The App That Fights the Mafia

The App That Fights the Mafia

By Silvia Marchetti


Because there is finally a causal link between eating ice cream and defeating crime, which is good for the soul (albeit calorie-intensive).

By Silvia Marchetti

Even if you’re stuck at your desk in San Francisco or Iowa Falls or Stuttgart, today you can live real Sicilian drama — shootings, bloodsheds, mayhem. You’re not physically there but virtually, in a crisp 3D rendition of Palermo, aka Mafia HQ. 

Four locals have launched an anti-Mafia application called NOma. It sounds like the latest nonsense nickname for a neighborhood. But the name doesn’t stand for, say, “north of market,” but rather “No Mafia places and stories.” The app, downloadable for free on all IOS and Android devices, is an interactive city map highlighting murder spots and stories of famous Mafia victims such as popular judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, both of whom were killed in 1992 and have since become Italy’s anti-Mafia heroes. Its creators, all Sicilians, of course, were born and bred with anti-Mafia DNA. They have created an association called, quite symbolically, “On Our Own Legs” to stress their crime-free battle. Two of them are the daughters of famous Mafia victims: a police chief and a hotel manager killed by gangsters decades ago.

“NOma is a guide to never forget the past and discover the present of a beautiful yet dramatic city,” says developer Tiziano Di Cara, “where honest citizens each day face the pressure of padrinos and criminal gangs and try to shake off the negative reputation of being ‘Mafia land.’ ”

The app highlights all the boutiques and restaurants that have refused to pay compulsory bribes.

The app is fun to use and features a cool design. There are 22 stories of protagonists to pick from; once you’ve selected one, the narrator’s voice kicks off (no worries: At the bottom is an English translation). For those using the app from the other side of the ocean, a 3D webcam shows the setting of the killing and a video reenacts how the massacre or shooting happened (with the help of cartoons too). And if you do show up in town, even better: No need to buy a tourist guide. Just tap on the app store icon, turn on location services and watch your step — don’t get run over by a car and become the latest death-via-smartphone-cluelessness headline. Unless that’s your idea of a holiday.

As I was in the taxi heading toward the city from the airport, I passed in front of the place where Falcone’s car was blown off the highway by a bomb. The monument was my cue: I launched NOma, tapped on “Falcone” and heard the blast coming through my earphones in real time. When I later walked around the city, I picked the story of chief of police Giorgio Boris Giuliano. I was on the street where the killing took place. As I pointed my iPhone to the exact location of his house, I relived the scene: Giuliano left early in the morning, walked to his office and stopped at the bar for a quick espresso and cream cornetto, an Italian-style sweet croissant. Before he even bit the pastry, a killer shot him in the back.

I had goose bumps. I then listened to interviews with Giuliano’s family and colleagues. The warm southern Sicilian accent of the narrator, a popular local actor, made it all the more real … and familiar. 

OK, enough crime-scene exploration. I was hungry and felt like some shopping and sightseeing. NOma suggested a guided itinerary through the picturesque, chaotic streets of Palermo. I wandered across a maze of baroque and Arab-style architecture, the wild marketplaces such as La Vucciria, where screaming sea urchin vendors mingle with blood-covered butchers and pavements are covered with fish entrails.

This is the cool thing about NOma: It’s not just about gruesome killings and the power of memory to fight the Mafia. It also tells you where to stop for lunch, coffee, gelato, dinner and shopping, highlighting all the “crime-free” boutiques and restaurants that have waged war against padrinos and refused to pay compulsory bribes (dubbed “pizzo”) to keep their activities running. They’re all listed, and the app shows where they’re located and how to reach them from the victim’s murder spot. You can choose among “pizzo-free” pastries, pizzerias, bakeries, wine shops, supermarkets and even discos, drugstores and gyms. Quite amazing that similar places could fall victim to the Mafia, but we’re in Palermo, after all, Sicily’s capital. 

“The only way to say no to the Mafia is by being united and joining forces. They can kill one, 10, 100, but they can’t kill all of us,” Tiziano says.

So I gave my personal contribution to this healthy crusade. I opted for a funny-sounding pizzeria: Ai Vecchietti di Minchiapititto. No idea what it means, nor where it is. I was intrigued, and luckily NOma guided me like a TomTom.

Guess what happened next? I stuffed myself with five different types of pizza.