A Personal History Lesson about the Mafia
I also commented that the local merchants and restaurateurs that I had met were surprisingly friendly and willing to chat with foreigners. Alessandro indicated that this is generally their nature, and the fact that it is not high season yet makes it easier to communicate with the locals. He mentioned that in the summer time when Taormina gets really busy, many of the merchants are taxed to the limits with work and there is less time or opportunity to communicate.
Flowers are blooming everywhere
Alessandro explained that Taormina is a favourite tourist destination, and the Greek Theatre is a definite tourist draw. He explained that Taormina Arte is a local arts organization that brings art, theatre, music and dance programs into town during the summer months. World-renowned musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Alanis Morissette, James Taylor or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are all artists that have played in Taormina’s famous ancient theatre. Many other events are held for free in different venues throughout town.
Taormina’s ancient Greek Theatre
I learned that Taormina first became famous in the 1800s when writers such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Guy de Maupassant or D.H. Lawrence visited this picturesque place. Alexander von Humboldt, the famous German natural scientist and explorer discovered Taormina already in the late 1700s. I mentioned to Alessandro that in my recent travels in the last few years I had stumbled across Alexander von Humboldt several times: first in Havana, then in Taxco – Mexico and most recently on the Canary island of Tenerife. Somehow unknowingly I had been following some of the footsteps of this famous historic world traveler.
Church in Taormina
There was one particular topic that I wanted to learn more about: not unpredictably I wanted to get a more in-depth understanding of this renowned Sicilian organization: the Mafia. Alessandro has extensive knowledge of history, politics and social science and started explaining that in southern Italy’s agricultural south a feudal power structure ruled by the aristocracy prevailed for centuries. These feudal landowners put in charge so-called “campieri” where managed their “latifundios” or large estates. The campieri were in charge of checking and managing the territory, administering justice and they were given absolute power as well as weapons for enforcement. Usually “justice” was determined on the spot and arbitrarily, without any kind of due process or court proceedings.
The “Trinacria”, symbol of Sicily
The vast majority of the population were absolutely poor, had no education, held many superstitious beliefs and had a deeply engrained fear of “the system”. This feudal administrative and enforcement system represented the beginnings of the Mafia which over the last 150 years or so has evolved into an international business organization which includes such things as drugs, weapons, prostitution, various illegal rackets, gambling and often the misappropriation of public funds. The Mafia today not only exists in Italy, but throughout Europe and North America. Organized crime from other sources such as Russian or Asia is also often referred to as “mafia” although this term did indeed originate in Sicily.
Views of Taormina