Unseen Mafia Country, in Porticello

Dave the motorhome has a wide-screen to-die-for-view of the Mediterranean, in Porticello, Sicily (N38.08411 E13.53790). We’re looking north back towards Europe, almost in an over-the-shoulder last glance before we head off to Palermo and onwards to North Africa. If you can’t tell, we’re getting excited, and nervous.

I nearly caught an eel last night. Fooling about with my crabbing line the foot-long green writhing thing caught me out as I pulled it from the sea. Fortunately for my ego, it let go and I didn’t have to wander about the shore under the gaze of lifelong fishermen wondering what to do with it. Later on as we watched House MD on the laptop, an engine noise had us hitting pause. Peering out into the dark, a couple of guys with head torches rowed slowly past us, the noise being a generator powering a spotlight off the front of the small boat.

Charlie eyes up some fool snorkelling past Dave.
Charlie eyes up some daft fella snorkelling past Dave.

Fishing is everything here it seems. We have a good view of the entrance to the harbour, watching craft of varying size purposefully heading in and out, day and night. It amazes me that many of them seem to drop net as soon as they pass the red-green lights which universally mark the entrance to harbours. They pootle about the bay in front of us, and head back in. I’ve seen ‘Most Dangerous Catch’, and these guys have got the right idea, none of that daftness for them. Where do all the fish come from though? I nipped in for a snorkel, and sure enough, the sea’s full of ’em, even this close in. No sign of that eel though, phew.

Out of port, nets out.
Out of port, nets out.

About 800m from here there’s a vets. Almost. Charlie needs his booster vaccinations before Tunisia, and Ju found the place on Google. As we walked around the corner, there it is, looking spanking new. Too new it turns out, sort of. The logos on the windows were half covered in plastic and the young vet, Raoul, told us he’s waiting for authorisation after he’d done apologising for his perfect English. After a bit of discussion he’s offered to get the vaccinations from Palermo and meet us tomorrow at 9:30 to sort it all out. Erm, waiting for authorisation to do what, remove the plastic from the window logos?

A few lamposts sport these knitted pattened warmers. People hang their clothes to dry in the street.
A few lamposts sport these knitted pattened warmers. Unrelated but interesting, people hang their clothes to dry in the street, no apparent fear of jeans snafflers.

As the title suggests, we’re in Mafia country here in Western Sicily. Cosa Nostra’s the name for Sicily’s all-original brand of underworld gang criminals, a separate entity to other mafia on the Italian peninsula and abroad, and a loose collection of gangs rather than a hierarchical single entity (you can’t chop the head off if there is no head). As a tourist, there is nothing to see of them, their dealings are kept quiet by the omerta, the law of silence. Even a Mafioso isn’t allowed to tell another Mafioso that he’s a Mafioso lest he accidentally reveal himself. A third-party, known by and trusted by both the others has to do the job. The Mafia’s known as ‘the octopus’ here, tentacles everywhere. Bent politicians win office by bargaining with the right people, paying them off through protection and by awarding lucrative contracts which are either poorly delivered, or the money just disappears. Even billionaire ex-prime ministers here are openly accused of involvement with the underworld; no smoke without fire?

Back in the real world, the one we can actually see, it’s alive around the dock where the fishing boats reverse to a thick crowd of dark-coated men milling about in anticipation. Not just alive with folks either (see below). We spent a good while at the docks, watching the unfathomable bargaining process as the fishermen sold directly to anyone buying.

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Before this trip, I imagined fishing was an industrial affair, the catch sold direct to supermarkets. That’s not exactly how it works out here.
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Oddly, it’s almost exclusively men doing the buying.
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They start ’em young here.
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Prawns didn’t seem in much demand. Charlie grabbed himself a couple from the quayside, hope he doesn’t develop a taste for ’em!

The sun’s slowly leaving us now, the sky’s clear of cloud and is bleeding from pale blue to pink as it dips into the calm ocean. Another boat’s leaving port. Another helmet-less Vespa has rasped it’s way past us. The pile of smelly rubbish threatening to completely engulf the industrial sized bins behind us has continued to grow through the day, one chap dropping his off with a wheelbarrow. This is Sicily; poor, both threatening and un-threatening, intriguing.

I'm just off to the bins love.
I’m just off to the bins love.

Jay

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