I just got back from a whirlwind trip of Puglia and Calabria in Italy. I'd love to tell you about it, but I already have a 70-page manuscript and it's growing and growing and growing. It's a book, not a blog post.
At dinner one night in Puglia, though, I was asked a harmless question. We were munching on olives, waiting for the first course.
"Do they have pizza in Estonia?" asks cousin Beppe.
"Sure," I say in Italian. "There's a great restaurant in Tartu where I live called La Dolce Vita. The boss is Italian."
"Boss?" Cousin Lino shudders at the word.
"Boss?" Beppe is equally as astounded.
"Hah," snorts Lino. "I can't believe the mafia is in Estonia, too."
"Mafia? No, no, no, no, no," I throw my hands up in protest. "He's not in the mafia. He's just the boss. The owner. The proprietor."
"Then why didn't you say so?" Beppe looks incredulous. "Don't you know that 'boss' in Italy means only one thing: mafioso?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"Well, now you know," Lino spits out another olive pit.
"Anyway, I didn't think they had mafia in Puglia," I say. "I thought the mafia was in Sicily, the 'Ndrangheta was in Calabria, and the Camorra was in Napoli."
"I can't believe how much he knows," Beppe shakes his head. "How do you know these things?"
"Everybody knows these things," says Lino. "It's common knowledge."
"But who's running things in Bari?"
"The Sacra Corona," Beppe and Lino simultaneously announce and roll their eyes.
"They're not Barese," Lino cuts swiftly through the air with his hand to deny the association. "They're from Lecce."
"Lecce," Beppe sighs and grabs another olive.
"And you guys aren't in Sacra Corona are you?"
Lino smiles and raises his right hand, palm facing me. "No," he swears.
Beppe also raises his hand. "No," he gives his word of honor.
"Me neither," I laugh and raise my hand to face theirs. "No."