One of the advantages of going to Temple Rome is the ability to go on the incredible course excursions that are associated with many of the classes offered here. I’m lucky enough to be going on three of these trips: one to Palermo with my mafia class, one to Malta with my political science class, and one to Berlin with my art history class. This weekend, I embarked on the first of these outings, a weekend in Palermo, Sicily with my “Special Topics: Italian Mafia” course.
Palermo is a city in Sicily, the land mass that looks like it’s being kicked by Italy’s boot. Palermo is known for many things, but our class set our sights there because it is the center of the Casa Nostra mafia. Our course, cross-listed in Sociology, Urban Studies, and Criminal Justice, explores the Italian mafia through many different lenses, so being at the center of the action allowed us to fully dive into the topic for an entire weekend.
The trip was a combination of educational visits, walking tours, and food-based stops. One afternoon, we met with Addiopizzo, an organization that works to fight mafia extortion of local Palermo shop owners. In 2004, when the organization was founded, 80% of shopkeepers paid “pizzo,” or protection money, to the mafia. Through Addiopizzo’s activism and outreach, that number is now down to 60%.
We visited Ballarò market, marveling at the fresh food, and got lunch in a tiny alley where we stopped at what was essentially a raw meat counter with a grill standing next to it. After choosing our meat and watching it be grilled in front of us, we received perfectly cooked panini topped with our choice of vegetables.
Another morning, we took a drive into the countryside of Monreale, where we dined at an agriturismo and visited a vineyard, both of which were built on property confiscated from convicted mafia members. During some free time, we were able to visit the beautiful clear blue sea, try traditional arancine and cannoli, and wander the city’s most popular streets.
On our last morning, we visited the Palazzo dei Normanni, a former palace that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses a beautiful museum. We were even shown around by a group of urban planning PhD students from the University of Palermo, getting to see the city through the eyes of locals. We learned about Palermo’s difficulties in modernizing and attracting tourists, and its title this year as “Italian Capital of Culture,” which many hope will bring masses to the city. I found the lack of tourists refreshing, and loved getting a sense of the city’s unique personality. All in all, I left Palermo having supplemented course readings and discussions with hands-on site visits, while simultaneously exploring a new city and region of Italy. Hopefully the weekend also served as good review for our midterm tomorrow!