The wisdom of cowardice


applejudgeThere is one aspect of my job that really annoys me: rules. As a teacher I have to make sure that my students give the due respect to the place and the people they interact with every single day. There is nothing wrong, I know, however in recent times, fewer and fewer families seem to be aware of the fact that teachers and parents share one great goal: the success of their children. We should co-operate for their “Bildung”, the making of their personalities as future men and women, even teaching them the importance and the necessity of following rules, rather than being considered the enemies that crush the image that a parent has of his child. That’s why recently I have started to hear voices. Yes, voices. Whenever I see a student smoking near a big NO SMOKING sign, or using their mobile in class and all the other things students shouldn’t do at school, it seems as if I heard somebody whisper: “Uhmmm, troubles!!! Ignore him! Turn your back and go away! Mind your own business!!!” Of course, I can’t follow this advice, even if sometimes I would and I can tell you, it is very sound advice.

Boy using a cell phoneThis episode happened in Forlì, central Italy, only few days ago. A teacher caught a boy, age 12, while he was watching porn pictures on his smart phone in class. The teacher diligently confiscated the smart phone and urged the presence of one parent to get it back. Nothing strange so far. I guess, nobody would have wished to be in those parents’ shoes, just picturing the tone of that meeting. However, the next day the boy’s mother did show up and she was no alone. She was in the company of a lawyer, as she had resolved to protect his child charging the scrupulous teacher with theft. It seems to be a paradoxical situation, but this gives a clue on how the school system works nowadays, at least here in Italy.

After having heard what the teacher had to say, the loving mother heartily defended his son saying that after all those pictures weren’t that hard as the starring lady was not completely naked, but was wearing a loincloth. It’s not a joke, this episode was actually reported by the mayor of Forlì, Roberto Balzani, on his Facebook page, who commented:

“Parents nowadays don’t accept the punishments inflicted on their children, maybe because they have never received one or maybe because they can’t (or don’t want) read the truth…..with our principals besieged by unscrupulous lawyers and  desperate teachers, students try to take advantage of the false protection of their parents. The truth is that  planet school has been attacked by a devastating virus.”


Hadn’t I told you that my little” voice” was a very sound voice? 😉

Texting like Godot

godotbeckettIn these last years I have noticed that my students’ approach to Beckett‘s “Waiting for Godot“, has changed, or better, improved. It seemed as if they as if they could recognize in its obscure, fragmented language and complex themes something somewhat “familiar”. Strange indeed. You know,  my “audience” is mostly composed of students of about nineteen, who are about to graduate and naturally look at their future with the defying eyes of optimism and youth. How can it be that such themes as the absurdity and the meaninglessness of living and the absence of prospects, typical of modern existentialism, might  become all of sudden “attractive”, when it is Beckett to speak rather that Eliot, for example?  Besides, the plot of Waiting for Godot can’t be actually defined captivating: two men who keep on waiting for another man, who will never show up for two acts. That is all.

8Nevertheless, the bare lines of the play seem to touch and charm their young souls in a very natural way. Oh yes, I have also thought that I might have just underestimated them. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe they were more sensitive and mature that I thought, but still I knew there was something I was missing. Then one day I understood. Do you want to have a clue? Here are a couple of lines from the play with only a little touch of modernity added:
 Estragon:”Why will you never let me sleep?” 👿
 Vladimir  :”I felt lonely.” 😦     (from Waiting for Godot, Act 1)
Estragon :”You wanted to speak to me?” 😕
Vladimir  : “I’ve nothing to tell you”   😮 (from Waiting for Godot, Act 1)
There it was: the bare, informal language of the play, actually recalled the lexicon employed in modern communication, the one my students have been fed with, since they were born. They immediately recognized it and loved it.

family gatheringYet, wait a minute…….,  Beckett ‘s use of language did not actually serve the purpose of communication at all, but rather the breakdown of communication. The dialogues, in fact, are only sketched, the words never result in actions and each character, who usually follows his own thoughts, seems to be perfectly aware that whatever he says, is just a way to fill his endless waiting. Somehow the ridiculous dialogues the protagonists are engaged with, are necessary to them to have the impression they exist and their mutual dependence confirms their existence. Therefore, if the language of modern communication resembles so much the sterile and ineffective one created by Beckett, I can’t help but wonder: what is the quality of our communication, since nowadays we have the habit of using tweets of 140 characters or sms of 160 to give voice to our thoughts? What can we communicate in such a short space? And moreover, haven’t you ever had the feeling that all this modern “communicative addiction” might be a sort of “mutual dependence” that  “confirms our existence”?

The Labyrinth of the soul

labyrinthThere are moments in life when you can see no way out. Responsibilities, troubles, duties seem to absorb the very essence of your being leaving no room for comfort, hopes, joy. The world that surrounds you, thus takes the form of a labyrinth that seems to engulf any desperate effort to escape. The fear of the “Minotaur” weakens any sparkle of determination to find a way to break that crystallized state of the soul and you believe yourself hopelessly doomed to misery. And yet, any labyrinth has a way out; you’ve got see it, otherwise the “Minotaur” will be there, waiting for you.

daedalus_smallJoyce‘s labyrinth was Dublin restricted society, which didn’t allow him to be what he really wanted to be: an artist. He thought that his only chance was, what he called, self-exile, that is, going  away, no matter how hard it was to leave the people who knew you, crush your family’s expectations, thus turning your back to the past in order “to live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life “(A Portrait of the Artist as a Young man). That’s why he chose as his alter ego in  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses the character of Stephen Daedalus. In that name there is his fate of freedom (not necessarily happiness). Stephen’s first name recalls the first martyr of Christianity – he was stoned to death for blasphemy – just to remark that he felt himself the martyr of the Irish society, in juxtaposition, his surname recalls to the mythological figure of Daedalus, who was both the inventor of the Labyrinth and the wax wings that allowed his son Icarus and himself to escape the island of Crete (his maze) and the dangerous Minotaur. Just like Daedalus, he would be brave enough to flee from the labyrinth/Dublin to find a better fortune. For one who did it, there is another one who just couldn’t escape the monster who was devouring her will: Eveline.

minotaurEveline, was only nineteen and her life had always been marked only by responsibilities, frustration, hard work and grief. Her mother had left her alone too soon and now she had to work, look after her younger brothers and protect them and herself from their violent father. She had made her mother a promise right before dying: to keep their family united as along as she could. She felt that she could, or better, should have done something to escape her maze, maybe accepting to leave with her lover for Buenos Aires to be married and have her chance to happiness; but for her and the other protagonists of the Dubliners that solution seems to be impossible. Joyce called his protagonist Eveline, to stress her fate of failure. Her name is, in fact, the combination of two words: eve and line. An ” Eve” is the day before an important day or a celebration, while “line” symbolizes life. Therefore Eveline’s destiny will be that of living in constant eve: she will never be able to act, to enjoy the feast of life.

MirandaFrom the very beginning of the short story Eveline seems to be unable to act. It is the night she has planned to leave, but there is neither emotion nor joy in her words, but rather that night that represents very likely, her only chance to leave her maze, is felt like an “invasion” of her inner self. She has been sitting at the window for hours and only when she recalls the image of her mother the night she had died, she realizes  that “that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness” would have been also her destiny, not only her mother’s. For an instant she finds the strength to disentangle from the tentacles of her monstrous fear and quickly leaves her house to meet Frank, her lover, at the station. But when they reach the quay and she sees the ship that will take her to her new home, her hidden Minotaur surfaces and gradually devour her weak firmness. For her the boat becomes a “black mass”  even if its portholes are illuminated, and its whistle seems like the whistle of death : “mournful“. A sort of mist start to confound her mind and she feels like drawing. Her Minotaur has won. She will remain in the labyrinth forever “like a helpless animal“.

Should teachers friend their students on facebook?

facebook-hacking-1040cs051612Certainly Facebook has altered the meaning of the word “friendship”. Once your friends were the few selected in time, rather than the many, very often little less than complete strangers, that appear on a Facebook page. If perceived success depends on the number of happy faces that you can boast as friends, well I am out, because to me it seems all so cold, impersonal and superficial. My students have tried to explain to me all the potentialities of this tool, but I am not easily convinced. Some of them, I admit, had really good points. One in particular made me ponder, as he professed that thanks to Facebook I could contact again the friends I have lost track of in time, school mates for example. Hmmmm, I mused, maybe I faltered for a while, but then I promptly recovered and said that if I had lost touch with them, there should have been good reasons after all; you know, for me friends are still the few selected ones and those I don’t see any longer, maybe just didn’t pass the test :). Furthermore I don’t like being tied to the past.

facebbokHowever, I have a Facebook account: with a fake name, of course. Few months ago I wanted to go and see some pics on a on-line newspaper, but I wasn’t allowed, unless I had a Facebook account. Ok, why not, I said? I created one with my mother’s name and somebody else’s surname to preserve my anonymity. I have to admit, apart from having access to pictures, it was fun after all. I started to work a little on it in my spare time. I made an avatar of myself, loaded some pictures, shared posts I liked, but it was only when some of my closest friends and colleagues made the great mistake to friend me, that I really understood the real potentiality of the tool: intelligence. Reading the comments and scrolling the lists of friends I could know who knew who, the degree of intimacy, things in common etc……For example, before talking behind somebody’s back, you can make sure that the person you are talking with is not his/her intimate or if you like somebody and you have the occasion to talk to him/her, you may check the list the things, books, movies he/she likes and start a conversation. From this point of view Facebook is genius.

Big-BrotherI couldn’t refrain from checking some of my students’ pages as well, and one day I jokingly told them to pay attention to what they wrote as “big sister teach” was actually reading them. They tried to find the account, but I knew I was perfectly safe behind my anonymity. I was just teasing. But one day, there is always one day, I just couldn’t really resist from commenting something written by one of my colleagues that BANG, found out, and after a few secs I received my first friend request. From a student.

I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t even tempted, because I don’t think that students and teachers should be friend, even on Facebook. We can have a friendly attitude but we cannot be friends. In this age of confusion, roles have to be clear. On Facebook the line of what is appropriate in a teacher-student relationship is often blurred and therefore dangerous. I guess it is very difficult to be yourself over Facebook and keep the respect of students at the same time. Of course social networks are extremely helpful for both students and teachers, I can’t deny this, but on a personal level, it isn’t acceptable for them to socially interact.



Was Shakespeare Italian and born in Italy?


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 destitute), “the proud man’s contumely“, the”insolence of office“, the”oppressor’s wrong” have been the causes of more than a suicide here especially in these times of economic crisis.

stock-vector-william-shakespeare-139142954However, there has been a lot of speculating about the authorship of Shakespeare. How could it be that a simpleton from Stratford-upon-Avon might display such learning ( likely grammar schools worked really well at those times) and intimate knowledge of Elizabethan and Jacobean courts? So the names of the candidates that for some reason must have hidden behind the pseudonym of Shakespeare are very celebrated indeed: Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford and many others. My candidate is Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza.

florioIn his book Shakespeare era italiano (2002),  Martino Juvara, a Sicilian Professor, claims that Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza was born in Messina (Sicily) on  23rd April 1564 (William Shakespeare ‘s same date), the  son of  Giovanni Florio, a doctor,  and a noblewoman, Guglielmina Crollalanza. He was educated by Franciscan monks, who taught him Latin, Greek and history . At the age of 15 he and his family had to flee in order to escape the Holy Inquisition, as they were Calvinist. If we focus on the surname Crollalanza, we see that crolla/scrolla in English becomes “shake” and lanza/lanciaspear”;  Shakespeare, in fact.  A coincidence? Maybe.

verona-balcone-giulietta_f824441ee8156884010f7c85ed95932aMichelangelo and his family went to Treviso and lived in the palace of Otello, a Venetian nobleman, who had murdered his wife Desdemona few years before, as he was blinded by jealously. Once in Milan Michelangelo fell in love with a 16-year-old named Giulietta, a young countess who had been kidnapped by the Spanish Governor and had accused the same Michelangelo of the act, as he was against Calvinism. Her family members opposed the union, and Giulietta committed suicide. It’s only after Giulietta’s suicide that Michelangelo decides to leave for England. Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and poet, helped him as he had strong friendships with the Earls of Pembroke and Southampton under whose patronage, Michelangelo reached England in 1588. Once in Stratford he took the name of a cousin that had died prematurely: William.

At this point you may ask: what about the language? Prof. Juvara asserts that his first plays were actually translated and when he married his English wife, she  translated his works. Furthemore, for the biographers of the time Shakespeare seemed to a have a strong foreign accent. One more curiosity. Among the plays Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza wrote in Sicilian there in one entitled “troppu trafficu pì nnenti“. Do you want it translated in English? “Much Ado about nothing” 😀