A Matter of Chance

Miss Charlotte Lucas is exactly the kind of friend every woman wishes to have. If you are so fortunate to have as your best friend a Charlotte Lucas type, you will never be in danger of being overshadowed by her, as this specimen is usually “not handsome enough” to draw the interest of a man on her first – you know, we women are quite sensitive on this point – and she never seeks attention, but rather, she enjoys to see you in the limelight (I’ve never met one). In that shadow where Charlotte Lucas has comfortably placed herself for all her life, she has had all the time to study people and their behaviour in society, thus maturing a particular sensibility that allows her to detect whatever becomes unusual in their actions and to see events before they do happen. She is the first one to perceive Darcy’s change in attitude towards her friend Elizabeth and she is quick to understand that Jane’s demureness will not be the right strategy to secure Bingley :

“..it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.” (Pride and Prejudice Chpt 6)

Being wise and not afraid of speaking her mind, she always tries to find the right words to warn and advice her friend Elizabeth, but as a modern Cassandra, she is hardly ever given consequence as the limelight often blunders.

Charlotte Lucas seems to know the rules of love better than any other girl, but she also knows that love is not her game; not any more. At 27, she does not allow herself any longer even to dream a meeting with her Prince Charming. She is well aware that she has got just a few cards left to play, if she wants to marry and avoid “being a burden” to her family. The search of love would reduce her chances to get a husband, well, any husband. There is no room for any deceitful romanticism for her. She truly believes that neither love, nor wealth or disposition can guarantee a happy marriage:

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well-known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and 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 Chpt 6)

Soon after Charlotte convinces Elizabeth to sing before their friends and Darcy. Once again, while Lizzie enjoys the limelight, she quietly retreats in her shadow, but her remarks cannot be ignored. Are these words or wisdom or just the bitter conclusions of a disappointed young woman?  Of course, Elizabeth, who is six years younger and claims her right to marry for love, considers her speculations unreasonable and laughs at her. When you are 21, even 30 and your entire life is before you, Charlotte’s disquisition may sound ridiculous, but when you grow older and you can ponder on yours and even your friends’ relationships, would I still laugh at the idea that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance? I would not, and you?

Bohemian Rhapsody

Do people still go to the cinema?” I thought, as I was so surprised to see the cineplex  so crowded. I have to say that since the advent of pay-Tv, Netflix etc. for me cinemas smell of Middle Age.  My sitting-room, in fact, has been transformed into a cozy movie theatre: a wide big screen, a comfortable, reclining sofa and for what concerns snacks, well, my husband  is usually in charge of food, he is such a great cook; that is why I got out of the habit of going out to see a movie and I thought that most people did likewise. I was wrong. Actually, I’m wondering if this is nothing but the first symptom of the approaching old age! By the way, let’s not think about it, for “Bohemian Rhapsody” I made an exception and I am glad I did it.

I don’t know about you, but for me “Bohemian  Rhapsody” is one of the 3 pop rock music gems along with Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Pink Floyd’s “Wish you Were Here”; it evokes the sounds and the colour of my youth. If one decides to watch the film having in mind to live those emotions again, well, he won’t be disappointed as from the very first shots, you are catapulted into the atmosphere of the time, which for us who did live it, let me say , “is a kind of magic“.The movie focuses on the first fifteen years of the rock group the Queen and their frontman Freddy Mercury, from the birth of the band in 1970 to the Live Aid concert of 1985.The reconstruction of places, people, clothes is absolutely amazing, while the narration is not always faithful to facts as it is clear the intent to consecrate on the screen a legend. Rami Malek is a convincing Freddie Mercury, even if sometimes he is a little over the top and seems having trouble in controlling the Mick Jagger hidden inside him, yet, despite my words, his interpretation has been worthy of an award nomination, so: chapeau !

The narration of the beginnings, the worldwide success, Freddie’s vicissitudes and illness are engaging, but the climax of the movie is at the end, with the Queen’s epic performance at the Live Aid. The power of music along with the memories that bring about make the final 15 minutes absolutely amazing and you find yourself there, back to 1985. I started to notice that the people around me couldn’t refrain from singing the songs, following the beat and even dancing. The atmosphere had become joyous and with the help of the darkness of the theatre, it was easy to imagine ourselves for a while the boys and the girls we used to be. When the lights were on, I could see mostly men and women in their fifties or sixties with the sparkling eyes of youth again. A spontaneous, long clap sealed the end of the movie.

It was a clap to the band, to Freddie but also to an age when we were still able to dream a better world. Thanks to the great intuition of Bob Geldof, the billion people, who watched the concert all over the world and united by the enchant of music, truly believed that all together could fight starvation in Africa. In was an age when walls were crashed rather than erected. In little more than thirty years “things have changed, changed utterly”, how was that possible? I thought. We have been defeated, that is the truth.  Yet, while I  was absorbed in these thoughts, I could hear a little voice inside me, a young voice which had been dormant for too long, which told me not to give in and kept on singing that eventually “we will, we will rock you!”💪

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar Wilde in Sicily

Things had to cool down after the further scandal which had involved Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas while they were in Naples and Capri. So, Wilde quickly left the island and with the little money he had left, headed alone to Taormina in 1898. Wilde was not only attracted by  those magnificent rocky and enchanted bays of the dark blue Mediterranean or that mythological fascination that Sicily offered to its visitors. At that time Sicily, with its ancient Greek associations, had become a sort of dream land for homosexual literati of the time. It was the place where to project their sexual fantasies and invoke the legitimization of the ancient ‘Greek love’ tradition. This is the Sicily Wilde had in mind when he wrote the following lines taken from ” Charmides” in 1881.

“He was a Grecian lad, who coming home
with pulpy figs and wine from Sicily
Stood at his galley’s prow, and let the foam
grow through his crisp brown curls unconsciously,
and holding wave and wind in boy’s despite
peered from his dripping seat across the wet and stormy night»

Of course, Bosie had not been forgotten. Once arrived in Sicily and soon charmed by Taormina’s beauty and atmosphere, he missed him even more. He would have liked to enjoy his lover’s company in that magic place and so he started to send him passionate letters. This was more or less their tone: “my arms without you, grasp a void”, or “I’ve discovered a lover’s paradise where we will come to live together one day”.

Wilhelm Von Gloeden

In Taormina he stayed in the Hotel Victoria, which still exists today, on the Corso Umberto at number 81. Wilde made numerous visits to Baron Wilhelm Von Gloeden’s studio inTaormina, which was already famous throughout Europe. Von Gloeden had invented a new, extraordinary artistic genre: recreating the archetype of Magna Graecia with a backdrop of magnificent vistas and the close-up of beautiful and primitive Taormina children posing naked. Those photographs went out all over the great capitals of the Old Continent and  launched a simple message: in that world homosexuality was not a taboo, but it was practiced as in ancient Greece.

During the thirty days of Oscar’s staying in Taormina, he attended Gloeden, learnt his photographic techniques, adorned and made up the kids who posed for him before the photo shoot.They were the same kids who filled the barrels of sea water that carried on their shoulders from the Bay of Mazzarò to the village to pour them into the writer’s tub, following the example of his friend the Baron, who had the habit of bathing in salt water.

Oscar Wilde left Taormina on the 13th  February of 1898 with his suitcase full of shots of those “marvellous boys”; that is how he defined the boys in the photographs of Von Gloeden. Still today, among the cards belonging to Oscar Wilde, there are two of  Von Gloeden’s photographs. His friend Gloeden hoped to have his friend back soon in Taormina. He took him by the hand, and with great generosity and affection, offered him his house. Wilde responded with bitterness:

«I thank you, but the Mediterranean sun is no longer for me. Alfred yes he loves the southern sun and can enjoy it, so young and in love with life.. I know that he is nearly settled in Capri, who knows if he won’t decide to stop off in Taormina, which we’ve talked about a lot and where we have dreamt for so long of living together one day».

In April 1900 Wilde returned to Sicily, just a few months before his death but he would never walk again the streets of Taormina. He truly enjoyed the beauties of the Sicilian capital, Palermo, under the false name of Mr. Frak.  One day, young poet Achille Leto bumped into him. He was sure of having recognised the famous artist and asked : “Are you Oscar Wilde?“. Oscar looked at him and said: “I was Oscar Wilde“.

He died of meningitis on 30 November 1900.

 

 

Masters and Fridays

Robinson is by no means the forerunner of that model colonizer Kipling had in mind in his “White Man’s Burden” and certainly the one who actually demonstrates how right and natural the superiority of the white man can be. After many years of permanence on the desert island Robinson is eventually allowed to enjoy the pleasure of society again, well, a small society, as his new companion is a Carib cannibal he had rescued from being murdered and eaten by two of his mates.

Now, even if we have one big island for two people only, it is interesting to point out that the relationship between the two belongs, from the beginning, to the master and servant kind and, mind, it is not only a matter of gratitude as Robinson had saved the native’s life, it is natural:

“..he came running to me, laying himself down again upon the ground, with all the possible signs of an humble, thankful disposition, making a many antick gestures to show it.(…..)At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as he had done before; and after this, made all the signs to me of subjection, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me as long as he lived.”

So Robinson doesn’t even need weapons to subjugate and submit him, he finds himself with his foot on the native’s head as he instinctively understands the white man’s superiority. This act is very potent in effect and inhuman in some way, but Robinson doesn’t feel uncomfortable with it at all, and he doesn’t even attempt to remove his foot from the native’s head. That foot is exactly where it ought to be.

It is also interesting to spend a few words of the choice of proper names. The native must have his own name, but Robinson is not interested in the least in knowing it, and let alone, learn it, so, he calls him Friday, because that was the day he had saved his life. Yet, as soon as Friday can understand him, he teaches him to call  him “Master”, rather than “Robinson”, just to underline that they will never be equal on that island.

Now that the rules of cohabitation are set, Robinson proceeds with putting successfully in place that colonizing model Kipling will outline one day. Subjugate first and then educate. Robinson starts teaching him good manners. If they had to share their meals, well, it should be done properly:

“..I gave him some milk in an earthen pot, and let him see me drink it before him, and sop my bread in it; and I gave him a cake of bread to do the like, which he quickly comply’d with, and made signs that it was very good for him.”

Of course, we teachers know that it takes a certain amount of time to learn rules and procedures properly, in fact, even if Friday seems sincerely to enjoy his bread and milk, he is still a cannibal at heart and candidly takes Robinson to the place where the two dead bodies of his captors were buried with the aim of, well, eating them, with Robinson of course:

“….at this I appeared very angry, expressed my abhorrence of it, made as if I would vomit at the thoughts of it, and beckoned with my hand to him to come away, which he did immediately, with great submission.”

What a waste of good meat, Friday must have thought, but having understood to have done something his master considers wrong, he regards wiser to keep on with those acts of submission which worked so well.

Afterwards, Robinson decides to cover Friday’s nakedness giving him some clothes ” at which he seemed very glad, for he was stark naked” he presumes. Now, I suppose, being in the Caribbean, that is, very hot, Friday must always have enjoyed his nudity, as he had never associated it to sin as white men do, so there is no real reason why he should truly be very glad, but of course, Defoe couldn’t have written otherwise. The last and final step is Friday’s conversion to Christianity. Thus, Robinson accomplishes with the task of the “White Man’s Burden”, which eventually consists in wiping out the culture of the subjugated peoples, which is wrong and evil, and replacing it with the right and good one of the white rulers.

Robinson doesn’t even undergo Kurtz’s transformation once surrounded by the power of nature and the contact with the natives. He is a son of the Enlightenment ,after all, which boasted the excellence of man and the power of his reason, rather than the weakness of his soul. Robinson sees no horror, as Kurtz eventually does. The world for him is rightly divided into two categories: Masters and Fridays.

Mrs Tink Did Not Win The Big Apple

We are going to New York. This is what my husband Mr Run texted me about three months ago. Why? When? I thought. It sounded all so strange, as we had never talked about it before and he is not the kind of man of sudden decisions, unless he has got everything under control. In fact, the text ended with a link. Ah, there it was. Again. It was a link to a brand new contest named “Italian Teacher Award” organized by Model United Nations and one of the major Italian newspapers: La Repubblica. One of my colleagues had already sent me that link a week before and I had promptly put it aside after a quick glance. It was about describing in a text of about three thousand  words characters one’s own educational project, or even more than one, afterwards, the projects of all the participants would have been examined by a Judging Commission, made up of personalities from the Italian culture and school, according to the parameters of didactic innovation, originality, impact on students, integration of disadvantaged students and repeatability. The chosen six would have won a didactic trip to New York.

Didactic trip to New York? It sounded like a sort of oxymoron to me. Didactic is not exactly the word that I usually associate to New York. The prize consisted in a tour of those schools which are renowned for fighting school drop-out, promoting integration among students or those which are active in terms of technological innovation. As for the accommodation, I had full board guaranteed in a SINGLE bedroom –so, WE I would have gone to New York. Now, let’s speak plainly, I belong to the Sex and the City generation! Had I been awarded with such a prize, I would have expected to enjoy whatever New York could offer in terms of trendy restaurants,clubs, shops  etc. and, as a winner of such a contest, to lodge at the Four Seasons. At least. Should I go New York to visit schools? It sounded more like a punishment than a real prize to me.Yet, how could I disappoint a husband for whom I am not a teacher, but THE teacher? So, I did take part to the contest, eventually, with the only aim of…. winning it. I am quite a competitive sort of person and I would have felt more than satisfied just winning it. But I did not.

I set to work and wrote a passionate text where I described my project, which was more or less a synthesis of some of the themes and episodes I have already dealt with in this blog. “What do you think about it? Can it work?” I asked Mr Run. After a while, he proudly replied: “Now there are just five prizes left…..only, it seems a bit too long!” “Too long? They said 3.000 words and I have not even reached 2.000” He was right. It should have been 3.000 characters long, spacing between characters and punctuations marks included. Certainly, describing an extensive and integrated project in 400 words rather than 2.000 and keeping the same effect, well, it is not such an easy task. After the resizing it sounded poorer – having, of course, the original in mind – so we decided to add an explanatory slide. As I couldn’t find a way to make it any better, I submitted the project and kept my finger crossed. It was November 30th 2018.

Tomorrow, January 14th 2019 the award ceremony will take place at Auditorium della Conciliazione in Rome  and we don’t even know when/if it starts and the names of the winners. Actually, the other 715 participants and I have understood to be among the losers, as nothing has been communicated to us so far. Nothing has appeared on the web page of the contest, which has been dead since December 7th, nor have we received an informative mail. I guess it shouldn’t have been that difficult – if we consider that we are talking about United Nations and La Repubblica – to write a mail, the same mail, to the other 716 teachers, kindly informing them on the result of the contest: “Thanks for joining in. Try again” would have been enough, if you really didn’t know what to write. We have not even been invited to the ceremony, but surfing the internet I have found an invitation card directed to the Italian association of principals, thanks to which I could be acquainted of the fact that everything will start at 5:00 p.m., while originally we were told that it was at 8:00 p.m.. As I live in Rome, had I decided to go the ball, like Cinderella, I wouldn’t have found anybody in.

Teachers matters, recited the contest notice, but as always, the devil is in the details. If we mattered, we would be treated with the respect we deserve. I prefer facts to empty words. Yet, who is to blame for all this? My husband, of course. That’s why I told him that I will never recover from such bitter disappointment till he takes me to New York himself. Next summer would do. In the meanwhile let me see, if I can book a room for two at the Four Seasons!

 

 

Kurtz

“Mistah Kurtz-he dead” (The Hollow Men. Line 1)

Conrad’s Kurtz seems, by no means, what Kipling had defined “the best ye breed”, the perfect product of Western civilization, all Europe, in fact, had contributed to the making of Kurtz, as his mother was half-English, while his father was half-French. Painter, musician, writer and even philanthropist, he exercises a powerful influence on  people with his charisma, in fact, whoever has ever known him would bet that he is destined to success. Yet, in this case “Nomen” is not “omen”, as this promising future of greatness is not reflected by his name, which, ironically, hints at a certain smallness of the man. Kurtz, in fact, means short in German.

Kurtz truly believes in the civilizing mission of the white man. Not only he had  supported it in a pamphlet he wrote, but he had also given form to his ideas in a painting, which Marlow describes with the following words:

“a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was sombre—almost black. The movement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister” (1.57).

Kurtz’s painting, an image of a blindfolded, stately  woman surrounded by darkness, carrying a torch, obviously, represents European colonization. The torch is the “light” of culture and order that Europeans are apparently bringing to the region. The blindfolded woman is, in fact, a symbol of justice, the white man justice, of course, which causes tremendous injustices at the hands of the European colonizers, whose eyes must be well covered by a blindfold to accomplish their activities. That’s why, the effect of the light on the woman’s face for Marlow is, somehow, “sinister”.

Kurtz goes to Africa carrying a luggage full of idealism and dreams of glory, but once  far from Western civilization, Kurtz’s sophisticated masks drop one after another leaving his now defenseless self, naked and exposed to the power of the wilderness which will affect him to madness .The jungle will slowly get “into his veins” and consume “his flesh”  and soul transforming him into a totally different man. He loses any sense of decency and restraint as often repeats Marlow. Once crossed the line drawn by his ethics, he is no longer able to go back and is swallowed by his thirst of ivory, greed of power and the pleasure given by the sense of omnipotence he can experience, after having turned himself into a god for the natives. Yet, in a certain way, the natives have succeeded in ruling over him, deeply affecting his nature, that’s why they have to be exterminated, as he writes in a last shred of sanity or folly in a postscript to a report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs.

Once, eventually, Marlow finds a dying Kurtz on the verge of madness, his obsession for him, which had been the products of many and different narrations, gives way to an unexpected truth. That man hidden behind all his masks of grandeur, talent and success is only a small man, as his name suggested, “hollow to the core“: “shape without form. Shade without color. Paralyzed force“, as T.S.Eliot writes in his poem “The Hollow Men”.  Kurtz had not been able to find a real meaning in his life, mostly because, he was devoid of human emotion and understanding, just as other fictional heroes like Dorian Gray or Faustus and this is what gives their tragic ends a sense of “horror”.