia

Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer, pioneer in the fight against the Mafia (1860 – 1909)

It is not by chance that the first serious blows to the Mafia were given by Italians, like the police officer Joe Petrosino and many others, who were able to understand the intricacies of the Italian mind.

Related posts and blog themes:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)
A Cultural Battle
The Mafia and the Italian Mind. Was Julius Caesar a Godfather? (3)

Is The Human Mind Like a Museum?
“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Traces of Paganism in Italians

About Man of Roma

I am a man from Rome, Italy. I’m 60 and a Roman since many generations. In my blog, manofroma.wordpress.com, I’m writing down my meditations. The idea behind it all is that something 'ancient' is still alive in the true Romans of today, of which few are left.

56 responses »

  1. Is the Mafia still active over there?

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  2. When, at 11, I arrived in Montreal from a small town up the Saguenay river, we went to live in what was, and is still, known as the Red Light district, although it has only the name left.. The first Italian name I heard was Cotroni. They were then masters of the port and the stevedores union. Nothing it seems was done without them knowing about it.

    They had a practice: it was 1941, much misery was still around and many people were in need. Periodically trucks loaded with goods and food were stolen and abandoned on a street corner. People seemed to know before hand and the trucks were soon empty. Only after the trucks were empty did the police arrive. The population held the Cotronis to be their benefactors and shielded them when necessary.

    It was even said that they were keeping an Italian parish alive in downtown Montreal by their generous offerings.
    They and the De Vitos are still active. In years past Cotroni, the elder, owned the best steak house in the province, Pepe’s Steak House in Ste-Adèle, about an hour north west of Montreal, in the Laurentides.

    Yes sir, those were the years.

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    • Paul, your comment is great and much to the point! I will reply whenever I can. I gave precedence to Lichanos’ this time.

      Your real-life souvenirs are fascinating as usual. You seem to confirm this strange morality-immorality thing: they were benefactors of the poor (which though increased their power, it must be highlighted) and also helped a parish to survive financially. I did a little research on the Montreal Mafia and it seems the Cotronis were mafiosi of Calabrese origin. When later the Sicilians arrived (from Siculiana and Cattolica Eraclea, villages in the province of Agrigento) they took over as it usually happens and became dominant.

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      • The Sicilians are still there although they have taken a drop in influence since the Cappo has been jailed, last year in New York for the murders of some Bonanno family people some 30 years ago.
        Since then, some problems have arisen while the Boss is away and some lieutenants are jockeying for position.
        Over the last three years, the Mafia, the Triads and the Bikers are having a hard time over here. Hundreds have been arrested and tried. Many have been convicted, others are awaiting their trials.
        Meanwhile, Street gangs, more dangerous and inexperienced, more violent are trying to fill the void, Latinos,Jamaicans and Haitians, mainly.

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        • Are the Triads Chinese organized crime? And the Bikers? Mafia instead here is not defeated yet, it actually seems stronger than ever, and we also have ‘Ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia) and Cammorra from Campania which are very powerful but probably less wise.

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          • The Triads are Chinese organized crime, they are active on our West Coast and in Toronto’s and Montreal’s Chinatowns mainly in gambling and drugs.
            The Hell’s Angels are an international bikers gang specializing in drugs, prostitution and extortion. Here at least they have eliminated their competitors, The Banditos. Those not murdered were absorbed.

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  4. Sad that these acts of criminals are abundance everywhere. I’ve not watched Godfather, so I can’t comment much about the movie or role played by Al Pacino.

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  5. Thanks for this post – it comes at a the right time for me. I just read several stories by Valeria Perrella and watched the 1962 film, Mafioso, for the second time. Both provide a starkly unsentimental and un-melodramatic view of the Mafia that is very powerful.

    In Mafioso, the crimes men commit are NEVER named, as if by not speaking their name, they are not crimes. When a murder is planned, they say of the victim, “He dug his own grave…” It was inevitable, fate, not human evil…

    I wonder a lot how people in Italy view films like The Godfather? I am probably the only American male who has not seen more than a few clips of it. (I did see Godfather II, and part of III, which was awful.) People tell me Godfather is in a class by itself when I explain my lack of interest in it, and The Sopranos (a long-running serial about the mob in NJ) by saying I am fed up with the American fascination with Italianate criminals. I tend to doubt it – Coppolla is a very sentimental director is some ways, and I don’t buy the line that it is a searing indictment of the corruption of American capitalism – everyone is a criminal – a moving story of the immigrant struggle, etc. etc. I fear it is a melodramatic voyeuristic journey into evil. (Eventually…I will watch it and find out for sure.)

    All cultures have criminals and outlaws they celebrate in song and stories. Do Italians like gangster films about the Mafia the way we do here? Are there heroic bandits in the pop culture? To me, the mafia appear as simply evil people, despite the tribal-kin-community building aspects of the Great Dons. When their true nature surfaces in the papers, e.g., when articles provide wiretap dialogue, they appear as vulgar, stupid, boring, and brutal creeps. Some people will say this reflects the decadence of the mob from its high times in the 1940s – 1960s, but I think that the blows from the FBI have simply made it more difficult for the higher-ups in the crime business to remain distant from their filthy origins. (I believe that the mob in NYC region is pretty weak now – one of few accomplishments of Rudy Giuliani, although some say he wasn’t as important as people say…)

    John Gotti used to provide a vast fireworks show for the neighbors every July 4th. When his son was hit in a car accident by a neighbor, that man simply disappeared. This is admirable? “Oh well, he always gave us a great time on holidays…That guy should have been more careful….”

    Long comment, I know, but the Mafia thing here is really big in popular culture.

    An unheard-of humanity? Well, my readers know well what I think about it: we are dealing here in my opinion with alien moral codes…

    Yes, alien codes. There can be no reasoning with these people. I guess this is the appeal in movies – the vicarious escape from the obligations and difficult choices of this world into one where things are simple: fulfill your role, obey, or die.

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  6. Still on this…

    Focusing on America, “the US policemen were searching in the underworld. But it was in the upper world that they should have searched. They should have searched among the ’similar’ and not the ‘diverse’, since those men came from an ancient culture.”

    Who is this Roberto Olla person? This passage seems similar to the idea of mafia as metaphor for American capitalism that wikipedia say overcame Coppola’s fears that the film would simply glorify mob violence and criminals. Rationalization or reason? Not that American businessmen are angels…on the contrary, some of them got a boost by consorting with the mob. (This is the persistent rumor about Joseph Kennedy, father of JFK and RFK).

    …[Americans] Olla observes – distinguished between the good guys and the bad guys, and reacted severely to the latter. When though meeting the ‘men of respect’ the US found themselves facing unheard-of souls. They were unprepared when fighting these mafiosi who were too similar to the people from the upper world. It was not a matter of jacket and tie or of wearing a social mask. “It was a blend of morality and immorality which produced people able to commit the most ferocious crimes and, at the same time, to show respect for religion. People capable to plan a massacre while in everyday life they defended the good principles and healthy traditions.”

    So what else is new? The power elite always has its family morality. The problem is that if you are not “in,” you might as well be a bug. The Old Testament is no different – the Canaanites are slaughtered like animals.

    Respect for religion, indeed! Who’s this guy kidding?

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  7. @Lichanos

    Hey hey, easy man.
    :-)

    I am on my weekend, I cannot reply to all you ask me, so let me just shoot this.

    The mafia is a cancer I wish they were totally eradicated, wherever they are.

    Thus said, and not being an expert, I don’t think the Italian Mafia to be stupid and vulgar. You do them a BIG favour to under evaluate them. They always had / have this weapon of understating things and remaining invisible. As far as I know they were considered for many decades non existent even by Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

    I think instead they are VERY dangerous. They are extremely intelligent and subtle, if outsmarting the US underworld, which they dominated for so long and which hence proved too naïve compared to them, is any indication. So they appear in my view the contrary of what they really are. And I don’t say this for patriotism, believe me. They can look to you as just brutal creeps. Some of them may – especially the pawns. I believe it is one of their strengths.

    I am sure you have read Aldous Huxely’s Brave New world: well, they are Huxley’s savages. They are part of a peasants’ world thousand-year old which is terribly resilient and which can always present surprises.

    PS
    You ask:
    Do Italians like gangster films about the Mafia the way we do here?
    No, I don’t think they do that much. And this fascination by Americans is not totally understandable to me.

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  8. …this fascination by Americans is not totally understandable to me.

    Well, you and me both. That’s what get’s me going!

    Your points are well taken – true, the lower pawns may be the most stupid and vulgar – but John Gotti etc. weren’t much better. Shrewd, intelligent, subtle, crafty…yes. I didn’t mean to rule that out when I said stupid. Poor choice of words.

    Peasants are often romanticized, aren’t they? I love the way they are treated by Balzac and Stendhal in their rare appearances in those novels. The same adjectives I used above for the mafia would often apply! Especially when land transactions are in the offing!!

    As for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI getting fooled by the mafia, you have much too high an opinion of the G-men. Hoover ran the FBI like his private mafia, blackmailing presidents, spying on Americans, dealing with criminals when it suited him. He had a few categories of people he considered criminals – leftists, blacks, bank robbers, individual kidnappers, spies, etc. – and the rest he cared not at all about.

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    • Peasants are often romanticized, aren’t they?

      Yes, sometimes they are. I don’t know how these French writers treat them. What I wanted to say by ‘ancient peasants’ is also this: compared to them, most of us are like ‘domesticated’, while they are ‘wild’ – in a non deprecatory way. It is the concept of ’savage’ in Brave New World, which is not deprecatory either. Konrad Lorenz based part of his work on this – terrific in my view – concept by Aldous Huxley. What happens when a wild cat fights against a domesticated cat? In other words, according to Lorenz, at each new generation people are less hardy, fight less to survive, cars are more comfortable etc. – auto-domestication Lorenz calls it.

      The Mafia were like those wild cats. They outsmarted everybody. They still do it here. They know how to better survive.

      This may sound obscure, I know. Not the place here. Another time.

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      • I guess the question is why these people stay wild, when everyone else seems happy to be domesticated?

        Why do they not “Get with the Modernism program..?”

        From the evolutionary viewpoint, I guess it makes a lot of sense. There is always a niche for a small population of parasites or opportunistic predators.

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      • I have to comment on this “savage” concept of Huxley’s. I think you describe it correctly, as far as AH is concerned (I know nothing of Lorenz) but it is important to qualify:

        …at each new generation people are less hardy, fight less to survive…

        Survive where? Part of the fun of Brave New World is that the Savage does NOT survive! The soft new world is too much for him, destroys him. Wild people may survive in civilization, but so do soft people. Soft people don’t have to survive in the wild, and have no interest in it.

        No interest, except for nostalgia and romanticism, of which Huxley was often guilty. What is great about BNW is that he keeps it under control and everything is deliciously undercut and satirical. In other stories, he wallows in it. Great example is a short story – can’t recall the name – that goes like this:

        European sophisticates are on vacation in Mexico (savage land). Surrounded by ignorant, impoverished, colorful peasants. Little peasant boy is attracted to them, fascinated by the sound of their phonograph. Turns out he is a musical prodigy gifted with Mozartian and Bach-like musico-mathematical skills. The sophisticates take him, teach him, he makes phenomenal progress. He ends up killing himself in frustration – his Momma just doesn’t understand – his family thinks he’s bewitched.

        Oh, civilization, culture! Such poison. Better{?} to be a happy savage…

        Also, note the similarity in Romantic unrealistic notion of genius shared by pop cult blockbuster, Goodwill Hunting. (Working class janitor slacker is a closet mathematical genius – comes into conflict with Ivy League intellectual snobs, etc. etc…)

        Both stories deny the essential role of culture in defining talent and creating genius out of raw material. Romantic yearning for the simple essence of it all. I find it hilarious.

        Sorry for the long comment, but my flu shot is making me crazy!

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  9. P.S. – the FBI knocked out the NYC mob (see my earlier comment) only after Hoover was dead and buried.

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  10. I found this post a fascinating read.

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  11. I just watched Godfather 1 and 2 both again. I love Al Pacino with his chiseled, handsome looks. And I had enjoyed the book immensely as well.

    I am familiar with only Italian Mafia thanks to several books by Mario Puzo.

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  12. My father was a tailor in the Jean-Talon market since 1963. The stories he has about mobsters! Why? Because, dear friends, he was the master tailor for the major heads of the Sicilian-Montreal mafia. Ironically, being of Calabrese origin (like the Cotroni’s and Caruana’s) the Calabrese didn’t go to him. Which doesn’t surprise me. We speak of being united but in reality the Calabrese are way too rugged and individualistic a people to form a united front – not like the Sicilians. That’s my impression. My cousins in Europe feel that way.

    Although, the ‘Ndrangheta are perhaps the most ruthless, secretive and powerful mafia on the planet. So that would entail some allegiance to one another, no?

    Interesting part about the Jews. The great Italian social-commentator writer Luigi Barzini contended the Italians were very much like the Jews (and Chinese). My father’s lawyer is Jewish and there seems to be a natural fit between the two. However, one aspect of Italian foreign policy (and I’m diverging a tad here but it does tie in) is they maintain good relations with the Arab Middle-East as well. Italy is one of those countries capable of cutting across the Greek, Middle-East, Jewish axis thanks to its historical ties to each.

    Anyway, Paul is right but the mafia still has a tight grip on things. The port, for example, of Montreal remains in the hands of the Irish – though I’m sure the Italians have their hands in there somehow.

    By the way, the show the ‘Deadliest Warriors’ had the Italian Mafia take on the Japanese Yakuza.

    The Mafia won.

    And last, Italian gangster movies remain the most entertaining of all mafia films. To the person who said she hasn’t watched ‘The Godfather’ as a piece of cinematic brilliance, I highly urge her to do so. It does a pretty good job of chronicling how the Italians made their way in an Anglo-Irish-Germanic mileu.

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  13. @Lichanos

    Oh, civilization, culture! Such poison. Better{?} to be a happy savage…

    Let’s forget this ‘bon sauvage’ thing, which is just faulty yearning I agree.

    Let us say that the Ancient Roman thinkers had already debated on some deleterious effects of having too many riches and comfort. The more you were ‘civilised’ the weaker and morally degenerate you became, they said. Caesar, Tacitus etc. reflected on what the civilisation of Rome was about to become vis-à-vis more barbarous peoples. Caesar for example wrote in De Bello Gallico that the Gauls were weaker than the Germans because of their proximity to Rome, where life was sweet.
    In my view any reflection must be considered for the good elements it may contain, without making it absolute, as many philosophers do.

    The similarity between Roman thought and Lorenz in this respect is impressive in my view.

    Lorenz too thought humanity was in danger. One of the causes? Auto-domestication due to excessive comfort etc. We are becoming childish, immature, we lack control in our food and sexual habits, we only think about entertaining ourselves – these being clear traits of domestication as he observed them in animals. And of decline, decadence.

    This idea he took from wild and domesticated animal observation, from Aldous Huxley etc.
    Lorenz’s ideas on evolution are said to be outdated, but I think this part of his work should be re-considered, as for the good elements it contains.

    This *good summary* in the French wiki expands a bit what I’m saying as regards Lorenz. Hope you can read it – although what I said before is enough to get my point:

    …………………………………
    “La théorie de la dégénérescence de Lorenz inscrit dans la nature biologique de l’homme les problèmes de décadence des civilisations. Cette constatation vient de la comparaison entre les caractéristiques de l’homme civilisé et des animaux domestiqués. En cela, Lorenz remarque que les animaux domestiques se caractérisent souvent par :

    * Des problèmes alimentaires et un manque de contrôle des mécanismes de l’appétit pouvant entraîner l’obésité.
    * Des problèmes de régulation de la sexualité et une hypersexualisation.
    * Une régression infantile des individus, les adultes se comportant comme des individus immatures (dépendance parentale et activité ludique).

    Selon Lorenz, l’homme civilisé, n’étant plus contraint par l’environnement sauvage, a été forgé par la sélection artificielle produite par la civilisation elle-même. Ainsi, l’espèce humaine s’est auto-domestiquée. Toujours selon Lorenz, sans un système social de valeurs fortes imposées et régulatrices des moeurs, la nature «domestique» de l’homme civilisé prendra le dessus. Nous obtiendrons alors une civilisation d’obèses, hypersexualisés, immatures et passant leur temps à se divertir.”
    …………………………………

    So again. When the wild cat meets the fat domesticated cat …

    Back we get to the mafia people. They may seem vulgar, filthy. Also a wolf may seem filthy … but better keep your beautiful dog away from it!

    PS
    I kept a 4-months seminar and workshop with my students on these themes, together with a biology teacher. Only, it was 30 years ago. I forgot almost everything :-(

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  14. @Commentator

    Your memoirs regarding your father are very interesting. Thanks a lot. Besides, going to a tailor for one’s clothes …. no matter they’re from the mob, Italians love to go around well dressed.
    :-)

    Yes, I’ve heard the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta is now very powerful internationally, but I also think that the Sicilians tend to HIDE their power. Although you might be right.

    I know by direct experience how strong are the ties among the Mediterranean folks.

    [And pls do not forget that the Gulf of Mexico is Mediterranean reloaded (or Mediterranean num 2). You guys from North America should stop frowning upon the Hispanic :-) ]

    I checked what this ‘Deadliest Warriors’ is on the wiki. Are you sure this type of computer games produces dependable results?

    And yes, the chronicle of how the Italians made their way in an Anglo-Irish-Germanic mileu is not only moving for an Italian like me. It is also enlightening, from any point of view.

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  15. No, but they consult experts/historians and run a special program dramatizing 1000 battles between the parties involved. Nothing can ever mirror life but these are smart people doing it and it does give you an idea of how things can go. The Romans, incidentally, lost to the Apache. But we all know that to be wrong. Heh.

    As for the Calabrese mob, it was an Italian unsolved mystery type of show I saw while in France. In fact, the way they described it they’re even MORE secretive than the Sicilians. Very little is known in Calabria because NO ONE TALKS. Law enforcement, if I remember correctly and I could be wrong, doesn’t know for sure the extent of its power.

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    • That’s interesting about the Calabrian mobsters. I had heard they have vast connections world-wide. Secretive. Sicilian crime power must not be considered too legendary, I agree. I might also be influenced by what’s happening right now in Italy. I’m referring to recent revelations on the Sicilian mafia – by a pentito or collaborator with justice, Ciancimino jr – and its connections with pieces of the Italian state (as for the killings of Falcone and Borsellino, the two brave Italian magistrates). This connection between our State and the Mafia is raising big outrage, it is high time. A reason why one has the impression these people’s cunning is endless. Nonetheless, if you look at Totò Riina, who was the boss of all bosses here, and controlled billions of euros, he looks like a bum. Amazing. And instructive.

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  16. I came. I read. I pondered. I perused your connecting posts. I’m ready to leave a comment:

    We have two different views. The American view goes hand in hand with the idea of a self-made man, the rugged individualist who conquers the wilderness single-handed and uses brutal ways whenever necessary. Only when Americans connect the crime to a certain ethnic group, ancient history is layered on top of the rugged individualism mythology. Italian/Americans who immigrated to America settled in big cities’ neighborhoods and survived by creating a mini society similar to what they left behind. The idea of a godfather, a Don who stepped in and got junior his first job, or paid for the doctor when the father got sick, this Don was just a bit above the rest. He had more knowledge of the new place, and had more resources. The protection racketeering developed later.

    There were Mafia type organizations from all nationalities in big cities, similar to our present gangs in inner cities, still with ties to the old countries.

    Immigrants from Italy had a swagger and a confidence that was disproportionate to what others thought they should have. Rivalry ensued. Italian Mafia wanted to prove that they had brains and brawns, that their culture was as good or better than the English and the Irish. We couldn’t speak well; our coloring made us stand out; and we were treated slightly better than the black men and women. This inferior treatment was a great motivator to take chances, to unite, to show them.

    You see, until Italians got into civic jobs, we had no status to speak of. The Irish had a monopoly on police; English on government and finance; and the Germans and Swedish on farming.

    The version of Mafia in Italy, while related and connected in some ways to the American Mafia, the Italian version is the ancient way of doing business nel Sud.

    I remember as a child in Basilicata that every person had a station in life, a station that their family had held for generations. You kept that station in perpetuity, and only the Mafia was outside of that web, having created its own web which was protected and secretly managed.

    This is a very interesting discussion, and I am still trying to understand all the ancillary principles.

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  17. @Rosaria

    Thank you Rosaria for providing so much insight and information to the discussion. I basically agree with you but would like to point out:

    1) You say that the Italian immigrants “wanted to prove that they had brains and brawns, that their culture was as good or better than the English and the Irish.” It is an interesting way of seeing it, although, since other ethnicities were motivated to ‘show them’ as well, it remains to be seen why the Italian mafia won over other mafias for such a length of time [and why it is yet so powerful here].

    I am not applauding the mafia, I’m just trying to understand, plus it is a preoccupation I have, since the mafia is bad for our country / any country, and it damages our reputation – many say: oh, we love the Italian culture, pity they have the mafia!

    2) In my post I’m trying to explain this uniqueness of the Italian mafia by connecting it to survivals of an ancient (and powerful) past. I cannot prove it, it remains a jotted down idea. Mario Puzo seems to agree, but it could be just a literary artifice, hard to say. This whole thing needs further research.

    [Update: the result of a draft research was presented *here* in Sept 2010]

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  18. I guess big money brings in bring crime.. Interesting post and discussions… quite new to us, and yes I would try to see the movie ‘godfather’ quite soon…

    Destination Infinity

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    • Yes, and sometimes big money is explained by big crime. Thanks for reading my posts, DI. Any effort to understand a different culture is laudable. I will reply to your other comments tonight or tomorrow.

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  19. WOW! A magnificent discussion by all, led by the Grand Don, MoR.

    When teaching The Great Gatsby, I secretly hoped that Meyer Wolfsheim had fixed the 1919 World Series. Fitzgerald describes him with exaggerated Jewish stereotypes, emphasized by placing him in a sterile poisonous venue with the equally corrupt and WASPY Buchanans, Tom and Daisy.

    My friend, Joe, is a proud Sicilian. Sometimes, when we are having lunch, I pretend that I am Meyer Lansky’s niece and he, well? he, Joe.

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    • I confess I never read The Great Gatsby. I love this relationship you have with Joe, one of the reason I became attracted to your blog. Btw, I added you to my blogroll.

      To me Italian Americans are a ‘bridge’ to better understand the New World, one of my passions. Plus they sometimes have archaic traits that have disappeared even here. The NW is at times a reservoir of cultures, as Paul once said here. Take the Amish. Or the French spoken in Canada: more ancient (and interesting) than the overly sophisticated (but now flat) Parisien.

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  20. Hey there MoR firstly I’d like to say how much I enjoy your blog.

    Secondly, Is there any Roman (modern roman) equivalent of the Mafia or Cammorra etc I have head whispers of something called the bagherinaggio

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    • Hi, welcome here and thank you!

      Bagherinaggio or ‘ticket resale’ is linked in Italy to soccer. It is more or less illegal but it has nothing to do with organized crime.

      In Rome only the ‘Banda della Magliana’ can be compared a bit to Mafia or Camorra. From the 70s until the early 90s this gang controlled the entire Roman underworld.

      If you check the English wiki they were very powerful but “unlike the Camorra or Cosa Nostra, the Banda … wasn’t structured around a hierarchical pyramid.”

      That is the closest we got to the Mafia in Rome.

      Reply
  21. Ah I see thanks, that’s good because your city is the most wonderful in the world; no joke :).

    p.s. I don’t suppose I could trouble you further and ask you why you think there has been a lack of traditional (I say that because I understand there is a presence of albanians etc) organized crime.

    Reply
  22. Is not the Pope a mafiso…?
    Kids are being tortured, prostituted by capos & leiutenants (sp) secretly men of stture are murdered…
    The gang signs used throughout the streets of the world are in origin connected to the Church (through its Masonic Order) You may believe that Silvio Berlisconi is against the Pope but you would be wrong.
    Protsitution of children in the millions, murder, torture all of it…is connected to the …mafia

    Reply
  23. Pingback: The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2) « Man of Roma

  24. Pingback: The Mafia and the Italian Mind. Was Julius Caesar a Godfather? (3) « Man of Roma

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    Reply

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