There is always a bright side……

Pastiera Napoletana

White, green, yellow, orange, dark orange, almost red-orange… red. Red is the colour of Easter in Italy this year. In the whirl of colours which determine what it is possible to do and what it is not during these vacations, the colour red has been drawn by lot: red = maximum restrictions possible. Allow me a little bit of  sarcasm, as, actually, here we don’t understand any longer upon what ground colours are decided and for sure it is not the number of infected or Rt or whatever more to determine it.  Just to understand, with more than 20.000 infected per day, 500 dead, we were orange yesterday, but red a week ago with the same figures and we will go back to orange next Wednesday to allow schools to reopen. One thing more, when schools were first closed at the end of October last year, there was an average of 10.000 infected and 200 dead per day, hence, I am firmly convinced that the choice of colour must be due only either to the alignment of planets or the powerful winds which arise from those who shout the most. For this reason we Italians are not taking these colours so seriously any longer, in fact,  whatever nuance is announced, you see a lot of people indifferently strolling around.

For those who miss social life so badly, any colour downgrading is nothing but the chance to give way to their old habits. Repressed by too many claustrophobic months, you see them darting out at the first occasion, as if they were running out of air. I can understand them, but I have to say that this is not my case. I don’t see why I should fret to do things I can’t fully enjoy. Why should I go to a restaurant? To jolt any time somebody sneezes or stations too close my table? No, thanks. Where is the fun? Actually, I have to say that I have never felt claustrophobic all these months at home, but rather, I have found out that there are a lot of positive sides in this lockdown matter. First, I spend less money, I wouldn’t use the word save, but I do not need to squander all my money in clothes and shoes  any longer, as I have no occasion to exhibit my fancy trophies, which is good. I have also had the  time to practice GIMP, an image editor, which I use to manipulate the images for my power points. I have become addicted to it, it is even slowly  replacing Candy Crush ( I have reached level  8437 in the meantime), if you understand what I mean.

Certainly, transforming  our “Neverland” into “Carbs-land” is the occupation that has taken much of our time, as since the very first lockdown, more than a year ago, we have developed  our cooking skill to a level which borders on perfection. By the ways, I believe that the usage of “we”and “our” may be quite misleading for the reader, so, I need to give a further explanation, as “we”, actually, means that my husband Mr Run cooks and I eat.  In particular the purchase of the Kitchen Aid has helped a lot in this transformation and if you don’t believe me, I’m about to give a sample of some our, ehm, his recipes in the jolly field of Carbohydrates.

Let’s start with bread. We make bread every week and this is what it looks like: tomato and oregano bread on the left and healthy walnut bread on the right.

And this is our super pizza:

If you like Italian home made pasta, here is a sample of what Mr Run usually makes: pappardelle with wild boar sauce and tagliatelle with mushrooms and sausage sauce.

And if you like cakes, here is a Bonet:

More cakes:

And this is what we have prepared for Easter lunch: spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli and special Easter cheese cake (it is still warm) :

I fear, I’m putting on weight only looking at these pictures.

So, this is all from “Carbs- land”. I wish you all a very Happy Easter. This is no the best of our times, I know, but it will end sooner or later, won’t it?.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple”

 

Everyone, who has been teaching for many years now,  knows how learning has changed, since we started. We are now requested to be entertaining, dynamic, technological and on this purpose we are continuously overwhelmed by new educational theories in a sort of didactic frenzy. Another thing I keep observing every year is that school books have become way less extensive than they used to be with a great deals of patterns, photos  and alluring covers. When I was a high school student, schoolbooks were made of words only, dull and the very few pictures were usually/unfortunately placed  at the very end of the book, so when we had a daily assignment of twenty pages, twenty meant  twenty, no discount.

 Books nowadays are 50% made of pictures. Learning must have a visual and quick impact to catch the students’ interest, who actually strain in being focused for more than 20 minutes. One of the most recent learning theories is to segment the lesson in 3, 4 different moments in order to keep their attention constantly alive. But, is this what we have become ? Comedians who seek for the audience’s clapping by means of a good laugh or the wonder of a magic trick? As, there is another thing I noticed. There has been  a growing lexical gap between me and them in time, and I don’t mean in English, but in our language: Italian. Not long ago, I remember translating the word “bedside” into “capezzale” and they looked at me as if I had all of a sudden started to speak German. We are talking about  18 year old teenagers who have never come across a simple word like that and  which they understood only translating it literally from the English: bed= letto,  side = lato, “ al lato del  letto”= “capezzale”. They are of age and can vote.  What has become clear to me is that the outcome all our endeavors in order to keep them away from  the  “boredom-land”  of activities like reading, writing etc.  has only brought to a dramatic impoverishment of their language eventually.

Several studies have demonstrated that the outcome of the decrease in lexical knowledge and the impoverishment of the language consists not only  in the reduction of the vocabulary used, but also in the linguistic subtleties that allow to elaborate and formulate a complex thought. The gradual disappearance of tenses, for example,  gives rise to a thought almost always in the present, limited to the moment: incapable of projections in time. How is it possible to capture a temporality, a succession of elements in time, whether past or future, and their relative duration, without a language that distinguishes between what could have been, what has been, what is, what could be, and what will be after what might have happened, actually happened?

The use of capital letters and punctuation has become on option of late. An increasing number of my students (who theoretically  are supposed to  be used to studying  Latin, philosophy, physics..) are absolutely refractory to start the sentence with the capital letter , for example,– due to the extensive usage of WhatsApp, I know -, but,  every now and then,  they use it with some nouns, like “ Book”, for instance.  Why? Are you German? No useful answer is produced, but distraction. Let alone punctuation. They master “the stream of consciousness” technique without having read a single line from Joyce’s Ulysses;  it just comes natural.  These “deadly blows” to precision and variety of expression  are but symptoms of the difficulty in organizing thinking,  which affects not only learning, by the ways.  Fewer words, fewer conjugated verbs, lack of speech organization mean less ability to express emotions and process a thought. Without words to construct an argument, complex thinking is made impossible. The poorer the language, the more the thought disappears. If there are no thoughts, there are no critical thoughts and  there is no thought without words.

The historical moment we are living, dominated by mass medias way of communicating, reflects exactly what we have said so far. What is this constant polarization in any matter : vaccines, masks, politics, football, but the consequence of the habit of simplification, which leads to the rarefaction of critical thought? We are no longer used to seeing or better understanding the nuances of a question; everything  is black or white, and you know why? Because it is the simplest thing to do, but “ the truth is rarely pure and never simple”.

School should give the tools to understand what is complex, rather than yielding to this process of simplification. Let’s start from words again. Let’s make read and practice the language in its most diverse forms, even if it looks complicated, especially if it is complicated, because in this effort there is freedom. Everything that creates complexity is the real architect of the improvement of human mind. Without complex thinking there is not any truth.

AstraZeneca Drama

I am a very punctual woman, annoyingly punctual, somebody would say. I don’t like to wait, so I don’t make people wait. It comes natural to me. I was born punctual.  So, it was pretty normal for me – but  not for my  husband  –  to arrive at least half an hour before the scheduled appointment to be vaccinated at 4:30 p.m. just yesterday . Actually, I arrived even much before than planned, because there weren’t many people sticking around, due to lockdown. It was 3:45 p.m., when we reached  Fiumicino Covid hub.  There was  just one person queuing before me.” How strange”, I thought. 🤔 When it was my turn a man of the Red Cross scrolled with his finger on the list till he found my name: “Ah, yes , Mrs Tink“. He looked  up and said: “ You are very fortunate. There were a lot of people just an hour ago. It won’t take you long”.🙃 “What a stroke of luck”, I replied. 😜 I hate queuing as much as I hate been kept waiting. Then I started to follow the trail, documents in hand, which took me to the doctor for the anamnesis first, then to another doctor for the jab and then to the final destination, a common space where I was supposed to wait 15 minutes for observation. When I got to that spot, it was 4:10.”Wow, what a wonderful organization” , I thought.🙃 In order to kill time, I soon grabbed my smartphone and I saw that the school chat was jammed with a lot messages, which actually were comments on the following article 😳😳😳:

 “the use of vaccine Astra Zeneca has just been suspended in Germany, France, Spain and Italy  as a precaution, while checks are made into whether there is a link between the shot and an increased risk of blood clots.”

😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱

Just ?” “Just, when?”😨 It appears that “just” was 4:00p.m.😰 , that meant  I was very likely the last person to be vaccinated in Italy with AstraZeneca!! 😱That is why there was actually no queue, when I arrived. Everybody knew but me! 😫The most difficult part was  telling it to my husband, as the frustrating thing is that whenever he is right, I find myself reviewing the Conditional sentences, which I hate😤 :”Hadn’t we moved so soon, you would have had the time to be informed” (3rd type),😡  “If we went to the doctor straight away, we could still find him (2nd type) and ask, if you could get any Cardioaspirin to avoid clots (mixed type). 🤔” You have to know that if you get sick , I won’t take you to the hospital near home, I’ve never trusted them”!😠(1st type) How vexing! 😩I let to your imagination, which level of anxiety he reached the hours that followed. Just to give you an example, in the middle of the night😴 I found my husband awake, while he was delicately perusing, if I was still alive.

But here I am. 😜Apparently I had no side effects, not even the most common ones, till now, at least. The point is that it is absurd to suspend vaccinations in such a way, thus giving rise to general panic. Of course, we must know if there a link between AstraZeneca and the risk of blood shots, but without fueling a general climate of mistrust towards vaccines in general and Astra Zeneca in particular. Once you spread doubt, it is very difficult to uproot it. Let’s hope this won’t be not the case.

Meghan in Wonderland

“I would never marry a prince”. This is what I said to myself as soon I arrived in London many years ago while reading an English newspaper full of the latest gossips about the royals. I would never wish to see myself on  papers, I thought, and read articles digging in the alleged secrets of my present, past or even making assumptions on my future. Everybody licensed to judge the way I speak, look, clothes and stuff like that. Just hell. English press is truly merciless. If they had called Prince Albert a sausage, I can just guess how Princess Tink would  have been called, once discovered that  her origins were from the deep South of Italy, for example. I could see the titles after the first errors: mafia pollutes Buckingham Palace, royal pizza connection. No, thanks, I would have never married a prince, let alone an English prince.

But If I actually had wished to marry a prince and had been lucky enough to bump into one I loved, in the remote case I didn’t know much about this Royal Highness, curiosity would have consumed me, hence, I would have promptly googled his name and find out what kind of prince I had hooked .Then, if I had discovered that we were not talking about the prince of Zamunda Akeem Joffer, but the descendant of the oldest and most prestigious monarchy in Europe indeed, after having thanked my exceedingly good star, I would have endeavoured myself to know a bit more about him and his family, particularly if I had resolved upon marrying him. I would have wanted to know every detail and learn what was best to do or learn about the code of behaviour at court. Then, I am sure, I would have downloaded on You Tube “how to curtsy” part .1,2,3,4 before being introduced to the Her Majesty the Queen. I would have wanted to be impeccable, for sure. I would have wished to be informed to fit the best I could. Anybody would have behaved so, but Meghan Markle, who did marry a prince.

What I watched a few days ago was an lengthy interview on the sorrows of a grown up woman half Alice in Wonderland, half Little Mermaid telling the sad story of her connecting with the Royal family. The entire construction of the interview meant at winking at the story of Diana, but it didn’t work, as it looked like more B movie on the topic of depression.  There were few facts told, but, actually, the responsible of those acts was let to the viewer’s imagination, and you know, imagination flows. The shocking events were mostly these: Megan was soon embittered as nobody had thought about organizing an English anthem class for her, then she proceeded telling about a squabble about the dresses of her bridesmaids, thus revealing that it was her sister-in-law Kate, who made her cry and not the other way round, as odious English press assumed. How shocking. I was wondering if that was before or after Prince Charles walked her down the aisle.

Then there was this continuous mantra, about the security they have been deprived of and the cruelty of seeing her child with no title even if titles do not matter. Actually, the host of the show, the astute Oprah Winfrey, was moving the threads of her puppet to take her to the core of the interview which was dearest to her cause, that is Meghan’s accusation of the royals of racism. That was the shell cast in the middle of a tedious interview made of trivialities mostly. Racism!!! I guess it must have been a great disappointment for those gullible Bridgerton fans, who were made believe by Shonda Rhymes only two months ago, that there was black aristocracy in Regency times.

All that talking about dark thoughts, bridesmaids, anthems was nothing but the tasteless “appetizer” of the more juicy “main course”, which was the accusation the Royal family of being racist. And you know what annoyed me the most? Harry, the real or better, the royal puppet of the situation, because he allowed all this. He  allowed his own overexposed family to be even more exposed in this way. While she spoke, he, the Prince, was at first left apart, to observe her wife’s show. It was her limelight. Couldn’t he see the marginality of his role and person? While I was watching this pitiful show, one Italian proverb, kept rolling in my mind: “mogli e buoi dei paesi tuoi” *. Ah, the wisdom of the oldies!

(Difficult to find a real equivalent in English, which sounds: ”Wives and oxen from your own country” . This should mean that it is better to select your partner from people who belong to your country and  have a similar background, in order to  avoid unpleasant surprises.)

Ada Lovelace

Is thy face like thy mother’s, my fair child!

ADA! sole daughter of my house and heart?

When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,

And then we parted, — not as now we part, But with a hope. –( Child Harold Pilgrimages, Canto III)

Ada Lovelace never saw her father, yet in a way he never left her. Her name Augusta Ada, for example, was always to remind her the scandalous liaison he had had with her aunt Augusta Leigh, actually, his step sister, who was so dear to him to dispose that his daughter should be named after her. Easy to guess, her parents’ marriage came to an end soon and the small talk concerning the circumstances of their divorce would follow her till her death. This may happen when your father is poetry super star George Byron. The swelling tide of rumours about his indecorous conduct forced him to leave the country when Ada was only five weeks old, never to come  back. He died in Greece, when she was only eight years old.

Her mother, who came from a rich family and was a renowned mathematician, in a way feared her daughter might be inclined to the study of humanities just like her father and introduced Ada to her own field of expertise. It was soon evident that the magic of words was not to be in her future, but rather the enchant of numbers. At the age of 12 she made the project of a steam power flight machine. As a true scientist she studied birds’ mechanisms of flight, and then examined various materials, including silk, feathers and paper, with which to build wings. She jotted down the results of her research and recorded each experiment in an illustrated guide, entitled Flyology . One of her tutors proclaimed that if a young male student had her skills “they would have certainly made him an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence”. But she was just a girl.

Lady Byron decided to enhance Ada’s natural aptitude to Math entrusting her training to Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician, who in 1835 would become the first woman to be accepted, as an honorary member, by the Royal Astronomical Society. Once out in society at the age of 17, it is Mary Sommerville that  introduced Ada to William King, who will become her husband and make her Countess of Lovelace and scientist Charles Babbage, the inventor the “Difference Engine”, a first model of automatic calculator designed to tabulate polynomial functions.

When Ada was invited by Babbage himself to see a demonstration of how the “Difference Engine” worked, she was strongly impressed. She couldn’t know it then, but the “Difference Engine” would change her life and would also be the beginning of a long friendship and a fruitful working relationship with Babbage.The man, who at first underestimated that curious girl, began to change his mind and to open up more. They began to correspond about science and even to discuss his ever evolving projects. He also encouraged Ada to indulge her evident predisposition for numbers and to put her potential to good use. For those times, it was not at all easy: the Victorian patriarchal society was hostile towards the ladies who tried to overcome the intellectual, cultural and social boundaries imposed on them.

In  1835, a year before Ada married, Babbage had begun to plan the “Analytical Engine”, a computing system that used cards to multiply and divide numbers and perform a variety of data tasks. The mathematician was forced to seek support and investments on the project abroad, as the British government had tightened the purse strings and this is the reason why in September 1840 Babbage attended the Second Congress of Italian Scientists in Turin.

Among the people in the audience there was the engineer Luigi Menabrea, who offered to draw up a description of the analytical engine, hitherto non-existent. The article appeared two years later in French (Notions sur la machine analytique de Charles Babbage), in a Swiss magazine. Ada Lovelace, who knew French and every aspect of Babbage’s creature very well, proposed herself as a translator. No, actually she did something more.

She added to Menabrea’s writing some of her notes. The new text, almost three times longer than the original, was published in the British magazine “Taylor’s Scientific Memoir” in August 1843. It was signed simply A.A.L. (the initials of Augusta Ada Lovelace) to hide the author’s gender.

Ada Lovelace’s notes also contained in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical Engine, the so called “Note G”.  In short, the first computer program in history. This is the reason why today Ada is considered the founder of the science of programming, at least in its theoretical aspects: for her, in fact, what mattered was the possibility of demonstrating that only one machine could really be applied for multiple purposes, thanks to the instructions that were provided.

Her intuitive mind was able to see even more: if, following instructions, those machines could manipulate numbers, then they would also be able to manipulate the symbols they represented, like musical notes or letters of the alphabet. In a way she was able imagine the behaviour of our modern computers.

Babbage never managed to build his analytical engine and Ada Lovelace could never test his program as she died of uterine cancer at the age of 36. Thus, for over 100 years after her death, no one remembered her, except as Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter. Her scientific contribution remained underestimated until the “father of computer science” Alan Turing rediscovered her notes in 1936. It is possible that the British mathematician was inspired by Ada’s ideas in theorizing artificial intelligence.

The greatest tribute to Lovelace’s work, however, came in the 1980s, when the US Department of Defence called ADA  the newly developed programming language DOD-1 (Department of Defense 1). Furthermore, since 2009, Ada Lovelace Day has been celebrated around the world on the second Tuesday in October, to acknowledge the achievements of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

By the ways, Ada Lovelace was more alike to her father than her story tells, in fact, she did have the gift of poetry, but she applied it to science. She actually declared in a letter that she aspired to what she considered a “poetic science” and that “ imagination is also the faculty of combining“, that is, “of finding points in common between subjects who have no apparent connection”, but “pre-eminently it is the faculty of discovery. It is what penetrates into the invisible worlds around us, the worlds of Science ”. Those could be the words of any romantic poet; just like her father. When she died, she wanted to be buried next to him at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. Together at last.

The Prioress

If I told you to think about a woman who is commonly considered extremely elegant, refined with a great sense of fashion, one who enjoys food and a good company where she often delights in displaying her good manners and knowledge of languages, I am sure you would presume, and with reason, that I’m talking about myself, because I am all such things. But, if I told you that the subject in question is not actually Mrs Tink, but a nun, I am likewise sure that you would understand that there must be something weird in what I am saying, as our image of a “nun” does not , cannot match that description. The Prioress of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” is exactly  all this: a character that does not fit stereotypes.

Chaucer’s description of the pilgrims, actually, is all about detecting their weirdness in behaviour or look, rather than giving you an exact picture of  their physical account, as if only spotting  their singularities, the poet could read their true nature. Chaucer proceeds with great elegance making a crafty use of gentle satire, which consists in the case of the Prioress in a sequence of flatteries, which actually mean quite the opposite of what it seems .

Since the very first lines we understand that this Prioress is somewhat ambiguous. The poet appears to be attracted by her way of smiling, which he describes  as “ simple and coy”. Nothing odd, you would say, this first image fits the behaviour of a nun perfectly, but then he soon adds that she is known as “Madam Eglantine” and eglantine is wild rose with fragrant leaves and flowers, which was in the Middle Age  a symbol of Christ but also of passion and love, and, well, this is weird. Hence, we wouldn’t be far from the truth if we assumed that her being “simple and coy” would refer to another more secular stereotype : the chaste, angel like woman of courtly love tradition.

Chaucer goes ahead telling us how beautiful she sings, even if she intones straight through her nose and also notices that she speaks English with a French accent, even if she is not French at all and very likely she has never been to France. So, we understand that this nun wishes to impress the people she interacts with, thus suggesting that she was once lower-class. Her strange mannerisms can be noticed also at meal time. In fact, she displays excellent table manners: she never lets a morsel of meat fall from her mouth onto her breast, nor does she dips her fingers into the sauce. She wipes her lips so clean that not a trace of grease remains after a meal and eats slowly as if she were not hungry. It is clear that the Prioress’s intent is that of imitating courtly manners and in a way, thus being noticed….. by men.

A nun must be “charitable”, of course, and Chaucer, I am sure, sneered , while emphasizing how sensitive this woman was. She wept if she only saw a mouse bleeding and used to feed “with roast meat, milk and fine white bread”……..her dogs. Chaucer’s satire lies here in what he omits to say, as her humane attitude is displayed only to animals, but there is not a single word of Christian compassion for human beings.

It seems hard to believe, but Prioress is not indifferent to the fashion of  the time, and this is strange indeed. She loves gathering her veil “in a seemly way, thus, keeping the veil higher to let her forehead and the sides of her face uncovered, she goes against monastic rules. That is why Chaucer tells us he appreciates the “graceful charm” of  her neck,  because he saw it and this was quite an unusual exhibition for a nun.

She also indulged on a little make up, as her soft and red lips suggest the use of lipstick which was considered, of course, unacceptable. Furthermore, she wears beautiful, expensive clothing and jewelry, while monastic rule forbade nuns to wear ornaments. The coral rosary with green beads, from which hangs a golden pin with an engraved “A” with the Latin phrase “Amor vincit omnia”- “Love conquers all”- reveals her materialistic interests, which are far away from  being  spiritual. This attitude is emphasized  through the fact that her “greatest oath was but by Saint Loy”, a saint who worked as a goldsmith .

In conclusion, this Madame Eglantine is more interested in profane things rather than fulfilling her religious role. Even the fact that she is far away from her monastery on a pilgrimage, a practice which had been forbidden by bishops several times in history and condemned by the Lollards, proves it . Hence, the target of Chaucer’s criticism is not the lady, but what she represents, that is, the increasing secularization of the church in the late Middle Ages, which by no means could be seen as “dainty”.

The Wife of Bath

In the past, from Aristotle onwards, there was the common creed that God had structured all matters of life in a hierarchical way, a precise work of art where everything had their exact place. This Great Chain of Being, as it was called, in the Middle Age had developed more or less like this: God was at the top of the ladder and right under him there were the angels, which like him are entirely spirit and immutable. Human beings, who consist of both spirit and matter, were beneath them. Animals, plants, minerals followed in this order.

Of course, each group was organized according to a sub-hierarchical structure, as nothing had be left to chance. For what concerns human beings, men came first. That was an uncontroverted law of God. Hence, according to this view women were believed to be naturally inferior. Just like God is above men, men are above women, thus, it is their role and duty to tell the subordinate gender what is right or wrong and to behave accordingly. In short, this patriarchal vision of society was the consequence of the nature of things, the divine vision of the world. If women had been placed there, it’s because God believed it was right to be so.

That is why the stereotypes of women of those times were commonly two: those who conformed to these rules and those who did not. The former were pictured as innocent, chaste and submissive, while the “rebels” were considered sinners, witches, in short, a threat, as they were out man’s control, just like the “true-love” Lord Randal meets in the woods while hunting. This witch like sort of woman poisons and seduces the young man, leading him to death. God, being immaterial, had maybe underestimated, the great power of seduction and control that women might have over man, and this was his Achilles’ heel of the entire structure.

The woman sketched by Chaucer in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, known as “The Wife of Bath”, was well aware of women’s powers and had used them well, that is why she does not completely fit to the above mentioned cliché. She is a wealthy woman, who has made money through marriages, that is, she is independent, a word which is rarely applied to a woman in the 14th century. “Worthy” is the very first adjective Chaucer uses to introduce her. In fact she is a skilled cloth maker and church goer, even if  her mass attending is more a matter of ostentation than devotion. She is powerful and wants to be respected, particularly by the other – submitted – ladies who are intimidated by her behaviour. “The Wife of Bath” is also pictured as “bald”, “ entertaining”, seductive – Chaucer himself appears to feel the charm of this woman – and intelligent.

In the group she is recognized as an absolute authority about marriages and dares to speak freely about what she has learnt through her long experience – she was only twelve when she went to the altar the first time – ; she speaks before other men without needing the permission or the approbation of anybody and what she has to say is shocking for the time.

The first revelation she has to make is that marriage….sucks: “marriage is a misery and a woe”, but this torture can be softened by the clever use of women’s sexual powers to get what she calls a “sovereignty” over their husbands. In short, men can be easily manipulated. Such discovery worries “The Pardoner”, who is to be married soon and does mean to be thus treated by his future wife, but she keeps speaking to impart him a lesson – a woman to a man – in order he may learn from her words of experience how she got complete mastery over all of five husbands, thus demonstrating that women are way smarter than men.

Telling the stories of her 5 marriages and revealing her tricks and cunnings she wants to prove that though men may have all the tangible power in society, women are better at lying and deceiving than men are. Borrowing one famous line from the movie of the “Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” : a man may be the head of the household but the woman is his neck, hence she may turn him wherever she likes.

Hence, even if  “The Wife of Bath” has often been seen as sort of feminist forerunner, she actually both goes against and conforms to stereotypes: though she enjoys telling how she took power over her husbands, she also admits to marrying solely for money, as women in medieval society could gain power and money only through their husbands. But her words started to make comon belief about women’s role in society waver, instilling the most powerful poison ever: doubt.

What’s Wrong with Teachers

Few years ago my previous principal summoned me to ask my illustrious opinion about the introduction of the latest trend in matter of education, that is: CLIL. Our eminent thinkers, who people the aisles of the Ministry of Education in fervent industriousness, had thought that it would have been fine to introduce the teaching of one of the school subjects in English for at least 50% of the allotted hours, and this the last year of high school. Before my dormant reason could react to make me hold my tongue, I heard myself saying: “bullshit”. Yes, bullshit; because we have a few or no such teachers that can explain a subject like Physics, for example, in another language. Bullshit; because, that is the year of the final exams, and even if there were such experts, this switch in language would inconvertibly mean in a consistent loss in the quality of contents. Anyway, as I feared, I had gone too far – Mrs Tink is not used to such a language, after all – I looked at my principal blushing a little, but she only said: “I agree”, “ the matter is your hands”. Mine? Oh, my! And this is how I have been put in charge of CLIL organization in my school, a position which have held firmly for years as nobody wishes to snatch it from my hands .

Of course, this meant attending tedious meetings at the Ministry of Education, of which I only remember the most amazing lasagne ever tried. I still recall myself attending boring conversations without saying a word , but with the corner of my eyes I endeavoured to spot the next tray carrying, more steaming lasagne to dart over them. Of course, as if the morning sessions were not enough, I was afflicted by  afternoon meetings too. I could hear no word that could convince me of the goodness of the project, till, one last speaker caught my attention, which was still blurred by the enormous  quantity of carbs swallowed. More than a full concept, it was a word: mission. Wait a minute, wait a minute: “How did we get there? What mission are we talking about?” I whispered to my neighbour. They were talking about money and career. This new figure, which they meant to introduce, was actually over qualified for high school, hence, somebody had enquired about which benefits such teacher would have had, in short: “what’s in it for me?”.  “Well, nothing”, he answered. “Let’s call it …. a mission”, he replied candidly.

A mission. This is the greatest trap teachers have fallen into these last years. We have been led to believe that we are not qualified professionals but something more, missionaries, that is people who have received a divine call at the service of education and because of such vocation are expected to grow accustomed to whatever situation or to respond to any requirement students, parents, politicians may develop for……nothing, of course.  That is why for teachers there is not a real career or any prospect of wallowing in gold, we are supposed to be content with the outcome of our vocation only. And whose fault is this? Ours,  just ours, because in time we have abdicated to our original nature of educators to become a sort of hybrid with no more defined identity or clear goal. When did it all start? I don’t know.

The events during this pandemic have made no exception. We have been asked to acquire new skills, mostly technological to tackle remote learning at the best and we did it. Once back to school, we have become computer technicians, Wi-Fi experts, Zoom and Meet masters, but that was not enough yet.  When we realized that the computers we had given or the line did not work properly, we instantly started to bring our own devices or to use our own router Wi-Fi, as it was our impellent mission, of course, to make things work anyhow. When school closed, even if our efforts were actually doubled, or privacy annihilated, for the public we had become do-nothing privileged, who should have gone to work to school in any case, taking the example of supermarket cashiers who never quitted their workstation, real heroes of the situation.

Now, think about any other worker. I would like to know which company requires its employees to use their own devices, or to buy more gigabytes in case the Wi-Fi does not work and use private routers. But we are missionaries, we are expected to find a solution to make things work with nothing in return, and if you dare say something, you are reminded that you are lucky enough in these days to still have a job.

In time we have accepted all this and the pandemic has made it only more clear, if possible . Yielding to all kinds of expectations, different from educating, without even attempting to a fight, has greatly contributed to the breakdown of the old education system, which was mostly based on merit, discipline, effort, to supplant it with a pointless approach where subjects have been replaced by projects, discipline by a maternal, over protective attitude and effort, well, it is a word to be used only for sport, nowadays. We teachers are also responsible for all this and the possibility of a change is all in our hands. I think and it is high time we take off the  – I fear for many comfortable – disguise of  missionaries and change direction; a little exercise could be of help : let’s try and remember what made us want to be teachers and I am sure it was not a matter of vocation , but something more. We have to go back there, from where we started.

“La Befana” always comes at night

“La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
con le toppe alla sottana:
Viva, viva la Befana!”

 

(“Old Befana comes by night 
with her shoes from first twilight 
with some patches on her skirt 
Giving charcoal to naughty kids”)


The “Befana” traditionally comes the night of between the 5th and 6th of January. She is that old scary witch, who flies on a broom to reward with candies the children who have been good and punish the naughty ones giving them only just charcoal – well, sugar charcoal -. She usually leaves the gifts in the old sock, children leave hanging near their beds. Just like Santa, when we were kids, we used to stay awake till late, as we wanted to catch a glimpse of the horrible sinister woman, till exhausted, we fell asleep and so our parents could fill our socks.

Of course the morning we looked forward to seeing our treats and woke up early. Well, you have to know that this is exactly what I keep doing these days: I go to bed late at night and wake up early in the morning in all excitement to look for my surprise. Why? At my age am I still hoping to receive my deserved candies -as I know I’ve been extremely good and patient this year-? Nope. The treat I seek every day is named DPCM:  the Decree of the President of the Council of Ministers. Such decrees are usually issued every couple of weeks, but in between, there the amendments of the amendments of the last DPCM which update the DPCM before. Our ministers are in the strange habit of meeting at night and only when it is dawn, like the Befana, they spread their treats. That’s why every morning as soon as I wake up, I grab my sock, sorry, my smartphone and if I see 276 WhatsApp messages, I understand before reading them that the treat has arrived.

To cut a long story short, till last night, we, high school teachers didn’t know when, if, how we would go back to school. During those days of uncertainties, we found ourselves doing the most unbelievable actions like: joining remote meetings during festivities and even asking form more, planning the most disruptive demonstrations and dropping the most disruptive demonstrations, fighting over new schedules according the guidelines of the last DPCM to find out that it was all eventually useless. We could have spent all this time, reading, cooking, redecorating, writing and whatever more, as this morning the Befana broke with the news that it is still unsafe for high school students to be in presence, event 50% presence.

Well, “you may go to sleep now, Tink”, I guess you  would think. Not exactly, as there is the issue of the traffic light. Yes, the traffic light, that stuff with yellow, green and red lights. Yesterday night’s decision is only temporary: till next Monday. Now it is to be decided, what colour the 20 Italian regions are, according to the Covid data from the scientific technical committee. GREEN means GO: go to school, work, normal life; YELLOW/ORANGE, well, I know that abroad yellow means slow down and stop, but for us yellow sounds more like go as fast as you can, before it turns RED, hence, if we are in a yellow zone we may go back to school, normal life  etc. yet, with some restrictions, so we have to do quickly what is needed as it might turn RED in a second. When you live in a RED area, well, you’d better subscribe Netflix as you are locked in.

Hence, here we are, our destiny will be determined by a color and then another color till this Covid question will come to an end and we could go back to normal. What a treat that  would be, my dear Befana.

Alluring and Entertaining

I often  wonder what response I would get if I taught in the way I used to do at the beginning of my career. Because one thing teachers must learn quickly – and those who don’t will end their days behind a desk or screen bitterly disappointed –  : the communication model has to be modified again and again to be effective and have a positive feedback. Generations change and necessarily we have to change with them.  Any teacher’s repertoire, because we have one, has to be updated, refreshed, modernized in order to be appealing and above all, we always need to find new forms of expression to connect with our public. When I was a student, I was the one who had to find a way to connect with my teachers and if I did not, well, the problem was mine. Now it is just the opposite. If it was much easier to teach decades ago, I can’t say. What I know is that now we are mostly required to be entertainers, as adolescents cannot, must not be bored.

Hence, since it was time to deal with the theme of the double narrator in Wuthering Heights, I wondered how I could connect with my audience without being  boring, but catchy and  entertaining. My addiction to Netflix helped me in a way.  Recently I have noticed that the flash forward device, for example,  has become increasingly popular among series. Flash forwards are effective, if you want to create a certain suspense, which originates in the initial disorientation due to the lack of familiarity with the characters and the usual breathtaking event, of which we have only partial knowledge.  We are given just the few necessary tiles to leave us confused enough to want for more. At that point the chronological, explicative narration begins. I also noticed that if the use of such device is not well calibrated, it may often result quite annoying, as in series I loved like “How to get away with murder”  or “How I met you mother”, in fact, sometimes I found myself wishing to scream: “Enough!”

And what are the first three chapters of Wuthering Heights but one of the first experiments in using flash forwards in a narration? When the novel starts, 98% of the events have already happened. Emily Brontë chooses apparently the most unfit of narrators to introduce us to Wuthering Heights, in fact Mr Lockwood is a total stranger to the story. He has just arrived from London to go to Wuthering Heights and call on Heathcliff, the landlord whose house he has rented: Thrushcross Grange. In a way, he forces Heathcliff lo let him in, feigning to ignore his scarce sense of hospitality and due to adverse weather conditions, he is allowed to stay the night. Through the eyes of Lockwood we are introduced to the weird characters who inhabit Wuthering Heights, even those who are dead. The general  atmosphere is unfriendly and scary. That place seems to be hiding secrets everywhere. When he reads some diaries he finds in the room he has been left, we are acquainted with a certain Catherine, who will be the other central character of the novel. That very moment something seems to be tapping at the window and suddently a sequence of unexpected events follow: a scream, a ghost, Heathcliff’s tears and desperation, till dawn arrives.  

Lockwood accomplishes his task of exciting our curiosity, keeping well locked at the same time, as his name anticipates, the secrets of Wuthering Heights. To unveil all the dynamics of the story a second narrator will be needed, a witness to the entire saga, one of the few who survived, actually, as Nelly Dean, the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange, who will answer all Lockwood’s curiosities and ours. At this point we could also say that Wuthering Heights has been structured in such a way to make the first three chapters of the novel  the catalysers of the reader‘s attention and curiosity, as a good pilot episode of a modern drama series would. It is up to the reader to say whether Wuthering Heights’s novel keeps up to the expectations aroused by the three chapter pilot episode, but certainly Emily Brontë’s craft and modernity will never be questioned. It is otherwise questionable, whether such an approach may work with my public made of bored adolescents. Well, I’ll let you know about it.