The Standing Man

 Posted by at 11:55 am  Hitting the Potholes, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jun 252013

The older man, tidily dressed in his best country clothes and farmer’s hat, walks across the Piazza del Duomo in the city centre. Stepping steadily along, he also appears to have no interest whatsoever in going into the Cathedral doors which are open behind him. Whatever his destination may be, with his shepherd’s walking stick he looks like he is more at home up on the high meadows well outside the city tending his flock.


He turns towards the camera, and stops for a moment to become the standing man. Whatever the real story… and for more see “Storio Permesse… Storio Proibito…” by Valerio Ugazio (written in 1998, it has only just appeared in translation into English: Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family - follow the link to read the review in the Guardian last Saturday by Tim Park, and, yes I agree, I do so much prefer the Italian title).

Whatever the real story… and, not shaming or blaming, maybe simply boldly naming it can make a difference.


Does goodness exist, the standing man with his camera asks. Not in mute silence. Better to ask: Does boldness exist?

“The standing man” coincidentally also appears in Istanbul’s city centre at the Taksim Square last Monday in the early evening a week ago (June 17th). Instead of entering the park then filled with protesters, the man stops in front of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, takes off his backpack, puts his hands in his pockets and begins to stare up at this building opposite the park. After a time a few bystanders stop to ask him what he is doing, but he doesn’t reply. Later the police arrive, do a body search and also check his bag. They find nothing. Do you have a problem? they ask, but he still doesn’t answer. They leave him and he stays there the next eight hours. By the end about 300 people join him, and, all standing and staring up, word begins to spread on Twitter: duran adam.

As reported by Kaya Genç the standing man is reminiscent of Alan Badiou’s idea of the “event” as the fundamental component of politics. As for a literary parallels, Genç also suggests Herman Melville’s Bartleby the scrivener, the man who “would prefer not to”. You and I are reminded that we wrote about Bartleby & Co last September (for all the Wordstall feuilleton pieces, put Bartleby into a search here). 

What comes next? A week later and Istanbul’s Taksim Square has now been cleared of protesters, and some political opinion makers think the standing man is missing the point. Not mute silence, community organisations and forums for speaking out are required for a mass social movement to be more lasting than a transient day for the standing man on Twitter. But either way,  the real story is the man standing is shining his light out to show:

1. Either way it’s BIG BUSINESS
2. Rocketing PROFITS are part of “the racket”
3. The myth is: the more you pay, the better they care
4. It’s a weird, broken system that really isn’t working

The older man, tidily dressed in his best country clothes and farmer’s hat: so I’ve worked as a doctor in my time dressed in a clean white coat, and got to know the health system from the inside pretty well. Then I watched it being broken up, and left in 2008 because I wasn’t prepared to be broken up the same way, and end up becoming a weird croupier for the healthcare casino (the weasel phrase for primary care doctors was ‘health gatekeepers’!). Now I am on the outside same as you – and it is like the BIG EVENT of the standing man – we can tell what are the Real Stories of “men of our age”.

Let’s open up the conversation.

Lungo i Portici

 Posted by at 1:56 pm  Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jun 192013
blog photo

What are the older men looking for?

Squeeze up, make some more room. No, we can’t! There isn’t any.

The thing is that there are too many of us to fit one street bench, and there’s a limit especially for older men with our spreading waistlines. Even if it is a long one, and the bench in the square looks that it is longer than usual. Demand exceeds supply.

Added to which it is obviously uncomfortable for us to sit on. The bench is made of stone, with a hard flat seat, and there’s no back to lean against. Of course it looks attractive lined up with the stone sculpted round balls, and functional too, but it isn’t possible to sit there for very long, even with the ingenuity of older men.

Maybe if I sit on my jacket. No, better not. I’ll get a terrible ticking off if I do, and it is all creased when I get home.

In fact, it is the clever ones who stand. From there they have a better chance of hearing more of what is being said. More than those sat at either end who can’t hear a word of what is being said more than two men away.

What did he say? Never mind, my friend. You don’t want to listen to him.

And stood up there’s also a better chance of making a monologue and dominating the conversation. The seated ones may wave their arms more trying to get their share of the speaking air space, but it is the stood ones who can control things.

Except that the driver sat in the white taxi parked behind the bench, a small thickset woman in a light blue shirt and black trousers, has turned up the car radio, and the mushy pop music is playing so loud that it is drowning out all the older men’s conversation.

At least they are out of the house! So she can get on with her chores, and the unmarried children and unemployed grandchildren who are still living at home can get on with their work, playing on their computers, or business, whatever that might be.

There’s one younger man stood behind the bench where the old men are sat. His mobile phone rings and he begins speaking loudly. As well it is an intimate conversation about sex, as if the old men don’t exist.

Shall we have sex too?

I don’t think your father is feeling well today, she says to her grandson. What is it Papa? Nothing, nothing. I am just going out now.

Don’t forget to buy the lottery tickets, she shouts after him from behind the front door which has just been slammed shut.

What are the older men looking for?

Each household gives us a job to do, a small task to perform while we are out. It is nothing too important, mostly  something to keep us occupied.

It means a journey into the city centre. And at least the authorities are making an attempt to help. We can take the senior citizen free bus pass to the city centre, and walk from the bus stop and cross the road in reasonable safety now that most traffic has been excluded from the roads.

Apart from the bench it is empty in the square where we like to meet. Although the white stone bench’s design and civic location has its obvious shortcomings, it has been given a fine Mission Statement:

Needs (wellbeing, lifeskills, social capital) – helping to meet
Happiness (fairness, social justice, participatory politics) – contributing towards
Gaps (intergender, and intergenerational) – speaking across

In a word, community. Fine words…

But it has to be said that we recall with longing the old days when we could sit on the steps in the arcades, smoke our cigarettes, and look up the legs of the passing women as they came out of the smart shops with their shopping bags.

Oh, I shouldn’t have said that!

Villa Miseria (1.0.)

 Posted by at 10:50 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Jan 162013
tripe stew131

Where are we now? We have entered the city, and we are on the streets of some district.

Which city? Continental, it could be Rome or Istanbul, Berlin or Buenos Aires, Rio or Kalikut. It could even be New York or Boston. Even London… (at times on a clear night and in certain places).

And we think we are on the streets, in a happy-go-lucky way setting up shop with our news-stands ready in wait for passing trade.

Except that – NO! – we are not quite on the street, the district where we are located appears to be more complicated than that. Although close to the city centre, it is more fluid than pavement and hard concrete: it is fluid, watery and floundering like “Tripe Stew” (virgin yellow mud, or Mondongo, as it is called in the lunfardo local Buenos Aires tongue). We’ve set up close to the main outlet for the city sewers, the cloaca maxima – the same areas as the rubbish tips and landfills – and the “unplanned settlements”, favellas.

Nor are our wordstall racks exactly brimming with the latest copy from the glossy magazines – just the gleanings (or vaguenings) from off the tips, or rescued out of the pits and brown yellow waters. We sift the rubbish for something that could be of value, sorting out what is recyclable in the hope of making a few pennies. It is hard work for all the uncertainty.

Here at the the endings of the issues, we spend most of the time watching what is floating past. We’ve located in this Villa Miseria close to the main drain (not the sort of noxious place to fall in). So we say we are “On the Streets”, but it is incorrect, an exaggeration, we are not quite in fact. We are off them, if only a little way, but it is another world.

But here at least we can show ourselves to be partizan – “I am partizan,” wrote Antonio Gramsci, “I hate those who don’t take sides. I hate the indifferent.”

Jan 162013
tripe stew131

Where are we now? I am standing looking into a large (3m x 3m) square glass cabinet. Inside there is a huge human skull looking out. At me? No, it is not looking directly out at me, it is looking to one side.

The skull is a monumental semi-relief plasticine construction made by the Mondongo (“tripe stew”) Collective of Buenos Aires. It comes from one of the shanty towns ( = Villa Miseria in Argentina).

The skull sits on a table part in shadow, part in light, and invites me to look more closely. At its base, the neck and lower jaw, is the slum city, the Villa Miseria, “unplanned settlements” which are of course supporting the rest of the structure. The teeth are an astronomical number of fictitious money. In the nasal passage two sinister hooded figures dispense – what?- alcohol, drugs or dreams, or who knows what. Below them on the the upper lip a pale woman lies wrapped in a white sheet while a child attempts to find one of her  nipples. The nose itself is a large bath plug on which sits a yellow rubber duck

Books, books, and more books cover the skull’s cheeks; Les Miserables, Naomi Klein, La Commedia (Dante himself also fills one of the eye sockets), Plato, etc, etc. Higher still on the dome of the skull is a great plastic stewing baroque world of cities, revellers, and steaming riches. I look even closer and see that it is all on fire. I recognise the Kremlin, and the White House. A mosque stands next to a central bank and an Italian Renaissance cathedral.

The devil sits in a dead tree. A long gold chain links him to a cross on  a hill. Hansel and Gretel walk towards the candy sweet house where the wicked witch awaits them.

Beside me on another side there is a four year old boy and his mother. “LOOK AT THE SCHCKULL, IT’S MADE OF PEOPLE”, the boy tells his mother.

The skull is partisan. It has taken sides. Photography is not permitted, nor is it possible to copy online images, except that it is with a little partizan persistence. It is encased, Calavera, and it is made of people.

Dec 202012
Angelus Novus Klee

Let’s remain topical and stay in La Bella Flora: here are x2 places recommended by the Wu Ming (“slightly more than expected from a band of novelists”) for us Anglophones to find out “what’s going on in Italy streetswise, grassrootswise, riotwise, revolutionwise and so on”:
Struggles in Italy
Italy Calling

We’ll keep latest copies of these two, and more From the good side of Italy  available on our newstand from now on as we trundle Wordstall through the our fluid continental locations we visit. That’s a promise… but just hang on please for a few weeks until the digital magazine racks get here and we work out how to put them up on our stall.

Bella / Bello!