26 27 sandro di domenico from sicily to hong kong, no mafia is infallible. an oxfordian conversation with federico varese Federico Varese is Professor of Criminology at the Sociology faculty of the University of Oxford. Born in Ferrara on November 12, 1965, after his high school studies and an International Baccalaureate at Lester Bowles Pearson College in Vancouver, he graduated in Political Science at the University of Bologna, earned a Master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and published, in 2001, his doctoral thesis in Sociology, at Oxford, under the title The Russian Mafia . Thanks to this book, published by the prestigious Oxford University Press, came first the collaboration, and then the friendship, with John Le Carré, whose estate in Cornwall he is often a guest. Prior to his current assignment at Oxford, he taught Criminology at Yale and Williams College. He published Mafias on the move (2013) and Mafia life (2018). Varese, whose works have been translated and distributed throughout the world, is also Director of the Extra-Legal Governance Institute at the University founded by Henry II of England, and Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford. Over the years he was author of several contributions for Italian and international newspapers, still collaborating with La Stampa in Italy and with the Times Literary Supplement in UK. In Oxford there is a small room, a few square meters, overlooking an English lawn where in autumn it can rain continuously for days. Three sides host well-ordered books and fascicles, stacked next to each other. The fourth, facing the door, consists of an equally interesting trio. To the left stands a metal cabinet, with a sleeve of fluorescent yellow tennis balls on top; in the center there is a modest brown wooden desk with a wheelchair; on the right stands a soft padded armchair, enjoying the always generous brightness of the northern skies provided by the only window. Here – when he is not playing tennis on some complicated grass court having an unpredictable bounce – I like to imagine Federico Varese writing. Surrounded by volumes from which he draws names, dates, data and ideas for his books, that in recent years also nourished David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carré , the former English spy now author of bestsellers read all over the globe and, more recently, of subjects for equally famous movies and series. Here Professor Varese welcomed my curious questions, moistened by an incessant rain punctuating a pleasant conversation with a man to which, at the age of fifty-five, at least three more honorifics could be granted – all equally exact, but at the same time all reductive, with reference to the flashes of such a brilliant mind. Varese could be defined as an obsessive researcher, so insistent that he was able to be invited to dinner by a Russian mafia boss, only in order to be able to study him more closely. Or as the most cited Italian expert in organized crime , the only one that brought this subject into teaching, first at Yale and then at Oxford . Or even as an avid cinephile and Italy’s leading connoisseur of crime movies produced in all five continents, with a particular predilection for Clint Eastwood . Not surprisingly, our interview starts from the small room assigned to Varese inside the exclusive Nuffield College, on whose desk stands the poster measuring one meter by sixty centimeters of Unforgiven – the one in which Eastwood's hand holds, behind his back, a double-action Starr revolver – ending in the most modern and spacious room of the faculty of Sociology, on the main wall of which Eastwood and Volonté share the scene in the poster of For a Fistful of Dollars . Framed nearby, there is the first page of the literary supplement of the Times , with an article by Varese on the cover: Why the mafia must have home cooking . Let's start from here: how important is food for the mafia? Food matters. This article is from 2001; at that time, I was teaching in the United States, where there is this town, named Buffalo, on the border with Canada. One of America's historical families moved here, emigrated in the 1910s. The boss who founded it moved from New York to Buffalo, and stayed there his whole life; once he died, his son became boss, and ran a pizzeria considered the best in America. Obviously, I went to eat at that pizzeria, but in the meantime the son died too, and the new boss was a third person who didn't belong to that family. The article opens with this pizzeria and tells how good that pizza was, to introduce the topic: how far can food travel? The article focuses precisely on the ways in which mafias migrate. In Ossigeno #06 we deepened the results of IHME - Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s studies on how important it is not only what you eat, but also on what is not part of people’s diets – for many reasons, not least the economic one – such as fiber, meat, fruit and nuts. The Cosa Nostra mobsters seem not to fall short in this regard, also because the rites that you identify to distinguish the mafias almost always seem to contemplate a convivial moment. Food is important, and Sicilian mobsters do really possess extraordinary traits in this sense. The Sicilian mafia organizes great dinners. Schiticchiate , here is the precise word they use. They meet in a secluded villa, in the countryside, and cook. All men, only men, no women at all. Knowing how to cook in these convivial situations represents a plus, a positive fact. Goodfellas come to my mind; I also remember that a few recipes for the Goodfellas meat sauce – the one with meatballs, cooked by Ray Liotta, in Martin Scorsese's film – are rumoured to exist. Yes, and then some. Because, during these dinners, the mobsters actually begin to throw food at each other, or on the table. And there is even an American anthropologist, invited to one of these dinners, who described them. In addition to throwing food, they disguise themselves and do like carnivals, dressed as women too. So, this strictly male culture, this macho culture, suddenly turns and becomes quite the opposite. Rather singular aspect of the mafia, in particular of Cosa Nostra. But, beyond food, what do you think is one of the fundamental aspects that unites the international mafias? Another fundamental aspect of the mafias – shared by the Russians, for example, from which my research as a young PhD student began – is that they do not merely consider themselves as criminals. This would be the worst offense that you could turn to them, who instead see themselves as people