Teaching Kids About The Godfather Trilogy While in Sicily

Teaching Kids About The Godfather Trilogy While in Sicily

If you are a movie buff, The Godfather Trilogy holds a special place in your heart.  The Godfather Parts I and II are two of the greatest movies ever made … and The Godfather Part III isn’t as bad as many people think.  While we were hanging out post-dinner at our villa in Sicily, my husband and I were shocked to discover that our kids had never even heard of the movies.  How did such a shocking lapse happen in our family?? We thought we had done a pretty good job with their film education (Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Willy Wonka, etc.) but clearly there were still gaping holes that needed to be fixed.  So, we took it on ourselves to teach the kids about the greatness of the three movies making up The Godfather Trilogy in Sicily.

In search of the Godfather Trilogy in Sicily

Although the movies were set in the USA, Sicily is a big part in the movie’s backstory.

Why do The Godfather movies resonate so deeply?  Not only are the movies works of cinematic brilliance, but the story itself is epic.  Mobster movies are a dime a dozen but what makes The Godfather Trilogy special is the family dynamic.

The Movie Itself

The movies have an amazing cast of actors – Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Andy Garcia to name a few.  A young Al Pacino was simply delicious.

The scriptwriting was excellent with so many of the more famous quotes having entered the popular vernacular.  How many of the lines do you remember?  Probably more than you thought.

Clemens's famous line from The Godfather Part I

Clemenza is best known for this line: Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

The Story

The epic revolves around family and the things we do to keep our families safe.  We all have dreams for our children and we want them to do well. For example, the young Vito Andolini’s mother sacrifices herself to save her son, Vito Corleone wants his son Mikey to get out of the family business and Michael Corleone schemes to have his daughter Mary break up with gangster-cousin Vincent.

The only wealth is children quote from Vito Corleone in Godfather

The only wealth in this world is children.

Along the way, the family is kept safe, but at what cost? Don Corleone may have fulfilled the American Dream but Michael Corleone’s hunger for power turns it into a nightmare.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  

Mark 8:36 (American King James Version)

Michael, protected his family in his own misguided way, but only to lose them all at the end.  He has his brother killed, his daughter dies, his wife can’t stand him and his son with the artistic soul will need years of therapy.  The only one left with him at the end of his machinations is scary sister Connie and ruthless nephew Vincent.

All happy families are alike.  Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy from Anna Karenina

At the end of his life, Michael dies alone (in a scene which turns out to be unintentionally comedic with Michael Corleone falling off his chair).  Americans will be reminded of the television advertising line “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man.

A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

The movies are also about the immigration story in the USA.  The kid who shows up with nothing and goes onto build a successful life in America.  The kid doesn’t even get to keep his last name but is given the name of his hometown by the immigration officials at Ellis Island.  Who doesn’t love The American Dream?  I admire the movie for showing the seamier sides of the dream.

Sicily itself is only peripheral to The Godfather Trilogy. Only a small part of the 9+ hours of the movies are set in Sicily.  Yet, the idea of their homeland is integral to how the characters see themselves. Don Corleone had only an immigrant child’s memories of his homeland and,  like other immigrants, that connection with the past shaped his future.

Although there was supposed to be a fourth Godfather, I am glad they did not do make that movie.  The fourth movie would have been about Andy Garcia assuming the mantle of the Godfather and the direction he chooses to take the family business.  Frankly, I couldn’t see this story working as well because, at heart, The Godfather Trilogy was about familial relationships.   Pretty much everyone in the main family is dead (or in therapy) by the end of the first three movies, so a bunch of random cousins we haven’t met yet would be needed to continue the family story.

Sicily and the Mafia

I realise that The Godfather image peddled by Hollywood is glamorised violence.  Many Sicilians are less than thrilled that their country is associated with the Mafia.  On the other hand, the tourist shops have embraced the image and peddle tatty souvenirs related to the movie.  It’s not personal, it’s business.

explaining the Godfather trilogy to the kids in Sicily

Some of the tourist trinkets profiting off the movie and mystique.

We were told organised crime in Sicily has moved on from harassing the locals to more lucrative options, like government contracts and vote fixing.  If you are looking for a serious post on the actual Mafia in Sicily, this isn’t it.  We are merely movie buffs who can recite entire chunks of The Godfather movies.

Explaining the Godfather trilogy to the kids in sicily

Don Corleone is also the name of an art gallery in Taormina.

Explaining The Godfather Trilogy to the Kids

We were in Sicily with Andrew, Brenda and Bailey Tolentino, the family from Dish Our Town.  We discovered that Andrew would probably be considered a super fan of the  movies.  He has practically an encyclopaedic knowledge of the trilogy.

Thanks to our ability to quote The Godfather movies extensively, our kids started asking us about the plot of the movies.  We watched clips of it on YouTube since no one has time on holiday to watch 9+ hours of film.

We had a lot of fun filming these clips with our kids and we hope you enjoy watching them.  Only a small portion of the films are set in Sicily, so we took lots of artistic license.

As the director, I felt some of the pain of Francis Ford Coppola when he was trying to get some acting ability out of his daughter Sophia in The Godfather Part III.  Suffice it to say, Sophia is an excellent director and should remain behind the camera.  Along those lines, I feel our kids should embrace their geeky side and get desk jobs.

Visiting the Movie Locations in Sicily

By the 1970’s, the town of Corleone was too modern to be a film location and other towns near Taormina were used as its stand-in. We didn’t take an organised tour of these locations because we were going to visit on our own.  Taormina though was so pretty, we decided to stay put for the afternoon.  I’m sure hardcore movie fans will sneer at us.

teaching the kids about the Godfather Trilogy in Sicily

It’s easy to see how such a beautiful country can inspire nostalgia.

My husband has a soft spot for Apollonia, Michael’s first wife, who was killed by a car bomb in Sicily.  Her death, hardened Michael’s heart, setting the scene for future family tragedies.  He wanted to visit the church where they got married in the town of Savoca.  I wanted to see the Castello degli Schiavio where Michael falls off the chair for his final thump.  The castle though is privately owned though and you need to make reservations if you want to tour it.

The only movie location we visited in Sicily was the opera house, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, where Mary is shot dead in front of her father.  I’ve got to say that scene never gets old – primarily for its comedic value.  Even our kids thought Mary’s death was badly overacted and hysterically funny.

Teatro Massimo in Sicily

The Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily

Favourite Characters

I think Mary Corleone should have been developed more as a character.  Her main role in the movie seems to be to romance her bad-news cousin Vincent who wants to step into her father’s shoes.  No daddy issues there, of course.  Her death leaves her father a broken man.  Interestingly, the making and breaking of Michael’s character are the deaths of his first wife and his daughter, respectively.

My daughter took to Michael Corleone like a duck to water which I found a little scary.  Her brother better watch out that he doesn’t get Fredo-ed especially if I am not around to keep the peace.

In search of the Godfather Trilogy with the kids in Sicily

Sharing a classic cult film with kids is a good way to share your interests.

I loved Tom, the consigliere, who is the perpetual outsider.  The family trusts him implicitly and yet he will never be family.

what I taught my kids about The Godfather Trilogy

Friendship is everything. It is almost the equal of family.

I couldn’t stand Connie Corleone but both Andrew Tolentino and my husband thought she was a great character.  I guess she did grow during the movies from a blushing bride to scary matriarch.

So we all had our favourite characters from The Godfather Trilogy. Who was your favourite character?  Discuss.  (Also, feel free to Psychology Today any of our preferences.)

This article contains affiliate links.  Clicking on these links will provide a small commission for us but will not cost you any extra. 

Travel Tips for Lovers of The Godfather Movies Visiting Sicily

It is important to note that many Sicilians hate the association of their country wth the Mafia.  In addition, unlike in the movies, there is nothing glamorous about organised crime.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

If you want to do  the official Godfather movie location tour, the coaches starts from Taormina.

We stayed at a villa provided by Massimo Villas in Cefalu on the west coast of Sicily.  Palermo, the site of the famous opera scene, is an easy drive about 1 hour from Cefalu.  The other film locations such as Taormina and Savoca are on the east coast of Sicily.  From Cefalu it was a 3 hour drive to get to Taormina. Hence, one of the reasons we ran out of time to see Savoca.

The movie family borrow their last name from the town of Corleone located near Palermo.  By the 1970’s though, Corleone itself was too developed to be a film location for a movie set 20 years previously. Little Corleone does have deep associations with the Mafia.  In the 1940’s, the little town had the one of the highest murder rates in the world. By the way, one set of Al Pacino’s grandparents were immigrants from Corleone.

If you are visiting Corleone though, the town has an anti-Mafia museum. In addition, Addiopizzo Travel organise tours that specifically reject the tentacles of organised crime (such as the small protection money called pizzo) that still exist in Sicily.

We rented our car through Hertz of which we are gold members.  In retrospect, hiring a large 7-seater Volvo was fine in the big cities but was a mistake in the smaller villages and roads.  Keep in mind also that Hertz in Palermo will let you hire a dongle to go with their in-built SatNav which is very handy.  You may not have cellular access in the mountains and the Sat Nav proved unreliable on certain country addresses.  Thank goodness for Google Maps!

Further Reading:

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Sicily: A Short History by John Julius Norwich

Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb

Unto the Daughters: Legacy of An Honor Killing by Karen Tintori

Around the World with the Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Around the World with the Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Have you ever stopped to think about the fantastical imagery of Star Wars?  I know I hadn’t until I went to see a Smithsonian Institution Traveling exhibit in New York City entitled, Star Wars:  The Power of Costume.  The exhibit is currently at Discovery Times Square, a building that served as the previous home of The New York Times.

A look at the multi-cultural references in the Star Wars Costumes as shown in an Smithsonian Institution Exhibit

Like every perfectionist, George Lucas imbued meaning in all of his Star Wars imagery including the costumes.  The costumes have cultural references around the world, from the American Wild West, to pre-Raphaelite Europe, Mongolian Queens and Japanese samurai.  The outfits were meant to humanise the characters so that they look vaguely familiar and less alien.  On the other hand, a futuristic film could not attribute its characters to a specific human culture.

The costumes in the exhibit are the actual outfits worn by the actors in the 7 movies to date.  There are more than 70 costumes on display.

 Trivia:  Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

You can’t go to an exhibit and not walk away with a treasury of trivia. For example,

  • Obi-Wan’s robes are reminiscent of both the rough ascetic of monk’s robes and the elegant silk of Japanese kimonos.  Lucas wanted Obi-Wan to be part monk and part warrior.
  • The throne room royal outfit of Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace was influenced by the Chinese Imperial court.  The bottom of the gown was made from perspex so that it would support the weight of the fabric and yet still glide across the room. A car battery powered the lights so that the perspex would glow.
  • The Jedi costumes were plain and muted to convey purity, asceticism and integrity.  The Sith robes, alternatively, were sleek flowing black.
  • The design fro C3P0 was heavily influenced by the robot Maria from the 1926 film Metropolis.
  • Queen Amidala and her court’s outfits were influenced by clothes from Chinese imperial outfits, Japanese kimonos, Mongolian crowns and European medieval fabrics.  The whole menage is intended to convey the impression of royalty without actually referencing any one specify culture or country.
  • The stormtroopers appear efficient and totalitarian with a complete lack of independent thought.   A type of futuristic Nazi in their shiny plastic outfits, they are identical and interchangeable.
  • The rebel forces, on the other hand, evoke the American west or U.S. Marines. (Of course, the Americans are the good guys – this is Hollywood!).
  • The entire budget for the 1977 Star Wars film was $220,000 and $93,000 went to the stormtroopers outfits.  Hence, poor Princess Leia spent a lot of time in one white outfit.
  • Han Solo is meant to evoke a cowboy hero from a Western movie.  He wears boots, vest and a gun belt like any other gunslinger.  The outfit is simple and the materials natural reminiscent of a U.S. cavalry uniform. Although starting off as an outlaw, he proves that when times get tough, he is ready to fight for justice.
  • Chewie’s outfit is made from yak hair and mohair.  He’s a combination of a monkey, a dog and a cat.  They must’ve done something right because my kids adore Chewie.
  • Princess Padme had 18 outfits which took months of work to create.  She had dresses, gowns, corsets, uniforms and, of course, the wedding gown.  Padme’s wedding gown was made from pieces of a vintage Italian lace bedspread.
  • In the Force Awakens, the costumes easily separate the goodies from the baddies.  The First Order is in sleek outfits and cold colours – blacks, greys, blues and metallics.  The Resistance is dressed in natural fabrics in warm colours – khakis, olives and oranges.

Photo Gallery:  Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Once you are told, it’s easy to see the Japanese samurai influences.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

R2D2 at times actually had a human actor inside him.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

You can see the blend of cultural references in this outfit.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The Senators needed to look both alien and yet familiar at the same time.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Propaganda poster for the stormtroopers.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Darth Vader propoganda poster.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

Carrie Fisher famously called this outfit ‘the bikini from hell.”

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

A frozen Han Solo determined to break free.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The seductive side of Padme.


Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

You can easily see the specialist artisanal work needed for Padme’s outfits.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The wedding gown for an illicit marriage.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

An intentional reference to pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

All black because he is pure evil.

Star Wars Costumes Exhibit

The new set of good guys wears natural fabrics and earth tones.

Video:  Star Wars Costume Exhibit

Visiting the Star Wars Costume Exhibit

The exhibit will be travelling through the United States (and hopefully around the world) through 2019.  The Discovery Times Square centre will show the exhibit until September 2016.  From November 2016, the exhibit will be at the Denver Art Museum in Colorado.  Tickets in New York are $27.50 for adults with discounts for the under-12s and seniors.

You can keep track of which city the exhibit will appear through their twitter feed or through the website.  The exhibit is very child-friendly (obviously – to hook in another generation of children into the Star Wars folklore).  My children LOVED it so I’d say the attempt was very successful.  Not only are there certain interactive elements for kids, you can also download activity sheets to take with you to the exhibit.

This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday and Weekend Travel Inspiration.

Weekend Travel Inspiration

7 Little Known Facts About The Sound of Music Family

7 Little Known Facts About The Sound of Music Family

Do you think you know everything there is to know about the von Trapp family from the cult classic movie, The Sound of Music?  As Hollywood is bound to do, the film took some liberties with the actual story of the von Trapps. Surprisingly many Austrians haven’t even seen the The Sound of Music.  Shocking!!  I must have seen it at least a dozen times.

The Hollywood Version of Baron von Trapp

One of the most successful movies of all time, The Sound of Music won 5 Oscars on its release in 1965.  In the intervening 50 years, the movie has earned billions of dollars if you adjust for inflation.  Salzburg will be hosting events all year long in 2015 for the 50th anniversary of the movie’s release, including a special 50th Anniversary Festival in October.

These 7 fascinating facts about Georg von Trapp, the patriarch of the family von Trapp, show how Hollywood embellishes the truth to create a better story.  Engimatic and handsome as portrayed by Christopher Plummer, Georg was the ultimate dreamboat – loving husband, father and man of principle.

I was completely in love with Baron von Trapp as a child but I also wanted to be the oldest daughter, Liesl von Trapp.  In retrospect, I clearly had movie daddy issues.  So, possibly did Maria von Trapp. She was 22 when she married Georg who was aged 47 in 1927.  Christopher Plummer brought out such a dishy-widower-Mr. Rochester vibe to the character, the age discrepancy seemed a minor footnote in the movie. Sound of Music home in Salzburg

The Real Baron von Trapp

Let’s separate Georg van Trapp, the man, from the Hollywood creation shall we?

1. The Villa Trapp, the original home of the von Trapp family is now a hotel. Georg bought the Villa Trap for his family after his first wife died.  They lived at the villa from 1923-1938 which was built in the mid 19th century. It never was the von Trapp ancestral family home as depicted in the movie.  The Villa Trapp was in private use when the movie was being made and so the film makers had no access to it.  The front and the back of the house used in the movie are two different houses, Schloss Frohnberg and Schloss Leopoldskron.  The interiors were film sets created in Hollywood. After the von Trapp’s left in 1938, no less than Heinrich Himmler, one of Hitler’s most trusted men and leader of the SS Nazi secret police, used the Villa Trapp as his summer home. Georg would not have been amused.

2.  The von Trapps were wealthy because Georg’s first wife, Agathe Whitehead, inherited a substantial fortune.  Her grandfather, James Whitehead, was the inventor of the torpedo.  When the British government turned down his invention, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph took Whitehead under his wing. The von Trapps, however, were not as wealthy or as aristocratic as the movie made them out to be.  In fact, Georg technically wasn’t even a baron.  He was possibly only just a baronet if Austria hadn’t abolished titles after World War I.

Sound of Music pavilion

The pavilion setting for the famous ’16 going on 17′ song.

3. After the end of the first World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up.  The new Austria was left as a land-locked country.  Georg found himself unemployed – it’s hard to be a naval commander if your country doesn’t have a navy.  Presumably he occupied himself churning out little von Trapps.

4.  Georg was indeed stuffy about his family singing in public. On the other hand, a banking crises had decimated the fortune his first wife had left him.  Maria von Trapp lead the family on singing tours in order to keep them financially afloat.  In need of money, Maria sold the rights to the von Trapp memoir she had written for $9000 in 1955 which was more money than they had ever earned singing.  The von Trapps never saw any royalties from the millions earned from the movies or the Broadway musicals.

Mirabell gardens

The Mirabell Gardens where Maria and the kids sing and fall into a fountain.

5. Georg was tempted to join the Nazis who had made him an attractive offer in the German Navy long before the invasion of Austria by Germany.  The Nazis needed someone with his naval experience and Georg had no other occupational skills.  In the end, though, he decided he couldn’t agree with Nazi ideology.  Maria and the kids would just keep singing to keep a roof over their heads.

6. Although Austrian by ethnicity, Georg was born in what became Italy after World War I.  As a result, the family were all Italian citizens.  When they left Austria in 1938, the took a day train to Italy from the station which was at the edge of their estate. Not nearly as exciting as being chased by Nazis through the cemetery at night as the movie depicts.

gates from the Sound of Music

Image credit: Carolyn

7. Georg and Maria had 3 children together taking the number of little von Trapps to a grand total of 10.  Unlike the movie version, Georg and Maria had been married for years before the Anschluss occurred.  Their first two children were born in Salzburg.  Their youngest child, Johannes von Trapp, was born in Pennsylvania in 1939 because the family had settled in the USA by then.


I am taking the children to Salzburg next week to see the Sound of Music sites for ourselves.  Of course, there are plenty more things to do in Salzburg than stuff related to the Sound of Music but it’s a good place to start! We have booked both a Sound of Music tour as well as a visit to the original Villa Trapp itself.  I have threatened to make them wear outfits made of curtains just to make the whole experience more authentic.  The threat would carry more weight if only I knew how to sew.

The L Street Tavern Has The Luck of the Irish

The L Street Tavern Has The Luck of the Irish

The lucky owners of the L Street Tavern had just bought the bar a few days earlier in March 1997 when they were approached to use the bar as a movie set.  The movie, Good Will Hunting, went on to become an Oscar-winner which launched the careers of its screenwriters, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, into the stratosphere.  The L Street Tavern hasn’t done too badly either!

L Street Tavern

Although tourists now visit the bar, The L Street Tavern is definitely a local bar.  I saw a handful of locals who looked like they propped up the bar on a regular basis (and had done so for quite some time).

L Street Tavern

The L Street Tavern is proud of its Irish neighbourhood roots.

L Street Tavern

I couldn’t decide if the Irish paraphernalia was still up from St. Patrick’s Day.

L Street Tavern

Then I saw the countdown to the next St. Patrick’s Day and decided that it was probably St. Patrick’s Day here every day.

L Street Tavern countdown to St Patricks Day

Although the L Street Tavern has had a revamp in 2001, it’s still small and dark with a real neighbourhood feel.  You won’t have a problem telling which booth was used for the filming of Good Will Hunting.

L Street Tavern

The classic scene from Good Will Hunting filmed here was when the genius character played by Matt Damon shows up a smug Harvard guy.  I mean who wouldn’t root for Matt Damon in this scene?!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymsHLkB8u3s]

You can get food in from the two Italian restaurants across the street.  I guess Southie despite being a real Irish neighbourhood still appreciates good pasta and pizza.

L Street Tavern

Open daily from noon, the L Street Tavern is located at 685 East 8th Street.  Parking is limited because it is restricted to local residents.  I went with On Location Tours who run regular Boston movie tours.  These tours regularly drop by the L Street Tavern bringing customers and fanning the flames of its fame.