Roberto Saviano in the New York Review of Books:
People think the mafia is first and foremost violence, hit men, threats, extortion, and drug trafficking. But before all else, the mafia is language and symbols. Who doesn’t recall the opening scene of The Godfather, when Vito Corleone extends his hand to Bonasera, the Italian who has come to ask him a “favor,” and who reverently kisses the boss’s hand to ingratiate himself?
Such customs are not obsolete. In June 2017 Giuseppe “the Goat” Giorgi, a boss of the ’Ndrangheta (the Calabrian mafia) and one of Italy’s most dangerous criminals, was arrested. He had gone into hiding twenty-three years earlier, after being convicted of international drug trafficking and sentenced to twenty-eight years and nine months in prison. He was found above the fireplace of his family’s house, in a concealed space that opened by moving a stone in the floor, where he could hide in the event of searches while passing his fugitive days in the comfort of home. As the boss left the building under police escort, fellow villagers paid him tribute, one not only shaking his hand but kissing it.
Although hand-kissing is best known as a gallant way of greeting a lady, to kiss the knuckles of a man is a familiar gesture to anyone who, like me, grew up in southern Italy.