The Beach

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A dream of beauty and happiness and the hopeless effort of making it last forever is the subject of the movie “The Beach” based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Alex Garland, which was adapted for the film by John Hodge. Making a moment of happiness last forever is everybody’s dream, yet we can understand the value of happiness only if you have intensely suffered as Seneca said and somehow, I agree.

The dream beach is Koh Phi Phi,Thailand, where a group of people coming from every part world have built a community, a new sort of heaven, which they wish to make it resistant to time and sorrow. They want to enjoy the incredible beauty nature that surrounds them, dope, grasp the pure heart of life, leaving the ugliness of the materialistic, competitive society outside. Far away, isolated, happy. Forever.

beach 2This idyllic state will be broken by the villain of the story: Richard  (Leo Di Caprio) an American college student. Shrewd, smart, liar, extremely good-looking, just like a modern Satan, Richard breaks in that community upsetting their hard gained balance and contaminating that “innocent” state. Being attractive, he easily seduces Françoise a French mate and becomes at the same time the prey of Sal (Tilda Swinton) the leader of the community. He will lie to both. He won’t tell Sal that he had copied the map of the island and given it to some surfers, thus breaking the vow of secrecy of the place and exposing the community to the risk of a tourist invasion and he won’t confess Françoise that he had sex with Sal. Hence the seeds of jealousy, suspicion, envy  begin to sprout. However, Richard manages to become a sort of hero, when he escapes a shark attack mysteriously succeeding in killing it.

the beach 3The perfect heaven cracks when sorrow and death intrude, thus upsetting the perception of time of the inhabitants of the island. What before seemed to be beautifully static turns into a natural, painful flow. The “eternal beauty” of their world will be thus gradually  “wasted” leading to the final collapse of the community. The occasion is given by another shark, which attacks three Swedish mates, mortally wounding two of them. It is particularly meaningful how the perfect community reacts.They don’t want their dream to be disturbed, therefore they try to remove any interference, even if it is a man’s life at stake.

beach8It may seem cruel, but the death of one of the two men is not an obstacle to their dream. After the burial and when all the prayers are said, life can go on. Sorrow, sooner or later, will fade away and you can gradually go back to your routine.But if the other man doesn’t  die, and he is there, wounded, screaming with pain, you cannot move on. You have to face daily the fragility of human life, you cannot turn the page and you are stuck there, always reading the same tragic lines. At this point, it is necessary to act, removing the problem. The Swedish guy will be carried away so that all the other members of the community are not disturbed by his sight and cries. This is the action that will make their heaven similar to the world the wanted to escape, a world that prefers to throw a sheet on its defects and aberrations to gaze its artificial beauty, like Dorian Gray.

the beach7Along with this process of dissolution from the inside, the world outside knocks on their door and it is brutal, violent, unbearable. The surfers Richard had met, manage to reach the island, but they are murdered by the same farmers, who had allowed Sal and her mates to stay there. The lead farmer understands that only with a good dose of realism he could get rid of those intruders, therefore he hands Sal a gun with a single bullet, a bullet destined to Richard; this is the price to stay there. Sal can’t see the trap. Sal can’t see that her friends are horrified . Sal would do everything to defend her dream and can see no way out. The very moment she pulls that trigger, even if the misses Richard, she disintegrates everything she had built. Her mates are overwhelmed by terror and flee en mass in hysterics to get away from the island as soon as possible, leaving her alone.

Once back to normal life, after some time Richard finds in his e-mail a message from Françoise entitled “beach life” which contains a photograph of the beach community and an animated handwritten inscription over the image: ‘Parallel Universe”. They were all together, smiling, happy on that amazing beach. The photograph had stopped that moment of incredible bliss and perfection, the moment that they had hoped to make it last forever in an unnatural effort that had brought them to ruin.

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Running in the night

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There is an unusual, evocative, romantic way to enjoy the breathtaking beauties of the “eternal city” : running through its most famous streets at night. Yes, at night , because “Corriroma“, the competition that somehow seals the end of the running season here, usually takes place at 10.00 p.m. The ten kilometer race starts at Piazza del Popolo, then the athletes pass on  Via del Corso, Via del Tritone, Via Sistina Piazza Trinità dei Monti till they go through the splendid Villa Borghese, lit by hundreds of torches,to reach Piazza Augusto Imperatore and again via del Corso and back to Piazza del Popolo. Amazing, isn’t it?

Mr Run and I couldn’t certainly miss such a happening as it was also an occasion to have a walk and go shopping in the centre. When we arrived at Piazza del Popolo, it was crowded as usual and peopled mostly by tourists and tourist attractions.

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But at dusk the magic started. corri9

The tourists were slowly replaced by thousands of colorful runners who started their warming-up running around the square in a never-ending joyous carousel.Immagine 085

Some of them even staged a Maori dance, traditional war cry included.

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Lights, happy faces, the atmosphere was merry and warm and at 10:00 about 3 thousand runners gathered at the start line.

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In less than half an hour the fastest had reached Villa Borghese.

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Here is the winner Jaouad Zain from Morocco (31:35).

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Many others were still far from the finish line but they were enjoying the beautiful race.

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And when everything was over, the magic disappeared. The lights went off and little by little the sweated and tired athletes left the square with their supportive friends and families, maybe in search of something to drink or a place where to get some warm croissants and reach the Pincio Terrace to wait for the dawn.pincio1

 

 

The Mythical Method

painting-penelopeWhen you are a child, you look forward to growing up and time never goes by. The future adult life is seen with the eyes of innocence: a wonderful, festive, harmless carousel, whose protagonists can enjoy their hard gained independence at last. However, once you eventually  find yourself in the world of maturity, that initial thrill that usually freedom gives, gradually fades away as your perception of time changes. What was formerly felt eternally slow starts to accelerate, till you realize that all that time that could be joyfully wasted once is actually finite and you start to look at the world that surrounds you with the alarmed eyes of “experience”, as Blake would say. Your certainties gradually crumble, and the future becomes less appealing than it used to be and if you look back, you cannot but have the impression that the past was ,after all, something warm, tranquilizing, bright;in a word: happy.

JoyceUlysses2This comforting vision of the past, can be found in many writers and poets, particularly  at the beginning of the twentieth century. Two world wars had brought death and destruction, the present was just like a “heap of broken images” (The Waste Land, T.S.Eliot) which left no room for hope.  Modern artists tried to express the consequent sense of loss, fear and paralysis that had pervaded those tragic decades in their works stressing this fragmentation and the impossibility of a future rebirth. Hence, they manifested a certain nostalgia for a past, which was seen as glorious, because it was vital and expression of universal values, while the present was fragmented and sterile.

ulyssesThe mythical method allowed those artists to show that gap between present and past. In Ulysses, for example, Joyce employs Homer’s myth of the legendary Greek king of Ithaca Odysseus, as the principle of unity of his novel. The three main characters of his novel are supposed to be the modern counterpart of Odysseus, Telemachus and Penelope, except that these great figures have lost the power of their symbolic value. Telemachus was the son of Odysseus and Penelope, who fought to have his family back. He stood up to his mother’s suitors during the long absence of his father, he sailed to inquire after his fate and he was by his side when he eventually came back to win his kingdom back. His equivalent Stephen Dedalus is the artist who has actually rejected his family. Molly Bloom , differently from  Penelope has put away her loom and is unfaithful, in fact she is having an affair after ten years of celibacy within the marriage. Odysseus is her husband Leopold Bloom, a middle-age Jewish advertising canvasser, who wanders around Dublin as Ulysses wandered around the Mediterranean sea on a series of inconclusive errands during which he meets the young writer Stephen Dedalus.

Once emptied of their symbolic meaning, the three characters show all their complexity and fragility. The fragments of their thoughts and experiences are included in the 18 chapters, which represent the 18  hours of the day the novel is set (16 th June 1904)  and 18 episodes of the Odyssey. Once again the myth helps the writer to give order to the chaos of thought. Each episode, in fact, seems like a drawer whose function is to keep together all the pieces of the characters’ soul. Hence, the past provides a semblance of unity but it cannot cure the wounds of the present, leaving those souls desperately broken.

 

Myths, heroes and………..Totti.

fall-of-pha-thon-greek-mythology-2996236-800-584I’ve always enjoyed reading stories about myths, legends, courageous men ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their country or even only for the beauty of a woman. The main actors of these stories where the heroes, who actually embodied the highest expression of  the values of their society: loyalty, honour, love for the country, sacrifice. With their deeds, which were narrated in long epic poems, they were the symbols of the power, pride but also ethics of their people, thus contributing, through a natural process of identification, in the making of what could be called national awareness.

192964_oHeroes could not be commoners, for sure, because the greatness of the values they embodied had a divine nature that could be found either in their breed, for example Achilles, whose mother was the nymph Thetis or in their name, as for  Beowulf. Beowulf, in fact,  means “bee wolf” (which was supposed to be a metaphor for a bear): “the wolf that eats honey“, from which it was extracted ambrosia, the food of gods. He was, therefore, one of them. The values heroes embodied were universal and worked as glue of past more primitive societies, thus creating the basis of modern ones. At this point, I always ask my students a question: are there any such heroes nowadays? Men or women that could be the expression of universal values? They usually ponder for a while, then they come up with the usual defiant answer: Totti.

tottiTotti, who? I guess you would ask. Well, Totti happens to be an Italian footballer, particularly popular here in Rome as he is the captain of A.S.Roma. The answer is quite provocative, as they know well that I am a great fan of the other team here in Rome S.S.Lazio. On Sundays , but often for the whole week, the atmosphere here is always something like, Capulets vs Montague,Guelphs vs Ghibellines,Trois vs Sparta and Lazio vs Roma. Thus, you may understand how that name can be particularly odious to me. However, despite the choice of the man, is it such a wrong answer? Can an action of a  footballer or a team have the same function of glorious heroic deeds? Yes.

7FEVER-PITCH1997_1835603iNick Hornby in his autobiographical book  Fever Pitch: A Fan’s life , well describes how football works in the mind of supporters. It is glue. Football is the common ground that allows the protagonist Paul Ashworth, an English teacher, to re-create a relationship with his father after the divorce and at the same time he finds in the other supporters of Arsenal that family he needs, with whom sharing the deeds of the present, the hopes for a better future and the stories of a glorious past. Time is felt as seasonal, therefore reassuring, cyclical, never-ending. We may discuss upon the values football expresses, however, people gather around those values and find motivations, passion, frustration but also happiness. For ninety minutes they/we feel alive in a never-ending dream.

It is sad, however, that they couldn’t spot anybody else. How could I blame them? After all the society they had been brought up fabricates powerful models, who invite to a process of identification in order to make profit (football included). The beautiful “lightness” of values is thus replaced by the “heaviness” due to the craving of things. Therefore, once men are emptied of their values, they cannot but  become just like those “dried tubers” of T.S.Eliot ‘s Waste Land, who don’t seem to find any good reason to live and just like “broken images” wander pointlessly in this world, unless……………Totti comes 😦