Naples '44

Naples '44 by Norman Lewis

Book: Naples '44 by Norman Lewis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Norman Lewis
resistance that had evolved over the centuries as a system of self-protection against the bullies and the tax-collectors of a succession of foreign governments who had installed themselves in Naples. The people of the Zona di Camorra lived by their own secret laws, recognised only their own secret courts, which imposed only one sentence on the enemy from without or the betrayer from within – death. In the old days, said the Brigadiere, there had been some sort of moral authority, some sort of justice, but now nothing but outright criminality remained. If there was plunder to be taken the Camorrista took it, and shared it out among his friends. The Camorristi were in big-scale organised crime, and they tolerated the police because they kept the small-time criminals in their place. The only man who had ever stood up to them had been Mussolini, who had sent thousands of troops into this area and thrown the Camorristi into gaol after farcical trials, or had simply sent them away for resettlement in other parts of Italy.
    The police, here as elsewhere, are corrupt, and how can they beotherwise on the salaries they are expected to live on? The chief of police of every town – usually a strutting peacock of a man, uniformed like a general, although only an NCO, gets the equivalent, through the devaluation of the lira, of £3 a week. The Italian State has always encouraged its police force, by grossly underpaying them, to resort to the spoils system, and now with galloping inflation they are in effect receiving pay that buys between one-fifth and one-tenth of what it did before our arrival. My only incorruptible marshal is the old widower Lo Scalzo of Caivano, who is as grey and as starved-looking as my old friend Lattarullo, and whose appearance is a disgrace to the force. Having no family to worry about, he says, he can get by, or as he puts it – ‘keep enough soup flowing’.
    Discussing with Major Pecorella, CO of the Naples Carabinieri, this problem of corruption in the force, he put forward the rueful viewpoint that even a corrupt police force was better than no police at all. The main thing was to keep police rapacity within acceptable bounds. This interview was the result of many complaints from Resina, where it would appear that the Carabinieri have settled down to batten on the huge numbers of black-marketeers in the area. Last week they rounded up a band of contrabandisti and then freed them on payment of 15,000 lire per head. Another less affluent band got off with a total payment of 30,000 lire. The crunch came when they ‘requisitioned’ a lorry-load of leather belonging to the Consiglio di Economia, and held it at their barracks until a ransom of 20,000 lire was paid. Pecorella agreed that this was scandalous. Yet what was to be done? If he sacked the men they couldn’t be replaced, and his force is only one-quarter of its regular strength.
    The fact is that with all their shortcomings, the police manage to keep the walking corpse of law and order alive and on its feet, and some get themselves killed doing so. They tolerate the big racketeers of the Camorra because there is nothing they can do about them, and they gratefully accept whatever they are given in the way of protection money, but they are relentless in the war they wage on petty thieves, and for this, at least, the public is grateful.
January 7
    Today I made my first contact in the Zona di Camorra, outside the police, when Lo Scalzo took me up to see Donna Maria Fidora, otherwise known as La Pitonessa (the Pythoness), who lives on her estate near Caivano, and is the richest landowner in this locality. Donna Maria was originally a circus performer who specialised in wrestling with a python, and in this way attracted the fascinated attention of Don Francisco Fidora, an intellectual who was writing a book on the circus, and who immediately proposed marriage and was accepted. A man twenty years her senior, and of delicate

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