Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo

By Jane C. Schneider; Peter T. Schneider | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Palermo Crucible

The Piazza Marina is situated behind a row of antique palazzi facing the gulf in Palermo's historic center. In the middle is an acre of garden called the Villa Garibaldi, which is surrounded by a handsome Art Nouveau, wrought iron fence depicting animals of the hunt. A gigantic Ficus magnoloides tree dominates one quadrant of the garden, each enormous branch sending shoots to the ground like elephants' trunks, creating a labyrinth of arched chambers underneath. The Piazza Marina was the center of elegance in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Palermo. Here men and women of baronial and princely pedigree gathered nightly, clothes and carriages on display, to eat jasmine petal ices and gossip (Eberstadt 1991: 48). After the unification of Italy in 1860, however, the city's northward expansion diminished the importance of this luxurious scene, creating new piazzas and boulevards as places for the elite to be seen. That the Piazza Marina was the scene of the 1909 murder of New York City police officer Joe Petrosino, sent to Palermo to pursue mafiosi, did nothing to enhance its reputation.

Near the end of World War II, Allied bombers destroyed many of the waterfront palazzi, and by the mid-1960s the Piazza Marina was somewhere to avoid, a place where you had to step over garbage, be vigilant against pickpockets and purse snatchers, and wonder whether the magnolia tree, abandoned to the surrounding patch of weeds, hid something sinister in its gothic roots. In a 1991 New Yorker article describing the neighborhood around the piazza, Fernanda Eberstadt vividly captured

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Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Chapter 1 - The Palermo Crucible 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Genesis of the Mafia 22
  • Chapter 3 - The Mafia and the Cold War 49
  • Chapter 4 - The Cultural Production of Violence 81
  • Chapter 5 - Seeking Causes, Casting Blame 103
  • Chapter 6 - Mysteries and Poisons 127
  • Chapter 7 - The Antimafia Movement 160
  • Chapter 8 - Backlash and Renewal 193
  • Chapter 9 - Civil Society Groundwork 216
  • Chapter 10 - Recuperating the Built Environment 235
  • Chapter 11 - Cultural Re-Education 260
  • Chapter 12 - Reversible Destiny 290
  • Notes 305
  • References 317
  • Index 331
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