Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Books I have read, 2018

I remember reading Annie Ernaux’s Memoria di ragazza on the train during a long, romantic night ride between Stockholm and Kiruna. Outside it was snowing. I felt like I was part of a Swedish noir movie. Next to me, Giallu, and Nicco were muttering indistinct phrases while Jasper was listening to Bubble Butt. We had decided to split two beds and two seats. It all went smoothly until Giallu was locked out of his cabin. The thought of that still makes me smile. The book, which I had bought together with Anna in a little library of Rovereto that we had previously discovered thanks to Martina, is honestly not great. I like its reflexivity and the way in which you can reconsider your own past. It is a bit too depressing for my taste, though.

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Between January and February I read one book that had been given to me as a present by Martina during 2016: Jimmy Nelson’s Before they pass away. I remember seeing it in Iris and Erik’s apartment in Rotterdam when I was there six months earlier. Big book. Around the same time I also devoured Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. I am going to read more books on geopolitics in the next few years.

Between February and March I listened to Emmanuel Carrére’s Limonov through Radio Rai’s podcast Ad Alta Voce. Boy, what a good experience this was. Credit goes to Martina, who had recommended me the podcast – and the book: I remember I first saw it in her house, when she gave it to Fabio. I spent two weeks listening to it. Most vivid in my memory is the four hour non-stop session on my way to Zinal with Jean-Thomas and Elie. I also remember I stopped going to the office by bike around that time so that I could walk down slowly and listen to Limonov. This book left a trace.

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Definitely less impactful was Jack London’s Martin Eden. I wanted to read a big, classic book again after my entertaining experience with Il Conte di Montecristo. This has not matched my expectations, though. My second weekend in Zinal, this time with Annique and Eva, I read William Boyd’s Sweet Caress. I had previously bought the book in Zurich. Another book by William Body, Any human heart, is definitely one of the best reads I have ever had. Not this one, though. I should have seen it coming: the name of the author is written in way bigger characters than the title of the book on the cover page.

Back in Neuchatel I started a new audiobook, courtesy of Radio Rai: Umberto Eco’s Il nome della rosa. I had read this great piece of art as a kid but I had forgotten everything. When Pedro hosted me for the second time in Madrid in 2017, I remember buying a Spanish copy of the book for him that I found in a second-hand market in El Retiro. It was a beautiful sunny day. This is an extraordinary book that everybody should read twice in their life.

Il nome della rosa

I like to think of my spring in Paris together with Robert Doisneau’s Paris. When the first sun started to kick in in Neuchatel, I followed Francesca’s advice and I read Primo Levi’s, Il sistema periodico. My image of this book is that of the little cabins in Neuchatel’s harbor.

On my way to Cuba I decided to bring two books only: Eduardo Galeano’s Bocas del tiempo (strongly suggested by Jean-Thomas, who had loved the book when he read it in Argentina) and Alessandro Raveggi’s Panamericana (I had read about it somewhere and got curious). When I ran out of books, because we spent too much time reading due to the rain, Thomoose passed me his copy of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Oh what a pleasure to read it under the sun in El Varadero like a capitalist tourist.

In June I read Daniele del Giudice’s Staccando l’ombra da terra. This was a present by Giulia. Yes, yes, yes – a very good book.

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In July I celebrated the Tour de France by reading two books by Bidon: Il Centogiro and Se qualcuno viene mi fa piacere. Leonardo Piccione’s career as a writer is quickly taking off and I will forever pride myself with the discovery of his talent before he became known to the big public.

In August I read Emmanuel Carrére’s Il Regno. I remember going through it on the Lake of Molveno, together with my dad who had read it a few months earlier. Two other books I read in July: Paolo Soglia’s Hanno deciso gli episodi, and Augusto Pieroni’s Leggere la fotografia. Not quintessential.

In Croatia I read Emmanuel Carrére, D’Autres vies que la mienne. This is the second book in French I completed after Albert Camus’ L’Etranger, which I read last year. I was proud. This book is way too long though and I would only recommend the first one hundred pages of it. I also read a comic book by Vladimir Grigorieff and Abdel de Bruxelles, Le conflit insraeélo-palestinien, which I had bought in Brussels with Anna.

In early October I read Robert Capa’s Slightly Out of Focus. It was good to read it on the boat with Giallu, Nicco, and Jonas. I told Thomoose to read it. It is entertaining. You read Capa and you can never tell whether he is for real. He just goes like – hei, let’s have a good time. In late October, on my way to Kenya, I read Desmond Morris’ La scimmia nuda. This was a present by Eliana. Nailed it. It was a good coincidence to read it in the country that really is the cradle of humanity.

Between November and December I read Giuseppe Sciortino’s Rebus immigrazione. He was my professor at the bachelor’s in sociology. This is a small and lean book that I read during one train ride from Trento to Neuchatel.  Finally, in December I read Mary Ellen Mark’s On the Portrait and the Moment. This was my graduation present by Iris and Erik. They know how to make their pick. The most charming part of photography, for me, is portraits – of humans, rhinos and elephants. Landscapes are boring.

And this is the end. Reading back the post I realise that my book choices are closely tied to the people I know and the place I visit. I do not do this on purpose. But it feels right.


Read my ‘books I have read‘ posts from 2017201620152014., 2013.

Marcialonga 2019

After having shared with you the pictures of the Diagonela, I received several private comments from my readers (more than one but less than three). I decided to follow your advice: I wore a different hat for the Marcialonga.

The race was 70 km long. It took me 7 hours and 22 minutes to finish it. I skied for about 30 km together with my father but it seems that all the photographers were at the end of the race. There was some drama involved but this time I am not going to get into the details. All in all, it was a big day and I felt very close to all of those who made it possible in a variety of ways. Babbo, Mamma, Anna, Felix, Alvise, Arianna, Bea, Luisa, Marco, Fra, Jean-Thomas, Johanna, James, Paolo, Johnny, Luca, Eliana. They either gave me the equipment, came to ski with me ahead of the race, or just poked fun at me and gave some motivation. You should all participate to a big race with over 7500 people around at least once in your lifetime.

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Eià

My Swiss train from Zurich is late, my dad’s German car from Trento is on time. We meet in Zuoz on Friday evening: fourteen hours away from La Diagonela. We check into our stylish B&B in Zernez, we take a lavish dinner, and we wax our skis. ‘It is going to be an easy race, cold, long, but easy‘ my father tells me ‘An excellent training for next week’s Marcialonga: a couple of climbs in the first half, but then it goes down nice and steady‘.

The next morning we meet two other guests from our B&B for breakfast. They are young guys hailing from Basel, probably my age, athletic bodies, cool fellas. One of them has already completed many races before. He says this is the hardest one he has ever done, by far. ‘I have done even the Vasaloppet in Sweden (note: so has my father and so will Niels, later this year). That one is longer but it is easier because it is flat. This one is a killer. It goes up and down, up and down, it is never over. I cannot believe this is your first one. Good luck!’.

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We leave the B&B at 8:15. It is a sunny day in Lower Engadine, with the temperature down at about minus 20°. We arrive in Zuoz at 8:45. My dad greets some other die-harders. Carlo from Tirano looks a bit like Maurizio Corona and wishes me luck. ‘In the end what matters is to get to the finish line but it won’t be easy: you are young and do not have much experience!‘. We stretch before the start. ‘OK, game plan‘ my dad goes ‘We start slow, you do not worry. We will catch up over time. It is a long race‘.

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Five-hundred people have signed up for the event. Based on my estimations, some three-hundred are professional athletes and one-hundred-and-fifty are pensioners who go skiing on a daily basis. The remaining fifty are reckless individuals who have no idea what they are getting into.

Start!

Meanwhile, at the very bottom of the group, I look confused: what the hell am I doing here?

9:30, km 0, boom, start. We are at the very bottom of the group. My dad asks ‘Are we the last of the bunch?‘. I turn. Behind us only two figures: an old man who seems to be limping on the skis and a dwarf. (An actual dwarf, a strong man who is giving it all, but still: he is about one meter high). ‘Not yet, keep going‘. The old man catches up with us and moves on. Then the dwarf catches up too and keeps our pace. Together, we are last.

Three km down and I look exhausted already

Three km down and I look exhausted already. Far on the back you can see the dwarf chasing us.

9:50, km 3, twenty minutes into the race. I hear a noise behind us. It is the sag wagon: the support motor vehicle following long races to pick up athletes who are unable to complete the event. The guy on the wagon, which is actually a sled but let us call it wagon for the sake of the story, stays right behind us for five minutes; then he gets on my side and tells me we are too slow, ‘You have to retire, I am sorry!‘. I translate for my father and ask him what our next move can be. ‘Tell him to go fuck himself‘. I translate diplomatically: we go on with the sag wagon behind us. The dwarf retires.

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10:00, km 4, half an hour into the race. The sag wagon passes us and then stops, as to halt our journey. The driver gets down: I stop to parlay with him while my father carries on. The organisers want us to get out, we are already five minutes overtime. I give him my electronic chip and tell him that we if we continue being too slow we will retire at the first feeding point situated at km 7. He lets me continue.

10:10, km 5, forty minutes into the race. We reach the first feeding point. The driver of the sag wagon and some other staffers want us to stop: we are seven minutes overtime. My father explodes ‘I had a stroke one year ago, if I have another one now vi denuncio!‘, he  slashes through and makes his on way. He reminds me of Bernard Hinault, 1984. We carry on.

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10:30, km 9, one hour into the race, our first overtaking. It is Beaud: you can see her in the picture of the start. She did not look very good then and looks even worse now. I imagine she is about to spend one long day in hell. We then take a second and a third participant. Farewell to the last positions. The bystanders cheer for us: Eià, eià! We are now getting into a good pace.

10:45, km 11, one hour and fifteen-minutes into the race. We reach the second feeding station and, surprise surprise, we are now back in the official time of the race.

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11:30, km 18, two hours into the race, first climb. We are riding with a couple from Sweden and with Franco from Bologna. ‘Dai che glie la facciamo vedere a questi svizzeri‘.

12:30, km 25, three hours into the race. We reach St. Moritz ten minutes ahead of the sag wagon. The driver catches up with us and hands me my electronic chip back. ‘Well done guys‘. We keep passing participants who are slowly but surely going adrift. I pity them.

St. Moritz

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14:30, km 42, five hours into the race. We are in Samedan: it is the beginning of a long, lonely flat. It feels like we are crossing the desert. I pity ourselves.

16:00, km 54, six hours and a half into the race. We are back in Zuoz with some 10 km to go. Last feeding point. The sun is about to set. ‘Are you the last?‘ one bystander asks me. I would think so: the sag wagon is behind us again. All those whom we have overtaken in the last few hours have been excluded from the race. Here we go again: fighting against overtime. We catch up two skiers who are very happy to see us. I assume that is because they are happy not to be the last (‘Ah, ma guarda, c’erano ancora altri due stronzi dietro…‘). It is only the next day my father tells me they were the cool fellas from breakfast.

Right before sunset. We are heading towards the end. Behind us, our friends from breakfast, also the last two men standing in the race.

16:30, km 59, seven hours into the race. We have passed S-chanf and we are finally heading back to Zuoz. The two skiers are 50 meters behind and we have caught up another guy. We are giving our best to get to the finish line before they close it down. Sunset.

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17:20, km 65, seven hours and fifty minutes into the race. The final climb in Zuoz is done. We reach the finish line 432nd and 433rd. The sag wagon stops and the guy jumps down to congratulate us. I meet Carlo from Tirano. ‘I cannot believe you were slower than I was! You are young, you should have been faster!

The next day we bid farewell to our hosts, who have treated us handsomely, and we stop in Zuoz in a big shop. We are having a look around when the owner comes to us and congratulates for the race. ‘Good job, I did not think you were going to be able to finish on time! Well, I hope you are not going to call a lawyer now‘. He is the driver of the sag wagon. We take a picture with him, our mental coach, and we head to Samedan. Grisons are a magical place. If we survive another week, next Sunday we will be at the starting line of the Marcialonga.

Looking for the Jasper

Eighth edition of our NYE ( UtrechtInnsbruckFirenzeDen Haag, Berlin, Turin, Stockholm) with the false Canadians in the 18th arr. of Paris. Notable participants: Iris, Stephanie, Noa, Arianna, Lorenzo, Jasper. Special invitees to be included in our tenth edition: Jack, Justine, Sylvan, Gianmarco.

Some take aways. Jasper made a last minute appearance on December 28 and then badly injured his leg surfing down the Sacre Coeur a couple of hours into 2019. Crutches are cheap, though. We tried to eat more vegan food than usual but it was not easy: we will keep trying. Museums are good. Some of us snore really loud. We still enjoy spending time together: cooking, playing board games like nerds, eating, walking, and chatting our worries away.

Wines

Sontuosi

Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet Aine: named after the chapel that was created by a wounded knight of the King who took permission to retire and meditate in 1400. Jaboulet owned the chapel since the end of the First World War. It is an icon of this part of the Rhone Valley and marks where the best vines are grown

Chianti Classico Castello di Brolio: original Chianti recipe (70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca) from the barone di Ferro Bettino Ricasoli

Solaia Antinori: the Antinori family revolutionised the original recipe starting from 1978: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Sangiovese

Semplici

Madiran Chateay Montus: one of the few wines from the Pyrenees, il paradosso della Guascogna, how can they eat so fat and live for so long?

Domaine Fond Croze Cotes du Rhone: casual discovery thanks to François

Lagrein Dunkel Cantina Bellaveder di Faedo: sapori di casa

Pop

Chardonnay De Marchi Isole e Olena

Chateau Musar: Lebanese wine that resisted during the war

 

Cross country skiing

I have promised my father I will complete two traditional classic cross country skiing competitions with him: the Diagonela and the Marcialonga. The Diagonela takes place on January 19 with starts and finish in Zuoz, Engadina Valley, Switzerland. It is 65-kilometre long. The Marcialonga takes place on January 27 with start in Moena and finish in Cavalese, Dolomites of Trentino, Italy. It is 70-kilometre long.

I have never done classic cross country skiing before. My previous experience with cross country skiing is limited to skating, with one participation to the regional championship of junior students when I was 17. On that occasion, I inadvertently took a huge shortcut of about one third of the race and yet ended up only 8th out of 16 participants.

Training:

November 7: Trento-Lavis, 10 km roller skis
December 5: Martignano-Montevaccino, 10 km, roller skis
December 23: Lavazé, 18 km, skis
December 25: Passo Coe, 10 km, skis
December 28: Viote, 27 km, skis
December 29: Lavazé, 24 km, skis
January 12: La Tourne, 22 km, skating skis
January 13: La Sagne, 15 km, skating skis
January 15: La Vue des Alps, 20 km, skating skis
January 19: La Diagonela, 65 km, skis
January 20: Morteratsch, 6 km, skis
January 23: Moonlight Classic, Alpe di Siusi, 15 km, skis
January 25: Predazzo – Lago di Tesero, 12 km, skis
January 26: Marcialonga, 70 km, skis
February 2: Petit Martel, 15 km, skating skis
February 5: Les Rochats, 17 km, skating skis

 

2019: resolutions

Finish the Diagonela and the Marcialonga. Take some good pictures, mainly portraits. Cook: soupe à l’oignon, parmigiana, babaganoush. Improve French, learn some German. Drink beer with Anna. Regularly update the blog. Write letters to Thomas. Hike on the mountains with Giallu, Nicco, other friends and family. Memorise twelve poems: one per month. Read one, big classic book of the Russian literature. Travel with Jonas. Produce Gingerello with Zuppa and Biraghi. Go sailing. Play tennis. Spend new year’s eve with the Canadians, possibly in the mountains.

Mother with three children

My last night in Nairobi I walked out of the hotel to get a quick meal. I was told not to go out in the dark but my hotel was in the better-off part of town (Westland) and there was no risk. As I left the mall where I had dinner, I saw a group of people sitting in the middle of a cross-road. Upon closer inspection I realised it was a woman with three children. I could not understand why they were standing there but I found it to odd and dangerous. I tried to take some pictures from far out. After a couple of minutes, I decided to approach the group and ask for permission to take a few photos. Walking there, I understood that the street was the only place where the woman would have been safe from rape during the night. The cars were roaring centimeters away from them and the children were exposed to the constant on-and-off of the lights. I spoke to them for a minute or so and I took this photo. It is the only serious picture I felt like having during my week in Nairobi.

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Trust to me

Between October 14 and October 20 this year I went to Nairobi for a conference as part of the Better Migration Management Programme sponsored by the European Union and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. Here I will write only about my experience in the city, copying down the scattered notes I took on my journal.

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I land at Jomo Kenyatta Airport on Monday 15 at 2 in the night. Large, empty roads, kind taxi driver. Arrival at the hotel: massive security devices, big gate, armed guards. It is a consequence of the terrorist attack at the Mall in 2012, I am told. The hotel is in the same neighbourhood where those events took place: Westland. It is the richest neighbourhood of Nairobi. My room is luxurious. The whole building is luxurious. A stark contrast with the city. Still, I love the dress of the staff: lean and colourful.

First impressions of the day: loud, sandy, buzzing. The streets are full of traffic. There are no sidewalks for pedestrians. Only mud and grass to walk in. People come and go, everywhere. This strikes me as a poor place but in a different way from Cuba. In La Havana, for instance, I had the impression that people idle all the time. Here in Nairobi people run around. They seem busy. What do they have to do? Where do they run?

There are high hotels everywhere, half are finished half are being built. Most of them are property of the Chinese, who bring in their money but also their own workers. Locals do not fancy that.

I walk out of the hotel with wallet and my camera but Victor suggests me to do otherwise. It turns out it is forbidden to take pictures in the open spaces. Another consequence of the terrorist attacks of 2012. I am not sure sure it makes any sense; but people tell me they feel safer. Other actions that are forbidden: walking with a plastic bag and smoking outside. Only the Chinese can do whatever they want: they bring in so much money that the police does not dare stopping them. I ask about the odd plastic policy. It is the government’s strategy to reduce pollution. Seems radical; it is certainly easier for the government to proceed this way than organising large recycling structures.

Bizarre: everybody seems to wear a Manchester United t-shirt. I ask why: nobody is able to explain. While it remains a mystery to me I can promise you half of the youth in this country has a Manchester United t-shirt.

I visit the National Museum and the Nairobi Snake Park. Fact: Nairobi was built only in 1899 when the British authorities decided to connect Mombasa, then the biggest city of the country, to Kampala in Uganda by rail. Thousands of Indians died in the construction of the railway. (Today it is the Chinese, back then the main foreign work force was them). Nairobi, an uninhabited swamp, was selected as the site of a store depot, shunting ground and camping ground. A hundred years later it is one of Africa’s biggest cities.

I feel guilty about it, but on the second day I take a safari in the early morning. We go to Nairobi National Park, only 7 kilometres south of the centre of the city. Though I did not take the picture myself, I swear this is how it looks like.

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I take my first walking tour of Nairobi on Thursday, courtesy of Joshua from Machako Country. He is a crack. The first tour he gave, one year ago, ended up in a disaster. He was unable to speak to his three clients, blonde Swiss girls, because they were too beautiful and he was too embarrassed. He then got arrested by armed guards because he did not see one of them taking pictures in front of a government building. He was released after a few hours and was reprimanded by one of the girls, who noticed he had peed on himself during the arrest. Things are better now: I promise him I won’t take any picture without his permission.

We start from the ancient site of the American Embassy, which was bombed in 1998 by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Qaeda. Joshua tells me the terrorists came from Somalia and goes on explaining, like many others will do in the following days, that the main problem of Kenya are the porous frontiers that make it easy for bad guys to come in.

We walk to Wakulima Market, where he defends me from several snatchers. All the food there comes from Tanzania: such a rich country resource-wise. In Uhru Park Joshua tells me several stories about his and his father’s polygamy and the various problems that come with it. He is not good at sex, though, because he is not a Masai. The Masai are known to excel in bed, didn’t I know it? In Jivanshee Park I notice a large assembly. Who are they? Students, they come here every day to talk about politics, in circles. Hundreds of them. This is something we do not do in Europe any more.

Joshua brings me to eat chapati and uguali at the university, where we float amid thousands of students who eat a simple meal in temporary wooden barracks. I want to remember the rustic bowls where the meals are cooked. When we are walking out of the campus I am approached by some ten-year old kids who are begging. One of them cannot stop laughing and asks me to take her with me to America. She is high on glue.

I bid farewell to Joshua in a coffee. He does not want me to go into one of the Java shops that are mushrooming around the city. They are owned by the Somali entrepreneurs. The Somali are smart but they are evil. I will remember Joshua. He is what we call a genuinely good guy. I like how he kept saying “trust to me” when telling his stories.

 
I take my second walking tour on Saturday, the day of my departure. Though invented only one year ago, this activity has huge popularity and you can read more about it here, watch the special on the Swiss television, or the trailer they produced. My three guides, Donga, Kissmart and Cheddar, have a thick skin. I remember their “buah buah buah” to greet their buddies on the street.

After leaving them, I take a long walk by myself. Near the mosque I see a child running happily into a shop. Someone is calling her from behind the corner. I turn and I see her mum – or so I suppose – crawling on the floor. She has her shoes under the hands and drags her legs behind the body, unable to stand. She is chasing her daughter. A part of me wants to take a picture but I refrain from doing so.

There is a special atmosphere around the mosque. It reminds me of the mosque of Sarajevo. I like it.

I leave on Saturday night. The guard at the airport jokes with me saying I should give him 10$ to pass the gate. I am not sure he is joking after all. In any case, I have no cash left with me. He does not mind and lets me go. I am leaving this place. Nairobi is full of opportunities. There is extreme poverty, sure, but also a rising middle class. Most of the people I met I really liked. I am surprised by the students, who are eager to study, travel. They know what they want. This has been such a different journey when compared to Cuba. The contrast between the two places I had the privilege to visit this year could not be starker.

De retour de l’est

Bonjour à tous,

Après mon retour d’Istanbul, il y a un mois, je reprends une série de posts dans le blog. Je prévois une courte série, peut-être 10 ou 12 articles, pour raconter des histoires sur mon séjour dans l’ancienne Constantinople, et le voyage de retour.

Pour commencer, je partage les images vidéos, deux films de 8 et 12 minutes.

François