Italy has a terrorism problem – but it’s not what you might expect

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I’ve been living in Italy now for a year, and on the whole I’ve been made to feel very welcome. No one has put pressure me to go back to my own country or suggested that I’m exploiting essential services that should be reserved for locals, even though during that time my wife and I have smuggled into the country a basically infirm member of our family, one who has no concept whatsoever of hard work, has made no apparent progress in learning the language and appears to have who does nothing but use up vital resources. If it wasn’t for the amount of panolini our baby daughter gets through, Rome’s garbage disposal crisis could be solved at a stroke.

The kind treatment afforded to my family might be considered odd, given that Italy is currently undergoing a wave of xenophobic fervour, one that (for me) recalls the deeply unpleasant events in late 1990s Ireland. Within a few months from around late 1997 onwards, as a result of tabloid campaigns aimed at the small numbers of refugee claimants then starting to arrive (sample headline from The Irish Independent: ‘Asylum scroungers fake ‘torture’!’), black people were getting screamed at in supermarkets and bus queues. Thankfully, nearly a generation later, Ireland appears to have comprehensively pushed back such attempts to turn it into a famously unwelcoming country.

In neither Ireland nor Italy have I, as an immigrant, faced similar treatment. Did I happen to mention that I’m white? Of course, most Italians would not knowingly discriminate against people on the basis of their skin colour. Like Ireland, Italy has a long history of emigration, a history of ethnic diversity going back to the Roman Empire and also a more recent one of massive internal migration. But brutal discrimination against people of apparently different backgrounds does exist, and it is coming from somewhere.

That discrimination partly manifests itself in relation to housing. In my time here there have been at least two front-page stories from my adopted city (Rome) in which locals have (apparently) refused to let people with black skin live in their midst. A few months ago an Italian-Moroccan family, one which has been based in Italy for several years, was prevented from taking up public housing assigned to them. Today, Repubblica reports on the plight of an Italian-Ethiopian family, similarly stopped from moving into their new home by a mob of angry ‘locals’ and a certain number of increasingly familiar faces egging them on.

There is a context for these events, specifically in terms of the numbers of recent arrivals. Italy and Greece are being used as corridors by the EU, much like the ones overcrowded hospitals will stick patients in when there’s no more space in the wards. As it happens, there’s lots of space in Europe for newcomers, but, with the odd noble exception, there has been a lack of political will to point that fact out. The human cost of recent waves of migration is not actually borne by Italians, but by the migrants themselves, prevented by the authorities from settling down and by other EU countries from moving on. (A very detailed and moving account of this is given in the 2015 film ‘Mediterranea’.) Many newcomers would like to reach the UK, where, owing partly to the history of the British Empire, they have personal connections and/or can speak the language, which would make it easier for them to continue their lives. The refusal of the British to accept our historical and moral responsibility is utterly shameful. However, the fact that my own country has a history of racism doesn’t mean that I can’t condemn it wherever I happen to be living now.

The conflicts increasingly taking place in Italy are not motivated by the newcomers themselves, but by political forces determined to misrepresent reality in order to provoke division so as to gain power. Racist politicians like Meloni and Salvini are never off the TV, spreading outright lies about the benefits paid to recent arrivals. The country’s leading opposition political figure, Beppe Grillo, makes common cause with the far-right, responding to criticism by claiming that ‘anti-fascism is not my concern‘. But its not those individuals who turn up wherever there’s an opportunity for aggro. Any visitor to Rome will notice the hateful posters of the openly nazi group Forza Nuova, whose thugs were behind yesterday’s racist protest in Rome. Another group which openly boasts of terrorising immigrants and their supporters occupies a substantial building in the centre of Rome. Above the entrance the name of the organisation is engraved in a pathetic pastiche of Mussolini-era iconography.  Just like their counterparts in the US, the UK and Germany, such groups hate their ‘own’ country. One of their piccolo fuhrers is even on record as calling the anti-fascist partisans of the Second World War ‘rapists’. Their objective is the same as that of Isis: to divide people using violence and the threat of violence in order to gain power. It behoves all immigrants, regardless of our status or the colour of our skin, to speak out against them just as we condemn other forms of terrorism. Italy is, in the words of Cesare Balbo, “a multiracial community composed of successive waves of immigrants”, with “one of the most mixed bloodlines, one of the most eclectic civilisations and cultures which there has ever been”. For all the absurd pretensions of Forza Nuova and Casapound, it is not and never again will be a fascist country – alle fine, è il nostro paese, non il loro.

Ecco perché Eataly non mi piace

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Wouldn’t it be great if someone could combine the range and quality of Italian food with the style and convenience of Ikea? No, it would be shit. How can I be so sure? Well, I’ve been to such a place, and I also live surrounded by images of it. Eataly is marketed rather aggressively here in Rome – entire metro stations are smothered with adverts for the place, leaflets litter the streets, and while it may be true that all roads eventually lead to Rome, in the città eterna itself around a third of the road signs direct you to Eataly Ostiense.

The founder of the company is a friend of perma-gurning Flash Harry past-but-not-future Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Oscar Farinetti is an odd character, who stresses the importance of local food culture but has also defended Coca Cola and McDonalds. His company only started in 2007 but already has 28 stores in six countries, 18 of which are in Italy. The flagship Ostiense branch occupies a huge building (a former air terminal) 170,000 square feet in size. It is an upscale food court mixed with Whole Foods or Waitrose. Farinetti was inspired by the thought that “unfortunately the world of small food shops, those small places dedicated to quality food, like Americans imagine, died many years ago”, a dubious statement but one that serves a self-serving and self-fulfilling prognosis – there would be more independent food outlets in Rome were it not for Farinetti’s mission to replicate and supercede them. Italy doesn’t have many chains but Eataly is starting to be as dominant as Starbucks is elsewhere.

The Eataly brand is selling lifestyle just as much as convenience. What it trades in first and foremost is the experience of being the kind of person who shops there. Hence the tone of its advertising is aspirational and (as befits any place associated with Renzi) smug. The atmosphere is anodyne, sterile, antiseptic, the kind of non-place Frederic Jameson characterised as ‘useless as a conduit of psychic energy’, an example of the nicely-packaged and air conditioned but ultimately boring future that J.G.Ballard predicted. Paradoxically, given that it has replaced a large chunk of the centre of Rome, it’s not easy to get to; as the New York Times wrote, it’s not designed for people arriving on foot. I’ve yet to get there from Piramide metro station without getting lost at least twice. Parking is a central selling point, meaning for those who live nearby, even more unsustainable levels of traffic. Rome is one of the world’s greatest walking cities, but this is a big box mall is just as remote from the pavements and piazze of Testaccio as a mall in the LA suburbs.  And given the sheer quantity of produce on offer (no reflection of the range) it is not at all clear what is quality and what not.

Rome has a dearth of food markets. The one near us is friendly but small, and the one in Testaccio, near Eataly, is pleasant and varied but under-occupied. There is a larger market near Termini station (Mercato Esquilino) which is bursting with immigrant energy and variety, but longer-standing homegrown equivalents are scarce. As it happens, the first Eataly was in Torino, also home to one of the most vibrant markets I’ve ever been to, whose atmosphere was earthy, foul-mouthed, and sometimes abrasive, the vendors not there to impress you or to sell you an image of yourself. Such a place exists because it exists, not because some tycoon with political connections decided to remake the city according to their megalomaniac vision.

The experience reminds me of the surprise I felt in 2001 when it turned out that a Portuguese student’s ‘favourite restaurant’ turned out to be in a shopping centre. Nowadays, with Giraffe and Carluccio’s and Zizzi’s and Wahaca and Las Iguanas and Viva Brasil and The Real Greek and Wagamamma and Yo! Sushi, it seems that many cities are, to recall Karl Marx, in chains (with London the most obvious example) . It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between local and corporate, with many global cafés imitating the stylings of independent outlets. It took us a few months of living in the Condesa area of Mexico City to realise that many of the cafés and resturants were replicants of places in Polanco, a similarly safe-but-kinda-dull part of town. It was disappointing to see that the recently-revamped Cardiff Bay only offers the same eight or nine international chains one sees everywhere from Bangkok to Bangalore.

Eataly thus exists on the Uber GPS map of Rome, disembedded from the city itself. It depresses me that visitors go out of their way to come here. Rome may be messy, disorganised, inconvenient and occasionally overpriced, but it is Rome, not some branded and airbrushed simulacrum of itself. Its fascination partly lies in its being covered in remains of fallen empires; this one, sadly, is in the ascendant.

Film review: ‘The Other Side of Hope’

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How often do you go to the cinema? Probably about six or seven times a day, right? I mean, I’m guessing, but I calculate that someone like you has, over the last, say, four months, likely seen in the region of a thousand films at the cinema, or movies at the moving picture theater if that’s your preference. Until last Saturday we hadn’t been to the cinema in FIVE MONTHS. This is because in January we became the first people in history to have an actual baby. We soon discovered that childrearing and filmbuffery are deeply and highly incompatible. To be fair, five months isn’t very long when you consider that I once met a guy who hadn’t been to see a film since 1972. The guy in question was originally from Iraq and had seven children. I can’t imagine how disruptive having seven children must be, or how hard it must be to persuade relatives to babysit*. As for the cinema, although he skipped all of Woody Allen and is presumably no expert on Kieslowski’s Red, White and Blue trilogy he must have seen a lot of Scooby Doo cartoons.

As it happens one of the protagonists of the film we went to see is also from Iraq, while the main character is from Syria. They are refugees in Finland, a country I know and love, partly through the films of Aki Kaurismaki, of which this is one. It’s the second in a row about people seeking asylum, after Le Havre (2011). Khaled has arrived in Helsinki by default after the traditionally tortuous route via southern Europe and is trying to track down his sister, from whom he became separated along the way. When his application is refused (the Government has decided that his hometown of Aleppo is a safe place to return him to) he escapes from the detention centre and is taken in by the owner of a comically-failing restaurant.

Kaurismaki’s aesthetic is one of out-of-time-ness. In his films pretty much everything is worn and familiar: the actors, the sets, the clothes and the music are all reassuringly dated. His characters are themselves refugees from a world that no longer quite exists, seeking asylum from disappointment in drink, music and small, awkward acts of solidarity. It’s a world of flawed but decent people: terse but charming, brusque and gauche but capable of tenderness. This film also features intrusions of almost cartoon-like evil in the form of some racist skinheads and also official indifference. It’s the kind of film which would piss off Slavoj Žižek, in that it shows refugees as individual human beings complete with hopes and vulnerabilities just like anyone else.

The cinema we went to (the Madison, on Via Chiabrera) is not far from our flat. Not just the cinema itself but also the street itself feels familiar and homely, with a refreshing absence of international brands and cash-for-gold shops. The gelataria we pop into on the way is a very Kaurismaki place, with its staff, fittings and menu seemingly not changed since the ’70s. There was another closer cinema, within five minutes’ walk from where we live, but in some apparently dodgy deal it’s currently being transformed into ‘international standard’ apartments.

Walking along Viale Marconi after the bridge we passed the spot where I recently got talking to a guy from Benin City in Nigeria who was sweeping the street in return for spare change. This is a phenomenon that seems to have started in Milan and has now spread to Rome. Back home he had been a musician; he showed me on his phone the video he’d put on Youtube. It was very professionally produced and really rather good. I was at first inspired to write a piece about him, then thought again: what right do I have, really, to exploit his life story for my own means? I just so happened that a few days later I was in the British Museum, one of whose greatest treasures is the Benin Bronzes. Maybe if I was a proper writer I’d  feel more comfortable about appropriating someone else’s narrative, displaying it as though it were my own**.

I hope he somehow manages to make his way upwards, whether socially or geographically (he wanted to reach London, where he had friends). I hope he manages to stay free. Kaurismaki’s film is a heartbreaking but salutary reminder that pretty much every town and city in the world contains a hidden population of people living in dread of being picked up and sent back to somewhere which can no longer be called home. When we first started coming to Rome I read a series of novels by Amara Lakhous about the local population of Arabs and North Africans whose lives revolve around the acquisition and renewal of their permesso di sogiorno (residence permit). Networks of volunteers which provide food, shelter and advice are continually turfed out and have their resources confiscated by the local authorities. My city and yours have invisible portals leading straight to war and immense danger. It puts things like not having been to the cinema for a while or not being able to find decent hummus into some perspective.

Our daughter was born here in Rome, on January 30th this year. She’s an immigrant from some other celestial realm and has been given asylum in this one. The locals coo at her, welcoming her into their world. No one tells her that Europe is full, that public services are overstretched and that she should go back home. Like any human, she has a right to be here. She’s just now beginning to recognise other people (and even stating to laugh at herself in the mirror). She shows no sign of being able to discriminate between people who happen to have been born in different places from her. As the song says, such things have to be carefully taught.

*As this episode of ‘Thinking Allowed’ discusses and my own experiences attest, Italian society would fall apart in about ten minutes without i nonni.

**There’s also the aspect of potentially revealing to his friends (and fans?) back home that he’s sweeping the streets rather than pursuing stardom.

Rome: The Coming Community

In ‘The Coming Community’ the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that community nowadays is less about shared identities and more about contingent experience. Or at least I think he does, I’ve only really read the title and a couple of synopses which made my head hurt slightly. I’m not going to read any more about it this morning as I’m feeling a little tired, the result of a poor night’s sleep.

The area where we live could be classified as quiet, and has even been described as anonymous. There are cafés and shops we all occasionally frequent but my wife and I don’t know or recognise many of the neighbours who share our street. There are a couple of local characters: the guy who drinks Peroni on a bench and snarls at anyone else who tries to sit there, the ebullient beauticians downstairs who always say hello and coo over the baby, the reliably cheerful Bangladeshi guy who runs the local grocer’s. In the cafés (of which there are three or four) people nod at acquaintances, gulp down their cappuccini and scoff their cornetti standing at the bar in that Italian way, but don’t stick around to chat. It’s by no means a hostile area but most interactions seem to be largely transactional in nature.

Sometimes it takes a single visionary human being to create a sense of shared experience out of seemingly unpromising material, to produce a spirit of communality by connecting elements of otherwise atomised lives, like all religion, art and politics aspires to do. Last night one man took it upon himself to unite people on our street. It’s not even clear whether he himself lives locally. Maybe it was the selfless gesture of a Christ-like outsider figure offering himself up for society’s approbation or crucifixion: a wandering prophet, a drifting shaman, a perambulating teller of universal truths unpalatable in the light of day. It’s not clear what the content of his speech was. The language that he’d chosen for his testimony was one unknown by the overwhelming majority of his audience. (It may even have been Aramaic.) It was the force of his sermon which was so compelling, the relentlessness and particularly the volume of whatever it was he was he was bellowing over the course of at least an hour.

In response, a community emerged from nothing, an implicit understanding of our commonality spread through the souls of those anonymous men and women in the surrounding buildings. Hundreds of rudely-awoken residents who had previously shared little more than the occasional pavement glance were united in what was at first mild annoyance and then, as the minutes wore on, under-the-breath curses, muffled complaints about punishing work schedules, he’ll-wake-the-bloody-baby and some-people-have-NO-consideration, developing gradually into fantasies of picking up non-existent airguns, marching purposefully to the window, taking aim and, to the silent cheers of the entire neighbourhood (one which until that moment had never thought of itself as such), as the local birds just started to chirp in the local trees, neutralising the irksome threat to our peaceful coexistence.

Why I don’t like the word ‘expat’

expat_immigrant_linguisticpulse1The piece I wrote two days ago (‘A warning to all expats in Rome!!!’was mischievous and frivolous but was also intended to make a serious point. It sought to draw attention to the fact that people who call themselves expats are also immigrants, just ones who enjoy – and, crucially, don’t tend to question – certain privileges. It therefore provoked a furious reaction from people whose status as ‘expat’ is one of the most important aspects of their self-identification.

The post was partly motivated by my genuine surprise at how many people here in Rome wear this badge with pride. I guess (and I’m aware that I am generalising enormously) that Rome has something in common with Paris, in that both cities tend to attract the kind of people depicted in later Woody Allen films: urbane, mobile and well-heeled North Americans and middle class ‘Brits’ attracted by the postcard romance of the place but with little actual commitment to or knowledge of the society they’ve chosen to make home. The prevalence of self-declared expats here contrasts with previous places I’ve lived in. In Portugal the only people who were happy to be called expats lived on the Algarve and played golf or lived in Lisbon and were part of rugby clubs. In a Spanish context I immediately think of monolingual retirees on the Costa del Sol. In Mexico I only heard the word in relation to places like Puerto Vallarta and San Miguel de Allende. Most people I’ve known there and elsewhere wouldn’t call themselves expats. It’s not cool to be an expat and I think there are good reasons why this is the case.

I want to make clear that I know and respect some lovely people who may call choose to label themselves expats. I also enjoy the work of the Canadian graphic novelist Guy Delisle, who depicts beautifully the tribulations and contradictions involved in moving to distant countries with his wife every couple of years. It’s also true that those who try too hard to fit in, disavowing entirely their own background, can be deeply annoying.  While I have little problem with individuals who call themselves expats, when it’s manifested in a cluster, the expat mentality starts to look ugly and sound really quite whiny and arrogant. Facebook groups are rarely nice places to hang out, but anyone interested in how unpleasant the expat worldview can get is well-advised to temporarily sign up to one called ‘Expat Moans’. It’s hard to read more than three posts in such a group without getting a distinct whiff of actual racism.

Does that mean I’m calling all those who describe themselves as ‘expats’ racist? No, of course not. But with the help of this Guardian article, I want to enumerate those things about the category ‘expat’ which make me feel uncomfortable. I must also say that a) I’ve been guilty of several of these things in the past and b) that I’m trying to characterise a way of thinking and behaving. This is not written as an attack on a particular group of individuals. I’m also conscious that some of these criticisms are made of immigrants in general; I hope it’s clear that I am not presenting them here in such a way.

These are the features of the ‘expat’ attitude that I find distasteful:

1. A belief that whiteness and westernness makes one exempt from social responsibilities. Some expats engage very little with what’s going on around them in their host society -paying no attention to local and national news, for example.

2. A failure or refusal to recognise one’s privileged position and its historical roots.

3. A disavowal of one’s status as immigrant, to the point of failing to express solidarity with less privileged foreigners. A lot of so-called expats would not be inclined to express solidarity with the plight of immigrants if they had stayed in their own country.

4. A political identification with local elites, including the taking-on-board of class-based and racist prejudices.

5. A failure and/or refusal to integrate and learn the language. This is particularly prevalent among English-speaking expats. It’s both fortuitous (in terms of finding work) and unfortunate (in terms of encouraging our sense of superiority) that our belief in the primacy of our language is shared by people all over the world.

6. An attitude of being a permanent tourist, continuing to treat the host society as little more than a source of photo opportunities: charming but without substance.

7. Some expats have a tendency to complain about what surrounds them – particularly service and services – but without seeking to understand the social, political and economic context.

8. In a lot of cases, expats live at a distance in economic terms, only frequenting ‘international’ establishments. It is also common for self-declared expats to inhabit a cultural and social bubble in which they only mix with others of their kind. I’m not just talking here about corporate immigrants – the same is definitely true for many who work for international NGOs and the UN. The Green Zone extends far beyond Baghdad.

9. An uncritical attitude towards one’s own country. Expats often think of themselves as enjoying a temporary absence from an unchanging homeland which will always welcome them back. In the case of both Brexit and Trump, this complacency has been cruelly exposed. The post-1992 tide of open European borders is retreating, and it may well leave some long-standing emigrants in EU countries stranded.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I’m aware that in relation to any given individual’s set of circumstances some of it may be unfair. For example, having lived in China and spent time in Thailand, I understand that there are some countries in which immersion in the host society is infinitely more demanding in terms of time and effort. The language is much harder to learn and the culture much more difficult to get to grips with, making it so much more difficult to participate in social life unless one has sent a substantial portion of one’s life there. In other countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, expats are servants of the elite, little more than a caste of privileged servants, and as such are more socially dependent on their English-speaking patrons. Increasingly, many countries have a preexisting infrastructure to facilitate the expat lifestyle. Mike Davis’ book ‘Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism’ reports on the iconic example of modern Managua, where a high-speed road network  whizzes elite citizens and visitors between the business district, the gated communities and the airport, leaving poorer parts of the city untouched and deteriorating. The annual Mercer Survey of the world’s ‘most expensive cities’ is a regularly bizarre read, featuring locations such as Luanda and Kinshasa in the top 10. While life for most people in those cities is certainly a struggle, the survey isn’t about them, but the Randian superheroes who (or whose companies) think nothing of spending $100,000 on a prime apartment in the most desirable areas.

Are people from the Philippines expats? Or from Bangladesh? What about Senegal? In a way, given that so many people from those countries work abroad out of necessity, it would be nice to think they were part of the club. However, it’s hard to imagine the average British financial services worker in Dubai regarding her pool cleaner as part of the same social class. In the case of the Italian expat Facebook groups, the members are almost exclusively white Americans and ‘Brits’. There’s little direct racism but a lot of griping about Italy and the Italians, and little solidarity with African or Arab victims of Italian racism. As for the Expat Moans group, it’s a bit like a vision of what Facebook would have been like in the middle of the 19th century. I know that similar dynamics operate in the French and Portuguese-speaking worlds, and similar attitudes are probably expressed among highly-paid Chinese workers in African countries.

I earlier mentioned the historical roots of expat privilege. If we want to (as we must) make an effort to understand where those roots lie, we have to talk about colonialism and imperialism, that ‘corner of a foreign field’ that is to be regarded as part of the metropole. This is our history as westerners. It’s helpful – indeed, as a white Westerner living abroad, essential – to be aware of the critiques of writers such as Camus, Fanon, and Orwell if we want to be aware of our implicit modes of thinking and behaving in relation to the world around us. We are hardwired to regard poorer societies in a condescending and/or hostile way and to expect that the locals defer to our needs, our values and our lifestyles. For centuries we have been taught to believe that we have an automatic right to be spoilt. As I mentioned earlier, the English language in particular encourages this mentality. It’s common now to hear references to ‘international’ food as opposed to national cuisine, and it’s not implausible that this way of thinking extends to people. Those who call themselves expats aspire to belong to a global elite in a world increasingly divided along lines of mobility, between those who can live and work wherever they want and those whose movement is, by dint of class or birth, infinitely more restricted.

Calling oneself an ‘expat’ encourages a certain mentality and way of behaving, a sense of superiority and entitlement which we have to be vigilant of and challenge in ourselves and others. At a time when immigrants are being scapegoated, locked up and deported around the world, from LA to Rome to London, all migrants – regardless of the colour of our passports – have an absolute moral duty to stand up for one another.

(P.s. Anyone still inclined to think that there is no difference between how the words ‘expats’ and immigrants’ are used is well-advised to do a google image search for both terms.)

A warning to all expats in Rome!!!

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I want to share this experience because I think it should serve as a warning to anyone who’s tempted to be off their guard here in Rome. The whole thing has left me feeling more than a little shaken and disappointed. Please take what I’m about to tell you very seriously indeed and if you recognise similar situations DON’T DO what I did – just walk away instead. This could happen to ANY of you.

I was walking along Viale Marconi, just down from Piazzale dalla Radio and round the corner from our apartment. I came up to the Feltrinelli bookshop, outside which I saw a guy I’ve seen a few times before, in pretty much the same spot. His name is Mamadou and he comes from Senegal. We’ve always spoken in a comedy mix of French and Italian, although he’s been here for a few years and speaks the language excellently (much better than me). I’ve also seen him up on Via Nazionale, outside the IBS bookshop next to Repubblica, and he always remembers and greets me. He makes a living (more or less) from selling books, mostly about Africa, and over the last six months I’ve bought a few of them, some poetry and kid’s stuff which is actually quite good. I’d last seen him a few weeks ago so he knows I have a child now, so we chatted about sleepless nights (he’s told me before he has three sons and a daughter back home) and he was showing me a brand-new book of children’s stories. I demurred, saying we’d got lots of new books at home, forse la prochaine foi, etc. He pressured me a bit but it all seemed very good-natured. We said goodbye and I walked on.

Now, this is the important part. The conversation with Mamadou was OVER. I’d very clearly said NO to buying his books. I carried on up the street a couple of hundred yards to Castroni. Now, they sort of know me as I’m often in there buying Calabrian chillis and the like. I stepped through the door and went up to the shelf where the Middle Eastern products are displayed. There was a new kind of hummus I hadn’t seen before in an attractively-presented tin can. The packaging is green and the company (Lebanese) is called AL-RABIH. The name of the product is spelt (bizarrely) HUMMOS.

Whatever you do, do NOT buy that huomus. It is absolutely shit. You have to add about six tablespoons of decent olive oil to make it even remotely palatable. The consistency is like dust. And it’s massive! It’s like the fucking humus tardis in there! I’s going to take me about six weeks to get through the stuff (I hate wasting food) and I don’t even like it. In any case my wife refuses to countenance the buying of any more hommus until it’s finished :-(.

Please pass this on to your friends and colleagues. People keep saying that Rome is a ‘safe place’ for expats. They have NO IDEA of the dangers that lie out there.

London to Rome: Why I will always prefer bookshops to the internet

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Here are two sets of coincidences that begin in the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and end, for the time being, in Rome.

In December 2015 I went to an exhibition by Emily Jacir on the life and murder of her fellow Palestinian Wael Zuaiter, a translator who took refuge in Rome but was murdered by Mossad in 1972. There were photos of his bookshelves containing a number of books I’d also read and quotes from his own books from which it’s clear he was an intriguing and exemplary engaged intellectual. At the time of his death he was translating ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ into Italian. His letters also show him to be an unusually perceptive and trenchant critique of imperialism, as well as a firm opponent of political violence. He was tracked down by the Israeli secret services and murdered on his own doorstep.

I’d been thinking about Rome as a safe haven. At the time we were living in Mexico but there were reports that the security situation in the areas where we lived was breaking down, with a new wave of threats against local restaurants and bars and a couple of murders on our doorstep. (I wrote about this here.) Around the same time I was reading a novel by Tomasso Pincio. I’d noticed this writer in bookshops because his nome de plume is a deliberate reference (and also adjacent on the bookshelf) to my favourite American novelist, Thomas Pynchon.

The novel I was reading is called ‘Cinacittà’ and is a murder story set in a future Rome which, due to global warming, has been abandoned by the locals and is now inhabited solely by Chinese people. Its epigraph is a quote from an ‘American writer’ taken from Federico Fellini’s film ‘Roma’, which I hadn’t yet seen. It talks about Rome as “a wonderful place to witness the end of the world”.

In August 2016 I go back to the Whitechapel Gallery and browse the bookshop. This is something I usually prevent myself from doing as, like the LRB and ICA bookshops, the Whitechapel is like a crackhouse for me. I usually come across at least six books which I know I have to read immediately. Sure enough, there’s one I’ve seen before but realise is exactly the book I need to read right now: ‘The Hatred of Poetry’, by Ben Lerner. It’s a book by a poet about how difficult and in some ways how annoying poetry is. I’ve been actively struggling with poetry for the last couple of years. Just up the road, in Limehouse, I did a series of courses which involved discussing poems and then trying to write them ourselves. The first part I loved, the second continually defeated me. When it came to writing, no matter how much expert guidance I received or exercises I did, I didn’t really understand what a poem is.

Lener argues that it’s easy to love poetry, but individual poems themselves are often too much of a challenge. Poems aspire to the condition of poetry, but always fail. I like his tone of voice and wonder what his poems are like. As it happens, the name Ben Lerner rings a bell. I see that he was the author of a 2012 novel called ‘Leaving the Atocha Station’; as I once lived in Madrid, I’d noticed the title but never thought about reading it. Reading reviews of the novel on my phone I realise it’s right up my street. It’s about a pretentious young expat poet living in Spain and pretending not to be American, smoking spliffs and looking down at other foreigners “whose lives were structured by attempting to appear otherwise”. I can relate to that, and the description of his prose as ‘precise’ appeals to me.

I start reading the poetry book as I walk down the street. In the first couple of pages he mentions his favourite poet, one which (as he correctly predicts) I’ve never heard of, which makes me wonder who mine is. One name that immediately springs to mind is Luke Kennard, whose work has the advantage of being hugely entertaining (one of my favourite words when it comes to poems). I should read this guy’s novel, I think. As it happens I’m heading down to the South Bank anyway and I have a Waterstones voucher card that’s been in my wallet for months and which I can’t remember if I’ve ever used. My day now has more of a purpose to it and I speed up my stroll towards Trafalgar Square.

It turns out that the card in my wallet only has £1.01 on it, which means I really should think twice about also buying Lerner’s second novel, but it’s described as “a near-perfect piece of literature” and was chosen as ‘Book of the Year’ by 15 reputable publications.

Now I’ve got three new books, all by the same author. I walk across to The Royal Festival Hall, where I’m meeting a friend at 5. It’s only 4.15, so I decide to kill time in Foyles. The first book I see when I walk in is a volume of poetry by Ben Lerner, a compendium of his three collections. I have no intention whatsoever of buying it, but I pick it up because I’m keen to see what his poetry is like. The inner cover has a quote from Luke Kennard: “I look forward to Ben Lerner’s poetry the way I used to anticipate a new record by my favourite band.” Right next to the quote is the price: £14.99. If I buy it I will have all the published work by my new favourite author, one by whom I haven’t yet read more than a few pages. I snap it shut and make my way to the cash desk.

It occurred to me some time ago that it’s deeply ironic that although I grew up antagonostic to capitalism on the whole, I also spent my youth obsessing over sales charts. If The Jesus and Mary Chain burst into the pop charts at number 11, or if New Order managed to get onto Top of the Pops, it felt like a personal victory, and I would feel downcast for days if The Smiths failed to get into the top ten. There was an article by Simon Frith in the Pet Shop Boys 1989 tour programme arguing that their music celebrates and mourns that moment of melancholy just before you hand over the money for a new record or just before you fall in love, when you know that disappointment is inevitable. That’s the nature of commerce: it involves an emotional investment in something you know won’t satisfy you. Given that the emotional and intellectual payback of novels and films is deeper than so much else we consume, capitalism promotes their addictive qualities. There’s also the aspect of cultural capital, that we place cultural products in our personal shop windows to attract others – or, less cynically, that they allow us to identify (and be identified by) others who have shared often very intimate and personal experiences. In other words, we also use them as a form of bonding with others of our species, which is the very much the point of being alive.

I find it hard to track down the film ‘Roma’ online. In any case, I first need to rewatch ‘La Dolce Vita’, and then ‘8 1/2’, which I can’t remember ever having seen. There’s also Bertolucci’s and Antonioni’s films to catch up on. Some of these things I can find online but in most cases I need to get the DVDs. Luckily there are lots of market stalls selling €3 copies of classic films, the ones previously sold as promotions with newspapers. In Pigneto I chat to the owners and other browsers, who recommend a whole bunch of things I’ve never heard of. I quickly build up a collection of Scuola, Moretti and Pasolini. Then it’s a question of finding the time to watch it all.

The (very) English writer Geoff Dyer lived in Rome and suffered from depression. He writes about it in ‘Out of Sheer Rage’, his chronicle of his failed attempt to write a book about DH Lawrence which is also, finally, a book about DH Lawrence. He describes staring for hours at his TV, wondering if he should turn it on. Rome initially strikes me as a strange place to get depressed, but then I work out he must have been here in winter. Winter in Rome is (increasingly) short but very grey, with a cigarette ash atmosphere coating the city. Dyer then recounts how he escaped from his depression: he took an interest in it. He started thinking and reading about depression, and then had to leave the house to track down books to learn more. His mood lifted as he became part of the city, its bookshops, literary events and galleries.

Another writer I hugely admire (Nick Currie, aka Momus), has written persuasively and with his customary eloquence about how, in a globalised and digitally connected world, you can live the same life pretty much anywhere. He writes about moving from Berlin to Osaka and continuing exactly the same lifestyle. My own is essentially the same whether in London, Mexico City or Rome- pretty much wherever Amazon delivers, in fact. I noticed that my English language students in London were generally happy with their accommodation as long as it featured basic furniture and services, few disturbances and a very fast internet connection. It was by far the absence of the latter that generated the most complaints.

My own youth fed on record shops, bookshops and libraries. I was lucky to grow up in a age and a city in which there was an abundance of all three. Of course, I’m privileged now too. I can buy books if I want and I have time to wander round and enjoy what cities have to offer. I’ve lived in a succession of capital cities, all with a huge range of bookshops. Nevertheless, I miss record shops and haven’t felt the need to go to my local library since I lived in London. Like almost everybody on the planet I am far too dependent on the Internet for my cultural life.

The internet gives you access to everything. It has an infinite number of channels. But without a purpose it can be a medium for depression. After too much time online I sometimes feel like a polar bear in a zoo, pacing back and forth, scrolling and clicking aimlessly to the point where I lose all sense of what I want and who I am. Our physical selves thrive on fresh air, trees, company, exchanges of words, glances and embraces. I need to get out of the house. Luckily in Rome (we finally move here in September 2016) I have no internet on my phone and a whole city to explore. After a couple of weeks I finally track down one of my favourite bookshops. Invito alla Lettura is a dusty clutter of crumbling hardbacks, stacks of old editions of magazines, fascist pamphlets from the 30s, and a pleasant café (in Mexico it would be called a cafebrería) . Or rather, it was. It apparently shut down in April 2016 after nearly 25 years. From the owner of the Almost Corner bookshop in Trastevere I learn that food outlets are pushing out more established business, just like in London.

Humans will always need on-the-spot food and drink, but books, music and films you can get hold of online. There will always be a demand for places where you can go and browse them and maybe meet and fall in love with other people who share the same enthusiasms, but that doesn’t mean the market will necessarily provide such places. Bookshops and record shops were never primarily about buying, much more about communing with others who share a need for new ideas, impressions, experiences. I hope that when my baby daughter comes of age there will still be places where she can go to explore and celebrate whatever books and music she comes to love and, in the company of others, discover more. At least Rome has such an abundance of excellent bookshops, from Altroquando via Fahrenheit 451 to Minimum Fax, that it’s reasonable to hope that it will hold out longer against the forces of the global market as marshalled on the internet. Forse Gore Vidal, as in so many other things, aveva ragione.

Burning denial down by the Tiber

20170207_163216I miss the days before Kindles and iPods, when you could get to know someone better by browsing through their book and music collections. Our Dutch friend Merel, at whose house we spend New Year’s Eve, has a good variety of recent fiction and books on sustainable development and the like. I’m a little taken aback to see on her shelves quite a range of books on dictators and fascism, including two by the disgraced Hitler apologist David Irving. Thankfully it turns out they belong to her landlord.

Irving is a Nazi activist who used to get away with pretending to be a historian. He was the subject of a 2016 film starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, which depicted his failed attempt in 2000 to sue the historian Deborah Lipstadt for pointing out that he had systematically distorted details about the Holocaust in his books in order to let Hitler off the hook. The judge concluded that:

Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.

As it happens I’d come across a physical copy of one of his books before, about twenty years earlier in my local library in Dublin. I took it out and disposed of it, and then explained to the library what I’d done and why. They understood my point and once I’d agreed to pay the cost of the book they agreed not to replace it. The film about the trial of the book’s author is no classic but it sets out the main details, featuring real footage of Irving giving Nazi salutes to audiences of skinheads in Germany and Austria, where he once spent a year in prison for continuing to spread lies about the death camps. It also makes the link with other kinds of denial – one of the key lines spoken by the main character is ‘Elvis is dead. The icecaps are melting. And the Holocaust did take place’. The fact that Holocaust denial is booming online and that many of those espousing it also deny that the earth’s climate is changing is no coincidence. Hitler launched his campaign to conquer Europe in order to extend Germany’s ‘Lebensraum’, living space. In anderen Worten, he wanted to expand the Third Reich’s vegetable patch. Last week the right-wing British tabloid newspaper The Sun, owned by the climate-denying pro-Trump tycoon Rupert Murdoch, used its front page to blame Spanish people for depriving Britons of food. Inclement weather in Southern Europe has meant that there are fewer vegetables to export to British supermarkets, and The Sun wants its readers to blame foreigners rather than asking why global weather patterns are changing. As I have long argued that climate denial and racism are intimately linked, I can’t help but feel at the same time a little vindicated and also really rather scared for the future.

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Once I’d explained the books’ provenance to Merel, she was more than happy for me to take them away and get rid of them. It was just a case of finding the time (my wife was heavily pregnant until last Monday :-)) and the place (we’ve only lived in Rome since last September). I decided to post a question in a friendly group for local foreigners on Facebook. Things I’ve posted there in the past on related topics have generally got a good reception, although I’d been surprised when, in response to a piece I’d written in which I called  the Italian fascist group Casapound ‘openly racist’, an Italian guy popped up and invited me to join them. My post about the books got a mixed response. Several people were consternated until I pointed out what kind of books they were, but some contributors continued to remonstrate, calling me a Nazi for wanting to burn books. Thankfully a sensible person pointed out that while the Nazis had indeed gone in for a bit of book-burning, it wasn’t by any means the worst thing they had done. A couple of people made witty but pointed reference to the fact that one of Rome’s (very best) bookshops is called ‘Fahrenheit 451’. I replied, arguing that the two items in question didn’t really deserve the hallowed status of ‘book’. I made the same point to a young Italian guy who promptly sent me a PM asking if he could have the books ‘for research’ because he was ‘interested in the topic’:

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…which gives a new dimension to the phrase ‘you’d have to have been there’.

Although Irving has long been a discredited and bankrupt irrelevance in terms of serious history, both the Guardian and The Independent for some reason decided to give him a blast of publicity in the wake of the film. He claims that the election of a US President who openly consorts with Holocaust deniers (and, it should go without saying, climate liars) has revived interest in his ‘work’, with ‘thousands’ of young people contacting him to find out more about his ‘research’. He continues to use YouTube to propagate the lie that he’s a proper historian.

20160914_111306Someone in the Facebook group had suggested a far-off part of town crummy enough that few would be bothered by the sight of someone burning some books, but I didn’t really want to drag a one-week-old-baby across Rome and end up getting us both arrested for arson. Instead I thought of a largely abandoned area round the corner, next to the river, so I could get the whole thing out of the way in half an hour and not neglect my parental responsibilities. As it happens the area isn’t uninhabited; there’s a community of gypsies scattered along a stretch of the Tiber. Elsewhere on Facebook I read about the impending destruction of a similar settlement in Napoli, where my wife was born. The European Roma Rights Centre reports that:

The proposed forced eviction will render more than 340 Romani families homeless, including pregnant women, young children, and persons with disabilities. These Romani families, like most Roma in Naples, are a part of the city, having been resident there for a number of years. Despite this, the municipality of Naples has not provided them with any alternative housing.

I’m sure Irving himself would approve. Anti-gypsy racism seems particularly rife (indeed respectable) in Italy. The Telegraph reported in 2008 that a class of Italian schoolchildren had produced drawings supporting the burning of a local gypsy camp. As a novice arsonist myself I had to hope that the fire I was about to start wouldn’t burn out of control and have a similar impact. Whatever it was I wanted to achieve by burning the books, it certainly wasn’t that.

Thankfully there was a good omen. The place I settled upon also has some fitting graffiti (‘YESTERDAY PARTISANS, TODAY ANTI-FASCISTS’). As it happens, the only elected representative of the aforementioned fascist group Casapound recently dismissed the Italians who took up arms against their own fascist Government and the Nazi regime which stepped in to save it as ‘rapists’.

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It would be nice to see someone like Irving as a detail of history, a footnote: there were some Nazi sympathisers who denied the holocaust, but they were ignored. But that’s not the case. Next month the French may well elect a President whose biological and political father has repeatedly described the systematic murder of millions of people as exactly that: “a detail of history”.

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The reasons that some things are beyond debate is that people often lie about their interests and their ideologies. David Irving knows the Holocaust happens, he just can’t admit publicly that he thinks it was a good thing and should be repeated.

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As people like to say these days, this is why we can’t have nice things. It also explains why I wanted to burn these books.

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Holocaust denial and climate denial have much more in common than has been so far acknowledged. Exxon executives knew several decades ago that the company’s activities were causing the planet to overheat and would make human life impossible, but they kept quiet because admitting it could hurt their profits. They and other such companies then invested billions of dollars in spreading lies about climate science, funding people to speak up for them who are no more proper climate scientists than David Irving is a proper historian. These are the kind of trolls who would take the last six words of the last sentence and remove them from their context. If I could I would burn all attempts to deny that the climate is changing. I would set fire to millions of web pages and happily watch them go up in smoke.

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By denying death, they deny life.

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Afterward the well-known events took place.

Our inventions were perfected. One thing led to another,
orders were given. There were those who murdered
in their own way,
grieved in their own way.
I won’t mention names
out of consideration for the reader,
since at first the details horrify
though finally they’re a bore.
(Dan Pagis)

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and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles
who like to pretend
that we don’t exist
that the marshall islands
tuvalu
kiribati
maldives
and typhoon haiyan in the philippines
and floods of pakistan, algeria, and colombia
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves
didn’t exist

still
there are those
who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are
canoes blocking coal ships
we are
the radiance of solar villages
we are
the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are
petitions blooming from teenage fingertips
we are
families biking, recycling, reusing,
engineers dreaming, designing, building,
artists painting, dancing, writing
we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
survive
we deserve
to thrive

dear matefele peinam,

you are eyes heavy
with drowsy weight
so just close those eyes, baby
and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see

(Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner)

The Great “Earthquake” Swindle

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If you believe this, you’ll believe anything! Notice btw that it comes from a *government* website.

It’s telling that the global warmist lobby, with their constant bombardment of fake news about floods in Thailand and drought in Africa (make your mind up, guys!) go out of their way to cover up the real stories. It turns out that those “doctors” would have you believe that “cells” within your “body” can go bad and ultimately “kill” you were lying. That’s right: “cancer” doesn’t exist. It’s a hoax that’s been played for decades, one perpetrated by the government and the mass media and believed by all those who don’t dare to question what they’re told. These are the same people who tell you that the President of the United States is married to an immigrant or that it’s (as one of these so-called “pediatricians” told me in person last week) “an act of grave irresponsibility” not to get your child vaccinated! Thank god (another fake news story that I bet you fell for!) that we have Facebook and Twitter so we don’t have to believe their bullshit any longer.

But even worse than so-called “climate” “scientists” and “cancer” “doctors” are this bunch of self-appointed experts who call themselves “seismologists”. This is a fancy name for people who want you to believe that the “earth” (which other “scientists” will tell you is as round as a baseball! – but that’s another story) can tremble and shake like a blancmange! The official story (and I can tell you, I’ve studied this in some detail) is that it’s caused by (try not to laugh) “sudden movements in the Earth’s crust”. Well I’m going to tell you a personal story, something that “happened” to “me” just this “morning”, which will show that this whole “earthquake” racket is no more than yet another official libtard hoax.

We went to our local “hospital” for a checkup with someone who calls himself a “gynecologist”. This shyster is paid thousands of euros of taxpayer’s money to tell us that as a result of a little cuddle time me and my “wife” enjoyed several months ago she is now “pregnant” and is going to have a “baby”. While we were “there” we visited another “couple” who apparently have just “given birth” (there was no actual evidence of this; there was a very small human being in the room and two beaming but exhausted new “parents” but there could be any number of explanations for that). After a few minutes of “conversation” (I noticed that the “baby” was pretending to be asleep the whole time) the “father” character drew our attention to the “fact” that the “water” in a bottle on the “bedside” was “shaking”. Sure enough, it “was”; I then “looked” at the “curtains” and they appeared to be moving – which obviously raised my suspicions! Then I “felt” with my “body” that the whole “building” (we were on the “eighth floor”, in the so-called “maternity department”) seemed (I’m being very careful with my language here!) to be “trembling”. I suddenly felt quite “scared”. Our “friend”, the new “mother”, checked on her “iphone” and said something about “the “epicentre””(it’s depressing to see how all this quakist jargon has wormed its way into the heads of ordinary sheeple) being near a place called “Rieti”, which I knew at once to be a lie, because although I’ve seen the name on a so-called map and noticed it on the front of “buses”, I’ve never actually been “there”.

We made our excuses, and “left”. I dread to think what fairy tales that baby will grow up hearing. They’ll probably tell it all the usual pseudo-scientific nonsense about “water” being “wet” and about how it gets “dark” at “night”. Personally I’m glad that I’ve seen through all that crap. As soon as “my” “child” is “born” I’m going to tell him the truth: that “hospitals” do more harm than good, that “teachers” do nothing but lie, and that so-called “parents” are the least trustworthy people he’ll ever meet. I’m also going to make sure he understands that whatever information he receives through his “eyes”, “ears”, “nose” and “fingers” is almost certainly bullshit, and that the last thing he should ever do in life – even worse than putting any faith in “experts” – is to use his “brain” to interpret the world. And you can stick your Dr Seuss, Alice in Wonderland and Roald Dahl books back where the sun don’t shine. I won’t be reading him any “bedtime stories” (in any case, if you believe that human beings “need” to “sleep”, quite frankly you’ll believe anything -and as for “breast” “milk”, don’t get me started on that junk!). Instead he’ll be staying up all night with me getting the real story from my good friends at Breitbart, Infowars and Wikileaks. I want my “child” to be brought up on a solid diet of the truth.

NB: This is a work of satire. In reality the only thing more dangerous than seismic activity is climate denial. They both serve to destroy the foundations of our existence.

Rome: Armed soldiers and homeless immigrants

img-20161224-wa0000-1These are some fairly disorganised thoughts scribbled in a station and on a train on 24th December last year. I have a bad habit of trying to (in the words of my wife) connect the dots and present a complete and coherent picture of an issue. For reasons that will become clear I don’t want to do that here.

There have almost certainly been homeless people in Rome for as long as the city has existed. Similarly the presence of armed soldiers has probably been a constant. Here in and around Termini Station there is an abundance of both, but ordinary life is going on oblivious. On the main concourse there is a Christmas tree with messages and wishes stuck to it. One piece of paper reads simply: Gulio.

Gulio Regeni, whose name has been seen everywhere in Italy this year, was, after a fashion, a migrant, an Italian PhD student in Egypt. He was by all accounts an exemplary human being, the sort of person who quite simply gives you hope for the future. He was murdered by the security services. They saw him as a potential threat: a European in a repressive Middle-Eastern country asking searching questions and sticking up for people whose livelihoods and rights were threatened, and who had no alternative but to stand up for each other and take whatever outside help they could get.

He could have stayed in Italy and helped migrants here. There are lots of good people involved in such initiatives, people from the church and civil society. The Italian Navy has managed to save huge numbers of people from the Mediterranean, but the response of national and local government authorities has sometimes been a lot less helpful. Recently the police in Rome turfed out the inhabitants of a volunteer centre which was housing, feeding and advising homeless newcomers. Lots of people on the streets come from Senegal, Mauritius and Pakistan. They are, despite their religious background and the colour of their skin, the counterparts of the Italians who went in such huge numbers to the Americas a century ago and who now go to work and study in London and elsewhere. Any one of them could be another Gulio Regeni.

In Rome there is huge pressure on public housing. It started before the recent wave of migration. Nevertheless openly racist groups like Casapound have been exploiting the crisis for their own ends. A family of Moroccan origin, who have been here for several years and are now Italian, were prevented last month from moving into the apartment assigned to them by a group of ‘locals’ shouting “we don’t want blacks here”. I came across other migrants online (white European ones, who classify themselves as ‘expats’) who made excuses for the protests.

Homeless people, whether migrants or otherwise, are usually invisible. Armed soldiers are too, albeit in a different way. I’m used to guns, having seen so many of them in Mexico. When we came back to Europe last December they were already everywhere. It’s not just stations and airports and major tourist sites, but also our local metro station. They are there to identify and exclude anyone who might be a threat.

They are there in Brussels too. No-one talks about it, a friend of ours who lives there tells us. It’s become a taboo. Life must go on.

It’s all too complex and contradictory to assemble into a simple picture or a single narrative. The problems are multifaceted, dynamic and interlinked. What’s the proper reaction to attacks like the ones in Paris, Brussels and Berlin? Any response is inevitably partial and incoherent. For several days this month no big trucks were allowed to circulate in Rome. Last month there was a similar prohibition in place because of the pollution. In the first case no one complained. In the second people felt justified in doing so.

Any attempt to describe the future which doesn’t address Climate Change is meaningless and dishonest. Last Christmas someone gave me a book called ‘Sapiens’, which purports to be a complete history of the human race. The conclusion features one reference to the changing climate, and it dismisses the prospect in two lines. Yesterday in Feltrinelli I saw that the same writer has a new book about the future. This time there are three pages dedicated to the environment, on which he argues in a tone of staggering glibness that human beings will probably survive like they always have, probably just in much smaller number.

That’s all fine then.

Migration is one of the most basic evolutionary reflexes. ‘You only leave home/when home won’t let you stay’.

I take a photo of the scene with the tree and like any photo in any public place in Europe right now it could end up being captioned ‘five minutes before the shooting began’.

It’s easy to identify the main ingredients in this stew of fear and resentment: ‘We’ have to protect ourselves from ‘them’. ‘They’ get everything. ‘We’ get nothing. Far-right tricksters, agents of violence and chaos, keep throwing extra spice into the simmering unpalatable mix. We don’t want to accept what they are offering, but maybe after a certain point there will be nothing else to eat. That’s what they and their counterparts in the Middle East want to happen.

In the meantime lots of people are unhappy in their lives. The obvious thing to do would be to stop spending so much, get out of debt, but our mode of existence is based on over-consumption. That’s why Bush came out immediately after 9/11 and told American citizens to get back in the malls. That’s why the implied missing word in the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ meme’ is ‘…shopping’.

The Internet tells us there is no limit to how much we can consume. It’s an infinite resource. It increasingly determines how we regard that other reality, the one that sustains and troubles us so much. Maybe one of our secret thoughts is: Why can’t all these homeless people and migrants just do what we do and take refuge online?

Here’s a question that doesn’t get asked enough: if states are so keen to protect us from the threat of terrorism, why do they do basically nothing to protect us from climate change? Why don’t they tell us to consume less rather than more?

A neoliberal response to any question is that more markets are the answer. In the words of Thomas Pynchon, the real war is a celebration of markets. Perhaps it’s significant then that so many terrorist attacks target markets; generally local ones, as the global one is beyond reach or reproach.

Deaths from terrorist attacks are visible, immediate and spectacular. Terrorists target people like us because they know it will be newsworthy. Climate change will – probably already does – kill many more people than terrorism will, but more slowly and less visibly. It targets people who are more vulnerable than we believe ourselves to be, who do not have the protections that states founded upon and legitimised by liberal values and institutions provide.

It’s strange, or at least illogical, given the prevalence and persistence of climate change denial, that there is no-one (or at least no-one I’ve come across) who tries to get away with claiming that there’s no connection between a bomb exploding in a marketplace and people being killed and injured.

What’s Christmas like in Russia this year? After the massacre of Aleppo are people still sentimentalising the young, are orthodox priests preaching about the need for peace in the world? Are they mourning the ambassador to Turkey? Will anyone around the Christmas dinner table point out that bombing Aleppo to pieces would have consequences?

What are the consequences of me, a British citizen, asking these questions? One of my compatriots once wrote:

‘Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in their turn’.

There is a tension around the issue of belonging, and the line between those who do and don’t belong is fraught. That’s why we ignore armed soldiers and homeless people in our midst. In the words of the great Zygmunt Bauman (RIP), the greatest fear we have nowadays is of being excluded.

It’s the day before Christmas. There are adverts for luxury goods everywhere we look.