Behind Closed Doors

Portrait of Anne Bronte (Thornton, 1820 – Scarborough, 1849), Emily Bronte (Thornton, 1818 – Haworth, 1848) and Charlotte Bronte (Thornton, 1816 – Haworth, 1855) Oil on canvas by Patrick Branwell Bronte (1817-1848), caa 1834, 90.2 x74.6 cm.

When at the beginning of the past century more occupations were opened to middle class women, marriage ceased to be their only means of emancipation. They become free to choose the man they wanted, free to get a more specific education that could provide them with a career, free to live the life they wanted and be the architects of their fate. The dawn of a new era.

Yet, if we go back to Regency or Victorian times the word emancipation for a woman could only but coincide with one event in the life of a girl: the catching of a husband. On this purpose girls were taught to be “accomplished”, that is the learning of all those talents like singing, drawing, dancing which were useful to be noticed and appreciated in society, but useless outside those circles. Since a woman dreamed to break free from family ties as soon as possible, there was often no time to wait for a Prince Charming to be met in one ball or another, so if a good offer came, well, it couldn’t but be accepted. 27 years old, still unmarried Charlotte Lucas’ s concern to become a “burden for her family“, meant, above all, her fear to be exposed, unprotected, alone without the presence of a man beside her, that is why she promptly grabs what she believes to be her last opportunity to marry, which comes in the shape of Mr Collins. Odious Mr Collins represents her independence and she is happy with it.

Of course, we cannot know what happened behind closed doors once married: were these women satisfied with their new position of mistresses of house? Is that the life they expected? Did they feel really liberated once left their native homes? If we peruse the gallery of female characters drawn by the three Brontë sisters, we may find some interesting answers to our questions. In Wuthering Heights, just to start with, Emily Brontë ‘s heroine, Catherine Earnshaws, marries for money. She accepts the proposal of a very good man, Edgar Linton, the best catch in the neighbourhood, who offers her wealth, station, his heart. Nonetheless the charming lot won’t be enough to secure their happiness. Catherine’s obsessive love for Heathcliff will make her feel entrapped in a match she has learnt to loathe, till torn between duties and unfulilled desires, she dies. Catherine is actuallly overwhelmed by the weight of Victorian code of behaviour and morality. She is not strong enough to ignore what society required and accept the man she loves, Heathcliff, as her companion, because he is too far beneath her station. She cannot be blamed for that.

Helen Huntingdon, Anne Brontë’s protagonist of the “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”, marries for love, but once the first intoxication of the mind and senses vanishes, what remains is the naked truth made of abuse and fear. She will suffer abuse and mistreatment from her husband Arthur, a libertine and lover of London social life, but since she cannot accept it and she convinces herself that she can redeem him – huge common mistake – that is why she closes herself in a marriage in which she is first tyrannized and then abandoned and betrayed, even forced to suffer the presence of Arthur’s lovers at home. Only when she realizes that Arthur is turning her son against her by educating him to alcohol and gratuitous violence, she decides to leave the marital home going against all moral and social laws. This is precisely the crucial point of Ann Brontë’s work. She focuses on the problems of the Victorian era: from the custody of children to the theme of divorce. Anne fits perfectly into that group of dissident intellectuals of the Victorian era who rebel against the hypocrisy of the upper classes and the enslavement of bourgeois respectability.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s heroine, marries for love, compassion, as her free choice. It is the most unlikely of the three plots considering the times. Rude, liar, seductive, rich, Mr Rochester offers his love and hand to Jane, a poor governess, omitting to say that he is still married to a woman, Bertha Mason, he keeps secluded in a room. He has got his reasons, of course, she is mad and dangerous. He also claims his right to happiness and in a way, being Jane’s social and economic superior, he thinks he is allowed to behave so. But Jane will accept to marry him only when she feels herself his equal, and of course, after the most important obstacle between them will be removed, that is, his wife, who will die eventually.  Rochester, who will be blinded by the fire, which will destroy his manor house at the end of the novel, becomes weaker while Jane grows in strength and confidence, after having inherited from an uncle, found real connections and even another suitor at hand. She is free to marry a man who loves and  whose faults are no mystery to her, thus contradicting one of Charlotte Lucas’s pearls of wisdom:

“‘ . . . it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.’

(Pride and Prejudice)

Jane wanted no surprises. At least no more.

 

Quarantined


I have always been convinced the re-opening of schools to be merely an ideological issue; now more than even. After fruitless months spent discussing about the employment of one-seater desks with wheels or the right safe distances between students or teachers, which were shortened day after day to stuff them all in “safety” in the classrooms, we have found ourselves in the front line unprotected, unprepared and even without the famous wheeled one-seater desks, which have now been confined to mere urban legend, as we have never seen one of them in flesh and blood.

Of course, the show had to go on, and it did, backed by the propagandistic ministerial cry of war : “schools are safe“. I often wonder, how vital it is to hold important offices nowadays, to be a good story teller rather than displaying skill and training.They are mostly pretenders and liars, who have the nerve to charm that majority of dummies who wish to be lulled by a nice story with a happy end.

Yet, it is hard to keep telling the same fairy tale when the witch, who was believed dead or almost dead is back in the saddle, as after only a couple of weeks from the reopening of schools the figures about Covid-19 transmission started to increase rapidly. So, if the Minister of Education wanted to keep her point, it was crucial to find somebody else to blame – this is rule number one for a good, shrewd politician – so the fault fell on the Minister of Transports. Hence, the story was thus upgraded: “schools are safe, but transports are not. Covid transmission happens on buses and trains because distances are not respected, while we do respect them in schools“.

As a consequence of these remarks, endless tv squabbles followed, but the theme actually sounded more like the chicken and the egg debate. Those who might get infected on buses and trains, then come to school, in fact. Once in, we provide them with masks, which are readily thrown away as soon as they cross the school gate, but even if we invite our students to sanitize their hands and be seated, they are not statues and naturally break the rules as soon as you turn your back or you realize that those at home need to ask a question or have lost their connections. I cannot watch them all. Hence, despite everybody’s good will and efforts, it is impossible to guarantee that the virus is not transmitted in schools, but quite the opposite.

Indeed, I have to say that since our first school day, the feeling of being exposed to the virus has became so palpable, that we have all felt the urgent need to take more precautions than the protocols suggested. Despite all our efforts, pretty soon some of my colleagues started to go missing one after the other, only to discover afterwards that they had been quarantined along with their classes.The net was closing on me, I could feel it. “Only one will remain” I used to say jokingly to a colleague of mine, quoting Highlander, but unfortunately I could not boast to be the last one to survive, as yesterday after a long, brave battle I fell and was quarantined, as one of my students was found positive to his first Covid test. I’ll be back to work in a couple of weeks, ready to be quarantined again as soon as I bump into another positive case or get infected myself.

Since this situation was easily predictable, I cannot help but wonder why we haven’t been able to take the appropriate measures in six months. The school is open, the Minister claims it as her success, but she pretends not to realize that in the classrooms and along the aisles education cannot be found anywhere. Why we haven’t treasured on-line learning  experience, especially for high schools and universities, and invested in technology, bandwidth, for instance, rather than disclaiming it entirely, truly I cannot say. The only answer I can give is that keeping the on-line learning option would have meant admitting that the pandemic was not over and the return to normal was not imminent, and god knows what could happen when a country is not told a good fairy tale before going to sleep.

 

Cassandra

Cassandra was the most beautiful of the daughters of Hecuba and Priam, the Queen and  King of Troy. She was so beautiful that even Apollo, notorious womanizer among the gods, was infatuated with her. One  day, while she was slumbering in the temple, Apollo silently approached her, as he had in mind to win the girl’s love. When she woke up and heard the handsome god professing his passion, she was pleasantly flattered. He courted her gently and  promised to give her a most precious gift that would have sealed their love: she would have been able to see the future, but, there is always a but, only if she consented to lie with him.

Cassandra was intrigued at first, it was a generous gift indeed, but, after accepting the offer, she started to have doubts and changed her mind. It happens, even to charming gods. So angry Apollo, who was not used to being jilted, seeked his revenge. He kept acting the meek sad rejected lamb for a while and implored her to give him a single kiss that he could remember forever. The girl accepted and while she made the move to reach Apollo’s lips, the God spat in her mouth. A gesture of utter contempt. With that act Apollo had nullified his own gift condemning her not to be believed.

From that moment on, Cassandra will start to see the future and, as any human being, will not be able to resist or refrain from telling others what she knew, or to alert those who were going have losses or mischances, hence as prophetess of misfortunes and nefarious events, she was avoided and marginalized, for fear, or the illusion of her being able to change events.

Apollo could have condemned Cassandra to mere silence, but he did not. He gave her the faculty to perceive more than normal, keeping the use of the word, and also remaining aware of the fact that others could listen to her but would choose not to believe her words, indeed, they would consider her crazy and delusional for her insistence, especially when she warned them of immense dangers. She will cry out the negative outcomes of Helen’s kidnapping, in fact, and will try to stop the Trojans from dragging the wooden horse into the city, warning them that it would be the cause of their ruin; but she will always remain unheard.

If we want to give a further interpretation to the myth, we may add that Cassandra’s faculty does not only consist in seeing the future but rather, understanding its signs, or better, she sees the future, because she understands them. In a sense Apollo had made her wise, wiser than anybody else, that is the meaning of his gift. After all isn’t it the destiny of the wise, of those who know how to see far and beyond, of those who are able to decipher the omens and may know how to anticipate them to end up unheard?

The consequence of the scrutiny of future should lead to the rise of a great deal of questions in order to find the best solutions to incoming problems, even if they seem inconvenient at first glance. For example, when Priam sees the horse, he doesn’t wonder why he should receive such a gift in a middle of a war, and why the Spartans had retreated in such a hurry. Why? Wisdom would have suggested him to be careful, but he is not. Worn out by an exhausting war, he chooses to believe in the final peace and ignore Cassandra’s words, and, as he wishes to return to normal life, he accepts the Spartans’ gift and allows the huge horse to be dragged inside the city wall and their disgrace of his people with it.

Hence, we may say that Cassandra’s curse lies above all in her not being able to communicate and interact, thus her efforts remain arid, unproductive and sterile. A double torture for those who profess and need to communicate and interact with each other: being aware of speaking while remaining unheard. Communicating is as important as listening and communication is truly constructive, if made of real listening, because communication is something more than the mere reception of an observation, it is an emotional feedback that changes us, excites us, makes us think and reason in order to modify and improve our system.

In this sense our age, which has glorified communication through medias, has turned out to be the less communicative at all, as we all speak and write a lot, but nobody or just a few takes the trouble to listen. Everybody has a truth, which cannot be even dented. Therefore, those who are entitled to “read the signs” and take us out of troubles, like in this outbreak, remain often unheard or offended. So, even if we see the clouds approaching, we still prefer to turn our back to modern Cassandras and look at that little portion of the sky where the sun still shines, without realizing that we are just dragging the Trojan horse in.

 

 

 

 

.

 

.

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Sense of Freedom

You cannot imagine our surprise when a couple of weeks ago, we Italians were complimented by WHO for our approach to stem Covid-19 outbreak. It was, you know, something between being pleased and amazed at the same time, as we are not used to such kind of praises, expecially when the efficiency of our organizational model is the subject of the matter.

Our surprise turned into a shock, when we read that English Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that his country had a worse COVID-19 rate than Italy and Germany because it is a “freedom-loving country.” Freedom, this is the point. What kind freedom was he taking about? If he meant the freedom of ignoring rules, from a historical point of view we are the champions, as we may say that Italy has mostly behaved since the fall of the Roman empire as the Becky Sharp of the continent, always striving to earn a place in good European society anyhow. Or maybe he was hinting at the bloody dictatorships of the previous century, which have made obedience part of our cultural heritage. By the ways, we follow rules? Please, Sir. You must be joking.

We Italians also love freedom, but we also care about seriousness,” was the patriotic reply of our President Mattarella. Maybe he is right, after all, it has always been national sport to underestimate our “virtues”. It comes so natural. Indeed, if you asked me how we actually managed so well in this Covid matter, my first answer would be luck rather than wisdom or seriousness. Yet, I can say by daily experience that the majority of the Italians now are no longer willing to keep up with their “virtuous” behaviour, as it has recently become for many an umbearable burden, like a heavy chain that must be broken to be released from the actual state of servitute, they say. Becky Sharp wants to be free again.

Day by day I see more and more people, friends, collegues contaminated by the new “liberty denied virus”.  They don’t see themselves as negationists, of course, but rather, “libertatis vindices“, for whom social distancing is one of the ways the state controls citizens and masks are like burqas. Others claim news should break in a less scary way, softly, so that we are not afraid to go restaurants, bars, theatres etc.,  as the economy the country, rather than people’s health, has to be preserved. Of course, those who follow the rules like me are the slaves, born to be so.

Well, my dear fellows, friends, collegues, it is about time to say that your strife for all those lost liberties due to the pandemic is not guided by the love for freedom, but rather, ignorance. I don’t need a law decree to do what is right for me and the people I interact with, because of that “moral law within me”. I am free. But you are not. Since you cannot discern between what is necessary and what is not, you need somebody to take decisions for you, which, of course, are childishly interpreted as liberties denied.

So while you keep complaining, I keep the distance, wash my hands and wear my mask, which is the symbol of my free choice to stay safe as long as I can and my detachement from the rest of this foolish world, whose inhabitants look like Yahoos to me day after day.

I began last week to permit my wife to sit at dinner with me, at the farthest end of a long table; and to answer (but with the utmost brevity) the few questions I asked her. Yet, the smell of a Yahoo continuing very offensive, I always keep my nose well stopped with rue, lavender, or tobacco leaves. And, although it be hard for a man late in life to re-move old habits, I am not altogether out of hopes, in some time, to suffer a neighbour Yahoo in my company, without the apprehensions I am yet under of his teeth or his claws.(Gulliver’s Travels. Jonathan Swift)😏

 

 

The Final Act

There was one Act more to be written to complete my midsummer tragicomedy, the final one, but I had to see things clearly before giving it a proper end and, amid the maze of distress of these first weeks, “clearly” was not a word I could use to describe any of my actions, which have been mostly fretful, clumsy, confused, accidental. But now, I can say I see all the pieces of the puzzle, particularly after a conference call, which has been vastly illuminating. Clouds are now gone. It was held by an eminent ex magistrate who is charge of safety rules in our school (RSPP) and the exciting theme was: “culpa in vigilando” . The usage of Latin suggested that it couldn’t but be a very serious subject. Latin is the language of law, after all.

Act V
RSPP😒 : “As responsible of the protection and prevention service of your school, I am obliged to elucidate some points of the recent dispositions in matter of Covid -19, as from your behaviors, it doesn’t seem to me you are fully aware of your duties, despite the short vademecum of 97 pages of guidelines I gave you to read and memorize”.

One teacher😤: ” 97 pages cannot be considered actually short, it was almost the length of my university dissertation and with no pictures too. I guess a list of rules of one or two pages would have been more likely to be followed”.

RSPP 😑(calmly):”Ignorance is not admitted by the law. You are teachers, after all. What are 97 pages for you?

The same teacher😤: ” A lot, considering the load of things we have to do these days”.

RSPP:😑:” By the ways, you must be aware of the repercussions of your actions, and that’s why we are here. First of all, you MUST bear in mind that the Covid, according to article 42 of the decree-law 18/2020, is equated in all respects to an accident at workplace.”

Teachers (in religious silence) 😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

RSPP 😏(smiling): “I see I have caught your attention. So, being principals in all respects your EMPLOYERS as stated by D.M. n.292/1996 (general startle) , they are responsible of the safety and health in the workplace as specified by the legislative decree n. 81/2008. This is the reason of the 97 page guidelines. If principals fail in risk assessing they may be charged of “culpa in organizzando” according to art.2043 of the Civil Code, but if YOU don’t observe those rules you may charged of “culpa in vigilando”,art. 2048/51 of the Civil Code (pauses).

Teachers (still in religious silence) 😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

RSPP 😑(clears his throat): “Let’s be more clear: if a student falls ill with Covid in your school, he is considered as a WORKPLACE VICTIM and if it is demonstrated that it happened because of YOUR negligence, you’ll have to pay the consequences”

Teachers (in unison) “Us”?😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

RSPP 😑(sternly): “Yes, you. So, we’d better recap the main rules. First, you MUST wear your masks. When the students arrive they will receive new masks to be worn”.

One teacher😒 (sarcastically): “This is ridiculous. Students are all assembled outside school in the morning and don’t wear masks, their parents don’t wear masks when they drive them here and at the end of the day they are assembled once again with no masks;  they quickly take them off, as soon as they walk through the school gate. But if one of them gets ill, I might be blamed. Excellent”.

RSPP😏(with visible satisfaction): “I may agree with you, but this is the law and we are not here to discuss the law. Once the students are in classroom, they must sit where indicated, and they can take off their masks, but you must always control they are seated properly”.

Teachers ( in the Meet chat, as he doesn’t want to be interrupted):” What do you mean by “seated” properly?”😳😳

RSPP 😒(a little annoyed):  “They must keep the upright position and cannot turn, otherwise, they must wear the mask. If you walk along the class, they must put on their masks as you pass by,  if you call one of them to the blackboard, you and those sitting in the first row must put on your masks”.

Teacher (in the Meet chat): “If I have understood well, while one student is at the blackboard, I should control that the others are seated still, like statues?😳

RSPP😑: “Yes”

Same teacher😤 (mike on) :” Do you think it possible? So, any time Jacopo X., for example who has never been still in five years and in his entire life, I suppose, turns his head and, heaven forbid, gets ill, it is my fault, is it correct?

RSPP 😏(visibly satisfied): ” Exactly”. “And you MUST not forget to write on your register those who ask to go the bathroom and those who, for any reason, walk into the classroom, pricipal included.

Another Teacher 😤(takes the floor): ” Excuse me, but that would be hard to follow, if we were all in class, but it is not so. You should not forget that we have also other students on-line to follow. Students who have their needs, often connection problems. How can I guarantee, that Jacopo, as to mention one, does not turn, while somebody at home requires my attention or walks in? How can I demonstrate, I haven’t been neglectful?

RSPP😑: “This is the law. I cannot add anything more”.

Another Teacher😤 (takes the floor): “Let’s recap. Every day I welcome my students and check they have their masks on, once seated  with one eye I control they are still, while with the other I try to connect with the students at home, if everything goes right, if…….,  I make the roll call, always making sure they are still and I have to record any movement in the class. Considering that those at home are allowed to disconnect fifteen minutes before the end of the lesson, when am I allowed to teach, actually? What am I supposed to do exactly? The guardian? The babysitter? This is madness”.

RSPP😏 (nonchalantly): “And, you MUST not forget to sanitize the desk, the chair and the computer you have used. You’ll be alble to find the products in the drawer “.

Teachers (speechless) 😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶😶

Teacher 😂(writes a comment on WhatsApp chat):” How often have I told you, that one day we would have eneded up cleaning the rooms and the toilets of the school? Well, that moment has come!”😭

Learning exeunt.

 

 

 

 

An Ordinary Day

I’m no technician, this is for sure, and I have never had the smallest inclination for plugs and wires; as far as I am concerned what happens before pushing the power botton is a mystery.

So the morning of September 15 at 8:00 a.m., when I stepped into my class, ready to tackle for the first time the abyss of what is here called “integrated didactic”, that is the new emergency educational strategy to “safely” re-open school with half class at school, while the other one is connected at home, you may imagine my distress, when I saw that there was no computer connected on my desk, but only a key hanging from the locker as to hint:”do it yourself“. 

Myself? Oh, my! With no Mr Run around, I am lost in these matters, plus I had to solve the problem quickly, as the students would have arrived in few minutes. I opened the locker and I found a tangled maze of wires, a sort of nest where the computer cozily rested. I stood there, watching that puzzle from a while, when I heard a boy say : “Hi Teach, do you want me to help you?” But for the distancing rules, I would have hugged him with gratitude: “Yes, please! ” And he quickly set to work, as I tried to memorize exactly what he was doing, because I had a feeling I would have had to reproduce those movements again and again. Fortunately, he ended right before his mates came in, and so it started that first nightmarish schoolday, a sort of madness that has become my daily routine.

Once the connection was established with those at home and after having done the call roll, I welcomed them all with the usual words (It was 8:15):

Me 😄:Good morning everybody, I hope you enjoyed your holidays, despite the restrictions of covid rules……I know this year will he weird, but I am sure………..bla bla bla.

Giuseppe at Home and the others 😩😩😩(waving trying to catch my attention ): “I can’t hear you”!

Me 😐(faking a certain familiarity with the matter using Meet chat): “Giuseppe, you should check your connection and sound options or…….”

Giuseppe at Home (politely ): “Teach, could you please check YOUR mike?”

Me 😳(blushing): “ My mike? Oh, you are right! It is off! (trying to hide my discomfort) 😊Now, can you hear me?

All at Home :“Yeeessssss”

Me 🤗(with a sigh of relief): “Splendid, splendid! So, what a start! Well, we will begin this year with a quick revision of some grammar rules, even to check if what we did during on-line learning did actually work. So let’s start with the usage of the Simple Past. I hope you remember that the Simple Past is used to….. ( taking a piece of chalk and  slowly moving to the blackboard, but with a corner on my eyes I see all the faces on the screen waving again and making indinstict noises. Voices come and go), what is the matter?😩

Students in class (everybody buzzing, while Andrea says) : “I think they can’t hear you”!

Me😤: Again! (to those at home) “Can you hear me?”

Elena at Home😔: “Only if you speak close to the computer’s mike. When you move I can’t hear you. Actually, your voice sounds more like a whisper even when you are closer”.

Me🤔: “All right. What time is it? 8:35 already! Let me think, 🤔what if I use my headphones? (Taking the headphones out of my bag ) This must be the audio jack…so ….where is the audio port? Here. Let’s try……. the pink goes with the pink… 🤔( meanwhile the students in class watch me amused, how they love to see me in trouble, for once). Done, can you hear me ?😕

Students at home: (everybody but one) “Yessss. (Beatrice shakes her head)

Me: “What is the matter Beatrice?”😩

Beatrice: “I can only hear an echo”💁

Me: ” If all the others can hear me, I can’t help you.😒 There must be something wrong with  your computer. Try and read my labial while I speak, I am sorry. What time is it? 8:45! So…….(speaking close to the screen so that Beatrice can see and writing in the Meet chat at the same time). In English there are regular and irregular verbs, to go, for example……oh, wait a minute! What’s going on?😭😭(Beatrice, Roberto, Maria, Sofia are leaving the meeting while the others’ images are still………3….2..1….all disconnected).

Students in class: “They have just written in our chat that they can’t manage to get back in again!”

Me😥: (visibly uneasy) “Tell them😥…tell them😥…..what time is it ? 8:55. Tell them, I’ll write what they have to do on the register” (the bell rings, I leave the classroom fretfully).

Students in class🙋‍♂️🙋🏼 (warmly): ” See you tomorrow Teach!”

Me:😄 “Oh, yes, see you tomorrow !” (maybe they had some doubts about it after such an exploit and definitely they must have felt pity for me. Definitely)

 

 

 

 

Escape

I still remember a question one of my teachers asked us on our first day of high school:
“What’s the use of studying?” “Who can answer this question?”
We were puzzled and stayed silent for a while; nobody actually dared to utter those words of truth but not exactly of wisdom we had in mind, that  is, we had never thought about it, we were there because we had no other choice. He was waiting.  Someone eventually attempted to give some vague answers like : “to have a job“,  “to be better people” etc., but he wasn’t satisfied at all and kept shaking his head. When none of us could come up with fresh ideas, he said with a smile at last: “to escape from prison“. We looked at each other in amazement.

Ignorance is a prison”, he added , “because inside that prison you don’t understand and consequently you don’t know how to act. In these  5 years we have to organize the biggest escape of the century. It won’t be easy. Remember, they want you to be dummies, but if you climb over the wall of ignorance, then you will understand without asking for help and you won’t be deceived easily. You will be free. Who wants to join in?”

This episode came up to my mind when I read that only one adolescent in twenty fully understands a text. And I think of the other 19, who struggle to escape the prison and risk to be sentenced to be ignorant for life. A democratic country must save them, above all because it is right, but also to avoid the greatest risk : weak minds demand “the strong man ” to guide them.

(free adaptation of an article from Corriere della Sera)

A Midsummer Comedy

September 14th: back to school. So close! Too close! Yet, we don’t have a clue about how the new school year will start. Of course, I understand that everything depends on the trend of data and I don’t want to preach about what ought to be done, because I really don’t know and I respect whoever holds such an office as Minister of Education these days, this said, I think it is worth telling what has happened in these two past months, just to get the picture to what degree of confusion and dismay we’ll tackle our going back to work. It may sounds like a comedy but it is more like a tragedy and one act is yet to be written, the most important one.

Act I

The Minister of Education and her advisers have summoned 20 teachers, each as representative of one Italian region, to inform them of her decisions about the start of the new school year.

Minister of Education (smiling with satisfaction 😏): “As we have to keep distanced according to our guidelines, I order that from now on there will be no more crowded classes. 15 students each class top. This is my wish. I am happy to say that this is the dawn of a new era for schooling in Italy.”😑

Teachers (with deference): “Splendid! It was about time! We all rejoice with this resolution Madam, but, if it has been so decided, I am sure you have considered  that at least 200.000 teachers are to be hired plus, doing the Math, we need twice as many classrooms”.

Minister of Education: “How dare you mistrust your Minister, you dummies! Of course, I have thought about the spaces required (haven’t I 🤔?)! There is no need to build new schools: there are cinemas, theatres, B&Bs and much more that can be of use in this emergency. You, for example, you!

Teacher (😳):” Me?”

Minister of Education: “Yes, you? Where do you teach?”

Teacher (😳😥) : Casalpalocco… near Ostia Lido… Rome.

Minister of Education (triumphantly): “You see? You are the perfect example!!

Teacher (😳): “Me?” “How so?”

Minister of Education: “Yes! There are plenty of suitable sites where you work: apart from the splendid beaches, which can be utilised from September to early November and, if the season is fine, from March to June, you have the fortune of being close to the Roman site of Ostia Antica.” 

Teacher (😰):” I wouldn’t call 10 km close, Madam, but even if this were an option, how  could we get there? There are about 1.300 students in my school. Do you mean that 650 of them should be sorted among cinemas, beaches, B&Bs, theatres and Ostia Antica Roman site?”

Minister of Education (smiling): “Clever, isn’t? And after two weeks they will rotate with the other half!!”

Teacher(😤): ” I beg you pardon, but I, for example, teach in 6 different courses, so do you actually mean that in a day I could bounce from school, to the cinema, to the theatre, to the B&B, to the beach and eventually end at Ostia Antica to meet my students? Did I get it right?”

Minister of Education (😡): “Are You telling me, that you don’t wish to help your country and make sacrifices in such desperate times?”

Teacher (😢): “Of course I am not, Madam, but I was wondering, what about December, January and February in my case? And what about those who live in places where they are not so fortunate in sites or weather? Any tips?”

Adviser : (whispering)” May I suggest to take some time and think about new solutions, Madam ?”

Minister of Education ( quite annoyed): “As I see you don’t wish to oblige me, you are all dismissed for now. You will be summoned, you as soon as I can break something new to you.

All teachers exeunt

 Act II

A week has passed and the Minister has summoned another meeting.

Minister of Education: I am proud to announce that in only a week we have found the proper solution. The school year will start and we will be able to satisfy all the safety protocols and the wishes of those who selfishly seem to care only about their needs (glancing  at the teacher who had spoken the week before). I decided to divide each class in two halves and while one half remains in class the other one will follow the lessons at home. Well, what do you have to say now?”

(The teachers confabulate for a while till one takes the floor😟 )Teacher: ” Hem! Splendid! We all rejoice with this resolution Madam, but, if it has been so decided, I am sure you have considered that since the quantities of the data flow uploading will enormously increase with this option, the IT connection of thousands of schools will have to be enhanced, so…..there is a chance that we may not be ready.”

Minister of Education (😤) : ” Again! ” ” Of course, I’ve thought about the general situation of IT connection in schools ( 🤔haven’t I ?), by the way, ( she hesitates), as representatives of the school community, how many of you would be or will be ready by September? 

 6 Teachers (in unison) : ” We would “!

Minister of Education ( 😳) :” Six!!” ” Six out of twenty?” ” And what do the others have to say ?”

Teacher (😟): “I am glad to hear that some of my collegues may boast such effective connections, in my case I can only say that despite our numerous requests, we have received no funds yet, we have also been waiting for the making of 10 classrooms for three years, but still in vain”,

Minister of Education (very annoyed). “Who is speaking?” ” Ah, it is still you from Ostia Antica,…..”

Teacher (😩) “Casalpalocco”

Minister of Education : “Whatever”!😡

Adviser ( whispering): ” As you can see Madam, those who declare to be ready come mostly from the North of the country. Large investiments will be required for the South in particular and, if I may (passes a letter), a note has just arrived: the State Council has given an adverse opinion about the matter. May I suggest to take some more time and think about new solutions, Madam?”

Minister of Education (muttering): ” It seems the the State Council has nothing to do but meddling with school matters these days”. (to the teachers): ” You are all dismissed for now. You will be summoned, you as soon as I can break something new to you.

All teachers exeunt

Act III

It is almost the end of July and the Minister has just summoned another meeting.

Minister of Education (visibly satisfied)😃: “ I am very proud to annouce that we have reached a final and definite plan. As one meter distance has to be guaranteed, I have disposed to buy one and a half million brand new one-seater desks with wheels (general startle😳😳😳), which will replace those old two-seater desks at the cost of 325 Euros each. Hence, never say again that this Ministry doesn’t invest on education. We do. I do”

(The teachers confabulate in agitation, till one takes the floor😟 )Teacher: ” Hem! Splendid! We all rejoice with this resolution Madam, but, if it has been so decided, I am sure you have considered that those desks are quite….. cramped. We are all aware these kind of desks are largely used in other countries, but they have different systems of education, they use tablets and test through multiple choice. We don’t. We still have books and use dictionaries to translate from Latin or Greek and to write compositions, let alone the wheels………”

Minister of Education (now infuriated, interrupts the teacher 😡). “I have had Enough!” “The point is that you live in the Middle Age, YOU are the Middle Age. You don’t want to update you teaching methods, you have made a crusade agaist the use of technology and on-line learning, you despise any novelty! It’s about time you renew your strategies and make them more suitable for the new generations. The mind of our students is not a funnel to be filled but a fire to be lit”😑

Teachers (all together😕😳): ” A funnel !” “You mean, a vase!”

Minister of Education (out of her senses 😡😡) : ” You have not come here to impart ME a lesson!” “If I said a funnel, it is a funnel!” “Check Wikipedia and you’ll see” (somebody laughs😆 ). “Who dares? I am sure, it is always you from Ostia Antica!”

Teacher : “But, I didn’t say a word!” 🤐”By the ways, Casalpalocco”.

Minister of Education (shouting): ” Whatever!”😡

(A teacher attempts to say something after a few minutes of silence) Teacher (gently): “It is not a bad idea after all, Madam, the wheels…..a more lively ….. why not? But, may we ask to be informed if the desks can be sent by September 14th, so that we may arrange things in our schools?

Minister of Education (to her advisors): “What do you answer to this?”

Advisor (clumsily🙄) : “They will arrive, of course, in due time”.

Teachers : “And when is it ?”

Advisor (whispering to the Minister) : ” May I suggest to take some more time so that we may check this matter about the desks, Madam?”

Minister of Education (to her advisor😩) :” I can’t believe it, we don’t know when they are ready!” (addressing the teachers) “You are all dismissed for now. I’ll call you as soon as I can break something new to you”.

All teachers exeunt

Act IV (a short one)

It is August and the Minister has summoned another meeting.

Minister of Education: ” You will all wear masks at school”. “That is all”.😑

All teachers exeunt 😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳😳

Act V

September……….💪💪💪

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cogito Ergo Sum

I was wrong. Unfortunately. In a previous post, in a moment, I can’t say, either of mental weakness or optimistic trust in human nature, I boldly stated that the experience of disasters, like Covid-19 outbreak, might boost social changes, as communities naturally come together in order to help one another. In short, the worse the situation is, the better people become. Of course, somebody commented that it was more likely to be exactly the other way round, namely, people would have much more easily given way to their evil instincts, like in Saramago’s “On Blindness”, in such circumstances, but nobody even remotely imagined that Covid-19 disaster would have actually turned people neither better nor worse, but rather, more stupid, and without even being infected.

Jonathan Swift had always been convinced that human reason was overrated, parlicularly by those among his contemporaries who boasted to be living in the age of  Enlightement. Of course, he couldn’t deny that men were somehow endowed with reason, but his focus was actually on how they used it, so he made his “Gulliver’s Travels” be the perfect place where to pour his thoughts, which can be summed as follows: whether men are dwarfs or giants, cultivated or Yahoos, in whatever latitude and longitude they have organized their more or less advanced societies, the great majority of them lack in one important constituent: wisdom. That is because the force of men’s instinct, their greed for power, their drives are too strong to be effectively and constantly controlled by reason alone:

My little Friend Grildrig. . . . I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth. (Gulliver’s Travels. Part II, Chpt VI)

These are the words of a misanthrope, and indeed he has been considered so, but was his vision of man truly so deformed or is there some truth in it? I’m sure, if he could comment our present situation he would say: “Told you!!”  After of 8 months of Covid-19 outbreak we can affirm that little is known about the virus, nothing about future outcomes, no vaccine and only a few certainties: the importance of wearing masks, keeping ourselves distanced and washing our hands, which is exactly what was recommended one hunded years ago for the Spanish flu. These recommendations are the product of reason and science, even if, I must say,  there haven’t been significant developments since 1918/19. Hence, if wisdom were at work, we’d follow what advised by virologists and look forward for a vaccine as soon as possible, wouldn’t we?

But it is not. It seems incredible, at least to me, but thousands of people prefer to believe that wearing masks causes cancer and that this pandemic is just a strategy to control everybody keeping them distanced and at home and that, of course, all this goes against their acquired freedoms and rights of doing …what they want, let alone those who are firmly no vaccine, any vaccine. Even if there is evindence that lockdowns have worked to control the spreading of the outbreak, they would be ready to confute those figures as fake, or that covid does not exist, hence, claiming that our rights are at stake. Why does this happen? I don’t know. I can only say that believing, after all, is effortless. You believe in who/what charms you or sounds convincing – many are ready to believe that the earth is flat too – but proving needs undestanding, hard work, knowledge, wisdom and this is still for a minority.

Of course, with the coming of summer, it has been impossible to deny anybody one last unquestionable right: the right of vacation. After all we have gone through, I guess, it would have been wiser to restrain this impulse for a while, since the virus is still circulating, but no way, the dream of vacation has been stronger than the primordial survival instinct and millions of people have started to move around Europe. Of course, you don’t go on holiday to be distanced and wearing masks, you want to enjoy a full life made of fun, restaurants, beautiful spots, discos and I may understand it. The result is that after having been able to control this outbreak quite well eventually, people are coming back infected and cases are increasing exponentially. Of course, according to a negationist logic there are obscure forces at work that want a new lockdown. “Cogito ergo sum…..” an idiot.

Riccardino

It was 1994 when Camilleri’s “The Shape of Water” was published. It was the first episode of Inspector Montalbano’s saga, which, after more than 25 years, is about to end. Truly the end of an era. In fact, exactly a year after Camilleri’s death, his last work “Riccardino” will be released just tomorrow. We, Montalbano’s fans, cannot be but absolutely thrilled to discover what kind of finale Maestro Camilleri imagined for his hero. Being very close to retirement, as we ave read in the last books, will he eventually leave his beloved Vigata to join Livia, his perpetual fiancèe,  in Boccadasse? Will he die in one of his missions?

I am pretty confident that Camilleri found a way to close the curtains without being predictitable. In fact, it was 2005 when Camilleri delivered the draft of “Riccardino” to Elvira Sellerio, his publisher, but with the promise to release it in an unspecified tomorrow. In 2016, after eleven years and 15 books, Camilleri returned to those pages because he needed to “fix” the language adapting it to the times. Nothing changed in the plot and not even in the title which remained identical. In fact, differently from the essential and evocative titles of the other books like “the Shape of Water” to “The Snack Thief”, Camilleri with “Riccardino” wanted to mark an end. A definite one.

As Camilleri recounted in an old interview, at one point of his life he had to tackle with the problem of the “seriality” of his novels. A problem that many noir writers have and that he had decided to solve by making Montalbano age, thus dealing with all the changes that this would have entailed and the times that he would have lived. But it was not enough, as there was also a superstition issue, he explained. His two friends, crime writers too, JeanClaude Izzo and Manuel Vázquez Montálban, who wanted to get rid of their characters, had died before them in the end. So “I came up with another idea“:

“I wrote the end ten years ago – the writer revealed surprisingly – I found the solution I liked and I wrote it straight away, you never know if Alzheimer then comes. Therefore,  fearing Alzheimer I preferred to immediately write the ending. The thing that makes me smile most is when I hear that the manuscript is kept in the publisher’s safe … It is simply kept in a drawer.”

He then added:

“Montalbano will end, when I end, only then the last book will come out. What I can say is that it is not so fiction , but rather metafiction where the Inspector talks to me and also to the other Montalbano, the TV one. »

When he was asked if he had planned to make Montalbano die in a shooting, he just said:

“Nothing like this will happen . Montalbano will not die. No autopsy. … He will go away, he will disappear but without dying.”

With these words we have a sample Maestro Camilleri’s craft in creating interest and suspance, as he mocks us pretending to spoil his finale providing his readers with some anticipations, but he is not. Montalbano will disappear without dying, where to? What does he mean? And, if he disappears, isn’t it like dying, after all? So, a day before being released, Riccardino is a hit already. I can imagine Camilleri sneer with satisfaction, while he is lighting one last cigarette.

Il telefono sonò che era appena appena arrinisciuto a pigliari sonno, o almeno accussì gli parse. ‘Riccardino sono’, disse una voce squillante e festevole, per dargli appuntamento al bar Aurora. Ma Montalbano non conosceva nessuno con quel nome… Un’ora dopo, la telefonata di Catarella: avevano sparato a un uomo, Fazio lo stava cercando. Inutilmente il commissario cercò di affidare l’indagine a Mimì Augello, perché gli anni principiavano a pesargli; aveva perso il piacere indescrivibile della caccia solitaria, insomma da qualichi tempo gli fagliava la gana, si era stuffato di aviri a chiffari coi cretini. Si precipitò sul posto, e scoprì che il morto era proprio Riccardino”. (Riccardino. Chpt. 1)