Stories ~ Romancing Italy

Aug 15, 2008


It’s August 15 and another holiday throughout Italy. One year ago on this day, 6 men were killed in Germany at an Italian restaurant; the hands of the Mafia, for the first time known, had extended its deadly hand in a foreign country. Two of the men were from San Luca, Reggio Calabria, several hours drive south of where we live. It’s a town where people go to disappear, sometimes voluntarily and other times not. The story is in the news today, the mother remembering one year later and not at all surprising that she can not and will not forgive those who took her sons from her.

But stories of vengeance and retribution are not always so far away. Two days ago at Bivongi where Antonio’s parents live, we were walking from their house to the crowded piazza when a stocky man in a white T shirt walked past us. Antonio whispered to me “his brother was killed here some years ago by the mafia.” I was all ears. Why? Where? What happened next? Story after story poured out and unexciting places I’d gazed upon previously, changed in a twinkling, into a definite point of interest.

Bivongi used to have its own capo or boss. He offered protection to the residents in his area and was well respected. Over time, he acquired a lot of land that came to the attention of another capo who wanted to buy the land. Apparently there was no deal and Bivongi’s capo was taken out while he was out visiting his orchards. The area is now under the “protection” of the capo in Siderno, another neighboring town, about 20 minutes away, where we go for the shopping center.

Another man, successful in irritating the mafia, lost his life a few steps from his home, broad daylight. Antonio showed me the house and where the man took his last breath. I’m morbidly fascinated.

The man we saw that night is now living in Milano after losing his brother and also his uncle. They were shepherds who allowed their cows to roam the hills freely. Not everyone appreciates this presumption as on occasion, something gets eaten, trampled, pooped on and certainly destroyed. There are always warnings. Verbal ones, or more persuasive, bullet riddled walls and broken windows. Unheeded warnings mean certain death. The brother was shot in the mountains he loved. His uncle who was also “guilty” of free roaming livestock, made an appointment with someone one fateful day in the country. They found the scooter first, sunlight reflecting off one mirror, and the body shortly after. He must have suspected something as a knife was found concealed on his corpse but he never had a chance. As he rounded a corner, he was knocked off his scooter with the force of the bullets that entered his body. Mr. White T-shirt moved away to a safer life in the north.

Two unfinished houses stand like beacons on the beach that we pass every time we go to Monasterace. They are identical in design and if their ghostly state didn’t grab attention, the fact that they were owned by brothers who were assassinated in Monasterace by the mafia would do it. The land did not go to family, but back to the state. Until they are torn down (built without permits), they remain a constant reminder and warning to those who know more of the story.

Mafia hits in general are carried out on holidays such as birthdays or religious holidays, a day to remember. Wives and daughters are apparently still untouched. It must be a blessing and a curse to be born a boy in this area, especially if there are ties to a clan and worse yet if there is a feud. The mafia is not like terrorists where innocent and guilty are indiscriminately killed. There are sometimes unfortunate incidents where a bystander gets caught in the middle, but mostly, the hit is directed solely to the intended victim without unintentional bloodshed. One of the two men in Germany was leaving the restaurant after celebrating his 16th birthday. Today, I am wondering if there will be news and if another mother will add another photo to the growing family plot at the community cemetery. Today or not, I think it will be inevitable.



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