food / travel

The Godfather’s Appetite

Cannoli and killers: a new book connects Cosa Nostra power with the seduction of Sicilian cuisine

An Italian restaurant in Warsaw (Tulio Bertorini via flickr)

Francesco La Licata

ROME - At the table, any conflict can be smoothed out, peace made, war declared, business done, oaths sealed, alliances forged. At the table, in short, we take and we leave — often in a violent manner. The Sicilians know this well. To them, the kitchen is more effective than any formal setting for business or diplomacy. Politics, the Mafia, big business, history-making decisions: always drawn within the frame of rich mythological aromas, unforgettable scents, at tables that are set with endless menus.

Cosa Nostra, politics and big business are like the courses of the same meal: a combination that is not accidental for the authors of "Culinary Tale" (The Mafia at the Table), written by Jacques Kermoal, a journalist and Italian expert, and Martine Bartolomei, a food writer for Le Figaro and curator of the 55 Sicilian recipes chosen to bind together the book's ten distinct Mafia tales.

The book connects everything from the solitary meals of chicory and ricotta eaten on the lam by fugitive Sicilian boss of bosses Bernardo Provenzano, all the way to high-end "Calabrian lunches' in Milan. Take the banquet held in 1862 — Messina cod and swordfish — to crown Italian liberator Giuseppe Garibaldi. It proved to be a tough meal to swallow for some, as the authors note, because Garibaldi, while initially thinking of giving Sicily to King Victor Emmanuel, had just handed it to the Mafia instead. "The food was excellent, however, the stew hens stuffed with truffles and roast leg of venison."

There was also the gelato, which ended the lunch of Don Vito Cascioferro, guest of the Corleone Mafia boss and member of Parliament De Michele Ferrantelli. Don Vito, as recounted in the book, "buries his spoon into the gelato" just eleven minutes after killing Joe Petrosino a New York City Cop who in 1909 came to Palermo to destroy the "Black Hand" of Cascioferro. Needless to say, the Honorable Ferrantelli served as Cascioferro's alibi.

Great guests, these mobsters. But possibly a little too celebrated with some rhetorical inventions employed by the authors. Take Lucky Luciano or Don Calò Vizzini, or even Giuseppe Genco Russo, depicted at their dinner table with journalists, prosecutors or even Roman Catholic Cardinals, as in the case of Don Calò who was invited to lunch by the Archbishop of Palermo, Ernesto Ruffini, the most powerful Vatican representative in Sicily. It was 1948 on the cusp of the first elections in the era of the Republic. While the "pork boiled" and the rolls of beef with artichokes were washed down with dry Malvasia Albanello, Ruffini assured Calo he would "arrange" for the election of the Christian Democrats to stem the Communist threat.

The book is a dance of prominent names, but sometimes suffers from the factual shortcomings of the oral tradition. We are talking about Mussolini, Roosevelt, Garibaldi and Cavour. Still, you can almost picture General Dalla Chiesa grappling with the "Tuna alla Siricusana," while a prosecutor warns him about the dangers of the Mafia in Catania and their Kalashnikovs. The Mafia of this tale is vivid, quasi-aristocratic. But could it really have been like this?

Of course, we have been conditioned to believe the Hollywood portrayal of this story, Peter Clemenza in the movie "The Godfather" monitoring the pasta sauce as it boils, shortly after delivering the famous line: "Leave the gun, Take the cannoli." Just as realistic, we can now add the macabre final meal of Saro Riccobono, a sworn enemy of Toto Riina, who was ultimately destroyed by his appetite. After gorging himself on lunch, Riccobono dozes off under a tree to wake up to find a noose fastened around his neck. He can see the rabid face of his killer, who whispers, "Saro, this is where your story ends." Stuff that scene in your cannoli, and call it a wrap.

Read the original story in Italian

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Iran To Offer Master's And PhD In Morality Enforcement

For those aiming to serve the Islamic Republic of Iran as experts to train the public morality agents, there are now courses to obtain the "proper" training.

Properly dressed in the holy city of Qom.

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

A woman in Tehran walks past a mural of an Iranian flag

The traffic police chief recently said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

New academic discipline

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

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