Sicily’s Sect

“In Palermo dialect the adjective ‘mafioso’ once meant ‘beautiful, ‘bold’, ‘self-confident’. Anyone who was worthy of being described as mafioso therefore had a certain something, an attribute called ‘mafia’. ‘Cool’ is about the closest modern English equivalent: a mafioso was something who fancied himself.” (Quote form Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie)

The start to Godfather IV should occur on Meridiana’s direct flight from Palermo to New York. While in Sicily, I read Dickie’s book detailing the history of the mafia called “Cosa Nostra.” Along with providing a history of the mafia and how it came to be, the book also does a nice job of outlining recent Sicilian history. Interestingly, much about the mafia was not understood until about two decades ago in 1992 when Giovanni Falcone, an anti-mafia investigator and prosecuting attorney, headed the famous Maxi Trial. Of 474 Mafia members charged in this trial, 360 were convicted of serious crimes. In addition, Falcone was able to convince Tommaso Bruscetta to be the first ever Sicilian Mafia informant. It is through the words of Bruscetta that so much is reliably known about the Mafia today. Sadly, to retaliate, the Mafia kills Falcone and his family soon after the trial on a highway outside of Palermo.

For the most part, the three of us were hidden from the corruption of Sicily; however, there were several small examples that we experienced along the way. One such example occurred on our first afternoon in Palermo after parking our car in a public lot. We were approached upon getting out of the car and told that someone would watch our car while we were away for 3 euros. Our car, however, would not need watching if that same someone would not mess with the car when we don’t pay him the money. Although the sum of money wasn’t huge and the whole situation benign, small occurrences like these confirm some of the shadiness that exists on Italy’s southern island.

On The Road

Gabe, Becky, and I rent a car in Sicily because the island is not too large and becomes very accessible with wheels. Before leaving Palermo on day one, we visit the Catacombs of The Capuchins and the Duomo di Monreale. Both are incredible experiences and both are very different. The Catacombs are full with well preserved human bodies still dressed in their finest clothes from several hundred years back. There are men, women, and children, all either lined up against the walls or stacked on top of each other. There are babies in carriages and families still together. Some still have skin, some still have hair, and some still frightening show an expression as we pass. The Catacombs are a chilling experience where the dead people seem too real. The next stop before leaving Palermo is Duomo di Monreale, a beautiful cathedral at the top of a hill overlooking all of Palermo. Becky, who has studied much about ancient architecture, reveals many of the intricacies of the church as we walk through it.

Palermo from above

On our way to Sciacca, where we will be spending our first two nights, we stop at Corleone, the home of many Mafia bosses from the Godfather’s Vito Corleone to real bosses such as Jack Dragna, Giuseppe Morello, Michele Navarra and others. We take a couple photos, grab a snack, I unsuccessfully try to find some suspenders because I seem to recall those from the movies, and we continue on our way.


Our final stop of the day is Sciacca, pronounced like Chaka of Chaka Khan, the 10 time Grammy Award winning artist with hits such as “Tell Me Something Good” and “Sweet Thing”. But enough about Chaka. We find a nice bed and breakfast to stay at just outside the heart of the city. The owners are very friendly and full advice, and there is ample space for the three of us including a kitchen and a living room. For dinner, we make our way to a hidden pizza place not far from the bed and breakfast and we end our day enjoying three large pizza with fresh local ingredients.

The journey in the car between each stop shows off some of the expansive and empty landscapes still present within Sicily. There are mountains, valleys, greens, and browns in every direction. The island is beautiful, very warm, and still not overrun by tourists. Looking out the windows as we drive through the countryside is as enjoyable as any destination.

On the road in Sicily

Sicilia: Good Food, Good Times

We will number three for the Sicily portion of our adventure. For the next many days, Becky, a friend of Gabe’s from Rome, will be joining us. The home of the mafia immediately begins with great food. We land in Palermo near the Northwest of the island, rent a car, and head off to the center of the city to find a restaurant Gabe remembers from visits past. At the Antica Focacceria S. Francesco in Palermo, we begin our culinary tour of Sicily. From panele to spleen sandwiches to deliciously fried arrancini to camponata to cannoli made with fresh ricotta, we commence our time on Italy’s oblong soccer ball with a feast.

Food in Sicily