Breaking the Iron Box

I spent a year in Italy in my mid-twenties.  My boyfriend, G. and I hitchhiked from Ireland to Italy and ended up in the hill town of Perugia.  Just as we were down to our last money, we got jobs. I washed dishes and was a live-in nanny and G. taught English.  Due to G.’s gregarious nature, we met lots of other young people and had a great time.

Our friend, C. came out from England to join us and we then headed down to Sicily to try our luck there.  Again, we almost ran out of money and C. moaned constantly about our decision to leave Perugia.  But luck was with us. Through some English people we met, we found jobs.  G. and I got accommodation in servants quarters in a mansion outside of Catania.  Lemon groves and poinsettas grew around the house. A well-off family lived there and I taught their sons English.  G. drove them to and from school every day, through the chaotic Sicilian traffic.  The space we had to live in had been used to store olives and we had to clean the two rooms up before moving in.  C. got a job teaching English in Catania and found a room with some Greek students. 

I enjoyed teaching the sons-together with another boy, who was a friend of the family.  One day, that boy’s father arrived and went upstairs to see L., the mother of the boys.  After he left, L. came down and said that the man’s son would not be coming to the day’s lesson.  A friend of their family had been shot by the Mafia.  The victim was a journalist – he had named Mafia families involved in a scandal and had been shot on the street – one bullet for each family he named.

“No one can touch the killers.” a shaken L. told me, “We say they are ‘nella scatola ferro’ – in an iron box.  No one can touch them.”

I’m reminded of this event by reading about Roberto Saviano who has written a book ‘Gomorrah’  a best-seller critical of  the murderous Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra.  His life is now constantly under threat and he lives in hiding.  I admire Saviano’s reckless and fantastic courage.  I’m going to buy his book to support him and I hope I can see the film that has just been made which is based on the book.


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