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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Poster Wars

The elections to the European parliament are finally over, amid much hand-wringing (and, in England, abject apologies) on the part of central-left liberals, who lost everywhere, the victims of powerful nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments sweeping the continent.

We followed the campaign mostly by the posters that the candidates had plastered around the city--smiling politicians, hoping to convince Romans of their determination and sincerity by looking directly out with a look of--well, determined sincerity.

It was hard not to notice the competitive nature of this poster business; sometimes one candidate's poster would be up only a few minutes before that of another appeared. So we were pleased when La Repubblica did a piece on the business. The "attachini" (the "attachers," those who put up the posters) carry a long brush and a bucket that contains paste made of flour, caustic soda, and water. Each poster guy or poster squad is assigned a specific route and for the 40 or so days of the campaign follows that route for the same candidate. They're paid by the day or by the route: 100 to 180 Euro per day or route (and about half that amount if they don't have a car--though why that should matter we can't figure). Although the attachini say that anyone could be hired to do this work, they're all men, mostly in their 20s or 30s. The newspaper describes them as "precarious" workers, previously employed in call centers and as temporary teachers; the majority are Italian, others foreigners.

Because there's such fierce competition among the political parties (and therefore among the attachini), the poster guys sometimes agree among themselves that an opponent's poster will remain up and uncovered for a minimum of 20 minutes. Then it's fair game for the attachini of another party and candidate. Despite these agreements, it's a stressful occupation, known to bring grown men to tears--most recently a new crew of emotional Peruvians--when their posters are covered within minutes of going up.

Much depends on who is paying for the job. The Peruvians were postering this year for Martin Avaro, whose Nazirock/right wing views on immigration didn't sit well with the poster company he hired or with the latinos wielding the brushes. And early on Avaro was known as a cheapskate, offering 18 centesimi per poster rather than the customary 30.

Laziness among attachini is tolerated (and why not, if payment is by the route?) and waste is predictable, but there is one unforgivable act: to cover one's own poster, La Repubblica reports, "is to cover oneself and his company, with shame." To prevent posters ending up in the trash rather than on the boards, every company has "spies" that travel the territories of their crews, sometimes taking a pen knife and cutting through the stratum of posters (as if they were the growth rings of a redwood), looking to see that the company's posters are there, and that one "Antonini" doesn't cover another "Antonini."

My mother always told me I should have been a sociologist. Bill

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