Italy is a miracle

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Piazza del Campo, Siena, as people gather in the square before the Palio

During my shenanigans in the old country I hopped on my car, held hostage a partner in crime – the good old Ferruccio – grabbed my old tent and we drove without destination throughout Tuscany.

We ended up in Siena for the Palio, a renowned horse race where ten jockeys ride bareback around the city’s piazza. Ten riders representing the different contrade (neighbourhoods) challenge each other on the tracks to determine which borough has more power and strength. But the Palio is not just a simple horse race as it defines the very essence of Siena, its history and culture: most people feel so attached to their neighbourhood that their babies are baptised not in churches under a cross but in stables with the flag of the city ward.

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horses race around the piazza during the Palio

I then walked among poor houses that time turned into noble palaces and I thought to myself that there are moments when Italy seems a miracle and Italians just invincible.

I stood in a silent piazza filled with 50.000 people where the only thing you could hear was your heartbeat and the galloping of the horses and I was welcomed in a neighbourhood where they treated me like family. Wine was abundant, laughter was sincere and old ladies didn’t deny a rich plate full of pasta to anyone.

Why beauty and intelligence, stratified here throughout centuries, didn’t make Italy immune to weaknesses and misfortunes?

How to catch a mafioso

So, I got on a plane thinking that I was going to enjoy some good and well-deserved vacations in Palermo, Sicily. It never really happened.

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the Vucciria neighbourhood in Palermo

As I landed and managed to reach the famous market of Ballaro’, I noticed that two or three helicopters started hovering over the city centre. Before I could realise it, I found myself in the middle of a gigantic Police operation where 11 men linked to the number one mafia fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro got arrested.

My vacation turned instantly into an assignment trip and, let me tell you, my girlfriend was not exactly happy about it.

After a few phone calls to local journalists –real heroes, I assure you, with a moral compass that allows them to report on mafia while receiving death threats on a daily basis – and police officers who fight organised crime in the streets of Sicily, I met I.M.D. an extraordinary cop that has arrested top mobsters such as Toto’ Riina and Bernardo Provenzano.

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the olive tree in via D’Amelio, Palermo, where the mafia killed judge Paolo Borsellino in 1992

He belongs to the Catturandi squad, a special Police department that only deals with organised crime – you can spot them on TV reports because they’re the only one wearing a balaclava while arresting mafia affiliates. He’s been doing this for many years, since “the death of judges Falcone and Borsellino” because he wanted “to help my city, my region to get rid of this deadly tumour called mafia”.

They have to act incognito, they wiretap Mafiosi for decades, listening to their lives, their modus operandi, their strategies. They basically live with them, follow them, talk like them and, most importantly, think like them. And then, when the right time comes, they raid their houses, they pull them over and arrest them. “My family doesn’t know what I do for living” I.M.D. tells me “they think I work at the passport office, a boring desk job”. Except for his wife: “One day she was preparing dinner and watching the eight o’clock news. A prominent mafia boss was being arrested on live television and she looked closely into the TV screen: this boss was escorted by a man with a balaclava. She squinted on the Police officer and she recognised…well, she recognised my butt, so I had to tell her because your wife can always recognise you from a million miles away”.

Keep on reading these pages and I’ll soon tell you where you can find the full interview with I.M.D.

Have a great summer!