Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Category: lorenzo

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.

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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.

Misread

After ten full months on the run, I am now heading back to Florence where I will try to settle down and find my compass once and for all. Among many other things I have burned these last two months there was the sense of the changing seasons. When I left Turin in early March it was twenty five degrees, sunny, clean view. I went to Andalusia and it was thirty degrees and running. Then the very same day I arrived in Madrid there was a snowstorm and I spent the next five days freezing my bones off: the only reason I survived was the coat that Pedro borrowed me. In Barcelona it was pretty chill too, then in Trento and in Milan I found that kind of deliciously temporary heath that disappeared the very moment I landed in Manchester. During my days in the United Kingdom, the temperature was down to five degrees for some nice winter time again.

Now in Tuscany I am really, really keen of finding my own Spring time. This usually comes with a combination of sun, stillness, pretty songs like this, Sangiovese wine, olives, bikes, weekend visits to small-size Italian towns, football matches with the smell of grass at sunset, last-minute train tickets, long swims in cold rivers, little notebooks full of drawings.

Two seasons

The sun creeping into our apartment at the last flood of via Belfiore 82, in San Salvario. The neighbours smoking cigarettes on their balconies. The podcasts on the long bus ride to Moncalieri – Axefiles, Economist, the FT world weekly, Francesco Costa, RFI le journal en francais facile. The main square rising up in the fog, the Collegio right behind the corner. Its empty corridors full of animals stuck in the nineteenth century. Ludo with Niels. Blah Blah nights. Fencing in the Parco del Valentino, the sense of defeat when I gave it up. The evenings out with Marco and Leila, how they are wonderful dancing together. The canavese. The Greek restaurant. Miriam and Pietro, Sharewood. The Teatro Piccolo and Franco Cardini. The night shifts in Massaua: we all come and go, but some of us have a tougher ride in between. Tabletennis with Teresa, Mancio, Matteo and Niels down in the basement of Collegio. That sunset run along the Po and then up Monte dei Cappuccini. The Cineforum Baretti on a late Saturday afternoon. The desperate shopping at Abu’s four hours to new year’s eve. Dinner out at Silos. Those early January nights with Etta leaning under my blankets when I felt too sick and exhausted to push her away; after all, I might not be allergic to dogs. The new house at the corner between via Bogino and via Po, warm and compact. The smell of clean linen and the heating system full blast when I was still too sick to take care of myself. Chess with Niels. Porta Palazzo every Saturday, toma and oranges. All those comic novels. The brunch at the Circolo dei Lettori. The readings at Ospedale Mauriziano. Bar Dotto. The fifteen-minute sandwiches at the grocery shop in Moncalieri. Tamango and Quesar: I kept the card until yesterday when I finally threw it away. The museums, all those museums and the public support behind them, the creative installations sometimes a bit superficial, but hei this is a city where every day people que to enter in places where they discover more about history, photography, painting, even criminal anthropology. That one reading at univoc with Flavio, who has a big voice and sings pianobar, and Gianni, who has a British sense of humour and never published the novel he wrote. Strolling through the parks on an early Spring Sunday, the streets closed to the cars, fountains are buzzing, kids run round with pink balloons, there is a charity race for women. On the train this night I look back at the last five months one more time. Now I am ready to go.

Can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today?

One year ago today I was cycling the Strade Bianche, the culmination of a period of steady trainings sometimes wet, often alone, always cold. It was a thing that was my own and it was intense. I look back at that period, and that day in particular, with nostalgia.

One year later I am having an equally intense day, but for different reasons. Tonight I will bid farewell to Torino, where I have been living for the last five months. During my stay here I have been fighting some major demons; yet, I have immediately and completely felt at home in this city. Credit for this goes to the buzzing cultural environment I found; but also to Niels, Marco and Leila, as well as all the other colleagues and friends whom I have met here.

walking-out

I am walking out now. In the next two months I will move from one place to the other, lacking a centre of gravity of sort. I am going to feel precarious. I miss not having a bike which I could ride to the countryside to freeze my body, clean my thoughts and open up my mind.

Let’s be ready

Few have been the posts I have published here in the last couple of months and this is due to a variety of reasons. Three of these are more important than the others and I want to discuss them with you.

First off, this space was born for myself, my family, and some close friends. In the last ten years of my life I have moved frequently, so this is a good instrument for communicating what I do to all those people who are nowhere near me. The problem is that the number of readers has grown over time. I think this has to do with the fact that nowadays some of my posts pop out on the search engines. Several of the people who read what I write barely know me or do not know me at all. This has changed my approach: at the beginning, this space was a conversation between me and my friends, now it feels like talking to an audience. Too often, this awareness has stopped me from writing, because, you know, certain posts read by the wrong kind of people are like a piss against the wind. Anyways: this is not how it was supposed to be. From now on, this blog becomes a conversation between me and my friends again.

However. My work has changed over the last semester or so. I am completing my Ph.D. dissertation and this is depleting all my energies. It is not so much about the amount of work – sure, though, that is a lot and I have started again to work until the wee hours of the night, just like when I was a student. Rather, it is the type of work: it feels like I am living in my mind the whole time. This makes it hard to communicate with others – personally and impersonally. This will come to an end soon. But not yet.

For now, my dear reader, I have one good advice for you. Invest in your friends, for they are the cornerstone of a rich existence on this planet. The quality of your life depends so much on them. I like the kind of curious, ironic, resilient people; but maybe you will be looking for something different. It doesn’t matter. Once you know that you have found people who make you feel good, keep them close. You can do it even if they are far.

Below you will find some pictures we took during our sixth new year’s even reunion with the Canadians plus and then some other pictures from a weekend with my florentine brothers. This weekend, really. All these pictures were taken in Torino, where I am living now. You know how they say about Mahomet and the mountain.

2017: resolutions

Continue volunteering with the Red Cross and do it regularly. Go ski touring. Learn a bunch of very simple recipes and cook with Niels and Anna. Keep reading one or two classics. Get drunk with Dani and Jonas. Collect whiskey. Find a long-lasting present for Martina. Get a better pipe and some good tobacco. Spend time with Camilla, Isabella, Marco and Francesca. Go fencing; and build up some muscles, for Christ’s sake. Organise the old pictures and start making new ones with the Polaroid camera. Hike with my parents. Fill a notebook with notes on Florence and fill another with notes on Torino. Discover some good music: it is about time. Find a new way to make money. Visit Toulouse and drink whiskey with Martin. Spend three weeks on the road, possibly outside Europe. Write Thomas. Do not give up on those pointless attempts to learn French. Go hiking with Manuel, Mindo, Giallu, and Nicco. Return to Ireland with the Canadians. Become a doctor in Social and Political Science.

El Warung, Artenara

Mia sconosciuta lettrice,

Ti scrivo da una grotta piccola-piccola dove mangio formaggio di capra e bevo una birra prodotta dal signor August K. Damm. Sono ad Artenara, un paesino incastonato nella pietra vulcanica delle montagne canarie. Qui tutti vivono nelle grotte: mi pare di poter dire che questo e´l’equivalente spagnolo di Matera. Solo che ci troviamo nell’Oceano Pacifico, sulle coste tra Marocco e Western Sahara

Sono finito qui dopo che a maggio avevo letto un articolo su El Pais. L’autore parlava del lavoro di una associazione locale per sviluppare un tipo di turismo alternativo a quello che sta distruggendo quest’isola bellissima, ponte tra Europa, Africa e America. Sai che qui si fermano la maggior parte dei navigatori alla volta delle Americhe? Nel corso degli anni sono passati coloni, avventurieri, esploratori e corsari. Fu qui che si fermo’ Cristoforo Colombo nel 1492 prima della sua traversata verso l’ignoto; e anche Francis Drake attracco´a Las Palmas nel 1595 per sottrala al dominio spagnolo. (Non ci riusci’). Ancora oggi l’isola ospita ogni anno a novembre le navi che fanno rotta verso l’America in una regata mondiale; e con le navi arrivano centinaia di ‘boat-hikers‘, cioe´persone che offrono manovalanza sulle navi in cambio di un passaggio attraverso l’Oceano.

Sto divagando: quel che voglio dire e’ che tu, cara lettrice, probabilmente non sapevi nulla di tutto cio’. L’immagine mondiale delle sette isole canarie e´legata al turismo di massa. La sola Gran Canaria attira tredici milioni di turisti all’anno. Sono persone che vengono principalmente per il clima, che e’ mite 365 giorni l’anno; e per le spiagge. Allo stesso tempo, pero’, Gran Canaria e’ la regione con il tasso di disoccupazione piu’ alto della Spagna. Il turismo di massa si concentra a Las Palmas e negli enormi resort nel sud dell’isola. L’associazione di cui ho letto su El Pais ha come scopo la promozione di un turismo alternativo che dia maggior risalto alla storia delle isole; alle culture locali; alla diversita’ paesaggistica e ale attivita’ all’aperto. Per farlo ha creato tre ostelli: Atlas a Las Palmas; El Warung ad Artenara; e una cueva per famiglie e piccoli gruppi a Acusa Seca. Negli ostelli si ospitano scalatori, ricercatori, artisti, hikers, navigatori; si organizzano concerti, seminari e cineforum, camminate, yoga, sessioni di surf. Chi viene ospitato, come me, contribuisce a far progredire gli alloggi e a organizzare gli eventi.

Devo pero´ammettere, cara Lettrice, che arrivato a Las Palmas la prima impressione non e’ stata positiva. Avevo provato a non crearmi aspettative, ma sono stato sconvolto dalle colate di cemento, l’orizzonte torrido, l’edilizia selvaggia, la spiaggia urbana infinita e pienissima, le trivelle a poche centinaia di metri dal lungomare, i negozi tristi e anonimi. Parlando con gli altri voluntari ho scoperto che la mia e´una sensazione condivisa; eppure quasi tutti tendono a tornare. Delle persone conosciute ad Atlas, Las Palmas, almeno la meta’ erano di ritorno per la seconda o terza volta. Ho iniziato a comprendere il fascino del posto leggendo alcuni libri: tramite i testi e le foto ho scoperto l’enorme varieta’ di queste isole, dove ci sono la piu’ alta montagna di Spagna, il terzo vulcano piu’ grande d’Europa, deserti e spiagge.

Ho anche conosciuto meglio i ragazzi che stanno qui e ho capito che posso imparare molto da Rodrigo che e’ un trentasettenne brasiliano che ha lavorato per anni nel marketing e fa surf; Silvia, che avra’ circa venticinque anni e fa dipinti vegan per giornali del settore; e Chelsea, che penso abbia la mia eta’ e scrive per giornali online. Sono tutti digital nomads, cioe’ persone che possono lavorare dove vogliono perche’ per farlo basta un computer portatile e una connessione a internet. E’ un pensiero che non mi attrae: ho sempre pensato al lavoro come a una attivita´necessariamente sociale. E tuttavia quella dei digital nomads e’ una realta’ sempre piu’ diffusa in questo mondo globalizzato e ipertecnologico e io vorrei capirla meglio. Gran Canaria e’ il primo posto al mondo per tasso di digital nomads: la vita qui costa poco, fa caldo e ci sono spiagge praticamente ovunque.

Manolo, il ragazzo che ha creato e tutt’ora gestisce l’associazione, vorrebbe che i digital nomads si integrino meglio nel tessuto sociale del posto, interagiscano con i locali e portino una crescita sociale e culturale, non solo economica. Io vorrei fare qualcosa in questo senso; ma potrei anche aiutarlo a sviluppare l’idea del percorso GR131, un trekking di oltre 500 km, da Lanzarote a El Hierro. Sette isole nell’oceano, fino a 3700 m di altezza nel punto piu’ alto, circa 28 giorni per percorrerlo tutto. Manolo spera di trasformare questo percorso uno dei piu’ importanti d’Europa. Mi sembra perfetto.

Per cominciare sono stato mandato ad Artenara, a El Warung: un ostello in una grotta a oltre mille metri di altitudine. E’ stato il mio regno per gli ultimi giorni. Un regno bellissimo. Dai riflessi del sole ardente sulla roccia vulcanica nel pomeriggio al silenzio surreale dell’enorme vallata davanti alla mia grotta al tramonto: e´tutto impresso nella mia memoria.



Ora mi preparo a tornare a Las Palmas: dobbiamo organizzare un concerto sul tetto dell’altro ostello, quello cittadino. Poi mi occupero’ di raccontare storie per il cammino che taglia attraverso l’isola. Ieri sono andato a esplorare i sentieri vicini, ma ho esagerato: sono sceso fino all’Oceano. Alle 14.00, dopo sei ore di cammino e una temperatura di quarantatre gradi avrei potuto morire se non fossi stato raccolto dalla macchina di Jote e Jose, che passavano di li per caso.  Il polipo che ho mangiato nel pomeriggio mi ha ricompensato di tutti gli sforzi.

All my aces are on the floor

I have always liked to have people around, but the circumstances of life are such that I find myself more lonely than I used to be. Fai di necessità virtù, they say. I still dislike loneliness; but there is one specific instance when I can appreciate living on my own (Dee do de de dee do de de I don’t have no time for no monkey business) and that is when I am on a bike.

So here we go again. At the crossroads of Valais and Ticino, the Granfondo San Gottardo is one of the hardest cycling sportive events of the year. For me, this race had a special gist for three additional reasons: (i) it takes place in Switzerland, where I have been living for a few months this year; (ii) it is harder than the other races I have done before, with 110 km and three mountain passes to climb for a total of more than 3000 m of elevation; (iii) Nicco and Giallu had decided to come with me, so we could be together just like last year in Trentino. To this, it must be added that I am in the middle of a tumultuous process of moving out from my home: I was relieved to have such distraction.

Onto our road trip with Nicco and Giallu then! We drove from Florence to Ambrì and we planted our tent in the airport. After a very wet and sleepless night we got up at 6AM, had a heavy breakfast and started our race at 8AM. Up to San Gottardo, Furka, and Novena. This is how my race went on Strava; and this is how it went in pictures.

 

 

It went pretty much as we expected. San Gottardo is smooth and pleasant; Furka is long and steady; Novena is consuming and never-ending. But we finished! Even Nicco, who got a flat tyre on the descent from Furka and spent about 45 minutes looking for a pump. I rode my bike for 4 hours and 42 minutes, with two long breaks at the feeding points, crossing the finish line at 2:40PM.

In the evening we drove to Neuchatel and the next day we visited Montreux and cruised through the San Bernardo pass, Aosta and Genova. We arrived in Florence in the middle of the night and I have been packing up my belongings ever since.

 

Racing a Gran Fondo was one of my resolutions for 2016; I have now raced three. This is it: all my aces are on the floor. In the coming months I won’t have time to train properly and I won’t have the determination to do all the sacrifices that the preparation for a Gran Fondo requires. So farewell to my bike and all of that: what a ride it was.

Value art more than success

Lucerne/Olten, June 26

This morning I hopped on a train. I had decided to spend the entire day roaming randomly from one town to the other, familiarizing to a very Swiss habit: living on a railway. I though of this as the proper opportunity to wish farewell to those things and people that have become part of my life in the last three months, since the moment I first moved here. So I am going to do it now: this is what comes to my mind when I think back of my time here.

Trains, indeed. Switzerland is a country of commuters. Trains here are a bit like the tube: people use them every day, because they are so comfortable, frequent, and fast. And, of course, Swiss cities are on average pretty small, so it’s easy to walk everywhere once you are in the train station. So trains, that’s one thing I will miss. I, myself, traveled to la-Chaux-de-Fonds, Lausanne, Zurich, Bern, Geneve, Lucerne, Interlaken, and a lot of small towns. These were silent, peaceful, and scenic rides. I hope more of them will come in the future.

 

I will remember the army kids in the train stations. They are so many. I guess that is because each male citizen below 35 has the duty to serve for something like three weeks each year. This must be reason why youngsters in their uniforms are a common view in this country. They keep their hands in the pockets and smoke, talk, drink. It is a funny contrast, because their youth and small rebellious acts defy the nature of the uniform they wear.

I will enormously miss the Black Office and regret I did not spend more time there. It is here that I learnt the basics of how to fix a bike and it is also here that I was able to exercise my proto-French without much fear. I have great respect for the idea of helping people to fix their bikes and the sense of community based on good-will I found there.

And then there are all the other small things that are so stereotypical and true: the cows I met during my long rides across Romandie; the watch-makers in La-Locle; the weird blend of languages, which I find somehow exciting; the general sense of hospitality; the rare days of sun on the lake; the local beers, like BFM; the green fields and the mountains, which unfortunately I have not explored; the bizarre monuments in the cities; the Portuguese immigrant community of Neuchatel, providing each morning pastel de nata and coffee; and the counter-cultures, like the anarchism of the Black Office, the bike messengers, the rural communities of Jura, and the urban movements of Zurich.

I will remember fondly the office and the environment that welcomed me there. I got a lot of work done and I like to say that it is because there is not much social distraction in Neuchatel. But this was also because the nccr has provided me with so many resources – it was a genuine pleasure to dig deep into them. Apart from work, many colleagues also proved to be kind friends. Running the risk of not making justice to all, I will remember Marco, Stefanie, Flo, Eva, Valentin, Robin, David, Rorick, and Alice. And, of course, Jean-Thomas, who has done much to integrate me, both professionally and socially. I already knew his attitude; but it is only after these three months together that I have come to know his values and personality. It has been an education.

 

In the end, my most vivid images are those created during my long rides in the countryside of Romandie. Neuchatel was much more alive seen through the lenses of two slim wheels. Perhaps I, myself, am a bit like a bike: balance only comes when I am in motion. So there I go again, off to new uncertain beginnings. Because without them the heights would not feel so great, would they?