Posted by at 10:21 am  Atelier, Fundamental Perversions, Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Oct 292014

This word unsuitable touches something important. I notice the Italian is inadatto which suggests the English non-adapted. This is close but doesn’t quite get to the quality of unsuitable. What I am reading into unsuitable is some sort of awkwardness, resistance, bloody-mindedness perhaps. Dirty shoes, long hair, beards, old clothes. And it can also apply to a piece of writing. To say a piece of writing is unsuitable might bring to mind the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the 60s, am I right in remembering that there was a comment from the prosecution suggesting that one should let one’s servants read it? Naturally our writing on this blog is mostly unsuitable, though for different reasons. And you bring together beauty and shit, your impulses pushing towards greater shit and greater beauty. I like it, a challenge rather akin to blagging some Italian out there on the streets. Did I feel one of your size 10s on the seat of my pants?

Thankfully the sun was setting, fire to the west, dark clouds piling up to the east, enveloping the hills. What is that “thankfully”? Was it the relief of the descent from the hills and return to the city as the light failed? To escape the city and then to return to the safety of the city? To give thanks? 

Cowering under a dark mahogany table, because no one had been available to erect the Anderson shelter, crouch three characters in Will Self’s latest book Shark. One of them has insider information on the statistics of risks of dying and claims that one is just as likely to die being knocked over by an ambulance or fire engine than blown up courtesy of the Luftwaffe. Thanks to statistics one can gamble on another level.

I see Jack Bruce died recently – the bassist from Cream. I have it in mind that it was always Cream and not THE Cream, whereas it was the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Jack Bruce died of liver failure at the age of 71. The obituary mentioned years of heroin addiction and a liver transplant some years ago. Just as John Lennon was my favourite member of the Beatles so Jack Bruce was my favourite member of Cream. I saw him as rougher, a bit of fighter, perhaps unsuitable, without the smoothness of McCartney or Clapton. Presumably I needed my heroes to be similarly unsuitable to me, though I tended towards the private and not the public displays of unsuitability. And come to think of it, Will Self fits into the same category: unsuitable but he finds a way through to become a successful writer. And he walks across cities. In a recent Guardian piece he celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall with a walk along the length of it with a German friend. Though much of it has gone, some of it given as gifts, some of it sold. Though I had the impression that when they eventually reached the end they were both somewhat depressed, perhaps exhausted. Retracing history can be hard work. 

Gratitude can be seen as the stuff of the heart. We give thanks. We give thanks especially to those unsuitable, awkward bastards who are the salt of the earth. Like Andrea Gallo.

Oct 232014

Brothers: I read this on the London Underground on Monday night, and wrote it down.

(Maniaro 15 July 1916)

What regiment are you from

World trembling
in the night

A leaf just opening

In the racked air
Involuntary revolt
Of man face to face
With his own fragility


Guiseppe Ungaretti

While still thinking of the beauty of Roberto’s life in Genoa (see previous post), here we go – ‘God loves simple things’ (Simple Song – Bernstein Mass) I sing.

The ‘Brothers’ poem was printed on one of the hoardings to be found at head height above the carriage windows (alongside dating and other ‘dot.com’ adverts etc), and also the Italian original. Here it is -


Di che reggimento siete

Parola tremante
Nella notte

Foglia appena nata

Nell’aria spasimante
Involontaria rivolta
Dell’uomo presente alla sua


From Guiseppe Ungaretti, Selected Poems (Carcanet, tr AndrewFrisardi). I have now seen several different versions of the poem in English.

Guiseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970) – “The Life of a Man”Ungaretti142
Modernist poet: family came from Lucca, and grew up influenced by D’Annunzio, the Futurists, and others. In 1915 enlisted with the infantry after Italy entered the First World War and was sent  to the front line in northern Italy.

Terrors and Horrors: began to write and his first collection of poems Il porto sepolto (“The Buried Port”) was published in 1917.

Ups and Downs: spent a brief period as a member of the Fascist party in the 1920′s after the war, then (re)discovered his spiritual faith. Thereafter lived a life of beauty overcoming nothing and being broken up between travelling, teaching, losses and writing.

Il Mattino:

This is his most famous poem and is frequently to be found on T shirts. Of course it defies translation, and Ungaretti is altogether difficult to translate* into English. The Carcanet book gets bad reviews and I am inclined towards Bastianutti’s bilingual work (mainly because I like the look of b-diego blogspot).

Allegria (published in 1931) is Ungaretti’s most highly rated work, and his collected works Vita di un uomo came out around the time of his death in 1970.

* SEE: Walter Benjamin ‘The Task of the Translator’ – asking how the imaginative life of the source text has been prolonged, what has been done by the translation, what it points to, throws light on, or mimes (from LRB review of GU 2003).

Oct 212014
Don Gallo Provoking

‘Hit’ la marciapede and be provoked into speaking: from diamonds nothing was born, from shit flowers bloom.

A man whose name I know as Roberto has returned to Genoa and is expressing a new level of beauty in his life. This is what I am told over the weekend by my monastic friend ‘S’ who has been staying with us and told us a little fragment of Roberto’s story.

Roberto seems exactly the kind of man you need to meet in order to grow a style of conversation that rubs a bit more dirt into your shoes, and loosens your tongue of the terror of speaking in Italian in this new country where you are now living your life. I have not met or spoken with Roberto myself, but I have the strong impression that he speaks a less than perfect English… or Italian. More than a little broken – What could better! He has been the last few years in England, some of them more or less at Her Majesty’s Pleasure , and was otherwise unable to return to Italy for a variety of reasons if you follow my gist.

Italy, as no doubt you are already beginning to discover is a land of open insecurity and institutional terror, more than England I think at the present time, so Roberto still has to be careful about who knows his whereabouts. However, he is back now and working with the community of San Porto of Genoa and there you will find him. His is an inspiring story – as is the one about this marciapiede communita.

La Communita di San Benedetto al Porto was founded and lead by Don Gallo until his death last year aged 84. “My gospels are not four…” Don Gallo once said, “…we have been following for years the gospel according to a path that is in (an) obstinate and contrary direction. And we can confirm it, note it: from diamonds nothing was born, from shit flowers bloom” (La Storia siamo noi 2007).

Like Roberto, Andrea Gallo also came from Genoa. Born in 1928, his Christian education blossomed (under the Silesians) and he was ordained a priest in 1959. However, he developed an “obstinate and contrary direction” of teaching, provoked and based entirely on trust and freedom.

This new direction did not go down well with the authorities, and as a priest he was in constant trouble with them, both spiritual and secular. Working among the poor of Capraia in 1970 where there was a very high level of drug use, he gave a homily saying there are many other worse drugs in society than the ones that are found on the street, including the language a child is taught that makes him “unsuitable” as a grown man to speak or flourish with it.

Soon afterwards he was accused by the Curia of being a communist and removed from office. Returning soon after to Genoa he founded the Communita di San Benedetto al Porto, and continued for the rest of his life to care for the poor of the city and all people of the street. And to provoke : working for peace and for all marginalized peoples… being fined for openly smoking marijuana in the town hall of Genoa in 2006… participating in the Genova Pride movement in 2009… in 2013 saying what the Catholic Church really needed was an openly gay pope.

What is a better word in English than “unsuitable” (as above)? Is there a better translation for “from shit flowers bloom”? And can I provoke you to a marciapiede meeting, speaking and blossoming of language with Roberto (or someone like him), a man clearly in step with this “obstinate and contrary direction”, and living a life of beauty not so far from you in Genova?

Neither here nor there

 Posted by at 3:06 pm  Fundamental Perversions, Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
Oct 122014

Ho bisogno di vedere il sole, di sentire il caldo sul corpo, sulla pelle . . .

In the enduring trixiness of politicians’ wiles, 

their innate corruptions exposing the blankness of their hearts.

Having sold their souls to the devil anything goes!

Of course for a short while they might (if the wind is in their favour) appear successful

Things might go well for them.

Ho bisogno di sentire il vento sulla faccia

Il verde argenteo del l’olivo che accende un fuoco.

in the mergen i was waecend by the sound of wind in the treows and a great wind it was blowan from a great height

blowan with the strength of thunor 

this wind it mofd the great treows baec and forth

and the sound was griem to hiere.*

Imagine three people – it matters not as to gender

Young adults who set out on their paths in life.

One is concerned for the conditions in the world

For the impoverished and disadvantaged

For the life of the planet and all the richness thereon.

The next is concerned to lead an honourable life

Creating beauty and quality

And a home for family.

The third dreams of wealth and power

And its accumulation and is consequently prepared to do anything

To exploit the richness of fellow beings to that end.

Question: How do these three cohabit?

Perhaps it is necessarily impossible?

La discesa dalle colline

           la strada tortuosa si attorciglia per sfuggire alle rocce, agli alberi

L’asfalto s’incrina e si tende

E poi improvvisamente sono tornato nella città.

*these few lines come from The Wake by Paul Kingsworth which was long listed for this year’s Booker and is a good read.


Oct 102014

I find it difficult to keep regular hours with Wordstall these last weeks, and wonder what’s stopping me. Men Behaving Badly? Ebola? ISIS?

Perhaps I am forgetting to note what I can see. Anything worthy of note going on. Do I know how to see what is worthy of note? Is there anything that strikes me?

Nothing strikes me? Then I can’t know how to see. White walls.

La Revoluzione siamo Noi.

Why is the ceiling of this room this high? The room is enormous, like a cathedral. Even an orchestra could fit in here. It is big enough to hold a concert in.

Cry Out.

It has a perfect acoustic for music. That can also be a vehicle for social change. Cry out again with enough imagination to say: If you build it they will come.

Wave Arms.

And try to say, at least gesturely, we can be in a permanent dialogue. The white walls are covered with more than twenty large paintings. They are brightly coloured and filled with cartoon-like figures. Some have words written across them in German – phrases like ‘Demokratie ist lustig’. There are also rectangular glass cabinets in the middle of the room filled with things. In one there is a wooden sleigh, and in another there is a violin. A third contains a strange, a misshapen metal thing. The note beside it says it is a back brace. There is a red fire extinguisher on one wall, but then on closer inspection I see it is not on the wall but inside one of the paintings.

Art belongs to the People!

La Revoluzione siamo Noi is a large sepia coloured print (Edizione Modern Art Agency – Napoli). A man wearing a felt hat walks purposefully towards us. He has a bag slung across one shoulder.20140926_120020

(No Photography)

Art Belongs to the People!

I feel I know, or that I ought to know, the identity of the man walking purposely towards me. He is someone I recognize, someone important out of my past.


(No Photography)

La Revoluzione siamo Noi was created in 1972. and 180 copies were made. I know the man walking is part of my history and that he is also the history of many other people.

A small sign on a stand in the middle of the room states that photography is not permitted (for copyright reasons it says).

The man in the felt hat is walking along a cobbled stone street in a foreign land. I think it is Italy or somewhere on another continent where Italian is spoken.

Recently I was staying in a house where a July/August copy of a magazine called Foreign Affairs had been left by a previous visitor. I noticed that it was expensive (£9.95 per issue). The issue was called “WHAT REALLY HAPPENED” and the first  articles had titles which all began the same way:
‘What really happened in Iran
The CIA, the ouster of Mosaddeq, and the restoration of the Shah’
‘What really happened in Congo
The CIA, the murder of Lumumba, and the rise of Mobutu’
‘What really happened in Chile
The CIA, the coups against Chile, and the rise of Pinochet’
‘What really happened in Bangladesh
Washington, Islamabad, and the genocide in East Pakistan’.

Iran 1953, Congo 1961, Pakistan, 1971, Chile 1973: it was the ‘What really happened in Chile’ article which caught me. The piece was written by a man called Jack Devine and it caught me. The introduction said Jack served 32 years in the CIA, and the article was adapted from his book Good Hunting: an American Spymaster’s Story. It began like this – ‘On September 9th 1973, I was eating lunch at Da Carla, an Italian restaurant in Santiago, Chile, when a colleague joined my table and whispered in my ear…

(No Photography)