Back to writing

I don’t have a lot of recent posts (or a lot of readers) here, but that does not mean I have not been writing. In fact for the last months I have been just traveling through Europe and writing what will perhaps become a book one day.

The original idea was to also publish occasional travel articles in this blog, but for some reason I could not do that very often, although I will try to correct that. Maybe I can publish extracts from the book to test if it works or not? In case anyone is interested, please let me know.

In the meantime, here is an article that I wrote about Sicily which was just published on Listverse.

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Florence

It’s a strange experience to be typing in a bus that has wi-fi connection but seats so close one to the other that I have to move my arms retracted in an extremely clumsy position to be able to type. If I had shorter arms like a tyrannosaurus rex now, it would be ideal. Unfortunately that is not the case so I am condemned to type a short post, since the shaking of the bus also does not help.

Nevertheless, I would like to apologize to my five nice readers for the lack of recent posts. I have been traveling in Italy. Fara Sabina, Rome and today Firenze.

I will post more about it all later, but for now: Firenze is beautiful. It is a shame that I nded up staying only seven hours in the city, not enough to see all that it can offer. I walked the full 441 steps of the stairway of the Torre di Giotto at the Duomo. I was so high up over the city that I had to switch my phone to airplane mode, just in case. The view was breathtaking, or maybe I was just out of breath because of the long ascent.

Nevertheless, I don’t care so much for views, so I skipped the 464 steps needed to go up the cupola (the ticket gives you the right to go up both) and went directly to the Uffizzi museum, which, luckily, did not have more than a few steps.

Too much to see there and not enough time to comment. My favorite was the Boticelli room. Michelangelo is a genius, but I have to say that, at least in this trip to Italy, I was mightily impressed by Bernini and Boticelli.

There are no Berninis at the Uffizzi (they are mostly at the Galeria Borghese at Rome, of which I will talk another time), and the David of Michelangelo is not there either (it is at the Gallery of the Academy). But there are several paintings by Boticelli, including The Birth of Venus.

No one paints women like Boticelli. His Venus is just perfect in her beauty and serenity. His Madonnas are also beautiful.

Veronese and Tintoretto have also impressed me. And I really liked some Roman sculptures exhibited on the corridors. But there is so much art you can take before fatigue sets in, so I rapidly passed by the session of non-Italian painters (one Velasquez, the Adam and Eve by Cranach the Elder, three self-portraits by Rembrandt) and I went out for a bit of air.

Sunset by the Pontevecchio perfectly closed the journey. But yes, one day is not enough to see Florence.

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No country for young men

I am reading about the shooting in the Los Angeles airport. I lived for four years in L.A. and might still return, because it is still part of my life, while Italy isn’t. Italy, I realize now, is the past. It is a beautiful country and you can eat better here than anywhere else, but I understand now that my nostalgia was not about Italy at all, it was about a certain life I lived here which is now irrevocably lost. It’s OK, everything in life is but a brief dream, and the only constant is change. We must march on, like soldiers in the trenches, jumping over the bodies of the dead.  

Italy has a population growth rate of only 1.4, below replacement level. The small village I am right now in is cute, but inhabited mostly by old people, and this is increasingly true of the whole country I am afraid. This is no country for young men. They have no work and many are migrating elsewhere in Europe, mostly England and Germany.

But is life in the USA healthier for young people? I am not really sure. Now yet another young man (seemingly of Italian origin, judging by the surname Ciancia), someone who had more opportunities than most of us, has just shot some TSA agents in the airport, one fatally, and is currently in custody. There is something about America today that feeds paranoia, rage, fear and violence. No, this is not about guns or gun laws. Other countries have guns but they do not have so many of such events. There is something about American life that breeds rage and frustration in lonely young men.

Apparently his motive was that he was “disappointed with the government”, which is strange, because anyone with any sense would not put any hopes in any government at all. I am a firm believer that the less government, the better (I am an anarchist of sorts). But it is true that, as the NSA spying scandal and the Obamacare fiasco show, Government in America is becoming increasingly totalitarian and invasive, and the country is losing its identity in the midst of massive illegal immigration. America is the new Rome, it is slowly falling, a decadent Empire.  

I will be in Rome next week and I will take pictures of ancient Roman monuments and think of the similar fate that awaits America, should it not be careful.

 

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Italy is not for the faint-hearted

Twenty hours with almost no sleep. Jet lag or mere excitement from the travel? I really don’t know. It was a long trip. Seven-hour wait at the Frankfurt airport, then two-hour flight to Rome, then a two-hour train from Rome to Fara Sabina, and then still a fifty-minute bus ride to the small village where I will be staying for the next weeks. Why? I really don’t know for sure.

After the cold efficiency of the Germans, here trains are overcrowded, phones do not work, and the bus driver runs like crazy through narrow roads on the edge of precipices. Toto, I think we are not in Deutschland anymore.

Still, I have to say i enjoyed it so far. People were kind and on the bus a group of old ladies talked and laughed like schoolgirls, very far from the serious German faces and the completely silent Canadians. We are in Italy all right, in the good and in the bad.

Italy for me is a bittersweet place. It is part of my life, for personal reasons that I won’t go into right now, but it’s mostly the past, and sometimes it makes me happy and sometimes it makes me sad. At some point in my life I could have lived here forever, and sometimes I still wonder why it didn’t happen. On the other hand, maybe it was for the best. It’s not good for young Italians right now. jobs are scarce and people are leaving – many of them to Germany, in fact.

I’ll try to get some sleep and continue later with the journal – and, hopefully, with more serious writing at some point.

(In the meantime, I am reading Yeats’ autobiography, a book about I’d like to write about later too). Arrivederci.

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Frankfurt Airport, 6 A.M. local time

So here I am at the Frankfurt airport, waiting for my flight to Rome. I am back in Europe after at least three years.

The reception, I have to say, was not exactly warm. After 7 hours of a quiet flight but not having slept at all, I present my Brazilian passport to the young German woman with a Polizei uniform in the box behind the glass.

“Is Brazil part of the European union?”, she asks me.

I look at her a bit confused, wondering if it was a trick question or a joke. Oh yes, that good old German sense of humor. But she’s not laughing. She points to the European Union symbol at the top of the window, indicating that that entrance is only for holders of European passports. I apologize and try to move to some other more adequate and humble entrance for us ignorant third-worlders, but she does not return my passport. Her eyes look at me piercingly. She asks me where I am going, why and for how long. She requests travel insurance, invitation letter and a lot of printed documents that I don’t have with me. I try to explain that I am going to Rome, or rather to a small city near Rome, for an arts residency, to stay for a month writing and making a short documentary film. (Actually, my plans are a bit sketchy, and I am not really sure what I will be doing yet. But they invited me, and so I am going.)

“What are you going to do there?”, she asks again.

I try to explain again that I am going to be mostly writing and filming.

She asks again: “I don’t understand. What are you going to do there?”

“Write”, I say, to simplify.

She still does not understand. The concept seems completely alien to her.

“Write what?”

“A screenplay.”

She seems even more puzzled than before. Finally she blurts out:

“I don’t understand. You can ride a motorcycle, or a horse, what are you going to ride?”

“No, not ride. Write. Schreiben”, I explain, pretending to hold a pen and moving my hand in circles.

“Oh, Schreiben.”

Then, just in case, I take out and show her my Canadian residency card, so that maybe she can see that I am not a complete nobody. Maybe that does the trick, because she lets me pass, but not without a stern warning to avoid future mistakes: “Next time, print all your documents. When I go to Canada, or to Brazil, I bring all the documents with me.” I don’t think she ever went to Brazil. I don’t think she would survive for long there.

Germans are fascinating people. So efficient, so orderly. The Lufthansa flight was one of the best I ever took, very fast, departure and arrival exactly on time, and not one minute of turbulence. Still, I’m kinda glad they lost the War. I mean, seriously, had they won it they would have become really impossible.

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Charlie, it was really nothing

A clever designer combined the lyrics of The Smiths with the Peanuts strips and the results are hilarious. Well, at least for anyone who loves both Morrissey and Charlie Brown. The combination is so perfect that you have to ask, how come no one though of this before?

This makes you think which other great combinations of music and cartoons could there be. Calvin and Hobbes with Belle & Sebastian, maybe?

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The cult of self-esteem

An interesting article in the Atlantic talks about the cult of extreme self-esteem that pervades many recent cartoons and, to a large extent, American culture in general. “You can do anything”, the films say, “as long as you dream enough.” So a crop-dusting plane can become the fastest plane ever, a snail can win the Indy-500 race, a panda can become a kung fu master, a rat can become a chef.

Those films are not necessarily bad. I haven’t seen the others, but “Ratatouille” in particular, as most things Pixar, is pretty good. But it is true that, in general, the message transmitted to children is that they can do anything they want, not because they have a special talent or because they trained hard, but just because they want it. The reverse of that is that if they fail, well, maybe it’s because they didn’t want it enough. So they are losers. And we all know that the worst sin in America is to be a loser.

The author of the piece, Luke Epplin, contrasts that to the “Peanuts” characters, who inhabit a world much closer to reality, where frustration and failure still exist. Charlie Brown will never kick the football that Lucy holds, no matter how much he wants it, and he will never get the red-haired girl, because he will never have the courage to talk to her, and even if he had, she wouldn’t care. That’s just the way it is.

One could argue that Charlie Brown is the exception to the rule, but, in Peanuts, neither the other characters have it easy. Linus is ridiculed for his blanket and his belief in the Great Pupmpkin. Even Lucy, the most arrogant of the lot, a future CEO in the making, has to suffer an unrequited crush on Schroeder. It is almost as if Schulz was telling us that life is not always the way we want it. How dare he!

The trouble is that this is not just something that happens in children’s cartoons, but in real life. We growingly see in America a division between the “winners” and the “losers”, between those who have connections and go to Harvard and get jobs at high places, and the regular folk who have to endure a life made each day more difficult, and still get ridiculed for that.

There’s nothing wrong in promoting self-esteem among children. It is true that, psychologically, it helps to believe in yourself. You may fail 99% of the time when you dream, but, if you don’t dream at all, it is very unlikely that you will get anywhere. On the other hand,  it is a bit unhealthy and damaging to society as a whole to create this fantasy world in which all that matters is “success” – defined mostly as celebrity and material possessions or performing extraordinary feats (even if those “extraordinary feats” sometimes are completely retarded, such as “becoming the fattest woman in the world“).

Hey, there are other things in life besides fame and fortune, and they are not all bad. I’m not saying that you should stop believing, but perhaps a middle-ground can be found?

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