Leon Parris, my companion in Sicily in March 2001, was planning to write a musical based on the career of Salvatore Giuliano, whose name is still, half a century after his death, synonymous with Montelepre. I thought it vital that we begin our tour of the island with the cemetery at Montelepre. The importance of death in traditional Sicilian society must be understood first, as the key to everything else. And here in the cemetery just outside Montelepre are the tombs of Giuliano, and of Pisciotta, his cousin, who was most probably his murderer.
Giuliano is still something of a hero in this part of Sicily - but from the outside he seems, to me at least, to have been a naive and confused young man, albeit a brave and determined one. He idolised America, and wanted Sicily to secede from Italy and become linked to the United States - and was fanatically anti-communist. And yet his activities could have been accurately described as communist in intent - he raided the rich and gave to the poor, and championed the peasants of Sicily against the wealthy, and made war on their enforcers, whom he saw as an alien authority - with the excuse that few of the carabinieri he tangled with were actually Sicilians.
But on Mayday 1947 he made a fatal mistake - the Communists had just won an election, and people from the villages of S. Giuseppe Iato and Piana degli Albanesi climbed up from opposite sides to celebrate their victory at the top of the pass between them - at Portella della Ginestra. They and their children were all dressed up for a party. Encouraged by the Mafia, and possibly by a high-up member of the Christian Democrats, Giuliano decided to show his displeasure at his countrymen's choice. Whether accidentally or deliberately (800 spent cartridges were found at the site - this may give a clue) 11 people, including several children, were killed when Giuliano and his men opened fire from the hillside. It has to be said, though, that controversy about the deaths at Portella della Ginestra rages as strongly as it does about Kennedy's assassination.
After this disaster, Giuliano was a marked man, and was eventually betrayed by his cousin and trusted lieutenant, Gaspare Pisciotta. His body was taken to Castelvetrano, and artfully arranged (withthe help of some pig's blood) to look as if he had died in a shoot-out with the police.
The legend lives on - there was a magnificent and largely accurate film (caled Salvatore Giuliano) made by Francesco Rosi in 1961 - who takes the scene in the courtyard in Castelvetrano as his starting point. Gavin Maxwell's fine book God Protect Me from My Friends (1972) is still in print. For the most recent account I'd recommend the chapter in Cosa Nostra by James Dickie - this re-examines the evidence, concluding that Giuliano was a more thorough-going bandit than the myth would have it; he was responsible for 430 murders! But over 40 books have been published about the hero/bandit - he is the most written about Italian of the 20th century. And of course, on the outskirts of Montelepre is the Castello di Giuliano Ristorante Pizzeria.
The Mafia's involvement followed a common pattern; they encouraged him when it suited them, and dropped him pronto when it did not. Without their tacit support, he could never have begun his reign of terror - when he he lost it after Mayday 1947 his days were numbered - not helped by his murder of several prominent members of the honoured society soon afterwards. Pisciotta - his killer almost certainly - was poisoned in Ucciardone prison in Palermo before he could testify. Nothing happened in that prison without Mafia sanction.
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