Sicily Needs a Duchess

Last week, I wrote about Agrigento but what about Sicily as a whole?

The island is a little smaller than Massachusetts but after that the comparison would not go well. By population (five million) it would rank between South Carolina and Alabama, about midway down our population chart.

It’s annual GDP is a little under $100 billion, somewhere between Puerto Rico and Hawaii which is most of the way to the bottom of our state-by-state list, but  Sicily would rank well below the bottom of our state chart on GDP per capita (our lowest is about $30,000 while Sicily’s is $20,000). Internationally, it would compare to Greece and it is quite a drag on the entirety of Italy by that measure.

I am not aware of any set of rankings that would compare actual prosperity to potential prosperity but the comparison for Sicily would be bad. It has considerable untapped resources not least because of its superb location at the center of the Mediterranean and its benign comfortable climate. There is also the possibility for a benefactor to become an arts patron on the grandest of scales.

Mt. Etna adds more as a tourist attraction than it detracts as an active volcano.

If you were a professional investor, Sicily would fall into the category of a value stock – one whose potential was unrecognized by the rest of the investment world. Unlocking that value, however, would be a challenge.

I doubt any government could do it and certainly not Italy’s.

Everything below the knee of the Italy boot is an economic basket case that has proven immune to northern efforts to revive it. Then there is the mafia, which tourists don’t even notice because the mafia long ago discovered that there was more money to be made in government shake downs than in banditry.

Here is an example that became apparent to my wife and me on a recent bicycle trip.

Let’s say you have the contract to pick up waste in Catania. Regulations require the residents to separate recycling from garbage and place each in a separate bin. You have to provide separate brightly colored trucks to drive around and empty the bins. That is how the residents judge your work: empty bins good; full bins bad.

Now, you have to take the recycling and garbage to separate disposal locations and pay fees to empty the trucks. That is how various levels of government judge your work: fees paid good; fees not paid bad.

But what if you simply dumped some of the truckloads by the side of the road? Those pesky dumping fees would be avoided, and your profits would increase.

This is a common practice in Sicily, and it reduces the appeal of the island to bicyclists though that is far from the most important reason not to do it.

Imagine this clever profit maximizing plan as an example of much else that transpires on this otherwise pleasant island. Long on resources short on the ability to do much about them. Organizationally challenged and a debt-ridden nightmare.

In determining the value of Sicily, you would have to consider its untapped potential then subtract the cost of overcoming obstacles like mafia garbage collection. It might end up as sort of a vanity project, but there is considerable vanity potential.

Adelaide del Vasto was the Countess of Sicily from 1075 to 1118. It does not look like there have been any others for the last 900 years.

Elisabeth of Sicily was the Duchess of Bavaria from 1310 to 1349. Technically, she would not qualify as a Duchess of Sicily but, again, it does not look like there have been any who were even close to making that claim for nearly 700 years.

Both titles are vacant, and they constitute important assets that could be redeployed toward turning Sicily into a garden spot.

Sicily needs a Duchess and perhaps several Countesses to pull it out of the economic ditch.

Francoise Bettencourt Meyers (L’Oreal, age 66, $50 billion) would be a candidate as would Alice Walton (Walmart, age 70, $44 billion) or Laurene Powell Jobs (Apple, age 56, $19 billion).

There are richer men who could buy the island for their wives, but some like Jeff Bezos and Mike Bloomberg don’t have wives. As a vanity project, Sicily seems more female than male. It is long on history, art, architecture and culture but short on sports franchises. It cries out for a female touch.

As a Duchess or Countess with the mandate to restore all the art and culture of Sicily, the proud patron would be invited to all the best parties like Davos and all of the leading coronations. Tables at restaurants would never be a problem and there would be endless opportunities to signal your virtue.

Nothing tops off a multi-billion-dollar fortune quite like a nice title.

Whatever you think of turning Sicily into a vanity project for a Duchess, it is a far better idea than anything anyone else is coming up with.


13 Responses to “Sicily Needs a Duchess”

Don Gleason, December 27, 2019 at 7:18 pm said:

Rela & I are going next Fall. Shall we circulate a petition?


Haven Pell, December 27, 2019 at 7:26 pm said:

Would she like the title? It won’t be cheap.


Don, December 27, 2019 at 7:31 pm said:

Hmmm… her maiden name ends in a vowel. she was conceived in Italy (parents in the British Army)… maybe she has a claim! 😎


Haven Pell, December 27, 2019 at 7:37 pm said:

I think cash will speak louder than claims.


C grenville, December 27, 2019 at 10:24 pm said:

2 days ago (NYT) can’t find it, a great article on properties for sale for one euro in old beat up charming towns in Italia. Several in Sicilia. All you have to do is come with $$ to fix up for habitation. Brilliant idea that is,working. And the Mafia doesn’t seem involved.
The next story was about dying towns in America. Is there an obvious link here?
Of course, Italy is looking more beckoning than here these days.


Haven Pell, December 28, 2019 at 7:16 am said:

The Duchess and her Countesses could open such opportunities to “below the salt” nobility. As to the link to America, we are a bit sticky about titles as the law professor indicated in her testimony about naming sons Barron but not naming Barons themselves.


Livingston Miller, December 28, 2019 at 6:59 am said:

I don’t know. Do you really want Sicily spruced up? I kind of like New Orleans as it is: seedy with a slight fragrance of rot. And the state of New Jersey, famously corrupt, but it works. And look what happened when Las Vegas got cleaned up…. boring.


Haven Pell, December 28, 2019 at 7:12 am said:

Maybe the Duchess would choose to make it worse? She might follow your lead in her market research and you might both be right. As Duchess, it would be her choice.


GARRARD GLENN, December 28, 2019 at 6:59 am said:

I nominate Patrizia Messina Denaro as Duchess or Marquesa of Sicily. Patrizia is the sister of Matteo Messina Denaro,
current kingpin of the entire Italian Mafia, and resident of Sicily. Matteo is a rather colorful character, a playboy and a fop as well as the proud murderer of fifty people. The Italian police are in constant search of Matteo, but he continually eludes their grasp. Rumor has it that the roue mobster plumps up the 401Ks of his copper pursuers, thus perpetuating his avoidance of capture. Patrizia with the assistance of Matteo would impart a certain outlaw panache to Sicily, greatly enhancing the local tourist industry.


Haven Pell, December 28, 2019 at 7:20 am said:

I believe she might actually be the seller of the opportunity in question


GARRARD GLENN, December 28, 2019 at 8:17 am said:

Could be. And, there is always a danger that Matteo might bump off the purchaser of the position, after collection of the monies, thus awarding the position to Patrizia by default.


Chris Ronaldson, December 28, 2019 at 3:44 pm said:

“God would not have chosen Palestine if he had seen my kingdom of Sicily.”
Frederick II of Hohenstaufen


Haven Pell, December 28, 2019 at 5:12 pm said:

Wise fellow though, if the history of Sicily is a guide, it was not his kingdom all that long.

Sort of like Palestine.


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