Sorrento, on the Bay of Naples
By Pat Browning
“SEE NAPLES AND DIE”
I still remember that slogan on a poster in the first Italian restaurant I ever set foot in -- in Arkansas, after World War II. The red-checked tablecloths and candles dripping wax down the necks of wine bottles seemed exciting and exotic to someone who had never been out of Oklahoma and had never met an Italian.
Years later, I passed through Naples on my way to Pompeii and Sorrento. All I saw of Naples was the Autostrada, and young men walking through traffic to hawk cigarettes. I had to go to Sorrento to see the Bay of Naples, surely one of the world’s most beautiful sights.
Naples is an historic city with a tarnished reputation, as the base of organized crime. Two stories hit the headlines recently.
This is from Reuters:
Police in Italy are looking into reports that the Naples mafia plans to carry out its threat to kill the author of the best-selling book “Gomorra,” which has been made into a hit movie about mafia brutality, by Christmas.
Roberto Saviano, 29, has lived in hiding with 24-hour police protection for the past two years since the “Camorra,” as the mob in his hometown is known, decided to punish him for the huge success of his book, which is based on his own investigations.
It has sold 1.2 million copies in Italy and been translated into 42 languages. Now that it has hit the big screen and is a candidate for the Oscars, the mafia is even angrier and wants Saviano and his bodyguards killed as soon as possible
And this is from Time magazine:
In May 1993, after a high-profile spate of Mafia killings, John Paul II denounced the Mob's "culture of death" in an emotionally charged sermon in Agrigento, Sicily, the home turf of Cosa Nostra. "I say to those responsible: Convert!" he intoned, shaking his clenched fist and index finger. Two months after the dramatic papal appeal, the Mafia bombed two historic churches in Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI was certainly aware of that confrontation as he prepared this past weekend to visit Pompeii. The southern Italian city, near the ruins of an ancient site buried by a Mount Vesuvius volcanic eruption, lies in the heart of the region controlled by the Camorra. The Naples-based organized crime syndicate has lately tightened its grip on the impoverished region, with more killing sprees and a high-profile death threat against a young writer. But unlike John Paul, Benedict said nothing at all about the Mob in his Sunday homily.
In looking over my notes from my trip down the Amalfi Coast some years ago, I found a quote: “Mafia is an Arabic word meaning ‘honorable ones.’”
It’s the kind of thing tour guides love to tell goggle-eyed tourists, and it may even be true. I did an Internet search and couldn’t confirm it. The mafia’s beginnings in Sicily are obscured by the mists of time.
But I did find this at www.mafia-news.com:
The word “mafia” is taken from the old Sicilian adjective mafiusu, which has its roots in the Arabic mahyas, meaning “aggressive boasting, bragging” or marfud meaning “rejected”. Roughly translated, it means “swagger”, but can also be translated as “boldness, bravado”. In reference to a man, mafiusu in 19th-century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.
So. Maybe it means swagger and maybe it means bravado. Maybe it means arrogant and maybe it means fearless. It might be easier to pin down a couple of other quotes from my notes:
“Capuccino got its name because it is the same shade of brown as the habits worn by Capuchin monks … The Amalfi Drive has 1400 curves …”