colpa di chi?

Colpa del governo, colpa dei cinesi, colpa della globalizzazione, colpa dell’immigrazione… ma che nessuno abbia una responsabilità personale?
Non che io voglia essere cinico e poco comprensivo, ma da tre anni sono in Italia, uno dei paesi più ricchi del mondo, uno dei paesi con la qualità di vita più alta del pianeta, la terza miglior assistenza sanitaria del globo, la più alta densità per chilometro quadrato di tesori di arte e natura, tra le migliori condizioni contrattuali per i lavoratori dipendenti e dove delle persone che incontro nove su dieci sono depresse, insoddisfatte, critiche di tutto ciò che li circonda, e allo stesso tempo rassegnate all’ineluttabilità della loro condizione. Qualcosa non mi quadra. 
La realtà e la percezione che le persone ne hanno non coincidono nemmeno lontanamente.
Negli ultimi trent’anni ho lavorato in paesi in guerra, paesi che uscivano da carestie e disastri atroci, eppure spessissimo mi sono trovato con persone che avevano l’entusiasmo ed energia che sono essenziali a creare qualcosa di positivo.
L’Italia è bella e ricca, non c’è scusa che ne giustifichi l’abbrutimento culturale, la parodia politica, la kafkiana burocrazia. Ognuno di noi è parzialmente responsabile per il mondo che lo circonda ed ha la responsabilità di agire per migliorarlo, altrimenti perde il diritto di lamentarsi.
Le cose delle quali sento la gente lamentarsi ogni giorno sono vere, ciò non toglie che rassegnarsi alla loro esistenza non porta a nulla, anzi, è la rassegnazione che di per sé è un’auto-castrazione.
In giro per il mondo ho incontrato italiani geniali e capaci, giovani che erano riusciti a guadagnarsi rispetto e apprezzamento professionale, dimostrazione vivente delle qualità e potenziale che questo paese può esprimere, la famosa “fuga dei cervelli” che però non è necessariamente negativa. Credo che dovrebbe essere ‘obbligatorio’ per ogni individuo fare delle esperienze lontano dal proprio paese, come parte essenziale della formazione all’apertura mentale che consente di far fiorire idee, trovare soluzioni creative, integrare la diversità in un modo che ne moltiplica esponenzialmente le possibilità.
Parallelamente ad altre attività per più di dieci anni sono stato docente di comunicazione digitale e video/web/interaction in vari istituti in Inghilterra, i miei studenti erano tra i 16 e 18 anni e di varie nazionalità, circa 250 ogni anno, quindi ho avuto modo di osservare una casistica abbastanza ampia di atteggiamenti e caratteristiche. Gran parte degli studenti italiani che ritrovavo nei miei corsi avevano da un lato una preparazione teorica più ampia e articolata della media, dall’altro una totale incapacità ad agire indipendentemente e prendere iniziative ‘ardite’ sempre in attesa di istruzioni e direttive, regole e formalità. Spesso smarriti quando io, docente, dicevo loro che potevano e dovevano fare assolutamente quello che volevano e che fosse il più azzardato possibile, e che io li avrei assistiti ma non istruiti. Dopo l’incertezza iniziale questi studenti spesso saltavano fuori con proposte e soluzioni di qualità. L’essere liberati dai limiti percepiti e dati per scontati ha un effetto profondamente curativo che deve essere incoraggiato.
Altri problemi che ostacolavano gli studenti italiani in generale erano la loro incapacità di usare i mezzi digitali e il web, come se fossero 20 anni in ritardo sulla media dei loro compagni di corso, inclusi quelli provenienti da paesi in via di sviluppo. La lentezza con la quale questi studenti agivano era poi un ostacolo enorme, specialmente quando messi a confronto con studenti asiatici che agivano con una rapidità e metodicità immensamente superiore a quella degli italiani. Abitudine mentale e disciplina, indubbiamente assorbite in una fase precoce dell’esperienza di apprendimento, insieme all’orgoglio e senso di responsabilità individuale, che negli studenti italiani sembravano quasi assenti. Come se la sindrome nazionale di impunità e mancanza di responsabilità personale li avesse già contagiati ancor prima di entrare nel mondo produttivo.
Il fatto che tutto nell’ambiente nel quale i giovani sono quotidianamente immersi in Italia tenda a renderli deboli, insicuri e rassegnati non deve essere preso come una condanna, non è una condizione irreversibile, non va accettata. Altri mondi esistono, altre soluzioni sono possibili, non si deve accettare passivamente la banalità. La curiosità salva il pianeta, la cultura, lo scambio di idee ed esperienze è l’antidoto necessario ai Trump, Salvini, Orbán, Farage del mondo.
I giovani italiani dovrebbero rendersi conto della fortuna che hanno avuto di nascere in un paese così speciale, prendere atto delle cose negative e paralizzanti che vi si sono sviluppate, farsi le esperienze necessarie a sviluppare la loro autonomia e potere creativo, e poi agire senza pietà per cambiare quel che non funziona in Italia e la rende un paese-barzelletta quando visto dal di fuori.
Si può fare, e se non ci pensano le nuove generazioni…?

IL TERZO PASSO – INCONTRO “RICOSTRUIRE LA COMUNITÀ DOPO IL TERREMOTO” – CASTELLO DI POSTIGNANO (8 GENNAIO 2017)

L’Associazione Lumi ha organizzato un incontro-dibattito sul tema “Come Ricostruire la Comunità dopo il Terremoto?” affrontando il concetto di ricostruzione non solo edilizia, ma della comunità, della sua cultura e della sua economia.

(1) CHI SIAMO
Lumi è un’associazione no-profit nata per valorizzare il territorio di Sellano (PG) attraverso iniziative culturali. Prima del terremoto Lumi stava preparando una serie di attività, mostre, laboratori, concerti e una scuola di musica, tutte da svolgersi al Castello di Postignano e destinate sia alla popolazione locale che ai visitatori, con l’intento di attrarre nuova vita in Valnerina. Dopo il terremoto che ha colpito l’Umbria, Lumi ha creato la ludoteca “Villamagica” nell’area casette di legno di Villamagina, dove si trovavano quasi tutte le famiglie del paese. La ludoteca è diventata col tempo uno spazio ricreativo dove i circa 80 bambini e ragazzi di Sellano e delle frazioni vicine possono ritrovarsi per stare insieme in serenità, giocare, suonare, condividere, imparare cose nuove grazie all’aiuto volontario e gratuito di molte persone accorse da tutta Italia per donare tempo, esperienza e cuore.

Tra i progetti futuri si sta esaminando la fattibilità di realizzare un gruppo di edifici, sia abitativi che da destinare a varie attività, ecologici, antisismici, intelligenti, ad alta efficienza energetica e ad alta tecnologia.

(2) INTENTI E DOMANDE APERTE
Roberto racconta:
Immediatamente dopo il sisma abbiamo cominciato ad interrogarci su quale strada intraprendere, non solo per risolvere il problema immediato di quelli tra di noi che hanno perso la loro abitazione, ma più in generale su come concepire la ricostruzione.
L’idea di costruire un villaggio è nata quasi per scherzo in discussioni che ho avuto con Piergiorgio, Alessandra, Fabio, tutti soci fondatori di Lumi, ma quasi subito lo ‘scherzo’ ci è parso ben più sensato di tante ipotesi ‘ufficiali’ di cui si sentiva discutere.
Abbiamo iniziato a valutare i luoghi della Valnerina che conosciamo bene ed abbiamo individuato un altopiano nei pressi di Sellano che ha caratteristiche ideali in quanto a dimensioni, accessibilità, sicurezza ed anche bellezza.
Con sorpresa abbiamo poi scoperto che il terreno, un totale di 8000 mq pianeggianti, non solo appartiene a persone con le quali già collaboriamo, ma gode di permesso di costruzione su una superficie di 3820 mq, è già urbanizzato (acqua, luce e telefono) e i proprietari sarebbero disposti a cederlo, oltre ad essere interessati alla natura del nostro progetto. Ecco dunque che quello che poteva essere un sogno campato in aria inizia ad assumere un aspetto di fattibilità piuttosto realistico.
Abbiamo dunque iniziato a porci delle domande pratiche e pragmatiche, per dar risposta alle quali occorrerà tempo e una somma di competenze.

Negli anni abbiamo visto nascere e morire vari modelli di eco villaggi, comunità, comuni, co-housing e via di seguito. Quindi una delle prime domande è stata: cosa determina il successo e la sostenibilità di un insieme di persone che vivono in vicinanza e con un certo grado di interdipendenza e collaborazione? Come far sì che le necessità individuali vengano soddisfatte insieme a quelle collettive?

Un borgo storicamente nasce in modo organico e lento, sulle necessità e capacità dei suoi abitanti. La creazione di un borgo ad-hoc è inevitabilmente un’operazione artificiale che richiede una pianificazione accurata. Questa pianificazione deve tenere conto delle specificità degli individui che vi partecipano inizialmente, ma deve anche assumere un’identità sua che risulti in un senso che va al di là degli individui. Questo senso, per essere durevole, deve agganciarsi al territorio, alle sue caratteristiche naturali, storiche ed economiche, in previsione di cambiamenti e della possibile confluenza di nuovi attori. Come giustamente ha detto Luciano Giacchè, deve essere pensato per il terzo millennio.
Visto che un progetto di questo genere richiede investimenti e una gestione che è in parte comunitaria, ci deve essere una solida base pragmatica che preveda gli aspetti legali. Come si gestisce l’uscita di uno dei fondatori? La separazione di una coppia? L’ingresso di nuovi soci? Queste e tante altre domande hanno bisogno di risposte chiare e ben definite, per evitare che i naturali cambiamenti possano minare le fondamenta del progetto.

Da un punto di vista urbanistico, come si concepisce un nuovo insediamento? Posta così la domanda è molto vaga, ma prendendo in considerazione gli individui coinvolti e le loro professioni diventa possibile abbozzare una serie di punti chiave, di caratteristiche essenziali, che facciano da punto di partenza.

Dal punto di vista tecnico-pratico, come si fanno scelte appropriate, modulari e flessibili, che consentano di costruire edifici ecologici, efficienti, moderni ma rispettosi dell’ambiente circostante? Le tecnologie disponibili sono tante, dalle case in legno a quelle in legno e paglia o canapa e molte altre. In questo caso la sismicità del luogo è un ulteriore importante fattore da considerare, in parallelo con l’autosufficienza energetica, la reperibilità locale di materiali, la possibile opportunità di creare localmente nuove professionalità e attività.
Si può pensare ad un piano scaglionato per il quale il progetto generale del borgo, con le sue infrastrutture, è pensato e progettato in toto, ma realizzato gradualmente in base alle esigenze e al numero di persone?
Si può pensare a formule ‘classiche’ da impresa edile, dove alcune unità abitative vengono poste in vendita su progetto, e utilizzare il ricavato per contribuire al costo iniziale?
Collaborazioni con Università che offrono corsi di bioedilizia possono essere d’aiuto o creare complicazioni?
Pensare progettualmente a moduli costruttivi che consentano di costruire edifici diversi, ma basati su elementi ‘standard’ precostruiti per ottimizzare tempi e costi?
Autocostruire in parte è adatto a questa situazione e alle persone che vi partecipano?
Quanto può aiutare fare del luogo un caso esemplare visitabile dal pubblico, da persone interessate a seguire l’esempio o da altre che vogliano eventualmente contribuire col loro lavoro all’espansione del progetto?

(3) COSA E’ ACCCADUTO ALL’INCONTRO
L’incontro che abbiamo organizzato al castello di Postignano intendeva essere un primo passo alla ricerca di risposte, idee, suggerimenti attorno a questa complessa tematica grazie al contributo, alle esperienze e alle idee dei vari intervenuti, con uno specifico focus sull’architettura bioecologica e la sismo-resistenza del costruito.
Le domande chiave sono state:
- Da dove partire per creare la comunità ecologica e resiliente?
- Quali sono le risorse già presenti sul territorio e come potrebbero interagire con le attività culturali dell’Associazione Lumi e con il progetto di costruzione del villaggio ecologico?

Piergiorgio Faraglia, Alessandra Parisi, Roberto Battista e Fabio Aghemo, “forestieri” che hanno deciso di trasferirsi in Umbria e vivere in Valnerina, ci hanno parlato delle attività che stanno portando avanti con l’Associazione Lumi, della risposta dei bambini e delle famiglie, di quello che stanno apprendendo e della scoperta di un’apertura di prospettiva e di interessi da parte dei partecipanti. C’era e c’è bisogno di attività di aggregazione, c’è bisogno di portare nuova linfa nel territorio, partendo però dalle tradizioni, dalla cultura e dalle potenzialità del luogo.
Il prof. antropologo Luciano Giacchè ci ha parlato delle tradizioni della Valnerina e delle storiche cause dello spopolamento, dei prodotti tipici autoctoni, oggi perduti o contraffatti per far fronte al mercato globale, della pastorizia, della transumanza, dei mestieri invernali caratterizzanti in passato ogni piccolo borgo o castello, della necessità di recuperare e riscoprire queste ricche attività per ripartire in maniera autentica dal territorio.
Daniele e Mirella, unici abitanti di Colle Morto (Progetto Collemorto), ci hanno parlato della loro scelta di lasciare una grande e fiorente città come Barcellona per trasferirsi in Valnerina e portare avanti uno stile di vita più sostenibile e a contatto con la natura, recuperando il casale, i terreni e le attività dei nonni.
Così come il figlio di Roberto, Joshua, che sta pensando di trasferirsi da Londra per seguire un differente stile di vita legato all’agricoltura biologica.
L’Architetto Monica Rispoli, direttrice dei lavori di recupero e consolidamento del Castello di Postignano, ci ha raccontato la sua esperienza lavorativa e soprattutto la sua relazione con la comunità e con il territorio.
L’architetto Laura Fortunato ed Adriano Caldiero, di Roma, sono intervenuti per conoscere meglio i propri vicini e per fare comunità, in quanto hanno acquistato una casa in una delle frazioni di Sellano pochi giorni prima del violento terremoto.
Marco Mattei e Francesco d’Amore, ciociari e frequentatori assidui della zona, uno musicista, l’altro fotografo, sono intervenuti perché mossi dalla stesse domande: come costruire una “nuova comunità”? Come creare un nuovo modo di abitare e piantare un seme di possibilità futura?
Filippo Bozotti, uno dei fondatori di Tribe Wanted, società di turismo sostenibile e dell’Agriturismo Monestevole nei pressi di Umbertide, ci ha raccontato la sua esperienza professionale e di vita, nonché i principi ispiratori che guidano e indirizzano l’offerta eco-turistica ed esperienziale di Monestevole. Filippo suggerisce che gli strumenti per creare un gruppo guida sul territorio, non senza fatica, siano quelli della transizione, della facilitazione e del fare rete con associazioni come Italia che Cambia.
L’Architetto Eliana Baglioni, in qualità di portavoce di “Comune Emergenza”, ha raccontato le esperienze pregresse messe in campo per affrontare la crisi suscitata dal terremoto e trasformarla in opportunità, ed ha espresso l’importanza di lavorare su più fronti parallelamente, mettendo in campo diverse competenze: prendersi cura delle emozioni e del trauma, trasformandoli in energia, ad esempio attraverso il teatro; aumentare la consapevolezza del comportamento degli edifici, consapevolezza che può guidare le scelte per la futura ricostruzione; utilizzare strumenti e metodologie di facilitazione a sostegno del gruppo guida, per mettere a fuoco le idee, definire gli obiettivi e progettare i passi da seguire per una buona e duratura riuscita del progetto.

Si è passati poi ad una sessione strettamente dedicata all’architettura ecosostenibile, con domande e racconti di esperienze.
David Pentassuglio, socio del Parco delle Energie Rinnovabili, ci ha raccontato della sua esperienza nel centro, ponendo l’accento sul tema dell’efficienza e dell’autoproduzione energetica e del recupero dell’acqua piovana.
I presenti si sono confrontati sull’esperienza comunitaria e sulle scelte architettoniche di diversi “ecovillaggi” presenti sia sul territorio regionale che nazionale e mondiale.
L’Architetto Eliana Baglioni, esperta di architettura naturale in balle di paglia, terra cruda e canapa, ha risposto alle domande riguardo il comportamento degli edifici antichi e moderni rispetto al sisma, ed ha illustrato differenti tecniche di costruzione ecocompatibili partendo dalle potenzialità e dalle materie prime disponibili sul territorio.
L’Ingegnere Massimiliano Denni è intervenuto riportando la sua esperienza relativa alle costruzioni in balle di paglia.

Abbiamo ricevuto anche dei contributi esterni, come quello di Angelo Ferrara della rete Comune Emergenza che solleva un’altra importante questione: come fare rete e coordinare le attività delle tante associazioni, locali e nazionali, che stanno portando avanti attività ed azioni per il post terremoto in centro Italia?
E ancora Dino Mengucci, del centro Panta Rei; Daniele Cecchi, architetto; Andrea Nelson Mauro dell’associazione Ondata; Lorenzo Perone, project manager di Ricostruzione Trasparente; Paolo Pacifici, consulente fondi europei; Michela Piciaccia, bioarchitetto, Laura Pommella, architetto Studio EffatArk.


(4) PROSSIMI PASSI
Come è stato detto da alcuni dei partecipanti, occorre che ci sia un progetto chiaro con delle finalità ben definite prima che si possa porre mano anche solo a degli abbozzi di pianificazione. Questo è il nostro prossimo passo. Una specie di ‘lista della spesa’ che le persone inizialmente coinvolte compileranno con quelli che per ciascuno sono i requisiti essenziali.
Nel frattempo abbiamo ricevuto molte richieste di informazioni, proposte di collaborazione o scambio di esperienze, e soprattutto abbiamo scoperto che il tema sta a cuore a molti, che in tanti stanno lavorando su linee parallele, e questo ci fa sperare che la condivisione di esperienze e professionalità possa aiutare alla realizzazione non solo di questo progetto, ma a costruire percorso, che riteniamo essenziale, verso un modo più intelligente di costruire, abitare e vivere nel territorio.

After the earthquake

I take advantage of a moment of pause to write a concise update on the developments of our new story, started as a consequence of the series of earthquakes that hit Central Italy from the end of August, and that is developing while earth still hasn’t decided to calm down.
As many of you know almost two years ago I moved to Umbria, I bought a medieval convent and spent 18 months working ceaseless to restore it and turn it into a well equipped place where my many friend from all over the world could come to spend creative time developing their work in the peace and beauty of the Umbrian mountains.
The restoration was completed in August, shortly before the first of the three powerful earthquakes that dramatically changed the life of these valleys.
In the last few months, with local friends, we had set up a cultural association with the intent of running activities, courses, seminars, concerts and residencies in the Castle of Postignano, a few miles from my home.
In another village, half way between Postignano and my home, Piergiorgio, a friend from Rome, refined musician, producer and instigator of great spirit, had opened a recording studio that was beginning to work well.
The earthquake has changed our plans, but we’ll get even better results out of the situation, even though it will take time and the help of our extended community of friends.
At the moment we are camped in a small village of temporary wood cabins, where the Council administration granted us the use of an ex- pre-fab church. Thanks to the help and donations collected by enterprising friends in a few days the little church has been turned in a poly-functional art centre full of toys, books dvd, equipment to show films, most of the music gear that the fire brigade helped us recover from my music studio and Piergiorgio’s recording studio.
Children and teenagers living in the village (around 80 of them) now have a gathering place where they can socialise, play, study and learn. Thanks to the participation of friends we already had theatre and music shows, and a music school, in the able hands of Alessandra, Piergiorgio’s partner, good musician and singer, has started operating.
The reconstruction of our homes will take years, in some more serious cases, like mine, as much as ten years, we are thus thinking of alternative life solutions as we can’t put our lives on hold for so long waiting for external factors.
One of the things we are considering is the construction of a group of straw-bale homes where to move, not simply as a living solution for ourselves but to also offer an example of how today’s knowledge, technology and common sense allow imagining living spaces that are healthy, ecological, sustainable, self-sufficient and safe, even in seismic areas.
We are currently hearing about building stronger homes, with more concrete, stiffer. We think this is insane to say the least. After having seen mountains move, woods shake, field wave like sea waves, houses crumble, rivers change course, the idea of building something stronger than nature sounds not simply idiotic but criminal.

Our old historic villages are splendid, but today it seems essential, especially in areas like this, and there are many in Italy, that we radically re-think the way to conceive human inhabitation and its relationship to nature.
Better buildings are possible, it’s cheaper, faster, safer and healthier. It has a lower impact on the environment and preserve energy being nearly self-sufficient. Not taking advantage of these opportunities seems stupid and unjustifiable beyond comprehension. Depending by location we can think of wood, earth, straw-bale homes and more. The options are many, companies and professionals with the required knowledge exist. It is a chance to create new opportunities, new jobs and it’s not a new-age utopia, just plain pragmatism and practicality.
We need a shift in mentality which is necessarily going to be slow, but we must start somewhere, and this earthquake offer a unique opportunity to build a living example that is real and functional, and that can be seen and touched, to make it undeniable.
We are working, with the help of experts, to a project, in view to applying for finances to the EU. We have identified some suitable sites and we are examining costs and feasibility. We will need to raise money to match the EU funding, but we are confident of finding what we need when the time comes.
The essential concept is that even a disaster like an earthquake can be the engine for positive change, not simply to solve the immediate survival problems of a group of people, but to also offer ideas and opportunities on a wider scale.
More updates soon.

Israel-Palestine: with us or against us? Neither, thank you (2014)

The world isn’t black and white. Those who demand of you to be “with us or against us” start on the wrong foot.
In the current escalation (July 2014) of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict I often get accused by one side or the other to be taking the opposite side. That is one of the keys: it seems as if for most people the responsibility for no matter what it’s always unquestionably “the other’s fault”, you can only be with “us” or against “us”.

I do take sides, but it’s with all those, Israeli or Palestinian, Jewish or Muslim, who want peace and prosperity, and they are a majority.
The right wing in Israeli politics doesn’t want peace, just like Hezbollah and Hamas don’t want peace, because in a state of peace they would lose their power, they would simply disappear.
Despite what they all say in public, both sides have been consistently boycotting all real attempts to build a peaceful state. Likud, Zionists, Hezbollah and Hamas would not exist if people on both sides weren’t living in a state of constant fear.
I believe even Arafat and his crew could have been dealt with to find a compromise, while I don’t think it will ever be possible to deal with Hezbollah and Hamas other than by removing the reasons for people to support them.
The politics of the Israeli right wing feed on those of their counterpart, it is only pressure from the international community that could force both sides out of their seats and give space to those who genuinely want peace.
Jewish culture gave the world some of its greatest thinkers, artists and scientists of the last century, it doesn’t need to give us the greatest murderers.

To make things clear from the start, I have no religion, I have no affiliation. I have many Jewish friends, some who grew up in Israel and served in the army too, while I have no Palestinian friends.
My ex wife grew up in Israel in the early 70s, and her memories are of living side by side with Palestinians with no problems, the eldest members of her family still live there. Most of my Jewish friends regret how things turned out and believe strongly this situation is artificial, it is not the will of the people on either side.
My son is 20 and, according to Jewish tradition, a Jew; if we were in Israel he would be serving in the army, and I am very glad we aren’t!
When I spent time in Israel I saw how liberal, peace-loving Israeli intellectuals, artists and journalists, were ostracised and their life made difficult by a system that sees the end of the conflict as a danger for their survival, they want Israeli to live in fear, otherwise they would not vote for them.

I make a strong distinction between the state of Israel and the Jewish people, I believe the state of Israel presents itself as representative of Jewish people, while it is not, and of the many Jews I know I can’t think of one who identifies with it.
In the past weeks I have seen images of young Israeli demonstrating carrying signs that said horrid things to the tune of “All Arabs should end up in the gas chambers”. Of all people for a Jew to say something like that is horrifying, I am sure their grandparents are turning in their graves.
I had the chance to meet Jewish people who had survived the camps, all of them showed an exemplary level of tolerance, understanding and ability to forgive, none of them were looking for revenge, their thoughts and desires were for peace, for the horrors of humiliation and destruction to be never repeated in a new era of peace. It pains me beyond measure to see their grandchildren bent on doing to others what was done to their forebears.

The state of Israel has broken more international laws and defied more UN resolutions than any other on earth, more than North Korea; yet, the international community has managed to restrain North Korea and avoid the worst consequences, while it has failed in reining in the warmongering side of the Israeli state.
Israeli politics and actions like the current attack on Gaza not only don’t solve the problem, they make it worse. The Arab world cares little for the Palestinians, however, as long as the Palestinians are oppressed by Israel that gives a good excuse to the Arab countries to oppose and fight Israel. It also plays an important part in pushing many young, ill educated, frustrated and unemployed people to join one of the too many and very dangerous terrorist organisations that are devastating the Middle East.
The growth of fundamentalist Islam, which is a danger for the whole world and a tragedy for people in the Muslim world, is in large part the consequence of western politics, of choices like the war in Iraq. And the behaviour of the state of Israel heavily contributes to that, it’s like throwing petrol on a fire.

If we don’t stop Israeli right wing politics now, in a near future it is not only people living in Israel and the Palestinians who are going to suffer, we will see an increasing growth of fundamentalist Islamic movements across the Middle East; what’s happening in Syria and Iraq should be enough to tell us that the risk is great, and Israeli politics are fuelling that counter-reaction, so we should all be worried and do something to stop them as much as we are about stopping the fanatics trying to create the new Caliphate. Both are dangerous and can change future history, in a very destructive direction.

It is not a matter of religion, true scholars know that the differences between the monotheistic religions of the Judaic/Christian/Muslim group have much more in common than differences that distinguish them, they have proven to be compatible, for centuries in various parts around the Mediterranean mixed communities thrived and lived together peacefully.
If all the effort that is put in war and all that is around it, in fueling hatred, was put into development and education one generation would be enough to turn the page.

Israel has the intellectual, technological and financial power to make a difference, the Palestinians don’t. It should be a moral duty of Israel, towards the Jews and towards the world, to use their power for a good end, to be an example to follow.
Israel has performed miracles, turning a piece of land that was little more than a pile of rocks into a fertile productive land and one of the most advanced countries in the world, it could and should perform the miracle of turning a land that has been the stage for bloodshed since the beginning of time into an example of how knowledge, hard work, wisdom and unity can turn it into an model of peace and success in a region that is devastated by wars and underdevelopment.

When I worked with mixed groups of Jews and Muslim there was always tension and suspicion at the beginning, but it almost always disappeared very soon, when people started recognising each other as just that: people with families and a life to develop. This is something that doesn’t take a miracle, it is a decision that every individual should take. The question people should ask themselves is: “do I work to create a peaceful future for my children or do I fuel a conflict situation where my children risk their life every day?”

To me that doesn’t seem a very difficult decision to take.

So you are alive, but do you also exist? (2014)

I haste to declare that I jot down these notes in drunken stupor, so I beg the reader’s forgiveness for any odd sounding or potentially offensive verb. However, do believe the content of my words, it is genuine and verifiable. Besides, don’t blame me, but a country where a bottle of reasonably good, unsophisticated, additive-free wine costs the equivalent of £ 2.50 or 4 US $.
So, while outside rain is falling steadily on the wooded landscape, and the city lays in the valley below shrouded in a vague mist, I muse myself with a pouring of words, on white paper I’d like to say, but it’s a mere screen in front of me I am afraid.

In the last weeks I was trying to understand what all this fuss is about the property tax that goes under a plethora of names and may make the Italian government fall this week.
Now, let me explain first that the government in Italy has a peculiar habit of falling at least once a year on average. It’s a long story, I’ll tell you another time if you insist, suffice to say that if you manage to be in office in the Italian Government, no matter how insignificant your charge is, for at least 9 months, you are sorted for life, you won’t have to work ever again and will live a life of luxury footballer-style, hence the fast turnover of Governments, the high number of people employed by Government and their wages, the highest in the Western World. But that’s for another day.

Anyway, no longer than a year ago the (in)famous Mr Berlusconi was tried for sexual offences, embezzlement, sexual exploitation of minors, multiple multi-million frauds and a series of other similar offences. But he was prime minister, hence immune from prosecution (oh yes, some 43% of Italian MPs have criminal charges, are convicted of various crimes or are indicted for others, but being in Government grants them immunity). Mr B. was sentenced (symbolically) to 8 years in prison, which he would have served if not in office. Sort of, maybe, perhaps if…
At that time elections were approaching (as they seasonally do in Italy, Spring elections, Winter elections, like fashion collections…) and Mr Berlusconi had yet another stroke of genius, due to his intimate knowledge of the Italian psyche which he faithfully represents (I loathe to say), and one day in Parliament he said something to the tune of “I hereby abolish the property tax!” – now, I need to explain that in Italy there are a multitude of taxes, no one knows exactly which, how many, what for, and the property tax is something similar to the Council Tax in the UK, but it used to be paid to the Government instead of the Councils, which themselves apply a variety of other taxes.
As soon as Mr Berlusconi declared he was abolishing the tax he went from the front door of jail to the front door of Parliament. Yes, people voted for him and elected him yet again.
It has to be remembered that Mussolini in his days won the majority of votes, especially in the then poorest South, by giving a bag of pasta per each vote (shouldn’t the vote be secret, I hear you ask, well, don’t ask silly questions, we are in Italy!).

Anyway, Berlusconi isn’t in charge any more (officially), but the property tax issue is still lingering, and it may just make the current government fall, for the first time this year. So I was trying to get my head around the issue. At least to understand, what’s the big issue?
Well, I tell you, after much reading, most of which was very confusing, I finally managed to ‘get the picture’.
Berlusconi abolished the property tax, part of which the Government would distribute to Regions, Provinces and City Councils (all of which have different and separate, often incompatible rules, bureaucracies, taxes, regulations, exceptional laws etc etc). As a consequence most of these, already on the brink of bankruptcy (if you consider at least 50% of their budget is wasted in bribes, delays, wrong allocations and bureaucratic procedures…) found it impossible to operate and obtained the Government’s permission to issue new “emergency” taxes. These, added to the previous local taxes, amounted to more than the property tax Berlusconi had abolished. What a surprise.

Anyway, for the last 8 months the Government has been locked in a battle between parties to re-draw the property tax law and find a solution. The law has been changed 40 (forty) times over the last 8 (eight) months but every time opposed by one or the other party, thus no agreement has been reached and this may lead to the fall of the government.
The payment of the tax is due by the 31st of January, but no one knows how much should be paid. The accountants don’t know either (a chapter further down on this most important caste of Italian society) so people will not be able to pay the tax, and each one of them will later be charged a fine for paying it late. It’s not their fault, I hear you say, well, I repeat, don’t ask silly questions, we are in Italy!

As I said, I was trying to understand what these dramatic differences in proposals effectively were, what was the difference between the positions of the dozens of political parties. Finally I managed to gather enough comparative information, only to discover that the actual difference in people’s pockets would be in the order of a maximum £ 15 (fifteen pounds) per year on an average first home two-bedroom property. Now, let’s make a real life comparison, the average Italian home owner of a such a property would end up paying a yearly property tax almost equal to what an equivalent home in London pays in Council tax every month.
To put things in context. Currently (January 2014) the crisis in Italy is visible, but the standard of living of the lower layers of society is still higher than their counterpart in the UK, at least in terms of quality of food, clothes and housing, and the purchasing power of wages is comparable, with the lower end of the social spectrum being better off and with a wider middle class (albeit much worse off than they were only 10 years ago) in Italy than the UK.

Back to the accountants now, because they are a fundamental pillar of daily life in Italy, together with solicitors, surveyors, controllers and an array of public offices that have no correspondence in the UK, and whose scope and utility would be very hard to explain (since they have none if not the purpose of self justification).
Accountants are a sort of super human caste in Italy, the custodians of an arcane knowledge and the unique access to essential permissions indispensible to survival in the system.
The rules of the various bureaucracies (State, Regions, Provinces, Councils, various Police corps, Customs and Excise, Fire Brigade, Church, Ministry of Health and so on and so forth), are so complex and very often contradicting that even a private individual needs an accountant to deal with (and pay for) the endless legal and bureaucratic requirements of daily life in the country. Accountants are expensive, and generally unhelpful and arrogant, with an attitude that lays in between the pop star and the small time crook, but they are generally much better dressed than either.
The fundamental rule of Italian society is that everyone tells lies, everyone tries to take advantage of rules and of other people, consequently one doesn’t trust anyone and everything has to be written in triplicate with witnesses and underwritten by lawyers and accountants to avoid fraud and tax-dodging.

As we all know, the more paranoid the ruler becomes the more he chops off his most faithful helpers’ heads, convinced that they are plotting against him. For the same reason, the more insecure of its own legitimacy a society is the more it creates complex rules with several layers of certification, verification, authentication, all of which lead to byzantine complications leaving room for even more ‘back doors’ to be left open, more corruption, more confusion.
Italy has mastered that to a fine art. There are reasons too, from the end of the Roman Empire to its unification in the late 19th century, for some 1250 years Italy was a fragmented mess of tiny local powers squabbling and fighting with each other or under the colonial power of dozens of foreign nations, leading to a widespread unconscious belief that no matter who is in power, they are there to rip you off, so you stand up for yourself, your family and friends, and make alliance from time to time with someone according to temporary convenience. Hardly the suitable ground for a modern unified society.
It is said (beware of statistics) that the average Italian citizens waste up to 20% of their working time cueing at various offices to obtain pieces of evidently useless papers, each to be paid for too.
Some are truly unimaginable for anyone coming from a modern organised society, in fact I have a whole range of (true) unbelievable stories I can tell to amuse my Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon friends.

For instance, no document can be obtained other than by going in person to various specialised offices. In some case websites have been created, but inevitably they don’t work, if they do work they are impossible to understand, after endless circumnavigations between pages that look as if they belong to several different sites with no common logic and appear to have been designed by brain damaged monkeys, one has to give up and go to the relevant issuing office, except that it is difficult to discover where the office actually is, and least of all when it is likely to be open, since some have imaginative opening times such as every first Tuesday and Friday of the month from 7.47 to 11.18 am, and if you manage to discover that and go there at the appointed time you may discover that people have been cueing out in the street since 5 am to get in the cue and some of them have been trying for three months with no success.
If you do get in the cue and get to the glass protected window of the whatever officer you may discover that the said officer doesn’t even look at you because he/she is engaged in a telephone conversation with his/her cousin/mother/lover and after 23 minutes 47 seconds of conversation he/she puts down the phone and says to you “sorry, it’s closing time, you’ll have to come back another day”.
Let’s assume that “another day” you manage to get through the cue and to actually be seen by one of said officers, the person may look at you with a blank stare and say “why are you here, you don’t need that document, who said you did?” to which you try to explain what other office had said to you, after a series of unsuccessful attempts to get one document or the other, that you first needed to obtain that other document from that other office.. and the officer says to you “oh, they don’t know what they are talking about (which, by the way, is often the case for all of them) and so sends you away.
And you are back to square one.

Not just the number, but the kind of documents required for the simplest item of daily life is bewildering. For instance, it is illegal to walk out of your front door without an identification document, you can be arrested and detained up to 48 hours. But for most procedures you need a combination of different documents, each proving the other’s authenticity. So you end up with a truly magnificent output of the famous Italian creativity. Not only there is an ID card that says who you are, but there is a certificate that proves that you really are who the ID cards purports you to be. Then there is one that proves that not only you are the one who is described in the ID card, but you are also ALIVE (who knows, you could be a walking dead). And finally, a true pinnacle of subtle metaphysical thought, there is a document called “certificate of proof of existence in life” which proves that non only you are who you say you are, as stated in your ID, and you are also alive, but on top of it all you also EXIST!
Now, allow me to draw your attention to the subtlety of the concept. In a world where so many people exist but are not really alive, and carry out their daily business in a zombie-like fashion, while many others are alive but barely exist, so insignificant and disposable their life is for the powers above, the need to prove that you are you, that you are alive and that you also exist is understandable and somewhat commendable.
I am a man, I am who I say I am, I am alive and I also exist! Only an Italian can prove that with a series of documents printed on filigreed paper and embossed with official stamps, (each priced at between £ 15 and £ 20). Providing he/she has managed to navigate the dozen different offices able to provide such certification!
Otherwise no problem, it means he/she doesn’t exist after all!

Now, there is obviously an alternative to the ordeal of going through months of cues at different offices to obtain certifications that may or may not grant you authorisation to do whatever it is (if you can still remember) that you wanted to do. The alternative is to discreetly push an envelope stuffed with banknotes under the nose of whatever official you are dealing with. Providing you are aware of what the going rate for a document or another is, your envelope will disappear while you turn around to check the messages on your mobile, and the smiling cooperative officer will provide you with the required document, duly stamped, sealed, duplicated, photocopied and countersigned, with hand-written receipt and declaration of authenticity.
Lo and behold you have joined The Italian Nation. The law and the rules exist, but only for everyone else, you can happily go about complaining about nothing working because no one follows the rules, and then explain that you couldn’t possibly be the first sodding idiot who follows the rules and watches everyone else advance while you are stil waiting for permission to ask permission to be allowed to access the documents that will consent you to present request to be granted exception to do… I forgot what…
Italy is a unique and wonderful country!

Attenti al lupo! (2014)

Ieri un’amica mi ha detto “ma lo sai che un mio amico mi ha detto che ha letto che in Inghilterra ormai i musulmani sono più del 50 %?!!”
Al che ho cortesemente detto alla mia amica che il suo amico probabilmente aveva letto male e non si era curato di pensare prima e controllare poi. La mia amica ha ribadito che il suo amico è una persona molto seria, al che non ho insistito, arrivato a casa ho consultato i dati più recenti del censimento ufficiale del governo inglese, dove ho appreso che il numero di musulmani è cresciuto in dieci anni da 3% al 4.8% della popolazione del Regno Unito.
Ho diligentemente copiato i dati rilevanti e li ho spediti, coi links di riferimento, alla mia amica, pregandola di passarli al suo amico.

Poi mi è venuto in mente questo:

Sull’autobus Pierino dice alla mamma: “mamma, mamma, ho visto un lupo!” e la mamma “si Pierino, va bene, bello il lupo”.
Due sedili più indietro sta seduto il signor Giuseppe, parrucchiere in pensione, che qualche fermata dopo attacca bottone con la signora Elvira che gli si è seduta accanto, e le dice “c’era un bambino che diceva d’aver visto un lupo, pensi un po’”.
A casa la signora Elvira s’attacca al telefono per la sua solita chiaccherata con la signora Carmela, mentre rimesta il minestrone per Gualtiero, il marito disoccupato che arriverà tra poco, e tra le altre cose le racconta del bambino che aveva visto un lupo.
Nel pomeriggio la signora Carmela è dal giornalaio e racconta animatamente del bambino che ha visto un lupo che ancora un po’ se lo mangiava.
Il signor Giacomo, giornalista per ‘il Gazzettino di Cortiglietto sul Monte”, che sta sfogliando una rivista porno nascosta dentro una copia di “Economia e Finanza” sente e appena tornato in ufficio scrive un trafiletto per la rubrica locale dove racconta di come ormai i lupi arrivino così vicino alle case che persino un bambino oggi ne ha avvistato uno, rischiando la vita, e forse bisognerebbe che le autorità facessero qualcosa invece di sempre solo esigere tasse per niente.
La notiziola appare in terza pagina, quarta colonna in basso, sotto la pubblicità della svendita di scarpe della premiata ditta “Salterini & Figli, ai vostri piedi dal 1958!”.
Nel notiziario delle 20 la televisione locale (Niusflasc, proprietà del Dott. Mancapoco, commercialista, consulente finanziario, azionista della “Nuove Officine Oscillanti” ), divulga enfaticamente la notizia che un bambino è sfuggito per miracolo all’aggressione di un lupo, e che veramente non se ne può più di tutti questi lupi che arrivano da chissà dove e pensano di poter fare come a casa loro.
La mattina seguente la popolazione di Cortiglietto sul Monte è sorpresa nel trovare la piazzetta Don Pirolo ingombra di unità mobili delle varie televisioni nazionali, che già non si trova parcheggio di solito e mo’ guarda un po’ che casino, tutto perchè qualcuno è stato quasi mangiato da un lupo, come se non lo sapessimo tutti che ormai non ci si può fermare ad un semaforo o uscire di chiesa senza rischiare di essere assaliti da uno.
I reporters televisivi intervistano i passanti, tutti desiderosi di raccontare la loro versione. Il sindaco arriva trafelato, dopo essere passato di corsa dal parrucchiere “Mark the Hairs’ a rendersi presentabile per il pubblico televisivo. Ne approffitta per far notare le migliorie apportate dalla sua amministrazione al trasporto pubblico e la ridecorazione del palazzo comunale, sui gradini del quale egli si erge orgoglioso (la telecamera cerca di tagliare dall’inquadratua il graffito accanto ai manifesti elettorali che dichiara “abbasso i lupi viva la lupa”)
Nonostante la dovizia di informazioni che il solerte pubblico elargisce ai reporters purtroppo nessuno sa indicare quale sia il bambino, qualcuno suggerisce di provare all’ospedale di Cortiglione sotto il Monte, che magari il bambino sarà ricoverato li in seguito all’attacco subito.
I telegiornali della sera riportano che un bambino è stato vittima dell’ennesimo attacco di lupi e che la situazione sta aggravandosi rapidamente, che il numero di lupi nelle nostre regioni è aumentato del 65.7% * e che se il governo non adotterà presto misure d’emergenza la gente dovrà cominciare a difendersi da sola.
La mattina seguente il sottosegretario alla sicurezza nazionale Dott. Mizzichillo arringa il parlamento sul problema urgente, cita documenti e statistiche ** che ha appena ottenuto dai Prof. Cortichino e Spezzatiello *** dell’Università Cattolica di Mitolzano che comprovano l’entità, urgenza e gravità del problema.
Intanto per le strade della capitale una folla di dimostranti (12.357 a detta delle forze dell’ordine, 54.200 a detta degli organizzatori), si sono assembrati e marciano verso il parlamento. Alcuni gruppi estremisti si separano dal grosso del corteo e, prendendoli per lupi, attaccano due cani randagi, poi, presi dalla foga, picchiano la signora Guendolina Macchecchè, pensionata, 72 anni, la quale tentava inutilmente di difendere il suo Cocker Spaniel di nome Spinello, urlando “non è un lupo, non è un lupo pezzi di XXX) poi non contenti si avventano sul cane guida del signor Telonio Tordivò, non vedente che però riesce a colpire col suo bastone due dei dimostranti, uno dei quali riporta una narice lacerata, l’altro un largo ematoma ai testicoli. Gli altri attaccanti si disperdono trovando rifugio nel “Dragone Rosso, masaggi tereupetici cinesi, tailandesi e giponesi”
La situazione sta sfuggendo al controllo delle benemerite forze dell’ordine quando tra i manifestanti si sparge la voce che l’opposizione ha presentato una mozione di sfiducia e che il governo è caduto. Si teme che i lupi a questo punto possano prendere il sopravvento, approfittando del vuoto governativo, impadronendosi del potere, come da tempo il Partito per la Preservazione della Purezza del Popolo avvertiva sarebbe successo.
La folla si disperde, anche perchè è quasi ora di cena e poi questa sera alla TV c’è il dibattito pubblico sulla situazione del paese, corredato delle statistiche del censimento dell’opinione pubblica di questa settimana letto da quelle belle presentatrici in micro costumino trasparente.
Ai lupi ci si penserà domani, tanto magari son meglio degli sciacalli di adesso o delle iene di ieri.

* non è specificato % di cosa, da quando, in quanto tempo, a quale cifra corrisponda o altri dati
** non disponibili al pubblico per ragioni di sicurezza
*** specializzazione non comunicata

La valigia dimenticata (2014)

Ho trovato a casa di mio fratello una valigia piena di lettere. Lettere indirizzate a me e datate dal 1971 al 1981, provenienti da una quarantina di persone differenti.
A parte poche di queste persone che conosco bene e con le quali sono ancora in contatto, più o meno frequente, molte sono completamente scomparse dalla mia memoria, sollecitando quindi il dubbio: è la mia memoria che col tempo si è così affievolita oppure con queste persone non c’era poi un rapporto così profondo? O, peggio, di queste persone non mi importava poi così tanto?
In due giorni ho riguardato tutte le lettere, sperando che i frammenti di discorso da una all’altra finissero per ridarmi un’immagine completa, come le tessere di un puzzle che man mano cominciano ad avere senso.
Con alcune di queste persone corrisposi per un paio d’anni, quindi una certa continuità nel discorso dopo un po‘ si comincia ad intravvedere.
Molte di queste persone avevano risposto ad una mia lettera pubblicata su una rivista che si chiamava Ciao 2001 (http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciao_2001) della quale ho un vago ricordo come una versione annacquata di una delle riviste hippy californiane. Trattava di musica principalmente, ma anche, in modo un po‘ ingenuo e un po‘ parrocchiale, di soggetti sociali e politici d’interesse per gli adolescenti italiani del 1970. Inoltre la rivista dava spazio a lettere dei lettori, che spesso venivano usate come metodo di comunicazione e per fare nuove amicizie, in un’epoca ancora così lontana da facebook e social networking.
Non conservo alcuna memoria della lettera che scrissi, ma a giudicare dalle risposte, principalmente di ragazze, doveva essere una qualche patetica richiesta di soccorso da parte di un adolescente incompreso e deluso dalla società, dagli adulti e da amicizie superficiali. Va detto che queste lamentele, per quanto comprensibilmente tipiche in un adolescente, non avevano giustificazione nella mia situazione reale, visto che i miei genitori erano decisamente più aperti e tolleranti della media, avevo tanti buoni amici coi quali avevo opportunità di fare cose interessanti e creative e godevo di una buona dose di libertà. Comunque, si sa che l’adolescenza non brilla per oggettività. Mi viene il dubbio (forse il cinismo dell’età?) che sotto sotto l’intenzione della lettera fosse di trovare qualche nuova ragazza comprensiva e disponibile.
In ogni modo le lettere sono significative in quanto rivelano diversi aspetti della vita degli adolescenti di allora, inclusi dettagli che oggi sono impensabili e incomprensibili. Diverse delle ragazze che scrivevano chiedevano di rispondere mettendo sul retro della lettera un nome falso e femminile come mittente, poiché i genitori avrebbero sequestrato qualsiasi corrispondenza proveniente da uomini. Altre rispondevano a lunghi intervalli in quanto dovevano trovare modo di restare a scuola un po’ più a lungo o da un’amica con la scusa di fare i compiti per trovare il momento di scrivere senza essere osservate e censurate dai genitori. Altre rispondevano con ritardo poiché anche procurarsi la quantità minuscola di denaro necessaria alla carta, busta e francobollo era un problema non indifferente in un’epoca nella quale un giovane non possedeva denaro e dipendeva totalmente dai genitori.
L’idea di potersi incontrare un giorno di persona aveva dimensioni mitologiche e di sogno irrealizzabile. La rivista conteneva spesso articoli sui vari festival musicali negli US e Inghilterra, e le foto di tutti questi giovani insieme, senza sorveglianza, coi capelli lunghi, con vestiti decorati di fiori o addirittura senza vestiti… erano cose così lontane e aliene da assumere l’aura di favole fantastiche.
Una buona parte di queste ragazze con le quali corrispondevo vivevano in piccoli paesi del nord est Italia, Veneto, Trentino, Friuli, e questo pure è un dato degno di nota, con tutta probabilità nel meridione allora sarebbe stato impensabile per una ragazza leggere una rivista di quel genere, sarebbe probabilmente stata sequestrata immediatamente come immorale e pericolosa, o forse le edicole nemmeno la vendevano. Nelle città più grandi al contrario forse i giovani avevano molte più opportunità di incontrarsi di persona sulla via di scuola o nelle manifestazioni di piazza, che allora erano frequenti e luogo di incontro tra persone di mentalità e posizioni politiche simili, o ai concerti. Nei paesi della provincia i giovani che aspiravano a qualcosa di diverso erano sicuramente degli emarginati, derisi dai loro coetanei “normali”, ostracizzati e soffocati da insegnanti e genitori conservatori e completamente impreparati ai cambiamenti in corso.
Nella provincia del nord est inoltre la forte impronta del bigottismo cattolico aggiungeva un peso ulteriore di condanna che spingeva ogni espressione di evoluzione, in particolare delle donne, nella clandestinità.
Le lettere di queste giovani donne, di età dai 15 ai 17 anni, pur nella loro generale ingenuità, rivelano una gran voglia di cambiare, di sfuggire ad un destino grigio e preordinato che le vedeva già mogli obbedienti e madri devote, per sempre.
L’educazione di stampo cattolico repressivo si intravvede sempre appena sotto la superficie, così come il timore di essere scoperte e punite, ma allo stesso tempo c’è l’entusiasmo, la voglia di fare, il desiderio di libertà, i grandi sogni e le grandi illusioni, e un’atteggiamento buono e gentile.

Nel leggere le lettere mi è venuta una gran voglia di cercare di rintracciare queste persone, incontrarle e farmi raccontare la loro storia, cercare di scoprire cos’è rimasto del sogno, quante sono riuscite a sfuggire al meccanismo preordinato e costruirsi una vita soddisfacente, quante si riconoscono ancora in quegli ideali e cosa sono riuscite a trasmettere ai loro figli se ne hanno avuti.
Sono passati più di 40 anni, una vita, queste donne ora hanno tra i 55 e i 60 anni, ascoltare le loro storie oggi sullo sfondo di quelle lettere e dei loro sogni adolescenziali sarebbe vedere uno spaccato, intimo e vero, di uno dei periodi di maggior e più rapido cambiamento nella nostra società, e visto dal punto di vista delle donne, che ancor più degli uomini anelavano ad un cambiamento radicale, e che forse più degli uomini sono rimaste deluse dalla realtà che si è evoluta.

Baby New York (1963-2013)

It’s in the Upper Bay, on the western shore of the Hudson, two straight parallel piers sticking out of Bayonne, just north of the tip of Staten Island.
It’s nothing particularly charming, actually, it’s a drab flat concrete expanse littered with low warehouses, junk and rows after rows of shipping containers, the least glamorous face of New York you could possibly imagine. And yet what a vantage point! Right across the water you see Brooklyn’s Red Hook and Sunset Park, if you look right you skim Staten Island all the way to where the Hudson meets the open sea, and then you turn left and there you have it all: the Statue of Liberty partially hiding Ellis Island on one side, Governors Island on the other and right in the middle Manhattan’s Battery Park.
I mean, seriously, what more could you want.

Well, just so that you can squirm in envy, that was the very view of my childhood, shared with my two accomplices-girlfriends.
(pause for dramatic effect)

Wait a minute, I should also mention that it was only in my dreams, actually, a series of dreams organised in episodes, a bit like a TV serial.
Except that in those days I had no knowledge of New York and hadn’t seen a TV yet, or, to be more accurate, I had been allowed to see the TV that the only wealthy family in the block had acquired. They used to let neighbours stand next to it to be photographed, perhaps even touch it. While the TV was off of course, seeing it on was a privilege for a few chosen ones.

I actually have a picture of myself next to it, see? What was I, five or six?

Anyway, to go back to my story. The series of dreams were set in a place that for me in those days was as far and exotic as the Amazon forest or the Moon’s seas. In fact the only image I had seen of New York was probably a postcard of the Empire State Building.
I had not yet seen any movie set in New York either, or anything else that could supply me with the material for those dreams.
And this is the point, one that still puzzles me decades later. Where did it all come from? Especially for, years later, I verified that it was all accurate.
I had these dreams for a few years when I was between seven and ten. Growing up I preserved some vague memories of them, which would occasionally resurface in fragments. Then one day, in 1988, on a road in Primrose Hill, London, on the edge of Regents Park, I saw a car.
Not just any car, the very one I used to drive in those dreams.  Same model, same colour, an odd lobster-bronze.

It was a 1964 Lincoln Continental  with white top and the distinctive front steel grille with the headlights encased in it. Almost exactly like this one.
At least for the choice of car there was an explanation, once I saw it in the street and recognised it I also remembered that I used to have a Dinky Toys model of it.
Now then, seeing the car sort of took the lid off the memory box and the dreams came back, with some remarkable clarity; in a matter of days I started remembering all the details, and I know you are dying to hear about the dreams, but let me tell you first something that will no doubt put these in a different light. At least it did for me.
As I said, at the time of the dreams I had no knowledge of New York and the way it looked. From provincial Italy in the 60s and before the television era one had a very limited view of the world. It was actually easier to have an idea of ancient Greece or Rome, thanks to the illustrations in school books, than any contemporary parts of the world.
The rare films one would see at the cinema included: Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy’s comedies, Hollywood renditions of ancient Rome such as Ben Hur, neo-realist post-war Italian movies like Bicycle Thieves, Totò comedies, cowboy movies of the John Wayne kind, Mary Poppins, and that was about it, we are talking early ’60s. This is just to stress how unlikely it was that I could have the vaguest idea of New York, and least of all of some obscure, anonymous corner of a commercial pier on the New Jersey coast opposite.

Well, enough perambulations. The day I went to New York for the first time I had a shock. I was with my son on a boat sailing down the Hudson, we went past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and there it was, the two piers, the strip of land where I had spent so much time and had so many adventures in my childhood’s dreams. How could it be, it was all clear and familiar, completely recognisable, even though the cars and trucks, the cranes and warehouses were new and different, the place was unmistakably it.

From Bayonne you’d turn into Pulasky St. and before it merges with Port Jersey Boulevard you turn into the expanse of containers. That was home.
Shipping containers changed the world and are a fundamental building block of globalisation, but in those days I didn’t know, I had barely seen a few carried by lorries on the outskirts of the industrial city where I lived as a child. And yet, the red-orange container that was home in these dreams was important, cosy and a safe harbour.
So lets get closer to the story.
We have now established the setting, you can see it here in this satellite images as it is now, and just to be precise I have marked the area where our (yes, I wasn’t alone, I told you) container was. In those days (in those dreams) it was much more crowded and messier than it is now. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture from the time of the dreams, which was more or less 1963 to 1966.

The container was a forgotten one, rather rusty on the outside, of a faded reddish, and ivy was climbing all over it. Next to the container were high piles of discarded wooden pallets and several large metal oil drums on one side while on the other there was a jumble of twisted metal pipes and beams with a little gnarled tree growing within it, in front of the door there was a very large, round black metal basin. At the back of the container the broken legs of an old crane were standing like a giant crab, a frayed tarpaulin draped over it, and that was the garage for our Lincoln Continental.

I think now it’s time to introduce my partners and accomplices in the dreams. They were two girls, my age, one was an American Indian, a real squaw, wearing a dress made by herself with scraps of leather and decorated with anything coloured she could find, from bottle caps to glass fragments and plastic toys. She had dark skin and very long black hair parted in two thick braids and framing a round face, dark eyes and a full mouth. The other had Scandinavian features, very pale and with long blonde hair, a pointed nose and freckles, blue slanted eyes and a fine wide mouth, and she too patched up clothes with whatever we could find and steal.
We were runaways, never mentioned were we came from, we just found ourselves on our own and joined forces, made our little tribe-family and looked out for each other, hiding away from the world and avoiding any contact with grown-ups.
We were doing everything together, we would build anything we needed out of materials we would scavenge from the port; whenever a cargo ship moored we knew that in a few days we would have a trove of useful obscure objects, discarded and abandoned, ready to be reinvented. So a bit at the time we furnished our container, we made a stove to warm up and to cook on with a metal locker and parts from a car engine, shelves and storage with wooden crates, a big bed with pallets and a large crate, which we filled with animal furs we stole from a shipment, the floor was covered with a sheet of rubber grabbed from the back of a lorry, with some broken glass and metal sheets we made large mirrors, with car’s rear view mirrors and some pipes we made a periscope to keep watch from inside without being seen, cutting plastic pipes we made a system to collect the rain water that would fill the drums and we would use to wash. We had made a sort of cart with found wheels and a metal frame, which was precious to carry the finds back home, with time we added a rotating arm with a chain and hook on a pulley, to lift things that were too heavy for us.
No one would ever venture to that end of the pier, only occasionally a truck would arrive to dump the discarded containers or other decommissioned materials, which were as many treasure troves for us. What for the rest of the world was a forgotten cemetery of discarded good for us was a haven of wild isolation, our private kingdom right next to one of the busiest hubs of the world.
Hiding out of sight we’d enjoy watching the sailors from far while they were cleaning and maintaining their moored ship, the long arms of the cranes swinging the crates wrapped in nets off the ship’s deck down to the waiting lorries.

Every week we would get in the car, which we had modified with big wooden blocks attached to clutch, accelerator and brakes so that we could reach them, to go on a mission. Sharing the driving tasks the three of us, sitting cluttered on the wide front seat, would set off before dawn and go “to town” in time to catch the trucks and vans delivering goods to the shops and market. We had mastered the art of being invisible and silent,  we would park out of sight in a back alley and then sneak like indians, unseen and unheard, and steal food from the shops and vans. Once filled the car with all we needed we would drive back to our pier, hide the car under the tarpaulin and store our booty away.
Sometimes the blonde girl (we didn’t use names) who was the most innocent looking of the trio, would distract the shop keepers or delivery men, pretending to be mute and talking to them in signs, and the indian girl and myself would take advantage of the distraction to carry out our appropriation mission.
It was always a totally cooperative work, we acted as one, no need for words, we felt completely self contained and looked at the world and people as we didn’t belong there at all, we were happy, we laughed a lot.
On our return home after these raids we would strip naked, lay in the furs and spread food on one’s belly and the other two would eat from it, like animals, licking the skin clean at the end.
We knew every nook and cranny, every secret passage between the containers and junk piles and could find our way blindfolded. Our only fear was a gang of criminals who would sometimes come to our pier with their car, a very large convertible of a shiny dark purple. Their boss was a young black boy that looked enormous and terrifying to us, with hair sculpted like hieroglyphics, while the others looked like many minnows fussing about him. They knew we were there somewhere but never managed to find our hiding. On some occasions we just about missed being caught, but we always managed to escape at the last minute, and occasionally also succeeded in playing dirty tricks on the gang, sabotaging their car or causing them to crash.
Otherwise we had a very peaceful time, always doing everything together, even in the winter we would bathe naked in the large basin outside, breaking the ice and jumping in daring each other to resist as long as we could, to then run inside shivering and dry one another in front of the fire and then lay on the furs massaging the frozen limbs, combing the hair, hugging and cuddling. When a thunderstorm would break we’d run out and dance in the rain, our faces lit by lightning, laughing and whirling. We would spend ages cleaning each other, like little monkeys picking lice from one another’s fur.
Chores were equally shared too, from cooking to cleaning, from building new things to scavenging for anything useful. It was a joy when one of us would find something that could be a present for one of the others, little object of no value to anyone but us.

Some evenings we would sit on the furthermost point of the pier, our legs dangling over the water, hugged together to keep warm and marvelling at the view, with the distant lights sparkling within the outline of Manhattan, the seagulls diving, the cargoes passing by, the ever surprising flotsam and jetsam drifting on the waves.
In all we did there was a warm sense of innocent, wild sensuality and life.
It felt at once peaceful and exciting, it felt cosy and independent. We loved each other with no distinction or reserve, and slept together curled and tangled like kittens, falling asleep telling each other stories we would invent of the spot.

And then the dreams at some point stopped, just as they had arrived from nowhere.
I tried for a while to cause them to come back, but it doesn’t work that way.
Decades later, when they came back to me, thanks to the accidental sighting of the car, I was tempted to try to dream them again, but the cheating clearly doesn’t pay. I was glad to have found them again though, it felt like rediscovering something precious long forgotten in the loft.
I still wonder where all those images came from, it could be tempting to think of a previous life.

Baby Love 1967 (2013)

It must have been 1967, I was about eight, one of my best friends at school was Agostino, probably the only kid in the class that wasn’t from a working class family, I can’t remember what his father did, architect or some other “important” profession.

One day after school Agostino invited me to play at his home, I had never been there and I knew he had two sisters, one older and one younger, but had never met them.
When we got home the older sister was there and she immediately did all she could to annoy and tease us, the father made us some lunch while we were waiting for the mother who had gone to pick up the younger sister who was in a different school.

When Simonetta arrived I was transfixed, all of a sudden all the other people in the room ceased to exist, I think they must have thought I was a bit dumb, I couldn’t take my eyes off her and couldn’t utter a word.
After lunch Agostino and his older sister went off to play in another room since it seemed obvious that Simonetta and I weren’t paying attention to anyone else.
She had very long thick straight hair the colour of wheat at the time of harvest, bright green eyes with an oriental shape, and features of absolute perfection and harmony.
Pointless to say that I was besotted and my usually dramatic shyness reached a peak suffcient to paralyse me.

I don’t remember what we played or what we said, I only remember that at one point I was squatting on the floor, and Simonetta was standing in front of me, leaning against a large wicker chest, she was wearing black full body dancer’s tights and looking at me with the most candid expression she said: “Do you know that I am naked under this? Do you want me to show you?”
Before I could find something to say I was rescued by her mother who came in to tell us that it was nearly evening and it was time for me to go, my mum was on her way to get me.
So we started putting the toys away, side by side on our fours on the floor, “accidentally” rubbing against each other.

I was totally confounded and it took me a few days to craft a letter for Simonetta, which went through several versions, editing, correction, chiselling… until finally I found the courage to entrust Agostino with the delivery of the precious secret missive.
And then ensued a series of excruciatingly anxious days, contemplating all the most disastrous eventualities: the letter being intercepted by Simonetta’s parents, or worse, by her older sister, or being lost, or maybe even being ignored, I saw myself becoming the laughingstock of family and friends…
But then one day Simonetta’s answer came, it wasn’t as dramatically romantic as my wildest dreams would have desired, but it was nevertheless tender and sweet, full of promise for a bright loving future.

We only managed to meet briefly in the street (we lived a few blocks away) and a few weeks later the school year ended; three months lay ahead with no chances to meet, the prospective looked bleak, but nothing had prepared me for the worst to come.
One day I met Agostino and he gave me a letter from Simonetta. Their parents had divorced (in those days only actors and rich people divorced!), Agostino and her older sister were going to stay with the father while the mum was moving to Rome taking Simonetta with her, she was due to start the term in a boarding school very soon.

I was devastated, in September when I went back to school Agostino wasn’t there either, when I enquired with the teacher I was told they had moved to another area and he was in another school but no one knew which one.
All my enquiries were fruitless, and Simonetta remained forever in my mind frozen in that moment, a blonde smiling angel dressed in black standing in front of me and offering to show me her body.

Baby Love 1961 (2013)

It must have been 1961, I was five and my mum used to take me with her to the market. I remember the few blocks we had to walk as if it was today, I could walk them with my eyes closed. If the streets were like they used to be, that is. We had the option to follow the wall surrounding the school and cross the road by the small cinema that belonged to the church, or cross earlier, by the triangle of old low houses, an island left over from the pre-war years, then follow the narrow street to the red bricks church.
On market days the wide road that went straight from the church front to the large square where the trams were was closed to the traffic – not that there was much traffic in those days anyway – and it was safe for us children to walk about and be offered a fruit or a piece of cheese by the stall keepers, eager to attract our mums.
It was at the market that I met Luisa, and instantly fell in love.
Our mums were the most attractive in the whole borough. We thought so at least, and the comments of the male stall keepers and whistles of men passing by on their bicycles seemed to confirm our opinion. Whatever, I’m digressing.
Our mums were very different from each other, but they somehow conformed to the Italian post-war ideal type, think Sofia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida, you know what I mean.
My mum was very sober in her mildly coloured tailleurs, usually a short jacket and mid-length skirt, often fashioned by herself with extreme care to detail. She had wavy long blonde hair (her natural colour was a golden chestnut though) and cristal blue eyes, a shapely slender body and a gentle smile. High heels de rigueur and minimal jewellery.
Luisa’s mum was a lot more ostentacious, and some thought a bit too racy for the mood of the time. She was tall and slim, she generally wore high heels, very tight black leggings, a high leather belt squeezing an already impossibly narrow waist, bright tight shirts and some kind of bra that would exaggerate her breasts outward and upward. Sunglasses barely hiding the heavily made up almond-shaped eyes with extra long black lashes and an outrageously high beehive of raven black hair, often adorned with a red silk scarf.

An odd pair these two made, but for some reason we would always bump into each other at the market and we would run the length of it together buying all the groceries and cheese – there still were no supermarkets – and once reached the end of the market we would turn right on the big square, then down the boulevard to buy bread, fresh pasta and finally meat from the shops there.

All the way the two mums chatted amiably and parried the filrting administered to them by the stall keepers, who were more than once kicked (metaphorically as much as physically) by their wives, if present.
Meanwhile Luisa and I had all the time to enjoy each other’s company, stop in front of the toy shop window (the only one in the borough), hide behind the stalls, play with the coloured fabrics and pretend to be a couple going out shopping.
Luisa was luminous, in my eyes there was nothing on earth that could outshine her. She had wild curly blond hair that would spring in all directions and catch every beam of light. Her eyes were dark and deep, with a mischevious and challenging stare. Her smile was a mix of sweetness and sarcasm. She never walked, she danced on her feet all the time, as if she could not stand still nor walk straight.
I was in awe of her. I could not wait for market day and for that hour or two of bliss in the company of Luisa.

The last year before we started primary school felt like a frame around the masterpiece that Luisa was for me. I was very sad when school pervented us to meet at the market, which became a rare event, on an occasional Saturday or during the Summer holidays.

It was at that time that I had my first erotic dream worth its name. I still remember it. The Alps were all around our city, so going out to the mountais on weekends was normal for most people, and many families would have a holiday home on the mountains.
In the dream our two families had gone to the mountains for a weekend. We were staying in a large stone house, typical of the Alps, those with the roof made of large flat grey stones. The inside was an open space, like a barn, and the two couples of parents were sitting at the table, drinking and chatting, the fathers smoking. Luisa and I had gone out to play in the fields trying to annoy the cows, then went around the back of the house and found an opening that took to the hayloft. This was a sort of large mezzanine overlooking the ground floor, and from there we could see our parents without being seen. We silently climbed on the pile of hay – something in reality I couldn’t have done, since as a child I was suffering badly from hay fever! – and slowly peeled each other’s clothes off and started eating and exploring each other’s bodies, rolling in the hay and getting knotted together in the oddest positions. I remember her radiant face and the amost manic force with which she clung to me. Then the parents called us for dinner and we had to quickly get dressed and go down. Our parents thought we looked very funny, all flustered and with hay in our hair and clothes.

The meetings at the market stopped, we rarely saw each other anymore, and when we did it was just a timid hello.
Years went by, my mum would occasionally tell me about rumors she had heard, reporting that Luisa had had mental problems, then in later years she ended up in a mental hospital as a consequence of heavy drugs use.
At 19 I left home and went to live far away, but whenever I went back to visit my parents my mum would give me the latest news about Luisa, among the various bits of news, rumors and gossips about the local people I knew. There were some rather dramatic episodes, like when Luisa tried to strangle her mother and throw her out of the balcony.
Over the years, during some of these visits back home, I met her by pure chance a few times in the street. We never spoke but always recognised each other with a smile that was beyond words.
The last time I saw her we must have been 35, she looked extremely sad, she was very skinny and her golden curls had turned into long straight cestnut strands, her smile had a bitter slant, but for me she was still the beautiful creature that had made me fall in love for the first time in my life, perhaps made even more attractive by the signs of suffering.

To this day I can’t explain to myself why I never spoke to her as an adult, never stopped her when our paths crossed to tell her that no matter what, she was important and unforgettable for me.

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