Teaching Mafia

March 28th 2015 -- The sign in the foyer of the Hotel Plaza Opera in Palermo is written in sloppy English: "Six p.m. meeting with a son of one of the former mafia boss." Angelo, heir of the "boss of bosses" Bernardo Provenzano is about to encounter another group of American tourists. The visitors are on an excursion through Sicily accompanied by a Boston-based tour operator and organizer of the events. Every week, for the past six months, Provenzano's son has crossed paths with incomers to tell them his life story.

Angelo tells Italian reporters that he is only trying to earn an honest living. He talks about his life during his father's 43 years as a fugitive, of his family's return to Corleone. He sometimes describes a scenery that resembles Palermo, but is careful and never mentions specific places or people. His tale begins as a 17-year-old teenager. He describes Bernardo as being caring and attentive toward his wife and children. Words that clash with the nicknames he was given by former mafia men who called him "Binnu u tratturi" ("Binnie the tractor") to indicate that "he mows people down," or "Il ragioniere" ("the bookkeeper") to say that he was the man who decided the fate of his victims, whether they would live or die.

Bernardo Provenzano was born in Corleone, a town that became familiar to people around the world for being cited in the movie The Godfather. He joined the mob when he was a teenager. Sixty years in Cosa Nostra that culminated with his arrest in 2006. He also took part in the 1992 massacres of both Judge Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Bernardo Provenzano is now 82 years old, and is serving a life sentence for mafia crimes.

Reactions following the news of Angelo Provenzano's new "profession" were immediate. Maria Falcone, sister of Judge Giovanni Falcone, killed in the Capaci mafia slaughter in May 1992 said:

: It's true, a father's faults should not have repercussions on his children -- she says -- but it is wrong to speculate on mafia, on the blood of its victims."

The tour operator defends its position to the press by stating the company' s intent to meet their customer's desire to fully understand the land they are visiting. This includes learning about the social problems which afflict southern Italy.

Last Saturday, my husband and I were having dinner at our usual pizzeria with our usual crowd of friends. As always, at the end of the evening, when the locale is empty, the owner takes off his white apron and joins the conversation. He pulls up a chair and sets a bottle of mulled wine and cantucci biscuits on the table. As we binge into our midnight treat, he pulls out a topic to discuss. It's usually a controversial theme, something that arouses spirits and debate. To put it like he would: "Something that makes you feel alive!" In Italy, this translates into a heated exchange of opinion that sometimes includes swearing at one another in a friendly fashion. Entertaining, if you manage to stay out of the crossfire!

I began to feel a little nervous when I noticed his beady-eyed glare. I knew it was my turn: "So, Christina, did you read about Provenzano's son? What do you think about him teaching mafia?" Before I had the time to even attempt to think of an answer, one of our friends came out with: "So what's the problem? He has a right to work just like everyone else does."

Okay, count to ten and breathe, I thought to myself. No matter how hard I try, I never get past six in Italy.

"The glorification of mafia figures, for example. The risk that someone like Angelo Provenzano could end up exalting the image of his father during those talks is high." I replied in an apparent state of calmness, promptly deceived by a flush of red edging on purple that rises like my blood pressure, and colors an otherwise-pale complexion.

As we were riding home in the car, I felt sad. There are so many other ways to help tourists, to help everyone understand mafia and the effects it has and has had, not only on the southern regions of Italy, but in the entire country.

Sadly, Italy is equipped with an army of people who have lost members of their families to the mafia. Mothers, wives, children, brothers and sisters who have dedicated their lives to fighting organized crime, who, in many cases are still waiting for justice to take its course.

Why not meet the families of the victims of mafia? Why not bring tourists to Capaci where Judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and three police officers, namely Vito Schifani, Rocco Dicillo and Antonio Montinaro were blown to pieces?
Why not accompany visitors in D'Amelio street, under the olive tree planted by Judge Paolo Borsellino's mother, in the same place she was forced to recognize and step over the remains of her son's mutilated body? Why not tell people that the explosion that killed Judge Borsellino was so violent that it destroyed an entire neighborhood and took the lives of his five bodyguards: Emanuela Loi, Agostino Catalano, Vincenzo Li Muli, Walter Eddie Cosina and Cluadio Traina?
Why not visit the courthouse in Palermo and meet Judge Antonino Di Matteo, lead prosecutor in the Mafia State Treaty trial?

These are only a few obvious options one could suggest as an alternative to allowing someone to teach mafia.

This matter is about responsibility. It's about making good choices and bad choices; it's about right and wrong. It's about empathy and respect toward those hundreds of children, women and men who were brutally assassinated by mafiosi. It's a step toward determining the type of culture we are promoting in society today, and the effect it will have on our children's tomorrow.

Sure, Angelo Provenzano has a right to earn an honest living, and there are many ways he can do so. His life story is probably much more useful to magistrates, to people like Judge Di Matteo who kiss their wives and children goodbye in the morning without knowing if they will see them again at the end of the day.