Sicily today reminds the casual traveler of the southern Italy of fifty years ago–a chaotic stew of wealth and poverty; ruins, rust, and garbage; volcanoes and rugged seascapes; overcrowded markets and alleyways; public art and rampant pollution; with world-class wine, pasta, and fish around every corner.
Poverty, of course, is a relative term these days. The Italian state has been pouring money into the island for the last fifty years in an effort to bring up standards. And no one bears their poverty with more style and dignity than a Sicilian. The poorest town of all, Agrigento, sports the most spectacular collection of Greek temples this side of the Aegean. For all the chronic unemployment of Palermo, you won’t see a lot of rags.
Naturally, as tourists, we went looking for the Mafia. We inadvertently followed one soldier around a section of Palermo as he collected Christmas presents from the merchants, but that was about it. It’s hard these days to picture Castellammare del Golfo as the murder capital of the world, or Corleone as the nest of bandits that produced Mario Puzo’s book and those three movies. Crime might still be rampant on the island, but the tourist trade is taking its usual toll on the indigenous industries here like it has everywhere else.