The Prophecy of Rapanui

 

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ea1When the first Polynesian settlers arrived in Easter Island  with their large canoes more than a thousand years ago, they found a luxuriant, heaven like land covered with palm trees.The place was actually less hospitable than it seemed. The island was volcanic in origin, but its three volcanoes were dormant. Both temperatures and humidity were high and the only fresh water available was from the lakes inside the extinct volcanoes. Only a few species of plants and animals inhabited the land: there were no mammals, only few insects and two types of small lizards. Furthermore, as the waters that surrounded the island weren’t very fishy, the first inhabitants had to learn to live basically mainly on sweet potatoes and chickens.

ea6The islanders heavily depended on its native plants: giant palms, toronimo trees and basswood (hau).The woods from the giant palm trees were used for shelters and in particular for big canoes which enabled the settlers to fish in richer waters and catch dolphins. The basswood was used as fuel to cook or to keep warm and its fibers were used to make ropes or fishing nets. However, the forests were slowly cleared to improve farming and grow sweet potatoes. All this brought to a rapid increase in population (more than 15.000 inhabitants), but as the island was very small, its natural resources declined rapidly.

ea2Instead of taking measures of life sustainably, the clan leaders started to build large stone platforms, known as Ahu, which were used as burials, ancestor worships and to commemorate past clan chiefs. The majority of these constructions were built near the coast, around the island’s perimeter. One day they stated to erect huge monolithic stone statues (Moai) on these platforms, which took up immense amounts of  labour. Almost all the Moai have overly large heads three-eighths the size of the whole statue, which seemed to represent their deified ancestors. More than the carving, the greatest problem was the transport of the massive statues from the quarry to the Ahu and as they lack any draught animals, they had to rely on the effort of men who could only drag the statues across the island using tree trunks as wheels.

ea7The enigmatic faces of the Moai rapidly spread all over the island and they were always more and more enormous, in fact the bigger was the statue the stronger was supposed to be the clan which had made it, therefore a never-ending, competition among clans started; a devastating contest which required amazing quantities of timber. By 1600 as the island was almost completely deforested, the statue erection had to be stopped leaving many of them stranded and incompleted at the quarry. But, when did they exactly stop? When it was too late.

ea5The shortage of trees had already made people stop building houses from timber and find shelter in caves. Canoes couldn’t be built any longer, so it was now impossible to go fishing or even abandon the island. It had also become impossible to make nets for fishing. Furthemore the early deforestation had brought the island to a rapid desertification.The only source of food on the island was the chickens which became precious and primary object of theft. The lack of proteins available brought to cannibalism.The islanders were now trapped in their insane world and they  couldn’t escape the consequences of their self-inflicted, environmental collapse.

ea8Moreover the drop of the resources resulted in a state of almost permanent warfare. One of the main aims of warfare was to destroy the Ahu of opposing clans, therefore only a few burial places remained and many of the magnificent stone statues – which had cost so much – were pulled down. Only few remained standing.When the Dutch Admiral Roggeveen visited Rapa Nui on Easter Sunday 1722, the island had now become a barren wasteland, whose 3,000 inhabitants lived in a primitive state in squalid reed huts or caves, had resorted to cannibalism in order to escape famine and were still engaged in perpetual warfare.

 

The question is, how can it be that they didn’t realize what they were doing to their environment? Why didn’t they stop in time? Or better, will we be able to stop in time?

The parable of the iguana

ig2I’m a shopaholic. I’ve learnt I suffered from this disease, when I read the whole Kinsella’s saga about shopping. Whoever thinks it is all about the love for fashion, he may prove wrong, as it’s about the thrill. The thrill of finding and owing the perfect thing, which matches wonderfully with the perfect outfit, shoes or bags. It is the thrill. And for that emotion we lie first of all to ourselves and to the people we interact daily, saying that we do need it, that we cannot do without it and, of course, it will be just the last time. I will not be so. The psychological traits of Becky, Sophie Kinsella’s heroine, may seem absurd and comic at the same time, but they are actually real, so real that when my mother read “I Love Shopping”, she commented reproachfully :” it seems she knows you”

ig4However, in the opulent western societies the word “need” is not exactly what it meant years ago, as the powerful messages and stereotypes, we are bombarded with through medias every day, confound us in such a degree, that we find hard to distinguish the difference between what we want and what we need. Do I really need that brand new pair of shoes, the 85th pair in fact, or do I want it? Can I truly live well without the last technical gadget? Do I really need it? We slowly become addicted to that intense but short emotion of possessing the thing of our dreams and as soon as that moment of pleasure and satisfaction burns out, we need to replace it quickly with another one even stronger that might fill the emptied space of our soul and on, and on, and on. Till nothing will satisfy us. Just like the iguana.

ig1Which iguana? I guess you would say, if you ventured to read this post this far. Well, few years ago I made a fantastic trip down to Costa Rica. We drove along the Pacific coast, till we reached the most renowned national park of the country: Manuel Antonio. The scenery was breath-taking: tropical white sandy beaches surrounded by a luxuriant, wild nature. We decided to explore it all in the quest of the most beautiful beach. It was August, and after an hour of walk under the heat of the sun of those latitudes, we were so sweaty and worn out that we decided to stop. The nearest beach was named “Puerto Escondido”, well, it wasn’t actually the most dazzling one we had seen, furthermore, the sea bank was mostly inhabited by hundreds of huge colorful crabs and iguanas. However, we were too tired that we resolved upon stopping anyway. All the crabs instantly disappeared in the sand, leaving large holes in the shore, but the iguanas didn’t move and stood there not at all intimidated by our presence.

ig5After a refreshing swim, we lay down on the beach to rest and sunbathe. The iguanas had kept on observing us motionless like greenish prehistoric statues, till I decided it was high time to fraternize with the hosts of that secluded place using the language of food. As I had some Pringles with me, I approached the nearest iguana and I handed delicately one crisp. After some long seconds of immobility, the inanimate creature attempted a move, craned its neck, smelt the Pringle and gave a small bite. It was a great success. The iguana devoured the first, the second, the third crisp and seemed to be wanting for more. I was so proud of my experiment till a French tourist, who had seen the whole scene, came by and told me, well….he actually lectured me, that iguanas are vegetarian, that they are not used to salt and that with my “feat” I was destroying their sense of taste. Once tried those strong artificial flavors, they wouldn’t have gone back any longer to their usual, now tasteless, food. I learned the lesson and I kept on thinking about those words. We are the iguanas of a society that feeds us with artificial emotions, thus creating addiction for the sake of profit. And you know what? I don’t think this will cure my “little” compulsive problem. :)ig3

The confederation of souls

pe1I guess each of us has experienced at least one or more periods of inner crisis in the course of his life. Melancholy, fear and sometimes even anger dominate your tormented soul, as you feel that for some reasons, you are no longer fit for the world you know as you used to be, but you cannot fully understand why. Even if you don’t want it, there you are, in the middle of an unknown land. Alone. Whether we like it or not, a crisis is an inevitable and important event of our life, as it is often the prelude for a transformation a metamorphosis of the ego, but the point is: can we really redefine the features of our soul and change? I know the answer, you know the answer: actually, nobody really changes, and the following extract from Pereira Maintains, a successful novel written by the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi can enlighten us upon this point.

pe2Just few words about Pereira, the protagonist, who is an elderly overweight journalist for the culture column of a small Lisbon newspaper. He continuously struggles with his conscience and the restrictions of the fascist regime of Antonio Salazar. This is the narration, in fact, of the protagonist’s reluctant political awakening which will bring him to rebel eventually. Pereira’s acquaintance with Dr Cardoso marks a turning point in the novel as he explains him his theory on the confederartion of souls, and based on that theory, he foresees a deep change in Pereira’s life :

“(..) I have a question for you, said Dr Cardoso, and that is, are you acquainted with the medecins-philosophes? No I’m not, admitted Pereira, who are they? The leaders of this school of thought are Theodule Ribot and Pierre Janet, said Dr Cardoso, it was their work I studied in Paris, they are doctors and psychologists, but also philosopher, and they hold a theory I think interesting, the theory of the confederation of souls. Tell me about it, said Pereira. Well, said Dr Cardoso, it means that to believe in a ‘self’ as a distinct entity, quite distinct from the infinite variety of all the other ‘selves’ that we have within us, is a fallacy, the naive illusion of the single unique soul we inherit from Christian tradition, whereas Dr Ribot and Dr Janet see the personality as a confederation of numerous souls, because within us we each have numerous souls, don’t you think a confederation which agrees to put itself under the government of one ruling ego. Dr Cardoso made a brief pause and then continued: What we think of as ourselves, our inward being, is only an effect, not a cause, and what’s more it is subject to the control of a ruling ego which has to impose its will on the confederation of our souls, so in the case of another ego arising, one stronger and more powerful, this ego overthrows the first ruling ego, takes its place and acquires the chieftainship of the cohort of souls, or rather the confederation, and remains in power until it is in turn overthrown by yet another ruling ego, either by frontal attack or by slow nibbling away.”

According to this theory, therefore, we never change, but we just yield to a new ruling ego, which imposes itself,  as a consequence of new external circumstances. We put the old ego aside in the company of the others, which may surface once again and struggle at the right moment and be dominant again. Therefore a crisis marks the passage of one ruling ego to another one and the only thing we can do to get over it is just giving “ a helping hand whenever (we) get the chance” as Dr Cardoso suggests. After all “panta rei” (everything flows), even our ego.

 

 

No Regrets!!!

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In his memorable speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs‘s words had left astounded thousands of students who were there for him in adoration. His warnings were of a peculiar nature :”Don’t forget one day you will die“, “Don’t waste your life living someone else’s life“. It had sounded bewildering at first, after all, why so young and privileged students who were just about to graduate in one of the most famous American universities should think about dying, rather than, I don’t know, how to be successful pretty soon? Because death makes life meaningful.  Life is short and we had better live it fully with no fear, that’s why Steve Jobs had invited them to follow the paths of “foolishness” rather than conformity. Life is short. We must be conscious of that. However, it’s not so easy and very often we reach the necessary degree of awareness only when we age or when it is too late, thus becoming like George Gray.

lee2This is exactly the theme of this amazing poem from the anthology of Spoon Rivers by Edgar Lee Master. We are in a cemetery and a man, George Gray, is watching a tombstone, his tombstone. He is dead. He is pondering the ironic design of his gravestone : a marble sailboat, which seems a most befitting symbol for a life fool of motion and adventure. His life , actually, had been like a boat, but with its sails rolled in the harbor, under cover of the rough winds of Ambition, Sorrow and Love. He had always chosen the simplest and the safest route: no effort, no risk, but he couldn’t escape the uneasiness of such a life because each of us intimately “hungers” for meaning. To live is “lifting” the sails and “catching” the winds of destiny wherever they will take us, otherwise the sense of unrest will overwhelm and torture us. Only now he understands, now that it is too late, that he had never truly lived.
Do it, before it is too late.
No regrets!!!

George Gray
By: Edgar Lee Master

“I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me—
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire—
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.”

 

I would prefer not to

ba2The paths of rebellion are just few. You may choose to fight the system, aiming at destroying it or you may create antithetical models, thus proving the mediocrity of the normal standards of behaviour, just like European aesthetes did in the nineteenth century with the purpose of undermining the pillars of bourgeois values such as materialism, respectability and the pursuit of wealth. Some of them, labeled as dandies, considered themselves the depositary of taste and embodied unattainable models of elegance and savoir-vivre, some others, who were called Bohemians, chose to live marginalized. They were, as William Makepeace Thackeray said, “ artists or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art” rejecting permanent residence and surviving on little material wealth.

ba3They were seen like gypsies, in fact, they were called Bohemians as it was common belief that gypsies came from Bohemia. In Paris  many of them lived at Montmartre, not far from the “Moulin Rouge”, while in London they could be seen at Chelsea or Soho. They lived solely for art and literature’s sake and their dissolute lives were often characterized by alcohol and drug abuse, as well as open sexual freedom.  The Bohemians, in fact, felt the need to express and assert themselves, being at such a social and economic disadvantage.They aimed at defying the system, flaunting their marginality. The point is that whatever rebellious way you choose, the system cannot be ignored, as, whether we like it or not, we are active part of it.

ba4Hence, could inactivity be a way to beat a system? If we are small but functional mechanisms of a whole, whether marginalized or not, wouldn’t be just our inertia a way to make the system crack at least? This option is explored in Melville‘s short story: “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street“. Melville chooses Wall Street as setting, the bustling center of business and finance, to place his inactive anti-hero to mark more his anomaly. One day a strange, mysterious, pale figure of a man appears at
a lawyer’s door. He is there for the job ad. Very little is known about his past: he
has worked for a dead letter office for years and has a letter of recommendations with very
positive remarks in his pocket. He is hired. The job is a kind of boring and his
profile seems to be fit for that dull activity: just copying documents. His name is
Bartelby. He begins well: he copies lengthy documents, works overtime with great
efficiency. He is the perfect wheel in the lawyer’s system. He had chosen well.

ba8But one day something unpredictable happens. At a banal lawyer’s request Bartelby’s reply is shocking: “I would prefer not to”. Booooom! “I would prefer……” What does it
mean? Prefer? Once you are an integrated part of a system, can you still keep your freedom of choice? Does this option really exist, without making collapse the very same system ? It existed in Bartelby’s mind. From that day on, Bartelby starts to slip away the assignments he is given, till one day he decides it is time to stop: he will do nothing more, but he will not quit he place. He will stay there.

ba7However, each part of a system has to be functional, otherwise it doesn’t work, thus the boss tries at first to reintegrate him. It is a failure. Then he does whatever is in his power to get rid of him. Nothing. In the end he will be so exasperated to move his business to another office. Bartelby will remain there, till the new owner brutally manages to remove him. He will end up in jail where he dies. It may seem a nonsensical story of a failure, but it is not. It is a story of a powerful rebellion of a modern hero that, thanks to his great denial, breaks the system forcing it somehow to change, humanizing it. The lawyer, in fact, will be so overwhelmed by guilt that in the end he will go and look for him to give him his support; but Bartelby will prefer not be helped, thus despising his philanthropic hypocrisy. Only in the end, defeated, he will understand the greatness of Bartelby’s behaviour saying :”Ah Bartelby! Ah humanity

 

Italian Dandyism: Gabriele D’Annunzio

da9Dandyism spread in Italy as well at the end of the nineteenth century and  Gabriele D’annunzio was its most outstanding exponent, for sure.  Aesthete, politician, journalist, playwright, poet, lover: D’Annunzio was a man of many passions, but above all the architect of himself. He studied and created his own image carefully, a mixture of exquisite taste and love for heroic actions.He was associated with the elite Arditi storm troops of the Italian Army and took part in actions such as the Flight over Vienna in 1918. Some of the ideas and aesthetics seem to have influenced Italian fascism and also the style of Benito Mussolini. However he was the Vate, the Bard, of the Italian literature during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Gabriele D’Annunzio  moved to Rome, when he was but nineteen and was soon fascinated by the swirling atmosphere of the capital. He managed to open his way to that evanescent and ephemeral society that charmed him so much, working as a reporter of custom and society for La Tribuna, under the pseudonym of “Duca Minimo” (The Duke), just to make clear which ambitions he nursed, demonstrating technical competence and an uncommon style for a provincial boy.

da10The accuracy he displayed in describing a dress for a lady or giving tips on hair styles or fashion showed not only his will to fight against the mediocrity of every day life but his belief that art is only merchandise whose rules cannot be ignored by an artist. Hence, D’Annunzio  understood pretty soon that the language of fashion was absolutely innovative and powerful, that’s why, like a modern Petronius, he made himself a model of taste, the “arbiter elegantiarum” of the Roman and Italian society under King Umberto I.

D’Annunzio will define himself, in fact, a “valuable animal”  whose aesthetic education of his spirit drags him irresistibly to desire and purchase  beautiful things“, particularly high fashion clothes. You can have an idea of his expensive wardrobe only making a simple guided tour at  Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, a sort of museum which he planned and developed, adjacent to his villa at Gardone Riviera on the southwest bank of Lake Garda, between 1923 and his death. In a new space, below the Amphitheater, called  “D’Annunzio secret” there are some pieces of clothing that belonged to the Italian “Bard”.  Here we find many many shoes and boots as you may admire in the following pics; d4d6 d5

he had countless outfits,of course, and  linen . It seems he had 365 dressing gowns, one for each day.

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Examining his wardrobes his elegant taste emerged: English fabrics, hats. D ‘Annunzio dressed as the high society of his time required. French intellectuals were right when they said that he acted himself and that behaved as an impresario who was looking for buyers. His only transgression was his excessive love for details. He had thousands of identical underpants and thousands of ties all equal. He was also a fashion designer, in fact in the following pic you may see one of his most  famous creations. It is called the nightgown with a porthole and I guess it is quite explicative about the character of the Bard . ;) d7

The poet donated the Vittoriale to the Italians because he wanted to be remember not only his literary work and his exploits of war, but also his daily life at his home. The Italian Vittoriale is not a mausoleum, but as he wanted Gabriele D’Annunzio a “House of living stones“.

The Rebellion of Taste

be4The dandy was a rebel. A rebel who wielded the weapon of his unique refinement to express his contempt toward the triviality, hypocrisy,materialism, prudery of the Victorian bourgeoisie . The dandy did not follow fashion. Such a superior being would have never accepted to be homologated to the rude, tasteless masses. What is fashion after all, but a never-ending process of homologation, which not necessarily coincides with taste. The dandy embodied unattainable models of elegance and sophistication as he was the worshipper of taste, one who elevated aesthetics to a living religion, as Charles Baudelaire affirmed, the elect ” for who beautiful things mean only beauty“. (Oscar Wilde)

be6Yet, when the word dandy first appeared, it had nothing to do with superiority and refinement, but rather, with mockery. We find word dandy, in fact, in a song, ” Yankee Doodle Dandy“, which was sung by the British troops to mock the disorganized “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian war at the end of the 18th century: “Yankee Doodle went to town Riding on a pony/ He stuck a feather on his hat / And called it macaroni/ Yankee Doodle keep it up/ Yankee Doodle dandy..…” In short the Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought that simply sticking a feather on a cap would make them fashionable like “Macaronis”, which was the label given to those young Englishmen, who adopted feminine mannerism a highly extravagant attire . Hence, the insinuation was that the colonists were womanish and not very masculine.

Tbe2he first recognized dandy was George Bryan Brummell, who  became absolutely iconic in Regency England, so that he had the Prince Regent himself among his admirers and friends. ” Ever unpowdered, unperfumed, immaculately bathed and shaved, and dressed in a plain dark blue coat, he was always perfectly brushed, perfectly fitted, showing much perfectly starched linen, all freshly laundered, and composed with an elaborately knotted  cravat”, an accurate simplicity difficult to imitate. It seems,in fact,  that the Prince attempted in many ways to match the elegance of the famous counselor, but all his efforts proved vain.  George IV ventured to launch a new trend in order to emulate the style of Brummel, that of the waistcoat unbuttoned, but the result was a resounding failure.

be3The fact is that the Beau”, as he was soon nicknamed, was truly inimitable and not only for his attire. His personal habits, such as a meticulous attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and daily bathing exerted a great influence on the habits of the upper polite society, who began to do likewise.  His elegance was not simply based on his appearance but also on his poses and especially on his way to make conversation: essential, acute, often snobbish, with superficial humor and quick repartee. Even women found him so charming and charismatic to consider his judgment priority over the same opinion of their husbands. But he was not the kind of man  who enjoyed the excess of compliments. True to the motto of the quintessential dandy – Stay in the company for the time needed to produce an effect: when the effect is produced, go away” – Brummell used to respond to invitations to parties and receptions operating quick and discrete raids ; incursions from which he took leave with a judgment, usually a joke, intended, after his departure, to echo long in the speeches of the other guests.

Unfortunately for him, along with the passion for elegance Brummell started to be attracted by gambling, a passion that will lead him to his downfall. He lived the last years of his life on the third floor of the Hotel d’Angleterre, in Caen, where he became fallen hero for tourists who knew him and asked to have lunch next to the famous master of elegance. Not even the admiration of the people, however, changed his sad fate: The clarity of his appearance had tarnished […] when you met him on the street, he was only a shabby and dirty old man. And after the decline, madness followed. londonrem