last moon

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Memoirs of London - 13


Tommy belonged to the old guard of the Italians in London.
He worked illegally and at the same time he perceived the weekly unemployment allowance which officially was due  for being fired from the factory where he had previously worked.
But  according to his personal opinion it  was instead a form of reimbursement of the taxes paid in those years.
 Afterwards, he sentenced, in a society like the English, where a pair of gloves for fox hunting cost a hundred pounds (that he was more or less how much he earned for a selling mirrors for a month in the street ( inclusive of  Saturdays and Sundays) is not surely up  to the proletarians like him make economy.
Moreover  he had to defend himself in some way from the inflation invented by bankers and masters to exploit the working class.
 And since the escalators in London were only in the subway, he defended himself by perceiving that little government aid that, coupled with the variable payroll of the mirrors, allowed him to live quietly.

Tommy (as they called him in London, but his real name was Tommaso) was a bourgeois guy, of those who, in the eyes of the majority, could  never justify their anxiety or their dissatisfaction in the society.
High, long-limbed, and with regular facial features (I admired him and a little envied him for the ease with which he attracted the women’s gaze) Tommy  was endowed with a willing and determined character that, combined with his affectionate and altruistic charisma, instinctively wore you to love him,  well despite some of his contradictions which himself  was unable to explain and  which he did not even realize.
 But the latter thing was a common trait of  the generational movement which I also belonged to.

He had left Rome in the early seventies, when the dream of a more liberal society had already been broken on the barriers of respectability  and bourgeois hypocrisy. So, disappointed by the betrayal of that working class in whose union he, activist of the student movement, had blindly believed; still overwhelmed by that youthful rage that in the ideal years of '68 had released the highest vital energy; shocked, unbelieving, that the bloody boom was just the outbreak of an air bubble rather than the first crunch of the fatal collapse of a weary system, to be cut off at all costs; with the desire to forget and to find the more than ever living animosities of emancipation; driven by the fascinating cultural appeal of the new frontier of the movement, which in the shadow of the Big Ben sought refuge and regeneration in those years where the instances and the search for a new identity of a restless and shaky West seemed to find, if not an answer,  at least a reverberation of hope and ransom in the crises and illusions of Oriental myths, of which the capital of the former British Empire for its past colonial and vocation constituted the ideal and secure outpost; uncertain, helplessly, confused, and bitterly left almost passively dragged to London by one of those energetic currents, as mysterious and inexplicable as invisible and uncontrollable that impetuously are capable of dragging the fate of whole peoples and nations.

- "Ciao," I said, getting  behind him from a narrow alley.
- "You bloody scared me," it was his lusty response.
- "Excuse me Tommy! You were so overwhelmed that I could not resist the idea of ​​a joke. How are you?
- "Well, well .... And you? Did you find a job at last?
-"Yes I did! A company for which I have worked in the past has promised me to summon me ..... maybe next week ....! Do you know those machines that turn milk into cream, hang on by souvenir shops along the streets ...? "
- "Ah, yes, I seem to have noticed them, sometimes. Tourists seem to be crazy for them, don’t they?
-" surely they do! But also British seem to like them a lot.
- "Then it is even better! How much  do they pay you? "
- "I  work a 10%, ‘you know?"
- "And how it comes weekly?"
-"I do not know! It depends on the position! There at Oxford Street there would be a lot, but I will not be sure of that! Given my past experience, however, I could also have a good pitch! Ihope well...
- "I have spoken to my boss anyway! I was waiting for you to call me at home ... "
- "Yes, I called you, but you didn’t seem to be there..."
-"Didn’t I?! When did you call? "

He always spoke in a calm, almost indifferent tone, as if his words were the story of other people, not his owns. That day I felt in his voice an unusual emotional thrill.

- "I called a few days ago. Then I knew about the ice creams would take me back and I did not try again…’ you know? I just came to say hello to you! “

He  smiled slightly, seeming to regain his indifferent air as usual.

- "What did your boss say by the way?" I went on.
- "He said the place is available for you"
- "well I'm glad hearing it; thank you. Anyway,  I try in the ice cream now; Later, if they do not give me good wages, I might be asking them .... "
- "As you like! Do not worry, the work here is easy. And then maybe you'll take my place. Here is good enough ... "
- "How are you leaving?"
- "I’m going back to Italy"
- "Do you go on holiday?"
- "No, not on vacation. I'm meditating a more challenging step, a more important choice. Here in London I just broke. Think that yesterday the police broke into the house while there was no one and when I came back I found all my stuff out of the door ... "
-"Do not tell me! Another certainty of London that crumbles .. "

I was genuinely sorry for that news, not just for my friend, but for the fact in itself. I paid five pounds of rent for my furnished room on Caledonian Court Road, but I had always been fascinated by these free-lance communities that in  London were called  squatting houses, because, according to my way of thinking at that time, it was more appropriate to occupy unlived  houses that let them empty and lifeless.
At that time, I only considered the sociological and cultural aspect of the squatting phenomenon without worrying about the economic aspect, especially from the point of view of the owners of the houses .
Anyway, so things were going to happen, even if the situation was  to change seriously very soon.
- "Bloody Hell," Thomas continued, "only last year they would not be allowed to do such a thing! Crushing a squatting! "
- "I heard that they were about to issue a new Squatting Act .... do they have already done it?"
-"No I do not think so. I would have known if they did. The Conservatives are still on  the opposition but  they are getting stronger ... "

Again I noticed in her wards  that unusual emotion.

- "Where are you living  now?"
- "I have sheltered in the house of friends, in Fulham; They are organized; There is always someone at home and if they all leave, especially in the evening, they leave the lights on. And even the houses on the side are occupied by squatters: families of unemployed workers, poor devils. There they will not dare to break through …"
- "So you're okay, right?"
- "Yeah, maybe it was all there!"

He stared heavily in my eyes as if he were considering the importance or the opportunity to continue talking. I supported her gaze, then I offered one of my cigarettes. He continued after breathing smoke into the sky.

- "But tell me what am  I still doing  here? I'm bursting, ‘you know? I do not even remember what I  came here for and what's worse, sometimes,  I do not even remember who I am! My life, my thoughts, my actions are so different since I live here! Who is the real Thomas, do I ask to myself? It was only yesterday that I fought, albeit naively, to change society and  today I’m living  in a cloud of illusions, in a space which  I don’t even know the course? "

His unusual tone lit up my congenial polemic force and as I could, I tried to face him, also because, although he did not know the course, as he said, I felt I had to continue my journey; moving forward and without turning back.

- "Movement always follows a course, in my opinion! We need  to wait! We are in a moment of stasis; Soon clouds will light up! ...

- "No! Enough it’s  enough!" He  interrupted me abruptly, "I want to go back to earth, I have to tie myself to my past, to my true story! And, by the way,  what movement are you talking about?"

13. to be continued...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Memoirs of London - 12

 Other street traders I knew in London were "the mirrors sellers". Except for a few apart in  some isolated places, the mirrors sellers were mostly located in a narrow net of roads around the famous Carnaby Street, the real commercial hub of London’s tourist and rolling on since the epic of the Beatles.
 A little already decayed, but still a great attraction in the second half of the seventies. All the range of the consumer’s  symbols and the new western mythology, which also might be found in the T-shirts sold as souvenirs in the many stores that occupied the short road, the kingdom of cheap and quick tourist shopping , alltogether with the symbols of London, were reproduced on mirrors of different formed and sold on the street in front of those stores, which also constituted their store and warehouse.
From  Marylin Monroe to Humphrey Bogart; from Gin Beef Heart to Coca Cola; from the stylized liberty models to Union Jack, passing through the Irish beers Scottish whiskey, rock bands and even the Royal Family, everything was reproduced on those colored mirrors, gently framed and sold from a minimum of 99 pence to a maximum of £ 20 depending on their size and from  the buyer's tourist wallet and luggage.
The mirrors sellers of this area were almost all Italians or Spanish people.
Young people who had come  up to London in order to study English  language and know the city.  Or may be escaped from the economic and political climate of reflux and, in any case, all invoked by the great fascination that London's capital of Rock Music still exercised on the young people of that poorer Europe and they sought, together with greater freedom, a job that allowed them to   live in a decent way, relying only on their strength and without weighing on the family. Among the Italians stood the young freak looking , distinguished by the seemingly cluttered appearance .

I called them the minor brothers of the sixty-nine revolutioners. But among the mirrors sellers  of Carnaby Street there was an authentic and remarkable representative of the former young’s revolution whose name was Tommy.
12. to be continued...

Friday, October 13, 2017

Memoirs of London - 11


 Our quiet Oxford Street daily’s life  was sometimes broken by the sudden and almost fleeting appearance of the "smugglers".
These were lurking people from the  East London less wicked and dishonest than their nickname could allow to presume, who were capable of improvising a street sales of genuine false brand names best suited for a Goldoni’s comedy.
They usually acted in groups of four, each one of them with a definite role.
They arrived to Oxfors street  in a peak hour (between 11.30 a.m and 16 p.m.) after parking  their van in one of the inner streets. They usually occupied a sidewalk segment between two crossbars; two of them acted as poles in each of the two intersections, so it could never happen that a patrol bobbies came unexpectedly  and the other two arranged the box with the merchandise in the center of the pavement (perfumes, wallets, scarves, lighters, watches, jewelry, which varied according to the days, but they were  always fake trademarks).
 One of them, the speaker, sitting on one of the cardboard boxes, overturned as a  seat, while on the other higher the objects were exposed for sale, boasted the quality and price of their goods,  extolled in that incomprehensible London dialect, which itself was an unmissable show.
The other, the provocateur, was placed behind the crowd who regularly stopped around the show, attracted by that improvised show and pushing against people with the elbows, showing  the money between his fingers, shouted "... I buy  three of them! "," I want two! "," I take four of those! "dragging behind him dozens of buyers who sometimes gave the money without even knowing what they were buying.
Once one of the two poles, aware of the arrival of a couple of bobbies, gave the alarm. Within a matter of five seconds, without having previously reassured the occasional customers on their honest intentions, goods, money and boxes had already disappeared swallowed from the alley opposite to the policemen 's arrival direction. And after these, completely ignorant, had disappeared from the acute view of the poles, at the same point they were reforming the sales desk. And it should be added that the interruption did not do much to the affairs of the band.

As a matter of fact the fear of the police the band showed, whether true or false it might have been, convinced people that the proposed deal had to be very profitable.
What a blessed naivety of British people and London tourists!
I remember  that my father used to count about Neapolitan scoundrels selling to naïve buyers fake gold watches since the endo of Second World War,  pretending they were booty of  the last robbery of the century. Though everybody knows  the Neapolitan Theatre , is somewhat different from the English comedy.

 I also remember that Bob once confessed to me that he had earned his way of living in that style , for some time,  and he  knew those who practiced it,  to be all very good guys.

11. to be continued...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Memoirs of London - 10

Other street vendors were the papers sellers.  They also came almost exclusively from East London but it was very rare to find young people among them. They worked outdoors all year long, occupying the corners at the exit of the most important metropolitan stations, using some of the simple metallic box inside which the newspapers were and, sometimes,  a table with metal chair, and from there emitted some incomprehensible sounds that merged with the drafters  coming from the bowels of the earth, through the infinite meanders of the subway; and in those sounds one could no longer recognize the names of the heads of the daily newspapers Evening Standard and the Evening News, which they pronounced in a short,  deformed by habit, similar to the rattle of a wounded beast, to attract the  attention of the distracted and hurried passengers in transit to the entrances of underground tunnels. The Evening News was actually just an imitation of the most famous Evening Standard. The latter was published in multiple editions from seven a.m. until late at night, with a frequency between  two and three hours. From one issue to the other, only the first page was changed in order to attract the readers to brilliant news. It was distributed to such vendors with a truly fantastic delivery network.

The delivers came in black-yellow van, and from there, with the engine still on, without descending from the van,  they flown the  newspapers packages.

The Evening Standard did not have a precise political physiognomy (at least not in the sense that we Italians give it to this expression) and perhaps it alternated its ideology tuning  with the political parties ruling  the largest London administrative body: "The Great London Council ".

All those vendors gave me a strange impression: that they had always done  that job. Not only for the wheeze voice that characterized them, but also for their very dirty clothing. The skin of their face looked   dark, almost dirty, because of the exposure to the unhealthy air.
 It also seemed to me that they felt  always cold, even in the summer, as if in their bones it was penetrated the humidity and the chilling breath of the freezing drafts coming from the Tube.
 They wore gloved handcuffs in order to easily grab money and newspapers and warmed up with a tea-milk cup they bought take away from the nearest snack bar.
Despite  of their appearance, which in the days of intense fog blended with the surrounding landscape, becoming a characteristic element, like the red royal columns of the Royal Mail, the telephone booths and the black cabs, the sensations they conveyed were, however positive.
 I do not say they were cheerful, but may be jovial. A serene and resigned joviality, as if the diffusion of the events, from London and the whole world, contained in their newspapers, made them impermeable to emotions, placing them above the human events, as if they were impartial messengers  from the underground’s gods.
When passing by, where I was working, they never lacked to nod at me with  sympathy, at the same time giving making a sound which wanted to be  an "are you all right " but one could only hear a  hiss, like the wind that had entered into their bodies, consisting of three, perhaps only two syllables, veiled, almost died  in the throat.

10. to be continued...

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Memoirs of London - 9


One of them, who used to work in the ice cream sell, was Bob, who had made me an instructor, a few years earlier, in the short period of previous work placement: in particular cleaning and maintenance of the machine, and preparing ice creams and ice drinks.
He wasn’t  very tall (you would say surely more than five feet but less then six, with light hair, combed with a line-centered brush;  his eyes were green colored and very  moving on the features of the face, made a bit irregular by two slightly pronounced upper incisors.
 At the left lobe, with a lot of naturalness, he carried a small round gold earring, fashion, which on our country  was still beyond to come. His clothing was both simple and well-groomed. Particular attention, however, he showed on  the shoes and the t-shirts, on which, usually stood out of immeasurable, numerous gold chains, different in appearance and size, as our women do when they wore  the  ancient folk costumes.

Bob was definitely nice. Very uneasy, he was always around in the nearby shops, he was a jumper, or a grocer's colleague. In his "pitch", which was usually the most profitable, he had during the high season one or more aides on whom he uploaded, in a casual and good manner, most of the workload. When it happened to be in distribution, at peak times, sometimes he was bizarre.
Once, for instance, there was an  orderly and long queue of customers waiting to be served at  the ice cream machine,  up to the outside edge of the sidewalk.
Suddenly Bob said  he had to go and make a  phone call. And so saying, he showed customers a ten-penny coin, holding it high between the thumb and index finger of the left hand and hissing, with the upper lip slightly curled on the teeth, in a string of  glottis shots : "I'll be back in a minute!”.

After he had  disappeared into the store I tried to do my best on serving the customers. When he was back, seeing so many people still queuing,  he asked me kindly,
to set aside, tracing  a semicircle with his left forearm and grabbed a dozen cones, he was able to fill them all by turning his hand skillfully under the ice cream faucet, simultaneously driving the lever with his right hand, and while I was struggling to get ice cream in both my hands, to distribute them, the customers, cheered him up with admiration.  And it seemed that these customers had the magnitude, because there were more and more behind them, and Bob's show was repeated until the machine could keep on refrigerating.

But when he stayed away for a longer time he used to ask me, with a significant gesture of the index rubbed on her thumb, if
I had any  banknotes, which he called in his funny slang “wonga”.

It was at that time of my first novitiate in London that I started to love the English.

 If he did not have customers, he read the newspaper: The Sun, the Daily Mirror and, above all, the Evening Standard, a London daily newspaper that published everything about horse racing, the other sporting events of the day, as well as some local, political issues and seldom  internationals.

He did not read much concentrated or for a long time, since he looked up from time to time to whistle or recall the attention of some glamorous girl of passage, on the goodness of whose forms we did not always agree, and if I tried to drag him to comment on some political news or abroad eco-social argument, its responses were always superficial, albeit not evasive.

At first I noticed a certain surprise in his eyes when listening carefully to my reasoning, and I did not know how to interpret it.

As time went by, I realized that it must appear unusual and even bizarre to him  that an Italian  ice-cream seller , wanted  to deal with arguments that not even the English and the Londoners , like he was, would to be  interested on.

 So, though seen as a sort of  phenomenon, a bit funny and original, I realized that his attitude towards me went gradually changing, from the initial snobbery and indifference into a cordial, sincere sympathy  that I was not able to turn into a deeper friendship, perhaps also because of my immaturity and insecurity.
Bob and the other dealers, including his two brothers and a sister, had left the school shortly after they had solved their attendance obligations; indeed, many even before that term.
Rebellious and refractory to the harsh rules of the English teachers, they preferred the free life of the street; without hierarchical supervisors invading or rebuking and  without any form of obligation (it was not rare he changed bad  words with some overly demanding or unfortunate customer).

 And with a great pay over the average earnings of workers and employees.

9. to be continued... 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Memoirs of London - 8

But if Soho is the pulsating heart of London's by night,  tourism is the real great business  in the  rest of the West End: a huge shopping mall and amenities in whose veins runs an infinite river of people, motorized and money which draws a continuous replacement of new life from the invisible arteries of the immense underground subway of the London metropolis.
The presence of this mass of metropolitan plankton had allowed in those streets the emergence of a varied fauna of sellers, including the fruit ‘s stalls, which were set mostly along Oxford Street.
Their fruit, so beautiful and flashy to look fake, stood out more for quality and shape than for quantity.
The "fruit'stallers" actually sold to the passers-by, usual to quick "lunch-time", or to occasional tourists, Californian a red apple, a greenish South African "Granny Smith"  or even a Sicilian grapefruit, a banana or, perhaps, to the most sophisticated, an avogadro cut in two halves, provided with salt and plastic spoon.  While the few housewives or restaurateurs in the area, found in the nearby Berwick street market cheaper prices and better choices.
The "London Fruits Sellers Company" (from which these particular fruit sellers were dependent) was certainly a company with all right papers: municipal marketing permissions; Public land occupation license; Health insurance card and even regular and substantial payments to the Great State Partner: the voracious Fiscal of the Crown.
The corporate summit was almost entirely made up of Jewish, eternal and skilled financiers, always looking for investments and profits, while the organization on the field, so to say, was in the hands of the English.
The  vendors all came from the neighborhood "East London", a city in the city, the ultimate London, for those who were legitimately and authentically Londoners.

The concentration in  the east of the Thames of the descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Londinium had gone along with the expansion of the English capital.
Pushed away to east by the enlargement of the ancient core of the city (as well as from Holborn, Seven Dials e Covent Garden), due to become in the centuries the wealthy square mile, evicted off the west to make space to rich and profiting buildings, the poorest people of London found shelter more and more to the East side of the town, merging with the offspring of the Huguenots, the Jews, the Romani and the already settled poorest English  people and so moving to  Clerkenwell, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Wapping, Limehouse, Hoxton, Stepney, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Shadwell, Aldgate, Millwall, Hackney, Rotherhithe, Mile End e Bow which  all became another London, the only real and original one, in contrast to London’s rich and tourists.

And while Harrod's, Selfridges, Marks and Spencer and the largest London banks were located where once they lived, they found refuge in the East End, far from the chaotic and polluted New Frontier. And when they crossed that invisible curtain that protected them to the east, they entered the "Town" or the “City”, but London was already behind. 

Bulwark and  symbol of the identity of this people was, still at that time,  the Cokney.

It is a real English dialect, though it has lexical borrowings from Yiddish,  and a distinctive accent that features T- glottalisation, a loss of dental fricatives and diphthong alterations.
This slang, which is said to bear more than one trace of early English London speech, acts as a linguistic element of group identification where the East Londoners find  their emotionally primary language, a true mother tongue.
 The other  English find it  very funny, a bit like it happens to the  Italians  when they hear  the colorful Roman dialect of certain comedians, from Ettore Petrolini onwards. Also in my company were several of these "East Londoners". 

8. to be continued...

Monday, August 21, 2017

Memoirs of London - 7


The "Street's traders" were a microcosm in the West End.  They were all and everywhere: drivers, painters, musicians,  trumps,  preachers, mystics, sandwiches-men, artists, pimps, prostitutes, nobles decayed, clean-washers, interviewers, fake and real pushers, teddy-boys, advertisers, rock-punkers, adepts, dealers  and sellers of any kind and much more than that.

Everyone could meet them in that circular microcosm of twisted alleyways, avenues, secondary streets and main arteries, all mysteriously united as an osmotic network of communicating vessels where the rivers, streams and seas walk in a twofold direction, never stopping. 

A living body whose pulsating heart is the West End.

Inside there is an even more intricate series of streets and alleys that goes under the name of Soho, where pimps and prostitutes (in regular and authorized professional clothes) have their kingdom.

Prostitutes could only indirectly be regarded as "street workers". 

In the English mentality, in fact, a "bitch in the street" is totally inconceivable. In England everything can be done,  talking of sex, supposed  is not known around. Anyone can make anything  but he’s supposed  not to spread it around . This  attitude,  hypocritical and paternalistic,  is for  sure a Victorian legacy that even the liberation movements of the sixties had failed to sweep away.

Whoever works in the street is the pimp. The one who makes as a trait-union towards the paradise of the forbidden, well protected by the strands of the sexy-shops.

These shops, all  opaque windowed,  at the time totally unknown and banned in Italy,  were officially licensed for the sale and rental of hard-core video cassettes and magazines, but in fact, and everyone knew it, they were the venue of infamous business, ideal recipe for itchy and perverted watchers of all kinds, sado-masochistic  represses, provided on the ground floor of prostheses suitable for pleasure and sorrow (whips, vibrators, inflatable dolls and all sexy accessories of paraphernalia you can imagine) and reserved apartments, projection halls, erotic cells with peephole and much more on top floors.

7. to be continued...