It’s always a relief to me when Christmas is over. Following all the over-eating, excitable families, pressure to spend, emotional blackmail to eat more, stay longer and be energetic, happy beings, in spite of any work-related year-end exhaustion, I find myself in desperate need of escape. Forget peace on earth and goodwill to men. Few people seem to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Take last Christmas, for instance, when Israel was wreaking havoc in Gaza. There was nothing peaceful about that. Extremist factions around the world favour Christmas as a great time to try to blow things up, and on Boxing Day 2004, a tsunami swept through southern Asia, killing over 200,000 people in 13 countries, so forgive me if peace is the last thing I relate with Christmas these days.
On reflection, 2008 was turbulent. A memorable year for all the wrong reasons, it had been a rollercoaster ride from start to finish and not in a good way; it was more akin to Expedition Ge Force than It’s a Small World. So, to recharge, Monsieur and I booked an end-of-year trip to Sicily (once we’d fulfilled all family obligations and celebrated Christmas not once, not twice, but three times over).
I hadn’t set foot on the island off ‘The Boot’ since I was a student in quite a different life. On that first trip, many of our group had been suffering from a nasty virus and I therefore coughed and sniffed my way around Sicily in a somewhat depleted state. This time I was determined to squeeze the most into and out of our New Year’s adventure, especially as Sicily was unbroken ground for my compadre, Monsieur.
The departure routine was the same as for most of our travels: washing and packing like laundry obsessives, to bed later than hoped, waking in the dark, groaning our way into readiness and repeatedly checking our bags for passport and ticket reference numbers in Frequent Traveller’s O.C.D.
For these and other travel prep reasons, I find it’s a blessed relief to reach the air-side part of any airport terminal, especially as you never know whether security will ask you to remove boots, shoes, belt, jacket or hat (I always wear a little Phillip Treacy fascinator for travel, daaahling), or whether they’ll confiscate your perfume or evian from carry-on luggage, lest you turn it into an incendiary device and blow up the plane. (It would seem the instructions for making such things are on the internet somewhere – God bless Google.) Whilst we’re on the subject of confiscated items, have you ever wondered where those clear plastic bags of illegal on-board items end up? I imagine the guards split the take at the end of the day “there you go, Bob, you said you needed a new deodorant. Eileen, you like Number 5, right? Who needs toothpaste? Full tube, whitening… Old Spice anyone?”
On the particular morning that we set off for Sicily, Monsieur and I were both in need of books, so we found a bookshop, stood in front of shelves of what’s deemed as good holiday reading and yawned. Chick lit… murder mystery… murder mystery… Danielle Steele… more chick lit… footballer ‘auto’-biography. It seemed we’d read all the decent titles and neither of us was in the mood for tales of unrequited office crushes or dismembered bodies floating in the Thames. Dismembered bodies in Sicily, however, were another matter entirely.
And so, with that in mind I walked towards the plane with the sort of book I never, ever buy, wondering if I’d just thrown a handful of (devaluing) pounds down the Drain of Mistaken Purchases. As I burned my mouth on too-hot coffee in the departures lounge, out of the hand-luggage it came: The Last Godfathers, by John Follain. At the very least, the book had pictures. That was a start. Turning to the black and white collection of images, I looked hard into the faces of the men who’ve tortured, maimed, murdered and terrorised so many good Sicilian folk. They could have been anyone; there was nothing remarkable or particularly violent-looking about any of them. Food for thought. In the name of better understanding our destination, it was time to find out what this whole Sicilian Mafia thing was about, so I started to read. By the time we reached Sicily, via Milan, I was hooked. Little did Monsieur know that his one-time peace-loving fiancée would soon be recounting tales of disappearances and body disposal, peppered with details of why you have to be strong to garrotte someone and what sort of acid is best for dissolving human bodies. Needless to say, many of these revelations took place at mealtimes for maximum effect.
Wherever we went in Sicily, we saw people and situations that smacked of a Sopranos-on-location episode: grey-haired men with cashmere coats slung across their shoulders, flanked by ginormous muscle-men in suits with mirrored glasses as they ambled about in the New Year sun… there were plenty of such stereotypes about, looking like they’d just walked off the set for The Godfather Part 7, but perhaps Monsieur and I possess over-active imaginations and we were just observing double-glazing magnates enjoying a stroll with their beloved nephews. I leave it to you to decide.
One thing did take my breath away, however. As I sat watching Italian breakfast news one morning, I learned that one of the most notorious of Corleone’s godfathers, a man named Salvatore Riina, had not one but several Facebook sites in his name and other godfathers were being ‘honoured’ (if you can call it that) in the same social networking fashion. The pages were apparently set up by fans (Fans? These people have fans?) eliciting support for the release of Riina and his cohorts from prison where they’re serving life sentences for inconceivable crimes in both method and number. The Italian outcry had begun and soon spread to Facebook’s headquarters, where it caused great argument because Facebook says it doesn’t want to be responsible for censorship. The victims of such men do not agree. They view this stance as support of evil in our midst. Will we next see the godfathers blogging from their cells? Or should such rights be denied prisoners? The questions, the questions. Out of interest, if you stumbled across a Mafioso blog, would you dare post a comment? If so, what ever would you say? Well, I don’t know about you, but suddenly, I find myself in the grip of blogger’s block, quite, quite at a loss for words.
As for visiting Mafiosi on Facebook, well, what do you do to get a godfather’s attention, exactly? Poke him? Somehow that seems wrong. What are my chances of making it to the next birthday if I throw a sheep, instead? Or send tropical fish for the Don’s aquarium, or a round of pangalactic gargleblasters? Pass to all. I think I’ll just play the Facebook app called Mafia Wars, where I’m known as Don Epicurienne. Far safer.