Every time there’s another flashy news story about a mob boss crawling out of a bunker or a maxi-arrest of ‘Ndrangheta members, friends and acquaintances tell me about it and want to know what I think. The latest is the New Yorker and the ‘Ndrangheta in Alex Perry’s article “Blood and Justice.” I have a few thoughts.
SENSITIVITY, THE NEW YORKER AND THE ‘NDRANGHETA
In my book Calabria: The Other Italy, I attempt to present as complete and accurate a vision of Calabria as possible. Thus, I discuss the ‘Ndrangheta and the grave difficulties the region and its good citizens must face in its regard. As I have said in the past, I realize this is a sensitive topic and I strive to portray the issue within its context in an effort to give the reader the perspective to understand what is at stake for the good people of the region. I repeat the words “good people” to reinforce the concept that Calabrians are in the vast majority good people, who are understandably sensitive to one-sided pictures. Clearly, every article or book has to have its focus, but not at the expense of painting with that type of broad brush that has the tendency to blur or skew the image.
The latest lengthy article to hit the newsstands puts together the New Yorker and the ‘Ndrangheta in the magazine’s January 22, 2018 issue. In this 12-page article with accompanying cartoons that just made me scratch my head, Alex Perry examines several ‘Ndrangheta women who became witnesses for the prosecution. He focuses on the work of Mafia prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti, who has been fighting crime in Calabria since 2009. The formidable obstacles for these women born into a life of crime is made clear and the fortitude needed to break familial bonds, which are particularly strong in Calabria, is chronicled. But, I’m left wondering about the magazine’s depiction of the region, its landscape and people.
CALABRIA, AS REDUCED BY THE NEW YORKER AND THE ‘NDRANGHETA
“The tip of the peninsula is little more than thornbush scrub and mountains, populated by shepherds and small-boat fishermen.” Really? No offense to the shepherds and fishermen as we love their pecorino cheese and fresh fish, but Calabrians engage in all types of employment and most I know have a good handle on Latin and Philosophy.
Thornbush scrub? From what I’ve seen, just about anything will grow on the tip of the peninsula. Take the bergamot, as just one example. The 100-mile stretch of coastline in the Province of Reggio Calabria is one of the few places on earth where the tree produces fruit, and Calabria’s bergamot oil is the best quality in the world. (See The Bergamot: Calabria’s Incredible Citrus.)
“The countryside looked like the aftermath of a disaster.” The region is poor and areas have undoubtedly suffered visually from lack of upkeep and illegal building practices. What I don’t understand is, with these “centuries of disaster,” how is Facebook full of gorgeous photos of the Calabrian countryside? Luckily, after the disaster, “a hard beauty to the place” was admitted by the author.
WHAT IS THE MEZZOGIORNO?
When the New Yorker and the ‘Ndrangheta got done, the whole of the Mezzogiorno turned into “a dry, torpid expanse stretching from Abruzzo to Lampedusa.” Here, I ask myself whether or not all the umbrellas sold in South Italy are destined for the poor southerners to use on their London vacations.
But what is this word Mezzogiorno? Literally meaning midday, which is its first definition, Mezzogiorno also signifies the southern compass point because it is the position in which the sun is at its highest as seen from the northern hemisphere. It was also an old mariner’s term for the south wind. In a geographical context, Mezzogiorno indicates the southern part of an area. In Italy, the Mezzogiorno encompasses the regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia. And often, they are lumped together with a negative slant by those from the settentrione or northern parts, and in this case reiterated by the New Yorker magazine. Quite frankly, I was taken by surprise. (By the way, torpid means to be mentally or physically inactive…)
THE NEW YORKER AND THE ‘NDRANGHETA
Born into a crime family is something most of us haven’t experienced. Writer Alex Perry indicates that the poor treatment of women within the ‘Ndrangheta clans was a pivotal factor in these women turning on their villainous families and often repenting for their own shameful actions. Looking in from the outside, I couldn’t say what I would have done in the shoes of someone whose life is so foreign to civilized imagination. To rebel against formative brainwashing and face death for yourself, possibly your children and your dog at the hands of a family member must be daunting, particularly when raised with a code of unbreakable familial allegiance together with a disregard for what is considered normal moral behavior.
Do we need to understand these people to eradicate them? I think we do, and I applaud law enforcement and its prosecutors who work tirelessly in this endeavor. Just this week in Reggio Calabria, an anti-mafia protocol was signed to put in place a support network for the safety and systematic transfer of women and children from families of organized crime or victims of mafia violence.
It is refreshing to read an article that doesn’t glorify the mafia, but disparaging the southern half of a country doesn’t exactly help the situation move forward, either. Journalists need to study the environment in which the situation has arisen and be careful not to repeat assumptions and criticisms by those who had a hand in creating the atmosphere in which the criminal element was originally able to develop. So I would like to caution the reader of such articles and suggest a bit of fact checking. Half of Italy, a dry, torpid expanse? I think not.
For a description of the Calabrian mafia organization, see my blogpost The ‘Ndrangheta. Read more about this criminal organization in Calabria: The Other Italy, my non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society of the beautiful, fascinating and complex land in the toe of the Italian boot. Meet a few citizens of the region in the post My Italy Blog – Has It Been Two Years Already? or a couple of artists in The Ceramics of Seminara – In the Studio of Enzo Ferraro, An Artist in Amantea and MuSaBa: Not Just A Museum.
Last year Calabria was the only Italian region to be selected for the New York Times’ list “52 Places to Go in 2017” – read about it on my post VISIT CALABRIA Says the NY Times!
Sign up below to receive the next blog post for free directly to your email.