Last year the ‘Ndrangheta—a criminal organization from Calabria, a region that forms the toe of Italy’s boot—raked in more than $75.3 billion. That’s equivalent to revenue of McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank combined, or 3.5 per cent of Italy’s GDP in 2013. It did this through, among other things, extortion, usury, gambling, prostitution, and the trafficking of both drugs and humans.
"See Naples and die."
People All Over Italy Are Angry At Their Government
Italians aren’t particularly happy with their government at the moment. The “Pitchfork” movement, which started as a group of Sicilian farmers pushing for government reforms, has morphed into something a lot bigger: small businessmen, truckers, low-paid workers, students, members of the far right, and the unemployed from all over the country taking to the streets to shout about how awful everything is.
Besides the dissolution of the Italian government, some kind of anti-EU sentiment and the lowering of taxes for small businesses, the exact aims of the movement aren’t entirely clear. But that never stopped Occupy. And much like Occupy, Pitchfork protests aren’t confined to one specific area; on Monday, demonstrations against the government and the austerity they’ve imposed on their public took place all over the country. However, it was in Turin, northern Italy where things really kicked off (and where the photos in the gallery above were taken).
Corsicans Are Using Bombs to Protest Their Island Paradise
If you’ve never been to Corsica, you really should. The island, which lies just off the Italian coast, is one of the most beautiful places in the world; it’s covered in snowy mountains, picturesque little towns, and luxurious golden beaches. In certain months, you can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon; it really is paradise (if combining sunburn and heavy nylon jackets is your idea of paradise). However, perhaps its strongest sell is that it is, officially, the murder capital of Europe.
Last year, I went to Corsica to explore the island’s historical predilection for violence. A week before I touched down in Napoleon Bonaparte airport, two prominent Corsicans—a lawyer named Antoine Sollacaro and Jacques Nasser, head of the chamber of commerce—had been shot dead. I was there to try to figure out who did it (and to make a film about trying to figure out who did it). Murder isn’t shocking in Corsica; there have been more than 110 murders since 2008, the majority of them Mafia-style hits. “At the beginning of the week, we think, It’s strange; we haven’t had a killing yet," Gilles Millet, a local journalist, told me. "This society is soaked in death. You call someone to do something and they say, ‘I can’t. I have a funeral to go to.’ Death is part of [daily] life here."
I asked Gilles who he thought was responsible for the deaths of Sollacaro and Nasser. “Normally everyone knows who’s done the killings, but with Sollacaro and Nasser, we don’t know,” he answered. “Despite everybody usually knowing who did it, there have only been four prosecutions since 2008—out of more than 110 murders. There’s a culture of silence here. Nobody talks, partly out of fear, partly because it’s just not the done thing.”
Italy’s Largest Immigrant Ghetto Is Incredibly Bleak
The colored neon lights and the music pumping from the speakers rip through the silence of the countryside near Foggia, in the region of Apulia, southern Italy. I should be in the middle of nowhere but there’s actually quite a lot of traffic here: cars, motorbikes, and people coming and going. It’s around 10 PM and after almost two hours wandering in the roads around Foggia I find myself in front of what the locals call “The Big Ghetto,” or more simply the Rignano Ghetto.
The “ghetto” was spontaneously formed more than 15 years ago, after the evacuation of an abandoned sugar mill, which had served as accommodation for foreign men working in Foggia’s “slavery triangle.” Exploitation of migrants in agriculture is not particular to Apulia—it is common all over Italy, especially in the south. A 2012 report by the Flai Cgil (the Italian General Confederation of Labor’s affiliated Agro-industrial Workers’ Union), said that 700,000 regular and irregular pickers work in the fields and about 400,000 of them are recruited irregularly for very low wages.
Over the last decade the Rignano “village” has expanded. The demography of the ghetto changes depending on the season and the demand for work in the tomato fields. During winter it hosts around 200 immigrants (mainly coming from French-speaking African countries), while during summer the population rises to 800. Some of its inhabitants arrived in Italy by plane 20 years ago, while those who arrived recently had to cross the desert and pay thousands of dollars to travel in rickety fishing boats across the Mediterranean, hoping they wouldn’t lose their lives like those inLampedusa recently.
Once they succeed in crossing the Mediterranean, day laborers in southern fields are forced to camp out in abandoned factories, with no money and a daily dose of violence from landowners who make enormous profits out of their work. The work conditions border on the Medieval.
The Sienese Are Whipping Each Other with Dried Bulls’ Penises As Their City Collapses
"The world you’ve entered," Alarico Rossi warns us on our first night on Siena, "is very different to explore." Here, "We fear everything." It’s a sentiment we encounter repeatedly in the small Tuscan city that wears its long history—the battle for republican autonomy in the face of Florentine domination being a central theme—very much on its sleeve.
Alarico is a local journalist. His beat is the Palio, a spectacular 90-second bareback horse race run twice a year around Siena’s central plaza, the Piazza del Campo, in which jockeys are encouraged to whip each other with dried bulls’ penises, typically followed by a ritualized public brawl. More than a medieval pageant for the benefit of visitors’ holiday pictures, the Palio is the focal point of a distinctly Sienese way of life.
“It is not for the tourists, it is for the city,” insists Michele Pinassi, a newly elected member of the municipal council from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. “It’s the one appointment a Sienese politician can’t miss.” A local journalist clarifies: “If you are a politician and you criticize the Palio, you are politically dead. Also physically.”
The Gay Sex Club Next to the Vatican Is the Saddest Place on Earth
Last month, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica discovered that the Vatican had paid $35 million for an apartment block housing the Europa Multiclub, which calls itself the “number-one gay sauna in Italy.” The media used the story as another example of the Catholic Church being so obviously gay that they should just come on out and admit it. As a former Catholic schoolboy who believed in God till I saw Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz, a Broadway musical about Liza Minnelli’s first gay husband, I wasn’t surprised. I remember my school’s baseball coach sexually assaulting students and my first-grade teaching assistant nearly losing her job after she had an alleged lesbian make-out session with a PE coach—Catholics and shady sex shenanigans go together like red wine and wafers.
Naturally, when I visited Rome recently, the Multiclub was on my sightseeing list, though I was a little nervous. The last time I had been in a bathhouse was my senior year of high school, when my friend Diva D and I went to one in Miami. We ran out of the building after 20 minutes because a guy claiming to be Gloria Estefan’s “background dancer” shoved Diva D, naked, into a locker. I’ve never forgotten the horror. Luckily, the sex club, as well as the Vatican-owned apartments, were located in Salustiano, a nice (read: bourgie) area that didn’t seem like it would hold any insane gays.
After a few minutes of procrastination, I swallowed my fear and buzzed the Multiclub’s entrance. A Tarzan look-alike wearing nothing but a white towel appeared and gave me a once-over—to see if I was hot enough, maybe?—then opened the front door.
Inside, I joined the line behind businessmen in suits carrying backpacks—the postwork closet-case crowd was just arriving, I guess—and examined the portrait behind the receptionist of two gay men jerking each other off in an empty disco, until the receptionist shouted at me in Italian.
“I only speak English,” I explained. “I’m an American on vacation.” Silence.
He looked at Tarzan as if I had said I were Amanda Knox visiting Rome to murder a few sodomites.
“So you’re new?” he asked.
These Italian Dwarfs Love Getting Their Limbs Broken
Achondroplasia is a form of dwarfism caused by a genetic mutation, affecting one in 20,000 people. In Italy, there are about 2,500 people living with achondroplasia. Italian dwarfs, as opposed to other nationalities, are particularly fond of a procedure called surgical lengthening. This is a long and painful treatment that consists of breaking bones and applying a fixer, to be lengthened by a third of an inch per day. On average, a person affected with achondroplasia is about four feet tall. Thanks to the surgical lengthening of the lower limbs (femur by about four inches, tibia by about four inches), that person can reach a height of about five feet. The best age to begin the treatment is between 12 and 16 years old. The treatment lasts about three years.
The idea of physically stretching a dwarf out sort of blew my mind, so I got in touch with Emanuele Satolli, an Italian photographer who has been documenting achondroplasia sufferers undergoing treatment, to find out more.
VICE: How long have you been working on this project?
Emanuele Satolli: I started in January 2012. I realized that I never met any people with dwarfism in Milan, in the streets or the clubs, so I wondered, where are they? I started looking into it and spoke with the president of AISAC (Association for Information and Study of Achondroplasia). He told me about this popular lengthening procedure, which I found really interesting. I looked into it further and discovered that around 90 percent of Italians with achondroplasia undergo this surgery, while in the rest of Europe it’s something like 8 percent.
What is it about life in Italy that makes this surgery so popular?
Well that’s what I was wondering. It’s a very long and painful treatment, but there are also psychological issues involved. These people feel that they have to change their body because they are wrong, or they need to fit into a society that doesn’t take their needs into account. It’s a very interesting thing to look at. When I met the people undergoing the treatment, all of them were very satisfied with it. They all felt that they had done the right thing, and also that the jobs or successes that they now have can be attributed, at least partly, to the surgery. I think that they are right. They did benefit from this because they felt more accepted in our society. However, in other countries they could be happy without this surgery.
So in Italy it’s harder for dwarves to exist without this surgery?
Yes, of course. Without the surgery it’s very hard for them to live a normal life. What other explanation can there be for 90 percent of achondroplasia cases opting for lengthening? If you look at the United States, or other European countries, the percentages are much smaller. It is only in Spain that you get a comparatively high number of lengthening surgeries, but still nowhere near Italy’s rates. Also, when parents talk to the doctors after birth, the doctors just say: “Don’t worry, when he or she is 13 years old, he or she can have lengthening surgery and everything will be fine.” It’s a cultural approach from the beginning.
Did you meet anyone who was unhappy after having the surgery?
No. Everybody was happy. I mean, even basic daily things like taking the subway were hard for them before—they lacked independence. This one guy I met was still in a lot of pain a few weeks after the femur surgery, but he was happy. He knew he had to undergo more surgery but was still very excited about becoming independent.