Milan, 25 February 2018

Yesterday was a day of political excitement in Milan. With the elections only a week away, things are hotting up. There was a large gathering in Piazza Duomo of the Lega, a much smaller gathering of left-wingers in Largo La Foppa, and an even smaller gathering of anarchists of various stripes somewhere else. Below, I show a picture of the leftwing gathering in Largo La Foppa.

The police barred their way as the marchers tried to leave Largo La Foppa, the temperature was mounting, and at some point the police charged – or maybe the marchers charged, or pushed forward. Anyway, the police started wielding their batons, while the marchers protected themselves, somewhat bizzarely, with inflatable boats – taken to remind the world of the plight of the refugees, according to the newspapers, but it seems to me also an excellent way of protecting oneself from the police batons.

At the same time, the police shot off a couple of canisters of tear gas, that white smoke one sees behind the marchers.

Meanwhile, my wife and I were sitting down having tea and cannoncini (a puff pastry stuffed with vanilla cream) under those large white umbrellas one can see to the left in this last photo. We were there quite by chance, being on our way to see Daniel Day-Lewis in his last film, “The Phantom Thread”. We were early and those large umbrellas belong to a good pastry shop, so we decided to treat ourselves. We made our way round what seemed to us quite a small crowd (the papers talk of 1,500 but in my opinion it was no more than 200), got our tea and canoncini, and sat down. It was fun to watch all the flag waving going on in front of us and reminisce about our youth. Suddenly, the noise levels rose, there were sounds of shots, and two little smoking canisters landed almost at our feet. My wife, a veteran of Milan’s 1968 riots, leaped up in alarm and urged me to move. But I saw no need for panic, I thought they were crackers thrown by some of the marchers. I rapidly changed my mind when I breathed in the smoke. It immediately caught you terribly in the throat and made your eyes burn and weep. This was tear gas, for God’s sake!! I grabbed my cup of tea and the remainder of my cannoncino and shouted to my wife to move. Together with other customers, we blundered into the pastry shop and stood there gasping and wheezing and coughing. According to my wife, who had had a whiff or two of tear gas in her youth, technology has improved in the last fifty years; she didn’t remember it catching you so strongly in the throat. I wouldn’t know, this was my first exposure to the stuff. Eventually, we were shepherded out to a back yard, from which we exited into a side street and made our escape to the cinema.

All this excitement has led me to reminisce about marches and protests in the arts. The most well-known painting on the topic of marches must be Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s “The Fourth Estate”, which gives the working man a wonderful dignity

while “Liberty Guiding the People”, by Eugène Delacroix, must be the most famous painting on the topic of insurrections, in this case the insurrections of 1848.

Once the October Revolution rolled around, revolution and the working class became respectable subjects of art. Staying with marches, where I started this post, we have, for example, “The Bolshevik”, by Boris Kustodiev.

And, of course, we have the start of that wonderful art form, the propaganda poster, where marches of the proletariat were a popular subject. Here we have a Soviet propaganda poster.

The Chinese picked up on the art form with a vengeance. They made some great paintings, which I mentioned in an earlier post about a new museum we visited in Shanghai, but their propaganda art was fantastic. Here’s one with the Chinese people walking towards a bright future.

The caption declares: “Smash the imperialist war conspiracy, forge ahead courageously to build our peaceful and happy life!” Change that to “the 1%” and we have a message for our times …

I have to say, though, I always preferred the type of Chinese propaganda poster which has smiling, muscular workers:

The North Koreans were still making these type of poster when I made an official visit there with my wife in 2009. We asked if they could give us a copy of one of these posters, but the best they could come up with was one urging people to wash their hands to reduce the spread of illnesses…

The Mexican muralists also painted some great revolutionary art, especially Diego Rivera. We have here his “Uprising”

and this is his “Distribution of Arms”

I posted photos of some of his other revolutionary murals earlier, after our last visit to Mexico.

Wonderful stuff. But who paints it anymore? Revolution is out of fashion, at least for the moment.

Ah well … In the meantime, we will be passing through Largo La Foppa again today, to go and see another film. That gives my wife the opportunity to have another cannoncino; while I saved mine, hers got lost in the confusion of running away from the tear gas.


March in Milan:
Quarto Stato: By Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo – Associazione Pellizza da Volpedo, Public Domain,
Liberté Guidant le Peuple:
Boris Kustodiev, The Bolshevik:
Soviet propaganda poster:
Chinese propaganda poster:
Chinese propaganda poster2:
Diego Rivera, the Uprising:
Diego Rivera Distribution of Arms: http://


Bangkok, 13 January 2015

It was at Tlaxcala that I began to notice it.

We’d taken a bus from Mexico City to visit this small town, since it was described as a nice example of colonial Mexican architecture and town planning. It certainly was pleasant enough, as were Chiapas de Corzo and San Cristóbal de las Casas, two other colonial-era towns which we visited later. The latter two have been declared “pueblos magicos”, magic towns, a slogan dreamed up by the Mexican tourism authorities (clever branding, although I do feel duty-bound to whisper that the pueblos in Tuscany, for instance, or any number of pueblos which my wife and I have visited in Spain, are more magico than Tlaxcala and the two official pueblos magicos that we visited).

In any event, my point in mentioning the visit to Tlaxcala is another. What I began to notice as we walked around the town was the lack of modern signage on the shops. To understand what I mean, let me insert here a picture of the shopping street in Vienna, the Graben, where we often went for a stroll and coffee when we lived there.
Notice the abundant use of neon shop signs, tacked onto the shop fronts. For better or for worse (and in my opinion for worse; it drives me crazy in this age of climate change to see all those illuminated shop signs blazing out into the night), this is now the accepted and expected type of design for shop signs.

So it was with great interest that I saw in Tlaxcala that shop signs tended to be of the old-fashioned type, painted by hand
Alerted to this phenomenon, I made sure to get some close-ups of such signs in San Cristóbal

I began to notice that advertisements were often painted too. The following style of painted advertisement was definitely my favorite, with this particular example coming from San Lorenzo Zinacantán.
These types of advertisements, to be found on otherwise bare walls, seem always to be announcing some upcoming event. Notice the large, rounded, friendly, inviting font, but placed at a slight angle denoting future excitement, and with a very pleasing colour scheme which starts with a dark colour and shades off into a lighter one. I throw in here some other signs of this genre that I spotted from buses or trains flashing by.

It would seem that the honorable profession of sign painter is alive and well in Mexico! (this reminds me of a wonderful novel from India, another country with a great sign painting tradition, “The Painter of Signs”, by R.K. Narayan; great novelist, by the way, I highly recommend him to my readers).

Of course, painting on walls has a long and noble tradition in Mexico. This art form must have reached its apogee with the great Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Orozco, and David Siqueiros. Already 35 years ago, when we first visited Mexico, we had reverently visited a number of the murals by these artists. This time around, we visited Rivera’s murals in the Secretaría de Educación Pública, just behind the cathedral on the Zocalo in Mexico City. As was his style, they are very political, very “leftie”; they made me and my wife smile as they brought back memories of the excited discussions of our youth. These two murals, “The Capitalist’s Dinner” and “Death of the Capitalist”, epitomize them all.
In San Cristobal, up some back streets, I saw what I fear are today’s inheritors of Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros
It’s sad really. All that grand, elevated talk of our youth has degenerated into the childish babble of these cartoons. But the rot doesn’t finish there, for Mexico suffers from the same mindless graffiti which defaces so many of our cities

“Fuck you. I exist”

What are our civilizations reduced to?


Mariahilfestrasse 1: (in
Calle 20 de noviembre , Tlaxcala:
Avenida Vicente Guerro, Tlaxcala:
Shop signs, San Cristobal: my photos
Painted advertisement signs: my photos
Cartoon wall paintings, San Cristobal: my photos
Graffiti, Mexico City: (in