But don't ever take sides with citrus against the Family again. Ever.
January 10, 2018 9:00 PM   Subscribe

 
THAT'S why all those oranges kept dropping in The Godfather.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 9:08 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


I picked alley lemons, this very day. Satisfying, and they smell so good! Looked up recipes for lemon curd. Scurvy knave, am I!
posted by Oyéah at 9:22 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Yeah but for real, was this something commonly known? Because it makes that scene in The Godfather way better. Also Micheal's last scene in Godfather 3 (I assume a lot of people have cleansed that movie from memory) and in the series finale on The Sopranos, Tony eats an orange.
posted by mcmile at 9:27 PM on January 10


So if the fact that citrus cured scurvy led to the establishment of the Sicilian Mafia, does that not (at least in principle) help explain Mobsters' involvement in the illicit drug trade? Oranges and Opiates, man...
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:46 PM on January 10


Interesting. Mafia from the Arab marfud, cheater. Originally connoting a person known for being bold and courageous. Hired as an alternative to being robbed by brigands, or by the campieri of the crumbling feudal system, also recruited from local brigands. Originally defined by protecting the land owners, but quickly becoming extorters of them within an inch of their profits. That's some Breaking Bad shit! Also interesting, the parallels with other places like Zaire where a sudden windfall in natural resources led to political and social instability.
posted by karmachameleon at 9:59 PM on January 10


Very interesting. I had heard somewhere that the fact that Sicily was often ruled by outsiders undermined respect for “official” institutions and resulted in Sicilians taking matters into their own hands frequently and that this dynamic led to the rise of the mafia. (I don’t think that they had a p-value attached to that theory though!)
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:06 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Yeah but for real, was this something commonly known?

I don't know, but I was curious enough to google a little bit. The article starts with a long literature review, e.g. Lupo (2011) which is full of references to citrus, but I don't offhand see that the connection was known to film/TV folks. Time quotes a book on The Godfather quoting the production designer saying oranges were chosen for aesthetic rather than symbolic reasons. No further explanation seems necessary, but if the production designer read the novel to look for relevant design concepts (which would make sense?), he may have run across the 7 references to oranges that Amazon's search inside / Google Books can find--6 of which appear in short order from pages 326-339, a portion of the book that appears to be set in Sicily. Anyway, it seems likeliest that subsequent media references are references to The Godfather or else just random.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:14 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


What are the implications of this article for the present day? Beware of rapidly growing big profits in realms where the rule of law is weak, presumably. So, where else should we expect these circumstances?
And if you can foresee that they will arise, what is the prudent thing to do, to prepare?
posted by Baeria at 10:20 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the paper talks about what happened when, wasn't there a post on the blue about this, that the high prices of citrus in Italy led Britain to shift production of limes to India, which had less vitamin c and were not effective against scurvy but by then steam ships made scurvy less of a threat so the limes weren't working but no one noticed. And then something happened and some people died because people forgot what they had learned. I forget.
posted by bleep at 10:31 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


You may be thinking of this blog post by Mefite Maciej Cegłowski
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:41 PM on January 10 [12 favorites]


Beware of rapidly growing big profits in realms where the rule of law is weak, presumably. So, where else should we expect these circumstances?

The rise of social media corporations whose "product" is software and server access, and whose business efforts are designed to confuse its unpaid workers about who's actually getting value for their activities.

Oh, wait.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:42 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


You may be thinking of this blog post by Mefite Maciej Cegłowski

Oh yes. So my point being it seems like the value of lemons shot up, making an opportunity for the nascent old proto-mafia to get big and strong, but did the value of lemons collapse again? And then what happened? Did other exports sustain the mafia?
posted by bleep at 10:56 PM on January 10


When life gives you lemons, join the Mafia.
posted by Segundus at 11:14 PM on January 10 [11 favorites]


> Beware of rapidly growing big profits in realms where the rule of law is weak, presumably. So, where else should we expect these circumstances?

Cryptocurrency. Goddamn tulips, man.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 11:24 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement's.
You owe me three farthings,
Or I'll bust your kneecaps.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:42 AM on January 11 [19 favorites]


My great-grandpa nearly got himself killed by a mafioso over a lemon, and it was the inciting incident for his entire family coming to the states.
When Grandpa was about 15, he was walking through the lemon grove with his cousin, a boy about the same age. They were poor contadini, not big landowners. Grandpa reached up and picked a lemon and started eating it (he liked to eat lemons straight) when the padrone (landowner) rode up on his horse. Technically Grandpa was poaching. The padrone started beating Grandpa with his horsewhip, which was legally within his rights, but Grandpa was a big, strapping 15 year old. He took the whip away from the man and beat him to death -- it was kill or be killed.
When he went home and told his mother what had happened, she snuck him and his cousin out of town that night and got them on the next ship leaving Palermo working as crewmembers. As soon as possible after that, his parents and the rest of his siblings followed behind. One sister was already married and she stayed in the hometown, but there is nobody bearing the family name left in the village.
About a decade ago we traveled to the ancestral village. We actually met up with a cousin, a young woman my age who is a descendant of the sister who stayed. We were sitting at the train station, with nobody around, and my mother asked her what she knew of why Grandpa and the rest of them had left. She said "I heard it had to do with" -- and then she looked around, looked back at us and whispered, "the Mafia". Turns out the padrone's brother was also the chief of whatever passed for the police in their town, so Grandpa would have been well and truly screwed if he'd stuck around. Anyway, it was confirmation that the story we'd heard on this side of the ocean was also the one they were telling back home.
Later in that trip I went to the local cemetery hoping to find some family crypts and gather information -- I'm pretty much the official family historian. I went into the office at the cemetery, a dimly lit room with a couple of men at an old desk. I asked for their help finding the crypts, and had to persuade them to look for last names even though I didn't know dates of death. I really just wanted to be pointed to the family crypt instead of having to walk up and down the lanes of the cemetery. Finally they gave in and said they would help me, and asked for the last name. I gave it, and they said, "We can't help you." in a tone of voice that shut down all possible further discussion or conversation. I fled, and my mother swears my face was chalk white when I came out of there.
We had heard from some of her first cousins that it was dangerous to acknowledge being from the family (many of them still bear the last name) in the village, and over a hundred years after the fact I found that it was still entirely true.
posted by katemonster at 1:02 AM on January 11 [66 favorites]


I give them points for the title, which is a direct reference to George Akerlof's famous paper "The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism" about used cars & asymmetric information, and for which he won the Nobel.
posted by chavenet at 1:39 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


So, if I have this right the to/dr is: if life gives you lemons found an international, multi-generational crime syndicate?
posted by From Bklyn at 2:51 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


So this is the resource curse for fruit? Seems plausible.
posted by hawthorne at 3:46 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Oranges and lemons are the cause of these felons.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:43 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


What are the implications of this article for the present day? Beware of rapidly growing big profits in realms where the rule of law is weak, presumably.

Facebook.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:56 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I thought at first the characterization of the mafia as protectors was funny, but I think it's probably actually sincere.
In fact, because of the weak rule of law and the pervasive uncertainty associated with an environment dominated by informal relationships, mafiosi were often involved in the negotiations between brokers and producers, filling the legal vacuum and the lack of trust between different actors.

... we know that they thrived from offering protection to lemon and orange producers, from manipulating market prices, and from acting as intermediaries between producers and exporters. The protection services easily slipped into extortion where producers faced a direct threat of violence from the mafia if they refused to pay protection money.

... Why would the mafia focus on citrus production and not, for example, on the cultivation of wheat or wine? ... First, the market value and profitability of citrus fruits was unusually high at the time, certainly much higher than for basic food crops like wheat. Second, the large fixed costs associated with irrigation and the long time before trees matured, made producers sensitive to predation. Third, the technology of predation on citrus fruits was relatively easy and cheap.
posted by Nelson at 8:07 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


katemonster, what a story!
posted by knownassociate at 8:16 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


What are the implications of this article for the present day? Beware of rapidly growing big profits in realms where the rule of law is weak, presumably.

fixed. the law will conform to profit, lawmakers are cheap.
posted by eustatic at 8:48 AM on January 11


>>And then something happened and some people died because people forgot what they had learned. I forget.<<

Sadly this all my anecdotes are beginning to sound like this!
posted by Pembquist at 8:54 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


So, where else should we expect these circumstances?
This sounds like the Resource curse - a single narrow market dominates the economy (usually extraction of a natural resource, but even foreign aid can have similar effects!), and in the long run (via mechanisms that AFAIK people still disagree about) the wealth from that one market doesn't outweigh reduced growth in the whole rest of the economy.

And despite that "mechanisms people still disagree about" caveat, creating a Mafia sure sounds like one of the plausible hypotheses I've heard before: a small-but-extremely-profitable sector is very easy for corrupt organizations (foreign colonial types and businesses and local governments and warlords have been pointed to in various countries) to seize hold of, and corrupt organizations tend to ruin anything they're near. I think I've even seen organized crime pointed out in this context, though IIRC it was modern-day Russian rather than 19th-century Sicilian.
posted by roystgnr at 9:01 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I thought at first the characterization of the mafia as protectors was funny, but I think it's probably actually sincere.

Wikipedia actually has a really good brief history of the mafia. The protection aspect was sincere, at least at first -- and of course you had to be one of the people they were protecting. But there were almost no police on the island (which is large and mountainous, making it difficult to traverse quickly) and having local enforcement was actually helpful.

It reminded me of the Mexican vigilante squads shown in this Vice video -- they mostly operate for the good now, but what will they be in the future?
posted by katemonster at 10:24 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Beware of rapidly growing big profits in realms where the rule of law is weak, presumably. So, where else should we expect these circumstances?

Comments from Nelson and roystgnr above particularly helped me in better understanding this.

Today's "Monopoly Model" MeFi post seems tangentially related, about an organization that was originally created to protect producers, but that some now think is exploiting them.
posted by Baeria at 12:15 PM on January 11


Also: the Cegłowski blogpost is excellent. I wonder if its info on what was and wasn't known about what fixed or didn't fix scurvy could be used as material for a scientific reasoning exercise.
"unless you already understand and believe in the vitamin model of nutrition, the notion of a trace substance that exists both in fresh limes and bear kidneys, but is absent from a cask of lime juice because you happened to prepare it in a copper vessel, begins to sound pretty contrived."

posted by Baeria at 12:37 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


so it's the old Zest and Switch, is it?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:19 PM on January 11




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