Do you prefer your Sicily with or without mobsters?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
In Sicily local politicians are up in arms over the fact that German tour operators are now selling Mafia tours to holidaymakers. Basically, this involves shipping in tourists specifically to see Mafia-related sights, including not only locations of prominent Mafia killings but also mocked up displays of Mafia get-togethers, no doubt with the odd sadistic beating thrown in for added realism.

What Sicilians are complaining about of course is the idea that tourists actually prefer their Sicily with (rather than without) mobsters. They have a point. How can we foreigners regard their sufferings as a form of entertainment? By organising Mafia tours we cheerfully encourage potential gangsters into thinking that their lifestyle was more savagely beautiful than even they had thought. How can we give any greater credence to the myth of the heroic gangster?

Well, quite easily in fact. No matter how realistic the pleas of innocent Sicilians, nobody is going to listen to them. I mean, for heaven's sake, imagine a Sicily of blond, bourgeois Volvo owners living in bungalows and driving their children quietly to school everyday. We wouldn't put up with it. The whole point of Sicily-As-Tourism-Spectacle is precisely that it be populated by menacingly well-dressed men in thrall to ageing fathers, perpetually attending large, stormy family weddings and then creating crimson patinas on each other's white shirts afterwards.

The Sicilians themselves have played no small part in promoting this myth. I recall racks of I Mafiosi T-shirts on sale in Taormina souvenir markets. Bluntly speaking, we go to Venice for art, Rimini for beaches, Rome for history - and Sicily for the mafia. The suggestion that tourists in Sicily concentrate on eating cassata on beaches, leaving their lust for gangland killings in cinemas back home, will not wash.

Why not? Because in our black little hearts we all long to take part in an ongoing historic drama along the lines of Sicily's mafia feuds. We lust after real events. Having seen the movies, we are simply desperate to get out and prance about Palermo in a black suit and fedora.

The most historic event that I ever happened to be around for was the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. The fact that I was too busy listening to BBC World Service news bulletins to actually see anything happen did nothing to spoil the fact that I was there.

Clearly the same goes for those hundreds of thousands of far-sighted tourists (some of whom had booked their holidays years in advance) who arranged to be in Hong Kong on the night of 30 June 1997. What they had foreseen was that the rain which sloshed with such superb timing onto Prince Charles's magnificent white cap could never have had the same effect when viewed on a TV screen from 6,000 miles away.

Having watched clippings of the last governor's speech squeezed in between Martina Hingis and Michael Fish, I now know I am going to regret that missed appointment with history for the rest of my life .

And will our grandchildren be satisfied to be regaled by tales of how we heroically blubbed in front of the Nine O'Clock News on 30 June? Given the relative infrequency of events such as the Hong Kong transfer, what are we to do? Stay indoors watching archive footage of the D-Day landings on video?

The sad fact is that we need a place where we can rely on real events happening - day in, day out - to give the adventurously challenged something to talk about in their dotage. Sicily, please don't take this away from us.

THIS WEEK sees the start of the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona (see What's on Worldwide, below) in which daredevils armed with rolled- up newspapers run away from charging bulls. The travel desk has a challenge for readers. Send in photographic evidence of anyone having fended off a Pamplona bull with a copy of the Independent on Sunday. A relevant prize for the best picture.