Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

A simple garden

Epicurus led a commune of followers in an Athenian garden in the early third-century BC. The aim of philosophy, he maintained, is to help people living a tranquil life and overcoming the fear of death. “All good and evil lie in sensation, whereas death is the absence of sensation,” wrote Epicurus in a letter. “Hence a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding infinite time, but by ridding us of the desire for immortality.” That is why Epicurus – in contrast to the crude hedonism invented by his detractors – denounced the rapidly rotting fruits of dissipation and excess. The constant pursuit of intense pleasures will in fact back-fire, because it leads to the psychological hell of enslavement to insatiable appetites. The best sort of life, suggests Epicurus, is one that is free from pain in the body and from disturbance in the mind. This is an important philosophy today, as we are inundated by instant gratifications and toxic distractions.

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More enjoy fencing

I started fencing a bit more than a year ago in Torino. My teacher there was a huge guy from Cuba, Carlos. The gym was huge, too, and the training was mostly off-piste consisting of a range of physical exercise to coordinate the brain with the muscles. Back in Neuchatel, I signed up for the fencing club and I now go every Tuesday and Wednesday at lunch time. The club is small and cozy, we do a lot of duels and it is my favourite moment of the week. This is the occasion I have been waiting for to share the video More enjoy fencing with you.

 

I do épée.

Can elected politicians have two passports?

I have written a post for the blog of the nccr – on the move, the Swiss research centre I have been working for since early September. The post sets out from the debate concerning the dual citizenship of politicians: this issue has caused a government crisis in Australia and has also been at the centre of the debate in Switzerland. In my post I use two existing datasets, from GLOBALCIT and MACMIDE respectively, to show which countries around the world establish legal restrictions that make it more complex and sometimes impossible for individuals with dual citizenship to stand as candidates for elections. You can click on the image below to open my interactive map.

citizenship-based restrictions for politicians

 

Following the publication of my post, I have asked other academics to take up the same question from their perspective. You can find a contribution written by Barbara von Rutte here and one by Nenad Stojanovic here.

You can also read these posts in Italian here.

Etta mi fa gli auguri

Un cubano

Ieri partita di calcetto con la squadra che ho messo assieme: è la squadra dell’ufficio, Swiss Forum of Migration (SFM), anche se per il torneo ho deciso che ci chiameremo Savoir Faire à Manger (SFM). Perso 8 a 1. Al Bistrò, poco dopo. Arrivo prima degli altri ragazzi perché sono in bici. Mi siedo e aspetto. Di fronte a me due passano due ragazze. Le guardo felice. Poi il mio sguardo incontra quello di un altro solitario avventore, anche lui chiaramente ammirato dalle donne. Attacca discorso. E’ cubano, si chiama Elias. Continua a parlare della cultura e di come lui la venda. Come, non mi è chiaro. Quel che invece è chiaro è che lui conosce ben poco della storia e della geografia e dell’arte; ma all’Havana ha incontrato Lorenzo Jovanotti e Antonello Venditti e si sente quindi un ambasciatore dell’arte italiana nel mondo. Arrivano i compagni: Marco, Robin ed Elie. Proviamo a parlare di noi, ma Elias ormai non si scolla più. Quando Robin racconta brevi storie salaci sul suo erasmus a Palermo, lui allarga le braccia e urla ‘Questa è cultura! Mi commuovo! Piango! Cultura!‘. Capisco che devo andarmene. Elias mi attacca un ultimo torrone sulla semplicità nella vita e l’importanza di essere positivi e fraterni. Queste sciocchezze da hippie squattrinati mi fanno infuriare. Mi congedo; lui dice che mi ha pagato tutte le birre e la cena, ma non è vero. Insiste sull’andare a fare serata assieme a Berna più avanti questo mese. Me ne vado.

Oggi arrivo in ufficio dopo pranzo. Robin mi chiede se ero già andato via quando il cubano ha rovesciato tutte le birre sul tavolo. Marco mi dice che sono un Giuda e che ‘quel cazzo di cubano si è fatto offrire tutte le birre e la cena‘. Elie non vuole più parlarmi.

Penso che regalerò loro una copia di Prendilo tu questo frutto amaro, live all’Havana 1995.

Settembre/Ottobre

Carrera Bikes, Arvier, Aosta, Lucio Dalla, Konstanz, Flaked, sophrologie, gruyer, Neuchatel Xamax, qualche posizione yoga qua e là, Giovanni Allevi, Radio France Culture, NIP Radio, Saint Ouen, soldatini di piombo dipinti a mano, Gore Vidal and William Buckley Junior.

Xamax

At the beginning of September I moved back to Neuchâtel to work on a postdoc project with Jean Thomas and the rest of the crew that I had met in the Spring of 2016. I must admit was skeptical about the place – never had I been in such a small and lonely community before. But life unravels in unexpected ways: the first weeks of September have been a real springtime in autumn, as Thomoose used to say.

Back in March. I remember a cold, rainy morning in Torino. Niels was about to leave. We had breakfast together and he gave me one piece of advice: hit the ground running. During my first days in Neuchatel I signed up for pretty much anything one could think of. And to be honest with you, the place has been treating me really well these weeks. Much of it, of course, has to do with the people: not only Jean Thomas, but also the other colleagues whom I knew already, and those who arrived after I left.

A couple of stories about my inburgering. When moving to any Swiss town you have to register with the commune – it really reminds one of 1984. In exchange, you are given a permit, an introduction to the life in the local community, and a voucher to buy some medicines in the pharmacy. True that: since Neuchâtel is next to a nuclear production site the government has decided that all inhabitants must have in their houses a box of pills that will save us in the event of a nuclear holocaust. And until that happens, we distract ourselves with football. Last Wednesday I went to watch the match of the local team, the Neuchâtel Xamas, playing against the Geneva bunch, Servette FC. Those of you who have my age will know both teams, since they played against some Italian sides in the UEFA European Cup during the 1990s. Now they are on top of the Swiss second division. Good match, everything considered. Neuchâtel Xamas won 3-2 with a winner at minute 92’. On the same day, Djanni got a humanitarian permit to stay in Italy, so we celebrated.

Esco a fare due passi

Tra maggio e luglio mi ritrovo incapace di andare in bici. Seduto in sella, la mia mente gira a trottola. Anziché godermi le sensazioni visive, tattili, acustiche e olfattive, come prima mi succedeva, parto per un tour nel mio cervello malato. Immaginate di perdere la passione per quel che più vi piace fare.

Ad agosto, tornato a Trento, recupero la salute e con essa anche la voglia di andare in bici. Contribuiscono anche due libri illustrati comprati da mio padre – ah, l’ispirazione.

Un giorno esco per fare un giro di riscaldamento e mi ritrovo a Vetriolo, al termine di una salita decisamente dura. La discesa nel bosco mi emoziona e allora decido che voglio provare a fare lo Stelvio, aperto solo alle bici il sabato successivo. Si tratta di una delle salite principi del libro più a destra nella foto sopra. Quattro giorni dopo decido di testare la gamba sul passo Manghen, una delle uniche salite del libro semi-nascosto nella foto sopra. Parto alle nove del mattino e alle dieci e mezza arrivo a Torcegno, con quaranta chilometri alle spalle e già molta salita. Lì, paese natale di mia nonna, decido di fermarmi a prendere un caffè e una brioche. Entrato nell’unico bar esistente, i tre anziani avventori mi chiedono dove sto andando e alla mia risposta si mettono a sghignazzare. Zut, e io che pensavo di essere già a buon punto. Al bar non hanno brioche, dunque entro nel supermercato accanto e compro una confezione da nove. Il cassiere mi chiede dove vado e alla mia risposta si mette a ridere. Riparto meditabondo e mi mangio tutte e nove le brioche per farmi forza. La salita non è difficile come le tante risate mi avevano fatto temere; però dal chilometro sedici in poi, con soli tremila metri al passo, la strada inizia a salire vorticosamente. Sento di essere così vicino eppure così lontano. Impiego dieci dolorosi minuti a fare l’ultimo chilometro, una media oraria decisamente al di sotto dei miei standard. In cima trovo una famiglia di ciclo-appassionati provenienti dal Veneto che mi accolgono entusiasti e mi tempestano di domande senza darmi il tempo di rifiatare. Scendo al rifugio e mi concedo un grosso panino e birra. Poco dopo arriva un altro ciclista, Tommaso, con cui decidiamo di proseguire assieme. Pedaliamo veloci fino a Cavalese e da lì via e via per tutta la Val di Cembra. Arrivo a casa con 120 chilometri nelle gambe, sonno e tanto sole.

Già, il sole. Quello che non trovo il sabato successivo sullo Stelvio. Le previsioni meteo indicano tregenda e con il passare dei giorni mi rassegno a cancellare la spedizione. Però poi la sera di venerdì, quando esco a fare un giro, scopro di avere ho tanta voglia di andare in bici a prescindere dal freddo e dalla pioggia. Sveglia alle sette e in macchina fino a Prato dello Stelvio, dove trovo acqua mista a neve e un manipolo di uomini che si imbacucca in una molteplicità di vestiti sintetici. Alla partenza mi accodo a una coppia di locali che parlano in tedesco. Il loro respiro crea delle grosse nuvolette bianche. Al chilometro dieci inizia a piovere forte. Al chilometro quindici nevica. Giunti al rifugio Stelvio, la strada è sbarrata: troppa neve. Mi infilo all’interno, dove ritrovo centinaia di uomini seminudi davanti a termosifoni e stufe a pieno regime. Io mi fermo poco, giusto il tempo di farmi fare una foto e indossare tutti i vestiti rimasti nello zaino. La discesa è indimenticabile, non in un senso positivo del termine. Il gelo è tale che scendo mugugnando dal rifugio alla macchina. Le mie mani bloccate dal freddo non mi permettono di frenare come vorrei. Fortunatamente ci sono diversi punti di rifornimento dove io e gli altri sventurati ci fermiamo per abbracciare i bidoni di tè bollente e cercare di recuperare la mobilità degli arti.

Ho fatto diverse sciocchezze in vita mia, come nuotare nell’Oceano Indiano nottetempo o nel Mare del Nord il primo gennaio; ma non avevo mai avuto così freddo così a lungo prima d’ora.Come avrete capito, comunque, sono molto contento di essermi rimesso a pedalare. La bicicletta è davvero una cosa stupenda ed è un peccato che chi non la usi non possa capire il senso di comunione che si prova quando si è in sella.

 

Alastair Campbell

I started to train regularly with my bike during the rainy Florentine winter of 2016. Then, in April, I went to live in Neuchâtel for a semester and I decided to bring with me my older bike so that I could still go for a nice stroll every now and then. Those long rides in the countryside are my clearest memory of that period. I usually spent eight hours in the office sitting in front of a computer and then I rode through farms, dogs, cows, big yellow flowers, smell of shit, wind, mud, skin burning under the dry sun, kids playing in the courtyard of the school in the afternoon, trucks, nuns walking down the street. These are the kind of things that stick into my mind.

It was during those rides that I started listening to the podcast of David Axelrod following the kind advice of Giallu. At the time, the podcast was really about the future coronation of Hillary Clinton as President of the United States (turned out to be pretty a inaccurate display in terms of political forecasting). Some more pedestrian topics were touched upon, too. One of these was depression. I remember exactly the day when it first came up. It was a sunny day, a Saturday morning, I was riding up to Chaumont and I decided to give Alastair Campbell a shot. He spoke amazingly about his experience with depression – spiralling out of control – in a way that, I still remember, stroke a chord with me.

The following months, several of my friends experienced episodes of depression and nervous breakdowns. The diseases of modern life: the burden of freedom, self-determination, and choice. Too much choice, in fact, especially for my kind of demographics: around 30 year old, the time when depression usually peaks; and doing a doctorate, one of the jobs that are most likely to conduct to nervous breakdown for a series of reasons that have to do with the loneliness, the lack of a routine, the uncertainty, and the perennial questioning of one’s own ideas. I remember a certain kind of worry was taking shape in me.

I moved to Torino in October and I decided to shut myself from social life so that I could finish writing my Ph.D. thesis. Wrong decision. The build up time. Isolation. Anxiety crept underneath and bursted out in late April, when I temporarily moved back to Florence. Depression has many shades and sets a different story for each of us. In my case, it took the worst out of me; and then it spilled over the people who were around. I spent about a month without sleeping, walking around the city in the night among hordes of drunk Americans. By then I could not fully appreciate the irony of living above a bar called Insomnia. Truth is, I could no longer enjoy watching movies, listening to music, doing sports, eating. I lost ten kilos in the process: I nearly disappeared. People who are close to me know that I tend to be melodramatic, but people who were close to me at the time when shit hit the fan will realise that I am not being melodramatic now.

It is hard to deal with depression for those that are around. This thing is so mysterious and scary. But at the same time, the simple fact of having people who were asking me questions and cared about the way I felt was the most important thing I could wish for. It took them courage, empathy, creativity, and so much patience. I am grateful to them all, but I owe something special to Martina, Martin, Giallu, my parents, Thomas, Iris and Erik, Nicco, Pietro, Fabio, Stefania, Daniel, Dani. I hope they know.

I have been asked if I ever thought of committing suicide: never have I, mainly for the reason that there were these people worrying for me and I felt I could not let them down. The other note I mentally scribbled down from those dark months concerns sleeping. This has always been a natural thing for me. I could sleep anywhere, regardless of the situation. I stopped working the moment I stopped sleeping. I have finally discovered there are very few things that I enjoy more than a night of good sleep. For that, I learnt, I have to treat myself, every now and then.

I am now back in Neuchâtel. This is the place where it all started, but my mind is clearer now than it was then. At least I can say that once again I have started to appreciate the smell of shit when I am riding my bike.

***

An epilogue, for those of you who read Italian. In June, when I was heading towards the zenith of my sickness, Manuel gave me a poem that goes like this.

Questa è la cosa più bella che dite,
la più bella cosa che dite:
trasformare il dolore in bellezza.
Vale una vita questo.
Dite che sempre qualcuno c’è riuscito
sempre, sempre.
Ci riusciremo ancora? Questo vi chiedo.

Bianchi, Scott, Carrera

The best present I ever got was a Bianchi bike from my father after riding up the Col de la Lombarde together in 2009. Then my father decided to double on that and gave me another Bianchi in 2015, the celeste, so that I could bring it to Florence and start training with it. That bike never left Florence and is still there under the custody of Giallu. In 2016 I moved to Neuchâtel and bought a second-hand Scott at the bike market that takes place twice a year. I used it to go from home to work but also, occasionally, to reach some crazy mountain passes. The bike now lies with Jean Thomas.

Two weeks ago I bought another bike. It is a second-hand Carrera that a guy used for a fundraising ride between London and Paris. We put it in the car and went to Arvier, close to Aosta, me, my mum, my dad. What a wicked valley that is. After sleeping there, my father and I rode up the Gran San Bernardo. This is a region where I must return: the Roman ruins in Aosta, the valley leading to the Piccolo San Bernardo, the Hospice at the Gran San Bernardo. That day we rode down and then went all the way to Neuchâtel.

I guess for me home is where my bike is; and my bikes are now spread between Florence, Trento, and Neuchatel.