last moon

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...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Memoirs of London - 6

In 1979 I was back on the road to work for the B.B.C., a company that, apart from the initials of its name, had nothing else to share with British state television. In fact, the Benjamin Building Company did not afflict people with boring programs, neither it  talked with shameless lies about national and international political events. Finally my Company did not even put its nose in the lives of the Queen and the other members of the Royal Family,  generally speaking.

The company I worked for delighted their customers  by selling ice cream and drinks, logistically relying on a chain’s shop of souvenirs, sweets and tobacco’s  strategically located at several points in the great London area known as West End.

 This vast and famous London metropolitan area, which also includes Soho district and numerous small and large parks, is bordered by a perimeter that runs through the important streets of Oxford Street, Charing Cross Rd, Shaftesbury Av and Regent's Street, forming an irregular trapeze whose four tops pass from Tottenham Court Rd to Oxford Circus; from there to Piccadilly Circus and  finally end at Leicester Square, couple of yards   from Trafalgar Square, where Admiral Nelson's statue, according to the likely intentions of the public authorities who wanted it so powerfully high, witnessed  the  British’s greatness and glory to all those who would walk from there: French people, foreigners  and British from all over the Empire.

 In those years, the greatness and glory of England, after the almost total depletion of the British Empire,  seemed more remote and far from the statue of the great conductor of the seas. And nostalgia, it’s all over known, is a feeling that more acutely manifests itself, when the best times are over and  a crisis is bound to come.

 And that Great Britain was in crisis at the end of the seventies of the twentieth century, it immediately became apparent also to the "street traders" who, living among the people, felt the moods of the average citizen in an emotionally direct way.

 On the street, they felt discomfort and nervousness, though the real troubles were still to come, shortly thereafter, with the irresistible rise to power of the Conservatives headed by Margareth Tatcher (later known as the “Iron Lady"), which would mark the end of a cycle in London's administrative life, characterized by a policy of traditional securing of democratic freedoms and sympathy for the weaker social classes.

Moreover, the English metropolis had represented since the rising of the first music liberation and protest groups (born on the wave of the American Hippies movement, also known as the "beat generation") a decisive cultural reference point, helping to make London the Capital of the Rock Movement, where refugees disappointed by the illusion of the failed revolution of 1968, could find a safe refuge escape from the backflow of the reaction which  had gone through  the whole world.

And it was right there, in London, that they could still see the last glow of brightness before its definite sunset. So, in a good way, I agreed to resume my job and sell ice-creams and drinks in the street. By my side I had a refrigerating machine that turned milk into ice cream and a refreshing machine dispensing orange and lemonade.

Where  else could I work, let alone  the road? And to do what? Maybe to get into some office with air conditioning in the summer, heating in the winter, and the stench of paperwork under my nose? There was no other world for me, now, if not that; no other destiny, no other life I could have wanted, than the free life  of street's traders.

 Returning to the road meant for me to relive from the very beginning my adventure in that mysterious and fascinating city that, unfortunately and superficially, is too often considered cold and inhospitable, considering also that never or almost never come into you get a direct contact with English or British people.

 This story is devoted to London and to the dear places where I have lived in.  But it is also dedicated to all the peoples that those places with such variety and vivacity animated in those years who will pass through the main scene of my story: the streets of London.

6. to be continued...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Memoirs of London - 5

When the springtime came I decided to search for another job. I was grateful to the pizza’s factory ‘cause they gave me the chance to start a new life in London but I needed to change.
 I needed to stay at open air and I started walking on the streets, aimless, enjoying the people going on, the shops, the parks and all the life which ordinarily goes by.
One day, along  Oxford Street, in one of those tourist’s shops which sell with sweets a lot of Londoner’s souvenirs, I saw a notice like they were looking for staff. I got in and questioned the boss. It was not for his farm, he said, but for another firm which used his entrance for selling fresh ice-creams and drinks, made by personal machines on the place.
He gave me a phone number. After the interview and a three day training , just to learn how to use the machines for making ice-cream (an Italian made Carpigiani) and properly clean it, I started working on one of the pitches they had placed exactly where the shop chain had its selling points.
I was happy to stay finally outside and the weather was  nice and mild. The wages increased as the hot season advanced, so I could save some money to go away, may to India or to Mexico, who knows?
I met a lot of good people staying outside.  Susy, who introduced me to some English poets and her friend Angie, a nice, blond, blue eyes girl.
But not even her kindness could prevent my departure ‘cause nobody can stop the will of leaving, the desire of traveling, the search of someone’s way.
After the summer season, I decided to leave.
In that time I was profoundly fascinated by the Indian culture. I went through the reading of several books like Hermann Hesse's Siddharta, The Indian Upanishads and Tagore's poems.  As a matter of fact I had a lot of confusion into my mind but when you fall in love with something you easily lose your reason. So I thought that I had to go there, where the quintessence of spirituality resided.
In  a certain way it occurred to me  what happened to the great traveler Cristobal Colon: as he did, I landed to America while searching for India.

After wandering for six months between Miami, Panama, Caracas and Bogotà I was back to London, as I’ll count to the patient reader hereinafter. 

6. to be continued...