No Immigrati a San Bonifacio

A Banner – August 2015
No Immigrati a San Bonifacio. No immigrants in San Bonifacio. A banner carrying the badge of CasaPound. Who or what is CasaPound? It is an Italian right wing organisation that is more than just anti-immigrant, see the Wikipedia entry and an interview with its founder. A kind of street-level political movement, just one thread of which is anti-immigration laws.
The banner is attached to the gate of the old Ospedale Civile, the civic hospital in San Bonifacio, which these days looks like it might be a centre where immigrants are housed.
And are there lots of immigrants in San Bonifacio? Yes, lots. Of many different origins. You see them especially on market day.
On the T-shirt of the black man in a pale blue T-shirt it says ‘Sqwaw Valley Avalanche’ That is Sqwaw not Squaw. Could be a hand-me-down, but whatever it is, its meaning is indeed cryptic.
And has that graffiti been there since 24/6/00? Quite possibly. As graffiti goes, it’s actually quite a design. No idea what it means, just treat it as a shape.
This little girl is the daughter of the stallholder. She saw me getting my camera out of my bag and came and wanted to look what I had in the bag. Nothing at all, by that time, because all that had been in it was the camera. If your parents are working hard all day, then how do you spend your time? Being curious is no bad thing perhaps, in principle.
Most people are buying fried fish from the left side of the van, as opposed to fresh fish from the right side, it’s market day in San Bonifacio. African immigrant looking on thinking who knows what?

Pity the Poor Muslim Bloke

The Prophet Never Said: When in Rome . . . see – July 2015
At the Schynige Platte we’d had our lunch in of rösti and bratwurst with a half litre of Rugenbrüu in the hotel restaurant and we’d been for a walk up the steep stony path to the panorama point in the swirling mist, then back down the other side of the outcrop to the sound of the West Indian steel band tuning up in the fields below (no not really, it was Swiss cows with the steel cowbells round their neck, though the two sound uncannily similar, I was looking out for the rasta with dreadlocks lurking in the hillocks, but never managed to spot him).
Back to the cog-railway station for the five past four train down again into the valley, which pulls in slowly around the bend and lets the people who have ascended get off and another lot on for its gentle and winding hilly descent back down to the valley station at Wilderswil.
Among those getting off the train a Muslim couple, he in the regulation stone-washed jeans and sneakers, she in the female regulation Muslim cloak and head-covering, with the inevitable flimsy sandals on her feet. They got off the train, and I watched them as they came to the awkward realisation: now what?
For it is colder at two thousand-odd metres than it is in the valley, and the clouds were swirling a damp misty haze. Too late to just jump back on the train so they’ll be here for at least forty minutes before the next one down. She went off to the lavatory. Perhaps she’ll hide in there as long as as she can, while he looked forlornly at the shabby-looking café whose only seats were on benches outside and whose fare consisted primarily of coffee in a paper cup and bars of chocolate. I felt quite sorry for him, standing there.
Next time, they should do what the northern Europeans do, and come up in stout walking shoes so you can spend a happy half an hour looking at the plants in the Alpengarten, keeping warm by marching about vigorously, but it will be hard, not to say dangerous, to do that in a Muslim woman’s sandals.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Unless you are a Muslim, in which case the proverb goes: When in Switzerland, don’t do as the Swiss sensibly do. Where’s that bloody prophet?
Schynige Platte station
The Brits come well prepared, with their handbag, camera and packet of Fisherman’s Friend
And their packed lunch of course

The Gon-daw-ler

Why Americans Aren’t Coming to Switzerland, It’s All Them Muslims – August 2015
We took a ride on the paddle steamer on Lake Thun in Switzerland. It runs a bit like a ferry, from one end of the lake at Thun to the other end at Interlaken, pulling-in to lakeside stations along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. It is one of a number of ferries that do this trip but these days the only one that is driven by paddles powered from a traditional steam engine. It is thus popular with certain types of tourist.
We found a seat at a table near the prow of the boat, conveniently under an awning as the day was one of squally rain showers. Diagonally behind us an English couple who managed to strike up a conversation with two Germans who made the mistake of innocently sitting opposite them.
“We've been coming here for sixteen years”, said the man. “Fly from Manchester to Zurich . . .” and I was just waiting for, “It were raining as we left home but it cleared up a bit as we got onto M56”, but I think he thought better of it and instead got into:
“Been staying in the same place for six years now, it’s nice, but is getting very expensive, I think we’ll have to look around for somewhere else.” He’s right, Switzerland has always been expensive but now with the strength of the Swiss franc it is becoming in general exceedingly so.
“The only people who can afford it now are Japanese and all these Muslims.” And whether he is right or not about the affordability there are certainly a lot of Japanese, as there has for some years and the numbers could well be growing, and growing number in recent years a very large number of Muslims, the women in traditional dress, many of them fully veiled, and the men the opposite, in polo shirts and cut-off jeans. They are to be found quite simply everywhere in the tourist areas of Switzerland.
Why? Are they refugees? Some may be, but surely not those milling about the lobbies of the five-star hotels and those who have spent quite a lot of money to travel up a funicular or cog railway to the top of a mountain for the view. Many appear to be tourists, but where they originate from is not clear, it may well be more than one place and it may equally well be London in many cases, but that uniform, of the women cloaked and veiled and the men in stone-washed jeans, seems 100 per cent universal. Wherever they have come from, when they get there they are notably sartorially uniform.
On Interlaken West station
Sans parole!
“And the Americans aren’t coming much now”, announced the Englishman, “Very religious, Americans, very religious, most on ’em. They won’t like coming where there are a lot of Muslims.” Where he got that theory from, I’ve no idea.
“And we’ve got all these people at Calais.” I was sitting with Zoe and we looked at each other with a look that said, I wondered when that was coming.
“The Germans don’t want them, they’re sending them all over to Calais.” He may have read something in the press about the disquiet in many towns in Germany when a refugee reception centre is planned for an area. There have been protests and there has been violence, and outside Dresden a tented area has been set up to try and cope with the incoming migrants, which has caused particular objections from locals, so possibly the Englishman has got a bit muddled with his geography. Though who knows where he got this idea that the migrants at Calais are being sent there by ‘the Germans’? Next: “You Swiss are you?”
“No, we are German, from Munich.”
Ooops! But the bloke didn’t seem fazed in the least, and it’s quite possible that he doesn’t really know where Munich is. It was only us who were cringing.
But anyway he took discretion to be the better part of his flow and changed the subject:
“Munich, aye, very nice. Have you been up that Hindelberg?” (something like that, we didn’t quite catch the name of the peak he was referring to though it seemed to be in the general area), “You should go there, we went up in a gon-daw-ler.” (with the stress on the daw).
And it was at this point that we realised that the German couple was only probably getting about a third of what he said, which came as a major relief. Gon-daw-ler, it’s our word of the week, Zoe and me (for we were the only ones present earwigging at the time). Gon-daw-ler.
And by this time the rain was blowing in coldly from their side of the boat, so the Germans, and the pontificating Brits, felt it was time to go inside, and that was the end of our excruciating entertainment for the afternoon.

Rural Reception

Lago San Ruffino, Italy – September 2014
Lago San Ruffino isn’t really called that, that’s what the locals call it because it is near to the abbey of San Ruffino, the tower just below the lake in this picture.
Lago di San Ruffino seen from the woods above Smerillo. Very pretty, but if you are a migrant from Africa who has been sent to the reception centre here, rather rural for your future needs, I would say.
I noticed this autumn, when I went for a meal in the Osteria del Lago that there were a large number of black Africans hanging around about. I asked about it of the people who run the restaurant. ‘They’re from Gambia’, said the woman, ‘They’re staying at the white house just along the road behind the barrier. It has become a reception centre for people seeking asylum. It’s paid for by the commune’.
This white house has for some years been being done up as an agriturismo, I think it was planned to be called Agriturismo della Nonna or something similar. And it seems that as with many a guest house in Rhyl or Morecambe, they found a shortage of paying customers and so have, in effect, hired it out to Social Services.
When I walked up to the house there was a social worker with a sandy beard and circular white-toothed smile – social workers look the same the world over – with a clipboard in his hand, talking to some young African men – more boys than men.
The woman in the Osteria agreed with me that the African men and youths cannot find work, as they do not have a permesso di soggiorno, they just have to hang around until something happens, either their applications are accepted, in which case they get their permesso though that does not leave them a lot better off, or they get deported back to wherever they came from, which is unlikely to actually happen. And in the meantime they hang around. ‘It’s a big problem’, she said, ‘All over Italy’. It sure is!
Some African young men climb the slope back to the reception house.
Dealing with the washing.
The migrants presumably get fed and may receive an allowance, I understand this is €35 per day, paid from the European Fund for Refugees, though they may not get all of this in cash, some will go towards their accommodation and upkeep (I think). More on this (in Italian) at
Some people locally gripe that the migrants all seem to have new mobile phones, but I suspect the phones aren’t new and that for the most part they brought them with them. But the perception of course is, ‘These migrants being given all this stuff and we don’t get nuffing’.
It gets quite cold in the winter in these parts, with sometimes quite a lot of snow. And can be very wet with landslides in the spring. So doesn’t look like a very comfortable winter to look forward to. And what will happen? Centres such as this are springing up all over Italy, while yet more migrants arrive to make a need for yet more centres. A big problem indeed.

African Market

Pescara, Italy – September 2014
At the train station in Pescara I noticed something: a market in the car park, so I went to take a look. It turned out to be entirely African-run stalls, selling cheap trainers, sunglasses, quilted coats, and downmarket dresses. The customers, those I saw, all either poor Italians or poor eastern Europeans or both.
I walked round the outside of the stalls and it could have been in a market in Nigeria, men repairing old cars and people standing around talking and arriving shaking hands with a wide sweep and grip and laugh: kech, kech, kech – all black African.
I saw a notice pinned to a van and stopped to read it. It was in French and announced the forthcoming arrival of a Sheikh from Algeria who was to do some sort of religious presentation; the stirring of jihadist subversion maybe but I thought, no, not these people, they want to make a life for themselves, they’re the last people to be interested in creating a fundamentalist upheaval. The sheikh might rant all he chooses. The bigger worry will be their offspring or grandchildren, who will have been born in Italy and grown up in Italy but who do not get Italian citizenship automatically. That will lead to disenchantment, though with any luck the complicated Italian rules on citizenship will have been changed by then. There’s talk of it, along with all the talk on all manner of things that never quite seem to get implemented.
While I was looking at the poster about the sheikh a man in a djellaba spoke to me and I responded in Italian something to the effect that the world is a wonderful place if you keep your eyes open. But I don’t think he understood, I got the impression he didn’t speak much Italian, he smiled a wide smile and I went on my way. Would have liked to take a photo of the poster but felt that would be too much pushing my luck. Would have liked to have taken a photo of the man, some would have asked but I’m too shy still.
So that’s what some of the Africans are doing, becoming regular market stall traders. That will grow and develop, with time.