Should I stay or should I go

bre3There has been a lot of debating about the words Giorgio Napolitano; former Italian President, used to comment the so-called “Brexit” :I am among those who hoped to the end that  the desire to remain in Europe would prevail. The outcome of the referendum in Great Britain is a very heavy blow, a great element of economic, financial and political destabilization . We should reflect on how imprudent it was to propose this referendum on such extremely complex matters. ” “ Napolitano spit on democracy“, “the old communist has finally shed the mask“, were some of the angry reactions to his words, but even Mario Monti, former Italian PM and former European Commissioner reinforced Giorgio Napolitano’s concept.  During his speech at the Council for the United States and Italy relations meeting in Venice, in fact, he said:I disagree with those who think that EU referendum is good expression of democracy. Cameron abused of democratic power giving the referendum. Good that in Italy the Constitution prohibits the referendum on the EU’s treaties”. It seemed such a display of arrogance and distrust, of course. However, I cannot help but wonder: are we really submitted to the politicians’ will, who do not allow us to vote on such important matters? Is this a leak in our democratic system? Had I had to vote, upon what ground would I have made my choice? Do I possess the required know-how to vote in a responsible way?

bre4At this point I have to mention a survey which dates back to 2015; however, I don’t think those figures  have changed significantly this last year. The survey states that 80 % of our population are “analfabeti di ritorno” that in English could be more or less: those who have” relapsed into illiteracy”. 80 people out of 100 may be able to write and read, but they don’t fully understand given messages on various matters, graduated included. I don’t want to discuss the causes of this glorious outcome here, but this is a fact, and I am sure that even in those countries which may exhibit better figures, the percentage of those “analfabeti di ritorno” would still represent a majority. Politicians know these surveys well, that’s why their speeches have become a sequence of catch-phrases in time: they talk to that 80% of people, to their hopes, dreams and above all fears.

bre1Yes, fears. The Brexit campaign, whether you were for the “remain” or “leave” side,  was all about fears. For those who voted for” leave” there was the fear of immigration and  that being part of the EU meant accepting the free movement of people without being able to limit or control them ; fear of losing national sovereignty, as half of the laws in force in the United Kingdom are approved by EU bureaucrats who nobody elected; fears of the restrictions of European burocracy, hence Britain would boost the economy freeing itself from the bonds imposed from Brussels and be free to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with developing countries like India and China. For those who supported the “remain” side was pretty much the same: fear of isolation; fear of giving impulse to nationalistic and populist movements around Europe; fear of losing the advantages of the common market; fear of being economically more vulnerable in the age of globalization; fear of the risk of separatism. Whatever you wanted to vote, there was something you had to be afraid of. Hence, the most deep-rooted fears won.

bre2The European Union we live in today is not the result of fears but of a dream of some visionary leaders, who possessed that degree of foolishness Steve Jobs talked about at Stanford University. That meant going beyond the troubles of a disastrous present with its post war political, economical and social instabilities, to imagine and work for a peaceful, prosperous Europe and above all united, as that could and will be guarantee of peace and stability. But this is forgotten and we give for granted the hard reached stability to welcome populisms and nationalisms of any kind with all that means. I don’t mind if a democratically elected politician acts as guide of a country rather than giving voice to its basest fears. Very likely, modern politicians don’t possess that kind of foolishness, that’s why they seek the comfort of democratic exercise, causing ….who knows?

 

Foolocracy in Rome

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Every time it was the fool’s turn to go on stage there was great expectation in the audience. The most important actors wanted to play that role, actually. Portraying the fool did not only mean juggling or making people laugh with trivial jokes or puns, it was much more. He was charismatic, witty, shrewd, sometimes cynical, but above all, the fool was the only character who was allowed the privilege to say whatever he liked. He was a fool after all. He could target whoever he considered worthy of contempt exposing him to ridicule (with a certain prudence obviously), for example. People laughed with him, people were with him, because after all he was one of them, one who could understand their frustrations, misery, rage, disappointed hopes. With a laugh he could exorcise all that. It was a great power indeed and he knew it. But I’m sure, that not even in his wildest dreams, he would have ever imagined one day to use this power to become a politician and, why not, rule a country or become the mayor of a town. People would have died from laughing. Yes, but that was the Middle Age, the dark age. Nowadays, in the modern age, we have smashed these prejudices and we have allowed fools of any kind to be part of the active political life. Even those who were not really born fool, try clumsily to imitate them, because this seems to be what people want.

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Beppe Grillo, leader of “Movimento 5 stelle”

The point is that, when fools leave the familiar setting of the fictitious reality of theatres, they seem to suffer from a curious disease: the “all world is a stage” syndrome. Its symptoms are easily recognizable: they keep on acting or speaking  freely, always in search for masses to postulate, without realizing that in the real world, actions and words have consequences on people.  Problems arise when one of these fools surprisingly happens to become in charge of a political office. Making or sharing political projects with the other elected non-fools inevitably causes him to face an identity crisis, because his job has been for years that of ridiculing, attacking those he is supposed to work with. A fool is very good at destroying, but once he is demanded to reconstruct and co-operate, his mocking laugh fades away and he starts to display a certain agitation, becoming often even aggressive, because all of a sudden he realizes that he just cannot keep on playing his favourite game off stage.

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Virginia Raggi, newly elected mayor

But now here in Italy, the land of creativity and imagination, fools have found their fertile ground. There is a party, which has gained in importance in recent years, whose leader is a true-born fool and only yesterday that party conquered the highest political office in Rome: the bench of mayor. Will his inflaming words, captivating slogans be enough to elevate Rome from the present state of degradation? His mates, mostly recruited on the web thanks to a bunch of votes, fully inexperienced for what concerns administration and political life, will be able to understand and face the many problems of the capital? Can the “honest inexperience” of the new elected, mayor included, represent that revolution that the citizens have been expecting for years? I have my doubts, of course. However, if it worked, this kind of foolocracy could be a brand we might export abroad and it wouldn’t be a first after all, would it?

 

Eliot explained to a footballer

lazio 1A ” proficient footballer” is a living oxymoron. I don’t know what’s wrong with football , but whoever is engaged in this discipline (my nephew for example), rarely displays any proficiency in school subjects. This is really, strange as the activities connected to other sports like swimming, athletics, volley etc. actually seem to enhance concentration, organization and commitment. Football works in another way. However, since a large number of footballers peoples my classes, I have to cope with the fact that football is their main, if not only, language. In particular, when it comes the time to deal with Eliot and themes such the sense of hopelessness, fragmentation and desolation of the present, lack of future and sense of loss of an entire generation, the contrast between my manly exuberant audience and these themes is really striking. So every time, I cannot help but wonder : have they developed the right sensibility to understand such issues? Running, sweating and vigorously fighting on football fields? Very unlikely. However, I won’t give in. So, let’s put aside books for a while, and let me produce the ultimate effort to make myself clear using; therefore, the universal language of ………football.

lazio 4I love football. I have always loved it, and  I have to thank my father for this. I also have to thank him for having transmitted to me the passion for a glorious team, which is not exactly the Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus or Real Madrid type, but rather the Leicester type (talking about recent miracles), that is, that kind of team that wins whenever the most improbable and exceptional star alignments happen and thus, being these events so rare, the actors of these deeds immediately walk the immortal path to glory and myth. My team is S.S. Lazio and it seems that the stars haven’t been able to find the right alignment for a while. Sixteen years to be precise; and after sixteen years of hopes, and shattered dreams, I am not exaggerating (well,only a little) if I say that Lazio supporters fully embody that sense of hopelessness, fragmentation, desolation of the present and lack of future that so characterized that post-war generation. This is not because we haven’t won much in recent years, but rather, because we have been deprived of our right to dream.  For all of us, in fact, it is now clear that the management of S.S.Lazio doesn’t want or can’t make any effort  to elevate the quality of our beloved team from the present state of mediocrity. Hence, no champions to worship ( we don’t even know the name of the next coach), no goals to achieve and fight for, no future. Thus, when you feel that you have been deprived of your right to hope, you cannot but look back to a past when everything was different: comforting, warm, happy. Not necessarily it has to coincide with the memory a glorious episode, but with the hope and craving for glory.

lazio2Modern football, at least here in Italy, has lost all its ritual. I still remember with great pleasure when my parents decided to replace the Sunday habit of going to church with that of going to the Olympic Stadium in Rome. After all it was still a matter of faith, only with the choice of a different liturgy, that is all. Sunday used to be the only day devoted to matches and all of them started at 3.00 p.m., all of them. When S.S: Lazio played away, we used to follow the team and that became the occasion for a Sunday outing and the visit of the hosting towns. Even my relatives, who were not much into football used to come, as it was the occasion of staying together. I still remember the loads of food we used to take with us, the smell of onion omelette sandwiches, laughter and even the escapes from unfriendly hosts. At 6:00 p.m. Italy halted, as it was the time see the match was given on tv, usually the most important one, so, everybody, even those who did not support those teams used to watch the match. It was a liturgy that had to be consumed to the end, all together.

lazio3Nowadays that sense of ritual and community is completely lost. Sunday is no longer the holy day of football. Football liturgy has been sacrified on the altar of the profit of the pay-per-views. Matches are played from Thursday to Monday and at any time of the day, working days and even lunch time. You can watch the match comfortably at home, of course, with few friends or in solitude, with the result that those cathedrals, which used to be the Italian stadiums are now emptied and left in desolate conditions. And those heroes who used to inflame the hearts of their followers fighting on those arenas, nowadays are only money makers in search of a good contract, wearing the mask of love and dedication, with few exceptions, of course.Therefore, Sunday has become for me the “cruellest” day of the week, “mixing memories” of a happy past and the “desire” for a change, and now as a “tuber” “dried” of any faith or hope, I  no longer follow my team and remain at home nourishing my heart with the little hope that one day a Mr Godot will show up and save me from the present state of desolation.

Dedicated to Gianluca and Marco, great fooballers and………..students. Wish you all the best.

Was Shakespeare Italian and born in Italy?

Today…….we celebrate the Bard’s birthday💁

e-Tinkerbell

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William Shakespeare is the emblem of English literature for sure, but, you know, every time I read his works he seems so familiar to me, so Italian. This is not only because 15 out 37 of his works are set in Italy, he knows the nature of the Italians so well, that some of his immortal lines mirror perfectly some unchangeable traits of our society. An example? In his famous soliloquy “to be or not to be” , he actually seems to be pondering about committing suicide speculating on life and death, but he truly complains about some aspects of society that have the stamp of the Italian character. First of all ” the law’s delay” (it may take more than ten years to see the conclusion of a trial here and in the end you have spent so much money to pay the lawyers to end up…

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The Sheep and Lion Dilemma

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pec3It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep”, a vigorous Donald Trump retweeted a few weeks ago, raising quite a few eyebrows. In fact the maxim has always been associated to Benito Mussolini, the Italian Duce, so when Trump was asked if he was aware that the motto belonged to Mussolini and if he really wanted to be related to a fascist, he replied: “No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes” and added “Sure. It’s OK to know it’s Benito Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It’s OK. It’s a very good quote. It’s a very interesting quote. And I saw it and I know who said it. But what difference does it make, whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else?”  True. I have to confess that I use it myself many times, without thinking that somebody might regard me a fascist ( being very far from those political ideals), because it was used by Mussolini. Plus, the Dux was not original.

pec6Mussolini had found himself to rule a very young nation, which had suffered long dominations , whose positive heritage can be clearly seen in each of our regions in the variety of culture, food, music, language. But in those centuries of oppression, Italians had also gradually developed a high degree of scepticism and distrust against any form of administration. Cunning, unreliability, deceitfulness are “virtues” which are still associated to the Italian way of being, but they were also the weapons which had been developed in time to defend themselves from foreign rules. The problem is that once free and politically united, the making of a common identity was, actually, a slow process, because a chronic distrust in rulers runs in our veins and has always made us choose for the “individual” rather than the “common” way. That’s why we still tend to look for that charismatic one, who might solve all our problems, thus ending in the catastrophe everybody is familiars with. Our recent history makes no difference.

pec4Mussolini knew that he had to fuel his people with words that had to inflame hearts, thus trying to cement his fragmented country. Strength, courage, sacrifice, a country of lions rather sheep, this was what he wanted. Even if only for one day. This motto was one of Benito Mussolini’s most popular slogan. Starting from 1926,  it became a significant part of the fascist propaganda and ended on school books, coins,  graffiti etc., but as I have said before, the Dux was not original.The truth is that the phrase was written during the First World War, on the wall of a house in Fagarè (now Fagarè della Battaglia, the municipality of San Biagio di Callalta, province of Treviso). According to the newspaper  “Il Secolo D’Italia(but the primary source was “Il Corriere della Sera” of 19 February 1958, p. 6)  the author was Ignazio Pisciotta, mutilated in 1911, an officer in World War I.  On the ‘Corriere della Sera’ of 31 July 1918, in his war correspondence, Arnaldo Fraccaroli writes : “We find on the houses around here – on the ruins of the houses – the words of the soldiers traced by rapid brushstrokes  in the early days of the resistance(..)”All heroes! We will win the Piave, or  we will all die! “It is better to live one hour as a lion than one hundred years as a sheep!” Oaths were held. With these writings, the humble battered homes have a sacred majesty of a temple “.

pec7Mussolini himself, as a matter of fact, never said to be the author of these words, which he used (at least) on three occasions, but always recalling them as the words on the wall of the house collapsed in Fagarè. One of these was a visit at Umberto I barracks in Rome on 26 June 1926,  Mussolini said: It was good that in recent days it was remembered a phrase that should not be forgotten: the one written by an anonymous official or little infantryman, it doesn’t matter, on one of the houses on the eve of the battle of the Piave: “Better to live one day as a lion than one hundred years as a sheep “. Seeing the physical and moral strength of your troops, flower of the renewed nation, I am perfectly convinced that if it will be necessary tomorrow, all the grenadiers, all foot soldiers, all soldiers of Italy, all the people in Italy prefer to live one day as a lion than one hundred years as a sheep “.

Now, there is no doubt that the expression rightfully belongs to the fascist rhetoric dictionary, but to attribute the invention of the words to Mussolini only denotes the usual sloppiness that distinguishes certain journalists when reporting historical facts. And after all, would you really want to live all your life as sheep? C’mon!

 

 

 

 

The Enemy of Railways

I was surprised when I read about the meeting between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Pope Francis at the Vatican a few weeks ago. Even if we don’t know much about the real nature of the encounter, one thing is for sure: the Vatican must be undergoing a profound transformation, particularly for what concerns communication. Actually, everything started on 12 December, 2012 at 11.30 a.m. precisely, when @Pontifex, Pope Ratzinger in person, tweeted: “ Dear friends, I’m pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.”  And it was generous indeed, as a million of followers, who had eagerly waited for this tweet for days, retweeted it in few secs. The following Wednesday, twitter was used again to respond to some of the thousands questions that had been addressed the Pope through #askpontifex. Pretty amazing for a Pontiff, who had often been regarded as reactionary, especially if compared to his predecessor, John Paul II.

popeHowever, he had paved the way towards modernity and Pope Francis, who has certainly a natural talent for communication, followed and improved his example. He uses Google Hangouts to chat with children from around the world, and Twitter to share snippets of his preachings and comment on global news events and controversies . But Pope Francis is far from being tech-savvy. When one child asked if he liked to take pictures and put them on his computer, the Pope replied, “Can I be honest? I am really not so good at it…I don’t know how to work with a computer. It’s a bit of a shame.” Never mind, somebody helps him for sure. Going back to the meeting, I was really impressed by some words the Pope used to comment the event: “Technology cannot determine whether communication is authentic or not , but the heart of man and his ability to make good use of the means at his disposal(……)it has led to a widening of horizons for many people. This is a gift of God, and also a great responsibility”. Hence, the Internet is a gift of God, as the Pontiff had already stated during one of his Google Hangout sessions last year  .

popeAt this point, I think we are not too blasphemous, if we say that railways were ,somehow, the nineteenth century equivalent of the Internet. The world became smaller and faster thanks to the making of those iron nets, as not only goods but also information was more easily accessible to a larger number of people. Did the Vatican “welcome” the new technological discoveries of the time with the same reformed enthusiasm of modern Popes? Were railways “gifts of God” as well? You may judge yourself from Pope Gregory XVI’s words, who “gently” defined railways as “weapons of the devil“. Gregory XVI (1831-1846) understood well the danger of those new means of communication as they not only accelerated the circulation of news, but also revolutionary ideas, that’s why he never consented them to be built in the Papal States. In the encyclical “Mirari Vos”, Gregory XVI firmly opposed to all the innovations of the time which he regarded as ” the triumph of a cynical wickedness, shameless science and unlimited laxity“. In the same encyclical he also condemned the freedom of conscience, press and thought and railways were, for sure, the means that could have spread those “viruses” in the Papal States, thus undermining the stability of his fortress.Therefore, we may say,  that almost after a couple of centuries  the Vatican seems to have finally learnt to cope with “the devil” pretty well.😉

 

 

The Romantic Warning

rom1The romantics have often been regarded as reactionaries, because of their unwelcoming attitude towards the great mutation that the industrial revolution was about to produce in their countries. A revolution is a radical, somehow violent change, whose consequences are often unpredictable, but  early romantics instinctively felt that the great transformation the world was undergoing wouldn’t have been free of charge.

Modern man, once left his “natural state” and thrown into the dynamics of a materialistic and competitive society, dominated by the threat of clock time, would have seen the nature of his certainties collapse with the consequent urgency of redefining a new scale of values. But what kind of values can a materialistic society produce? Wealth? Success? Career? Can a society, whose imperative is “time is money” and whose members are only small mechanisms of a careless system, be considered as an amelioration of the previous one in terms of quality of life and, why not, happiness? Certainly not.

That’s why the romantics kept on fighting strenuously against “modernity”, advocating the superiority of the values produced by the “old” world. If men abandoned their Eden, their natural state, just like modern Adam and Eve, they would only find pain, hard labor, misery, hence slowly becoming insensitive and indifferent. Therefore, they began to strive using their lines as weapons, lines that they had deliberately simplified in order to reach with their message the heart of as many people as possible. They talked about the importance of memory, the beauty of nature, the necessity of a world of sensibility without restraining from the impulse of imparting a moralizing lesson.

But the process couldn’t be stopped and somehow they were defeated by the course of events. The great industrial change had spread all over the country and towns, like mushrooms, kept on growing disorderly and faster and faster. At the altar of “modernity” man was sacrificing his greatest gifts as well: his creativeness, his sense of taste and harmony. Man now needed to put at the top of his scale of values beauty, many artists claimed. The most optimistic were convinced that educating people to beauty would have meant to improve man’s ethical sense at the same time, but the majority of them thought that it was too late to teach anything to anybody and kept themselves away from the rude and insensitive masses. The first five decades of folly of the twentieth century and two world wars swept away the few certainties and values left and men seemed now motionless seated on a “heap of broken images” of the past waiting for their Godot like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon. We are still waiting.