Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Category: travellin

Lagom

Ho trascorso sette giornate corte e tutto sommato non troppo fredde tra Stoccolma e Kiruna. In Svezia ho ritrovato il cuore del gruppo canadese con cui ho celebrato sei degli ultimi sette capodanni dal 2011 a oggi, sempre in una località differente: Utrecht, Innsbruck, Firenze, l’Aja, Berlino (non c’ero), Torino e Stoccolma, per l’appunto.

Gennaio in Svezia: le giornate durano poco più di sei ore. In questa stagione dell’anno la capitale è vivibile, ma poco appariscente. L’unica eccezione è la metropolitana, colorata e allegra. Due aggettivi piuttosto inusuali per una realtà sotterranea.

La sera del primo gennaio ho preso il treno per Kiruna assieme a Jasper, Giallu e Nicolas. Dopo quindici ore siamo arrivati in Lapponia. Neve e buio: siamo nel periodo dell’anno in cui, da quelle parti, il sole non sorge mai. C’è, tuttavia, una bella luce crepuscolare tra le nove della mattina e le tre del pomeriggio. La provincia di Kiruna è grande quanto la metà dei Paesi Bassi ed è stata costruita all’inizio del Novecento attorno a un insediamento minerario scavato nel cuore di una montagna. Sfortunatamente per i loro discendenti, i primi abitanti di Kiruna hanno costruito le case proprio sopra la vena mineraria. E così adesso il centro cittadino rischia di collassare nel sottosuolo. Il governo ha da poco cominciato imponenti lavori per trasportare la città e la sua bellissima chiesa in legno costruita in tradizionale stile sami venti chilometri più a valle entro il 2025.

La vista di Kiruna al mattino è memorabile. Una montagna tozza e larga, costellata di luci sfocate nel buio e nella neve. Abbiamo alloggiato in una piccola casetta nella foresta, parte di un insediamento gestito da un uomo finlandese e sua moglie spagnola. Abbigliamento largo e caldo affittato da Patrick – big is warm. Il primo giorno ci siamo regalati una gita con la motoslitta per oltre quindici chilometri fino all’albergo ghiacciato di Jukkasjärvi. Posticino suggestivo: in ogni stanza dell’albergo è alloggiata un’opera d’arte in ghiaccio realizzata da artisti con una formazione molto diversa tra loro: interior designer, scultori, fumettisti, pittori… Ogni stagione, in tarda primavera, l’albergo si scioglie e viene poi ricostruito l’inverno successivo in maniera differente. Apparentemente, la sua struttura è purissima: l’acqua del fiume da cui viene preso scorre alla velocità giusta per permettere al ghiaccio di essere privo di gas.

La sera abbiamo passato alcune ore nella sauna e poi davanti al fuoco. Il giorno successivo abbiamo fatto sci da fondo, poi siamo ripartiti. Altre quindici ore di treno. A Stoccolma abbiamo ritrovato Niels e abbiamo visitato Fotografska: un grande spazio fotografico con esibizioni francamente mediocri.

Vi aspettavate un colpo di scena finale? Peccato.

Black Office

When I arrived in Neuchâtel last year I was going through a big cycling mania: I had just finished the Strade Bianche and I was preparing for the Gran Fondo di Fiesole. The Black Office, or the atelier libre for fixing and setting up bikes, looked like the ideal place to hang out.

One big problem, though, is that I did not speak French at the time. This was a significant obstacle. People at the Black Office would speak English to me, but then I was unavoidably excluded from all the group conversations. It was frustrating. I left Switzerland in July 2016.

Then I moved back in September this year. I went back to the Black Office only last week – not sure why it took me so long. It was a casual Saturday afternoon, but I found there Romain, Cyril, and Cyril. They recognised me. I then met some new guys who were not there last year – Ralph and Gaetan. I like the place. This is a little jewel of anarchist creativity in conservative Switzerland.

 

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.

Trains that I have lost

Post written on Friday, the 2nd of June.

***

The moment I write this post I am leaving Berlin. I flew here two days ago to teach a master’s class on the multilevel governance of immigration in Europe. The campus and the hotel where I was staying are situated in a stunning neighborhood outside the city: Wannsee. This morning I went for a short walk in the forest and I swam in the lake. There were many joggers around, most of them aged 60 or 70, some younger at around 30 or 40. Ah, beauty.

IMG_1369

But the problem is that in the last few months I started suffering from insomnia. The disease is getting worse day by day. I can now count the hours of sleep I have had in the last week on the fingers of two hands. This makes it very hard for me to enjoy all the beauty that I have around, even when I walk around Florence or Berlin at 4AM in the night.

Yet, there were a few moments I could still appreciate: the class, the meeting with Felix on the Klunkerkranich (the improvised bar on the roof of the shopping centre Neukölln Arcaden with the special charme of Berlin imperfection) and the two evenings out with Jonas whom, by the way, successfully defended his Ph.D. the day I arrived.

Appunti di quaderno su Torino

I rumori. Brulichio soffuso. Passeggiare. Pavimenti, portici, lungo il fiume, piazze.

 

Ordine e magnificenza; eppure c’è delicatezza. Montesquieu (1728): ‘Torino è piccola e ben costruita‘. Armoniosa e proporzionata, giochi di luci e colori, scenografie – soprattutto Piazza San Carlo, nota. Le lunghe strade che sembrano condurre in linea retta verso le come nevose. Nietzsche (1888, sei mesi a Torino):  ‘raffinata delicatezza‘. Tutto fluisce.

Le persone. Goldoni: ‘molto cortesi e molto civili; e vedendo arrivar tra loro un Milanese, un Veneziano, o un Genovese, hanno il costume di dire: questi è un italiano‘. Gian Giacomo Casanova: ‘fra le città d’Italia Torino è quella nella quale il bel sesso ha tutti i fascini che l’amore gli può desiderare‘.

Le piazze grandi. San Carlo. Vittorio Veneto. Castello. Statuto. Le piazze meno grandi. Palazzo di città.  Consolata. Emanuele Filiberto. Nietzche: ‘qui tutto è costruito con liberalità ed ampiezza, specialmente le piazze, così come nel cuore della città si ha un senso superbo di libertà‘.

La cittadella e Porta Palazzo. Secondo Edmondo de Amicis, uno Zola torinese potrebbe mettere lì la scena di un romanzo intitolato Il ventre di Torino: ‘fra le lunghe fila di baracche di botteghini, in mezzo a monti di frutta, legumi e formaggi, tra il vociare dei commercianti e il via vai delle carrette s’agita confusamente una folla fitta di contadini, di turisti, di massaie. E’ una folla continuamente cangiante’.

Il parco del Valentino e il Monte dei Cappuccini. I tramonti. L’alba.

Il museo del Risorgimento. Il museo del Cinema. Il museo Egizio. Il museo Pietro Micca. Venaria Reale. Il museo di Arte Orientale. La Pinacoteca Agnelli. Il museo di Antropologia Criminale, che splendida illustrazione del genio pericoloso di Cesare Lombroso! Il museo dell’Anatomia. Il museo dell’Automobile. La Galleria Fotografica.

Caffè, cantanti ambulanti, orchestre, teatri, cinema. Primo Levi, Massimo d’Azeglio, Pietro Gobetti, Cesare Pavese, Guido Gozzano, Norberto Bobbio. E poi Antonio Gramsci, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche, Emilio Salgari, Italo Calvino. Proprio Calvino scrisse nella sua autobiografia che ‘Torino è la città ideale per lo scrivere… Invita al rigore, alla linearità, allo stile. Invita alla logica, e attraverso la logica apre alla follia‘.

Le librerie: Luxembourg, il bar Dotto e quell’altra tutta sgangherata non lontana da casa, di cui però ignoro il nome. Le case editrici. Storiche botteghe e caffè letterari. Il Circolo del Lettori. In ogni casa, larghe biblioteche.

Le piole: il Camaleonte, Cianci. Silos, il Pastis.

L’ospedale Mauriziano e la stazione Massaua.

Pal bikery, Affini. I panifici: il pane di una volta. Le gelaterie: La Romana. Le case del quartiere, i Bagni Municipali. Mnur. Le gioiellerie. La galleria subalpina.

Il cineforum Baretti.

Mi mancano completamente le periferie e la campagna. Tornerò?

 

 

Piove, ed è subito autunno

Torino, one week into

A guy playing the piano upon my arrival at the station. Coffee on the terrace. A warm October light. Wicked Man’s Rest. Sunny parks. Wide roads and surprisingly few churches. Maps. Marco. Moncalieri and its magnificent square. Il Collegio and Carlo Alberto. Il Caffé Città. Long walks in the Valentino park. Marco, Leila, and Etta. Fencing, spada, Carlos. Late nights reading. Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Niels. Caponata. Il Balon. Ardberg. Agriturismo del Canavese. Museo del Risorgimento. Rain.

img_7973

 

Reinventing oneself

Some lessons I learnt after living for two months without a home and spending all my time on trains, planes, and friends’ houses (thanks!). A note for the random visitor: these are just scattered notes I write for myself, not a coherent post.

Communication

People seem to waste too much of their time communicating with digital devices. This is an old refrain, I know, but it is scary how people use their phones nowadays – and for what? I have been on trains where all the persons of a family of four never spoke to each other for the whole ride, because they were all incessantly looking at their devices. Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, emails, sms, Twitter, emails, Telegram: even me, I am inundated by applications to chat. I often think of a line of a certain Passenger’s song, we pretend to be friends on the internet when in real life we have nothing to say. As a reaction I have grown increasingly more inept at communicating with my phone. Forget long messages. Rather, I have elected four simple ways of communicating with you: (1) this blog; (2) a short sarcastic message, picture, or video to laugh about; (2) a handwritten letter, for those of you who really matter; (4) a flight/train ticket to come and see each other in person.

Smartphone apps, more generally

There was a moment of my trip when I was craving for a map of Berlin. Until that point I had been getting around anywhere just fine using googlemaps. Sure, the app was working well; but I realised it was my fourth time in Berlin and I still had no idea of how the city was structured and I could not even remember the name of the neighbourhood where I was staying. The way I use googlemaps is just to get to A to B and, as a consequence, I never memorise the information. I made a resolution for myself to start using old paper maps again – like these. It is not for a case that when I was still in Trento I had the ambitious project of creating one. (I failed, but not for lack of trying).

Being a guest

I received precious hospitality by Giallu, Martina, Pietro, Giulia, Jonas. I learnt to wake up in the sun, listen to classical music, treat wooden objects with respect, prepare a smoothie, separate clothes in the laundry machine. But – hei – I am just not made for being a long-term guest. I feel like I am invading someone else’s space. So this experience confirms that I am a bourgeois deep down in my bones. The word bourgeois, as you know, denotes a person that takes for granted the sanctity of property. This brings me to point 4 of my diary.

Stuff

Niels, who is going to live with me in Torino in a couple of days, says that he wants to have his belongs packed in one simple bag. A-ha: nonsense. Living in Florence for three years I have accumulated an incredible amount of stuff: books, clothes, games, bikes, paintings, a scooter, laptops, tables, all sorts of technology. This stuff -material stuff, really- reflects my personality; in some ways, it is even an extension of it. This is why I feel so strange knowing that it is now scattered around six different houses (err – and I take the opportunity to thank again my friends for their patience).

Home

Material stuff reflects my personality, sure. There is another reason, though, why it is so important to me: it also captures a particularly happy period of my life. So now when I take up Bruti I remember the late evenings playing it with Dani; when I take that one glass of whiskey I remember the night when I was with Thomas and he knew he got into law school; when I look at the little school bus I remember of my improvised journey all the way to Denmark with Iris; and so on: you got the gist. Now – of course you realise I have been bloody sentimental about leaving my home in Florence, but I think that is for a reason. At the moment I doubt I will ever find a place so welcoming, so radiant, so relaxed as that. But then, who knows? When I got there in 2013 I had just experienced Brussels with Mindo, a truly marvellous flatmate and friend. So I was convinced I could not find anything better than that. In fact, half an hour after my arrival in the house Ada and I were fighting -literally fighting- over the consequences of Spanish colonisation in South America, leaving short of words both Jonas, who had rented the cheapest room but was forcefully assigned the most expensive one upon his arrival ‘because you are the last one who arrived and since we have already put our luggages in the other room it be a bit of a hassle to move them now, no?‘; and Dani, who had been accepted in the house at the last minute just because the girl who had been favoured over him turned out to be pregnant. It ended up going swimmingly: they are my closest friends now. So let us be surprised again.

Face-book

After giving the talk I wrote about in here, I realized I must to re-think the way I write about people. I want to collect all the stories I write in a coherent container; and I want to put a picture next to the text. So I started my own face-book: I went to buy a Polaroid and I started using it. These are the first pages of my facebook.





  

I am still missing a text for Marco. I will write it soon.

And, yes, I wanted my Polaroid to be white. Unfortunately a flashing pink was the only colour available in the shop where I was. So here she is, my funky new camera whom I decided to call Dara, which is a local aboriginal name.

Stories that move me around

Last week I gave a short and simple presentation for Atlas on the topic Why do we travel? A talk about the kind of stories that inspire us to continue exploring our environments and its remote cultures. The talk is part of a new series of events that we decided to call Science of Travel.

Science of Travel.jpg

I started by asking the question of Doug Lansky: why did travelling go from this to this? One answer to this question is that travelling has got a lot easier: not only in the sense that there are more planes and means of transportation available to all; but also in the sense that the experience itself has changed. The spread of global brands like tripadvisor, hostelbookers, hostelsworld, mcdonalds, marriot’s has transformed tourism into a much more accessible, impersonal, standardized experience. Nowadays we can find the very same venues in all the main tourst locations around the world and when we use them we know exactly what to expect from our journey. This, of course, makes the life of travellers much easier.

At the same time, easy tourism defies the original purpose of travelling. Travelling was always a way of loosing ourself, to be disoriented, so that we can understand ourselves better. In fact, travel was always a spiritual experience. It is not by chance that some kind of voyage figures prominently in all the main monoteistic religions: Moses travels to Mount Sinai too get the ten commandments, Jesus travels across the desert to find himselfm, Mohammed’s first encounter with God is in Cave Hira, and even buddah becomes the Buddah when travelling in the wilderness. Religions show us the transformative aspect of travel. When we are disoriented, our thoughts are amplified and we establish a more unique connection with what is around us. So now it should be clearer why travelling with technology and relying on mass tourist destinations and global brands… is not really travelling at all. As Chelsea writes in her 1 year without a cell phone, ‘I didn’t want to have Google Maps at my disposal, pull up answers in the palm of my hand, or browse through the Top 10 Places to See on a screen. I wanted to touch the shoulder of a stranger and ask for help, get local advice, hear stories firsthand. I didn’t want a search bar telling me where to eat‘. By contrast, the millions of people who travel this way are more like consumers walking into supermarkets than travellers experiencing surprising destinations.

How can we have a more authentic travel experience, then? Relying less on technology and going for something hard is a good starting point; but it is not only about being more connected to nature than to the internet, though. It is also about doing something hard, as opposed to something easy. Many people nowadays walk the Camino de Santiago looking for something that is not predictable, and not standard. Hardness gets us moving – and it brought us to the moon: it was JFK who famously said ‘we decided to go to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard‘. Tough obstacles make for nice stories.

This is why, when I set off for a trip, I go with the objective of writing one short story about one person I will meet. It is not much about the act of writing: it is more about changing my mindset and actively looking for encounters. This is how I learnt to pay more attention. But then, of course, each of us has a different way of looking for and telling their own stories. In Gran Canaria I met a variety of creative persons. Marco, for instance, does it by playing music: his Kamelen Goni is a means of fostering encounters and transmitting his feelings. Abel uses the light to write stories through the photos of his camera. Silvia paints. I write. At the end of the day we all travel for a story.

Scattered notes from Gran Canaria

I landed in Las Palmas on August 5th. The first impression was bad: horrible architecture and horrible tourists everywhere. It felt like a place where I did not really want to be. After a few days I realized that of all my trips, this is definitely the most alienating city where I have ever stayed.

And yet, even Las Palmas has its charm. It makes some sense, now that I think of it: after all, I came here to volunteer with Atlas, a local association that is trying too make Gran Canaria a better place. My accommodation was in its headquarters, if we may call it so: Atlas Las Palmas, a hostel is situated in one of the most degraded neighbourhoods of the city and one of the only ones that are not affected by tourism: La Isleta. Only a few hundred meters away, Las Canteras is the biggest urban beach in Europe. It is packed with elderly people and young couples: not exactly the kind of place I fancy.

My memories of the first days are related to the community life in the hostel, the concert organized by the association there, the surfing sessions early in the morning, and the tons of digital nomads, that is to say those young fellows who only need a laptop and an internet connection to work: they come here in huge numbers and live in Las Palmas for six months or a year. Thinking back of it now, I realize in those first days I was still trying to get acquainted with this bizarre reality and finding a role for myself.

I spent most of my second week in Artenara, Spain’s second highest village at 1200 m on the level of the ocean. Here the association owns El Warung Cave Hostel: I was in charge of keeping it running. I arrived to Artenara at about las 2 de la tarde: in an almost unbearable heat, some workers were slowly setting up a stage in the town’s main and only square, while the speakers were playing traditional Spanish music. The village was about to take its usual afternoon break. I would soon be forced to do the same: after lunch the temperature reaches 48º. Artenara is a surprising place: “El espectáculo es imponente. Todas aquellas negras murallas de la gran caldera, con sus crestas, que parecen almenas, con sus roques enhiestos, ofrecen el aspecto de una visión dantesca. No otra cosa pueden ser las calderas del Infierno que visitó el florentino. Es una tremenda conmoción de las entrañas de la tierra; parece todo una tempestad petrificada, pero una tempestad de fuego, de lava, más que de agua”. This is a writing of Miguel de Unamuno, poet, writer, novelist and academic who served as rector of the University of Salamanca -where I shortly studied Spanish in 2010- before being removed by the dictator General Miguel Primo de Rivera and sent in exile to the Canary Islands – it was 1924. Just like he did when staying here, I went for long hikes, I enjoyed the surreal silence, I observed the changing colours of the sun on the rocks, I ate in all the local restaurants (three of them), and I spent much time reading and meditating with Sombras, the hostel’s cat. But mostly I tried to make sense of the geography around my cave, tracing Roque Nublo, Roque Bentayga, Cruz de Tejeda, Cuevas del Rey, Mesa del Junquillo, Acusa Verde, Acusa Seca, Montaña de Altavista, Tamadaba.

Back to Las Palmas on my third week I finally spotted some intimate aspects of the city. Las Canteras by night is populated by Arab women dressed with their veil. One of the most iconic pictures of this trip, not an actual picture but a shot I captured with my mind, is that of two foreign tourists walking next to two Arab women. The former are fat, their shirts barely cover their stomach, their walk is heavy and uncertain; the latter are shining in their coloured veils, elegant, slim, their walk is proud and certain. When I participated into some neighbourhood council meetings of La Isleta I discovered that here, just like in Italy, it is only elderly people attending these forums. Youngsters like me communicate on the internet or on their phones, but do not take part into this face-to-face decisions. Yet another example of how the modern world – capitalism and technology – are making our lives more lonely, while also eroding political participation.

My disappointment for politics was tempered by a genuine excitement for arts: many of the travellers staying at Atlas are artists who produce music or paint. Marco has a beautiful attitude and he plays in Vegueta, the city’s old neighbourhood, interacting with all those who pass by. His instrument comes from Mali, where he has lived for a few years. In October he will go to San Francisco and his plan is to buy a bus and drive all the way down to Brazil – while stopping to play music with the other people who want to join him on the bus. He is one of the persons who inspired me the most; with him, and just for my records, I would also like to remember Rodrigo, Antonio, Laia, Cruz, Silvia, Chelsea, Kristina, Susi, Thomas, Chris, Asier, Matias, Claudia, Giulia, Alessandra, Anderson, Amalia, Luca, Olivia, Dimitri, Jose, Mattia, Josito, Clara, Rey, Narandian. There is one person in particular whom I will remember, though: Manolo, who started and runs Atlas in an effort to produce a living example of economy for the common good. Right, the association: what was I doing there? My main task was that of creating a document incorporating the values and the projects to explain it to all the people who, just like you, might be curious about it. You will find the result of my work in this other post.

I left Las Palmas a few days ago, only now that my local vocabulary was starting to grow bigger and larger. For instance: (1) panza del burro is the veil of clouds that constantly covers Las Palmas and produces a spectacular view when seen from above. Every time I would drive to Artenara I would cross it right in between and then enjoy the spectacle of the cloudy ocean right beneath me; (2) azotea is the rooftop terrace of each house, a place for socializing and getting together; (3) vento alisio is the wind blowing from Morocco and Western Sahara to the islands and producing humidity and blurred colours (4) Guagua is the name of the local buses – sweet, isn’t it? (5) papas con mojo is the special -and only?-dish of the island; (6) Artenara, Ierai, Dara, Tamadaba, Arucas, Firgas, Tejeda: all of these are names in the aboriginal language, that is the language spoken by the inhabitants of the island prior to the invasion of the Spanish colonizers in 1402. Last but not least, I learnt a new word in English, a term I could have used countless of times: pearling. This is an ancient and dangerous technique that involves pearl hunters jumping out of a ship and diving nearly 100 feet in a single breath. Nowadays, when surfers are wiped out by a wave, it looks like they are diving into the the ocean looking for pearls. So we call it pearling. But in my case you can also call it a wipeout or a nosedive.

I will, at some point, return to Gran Canaria and learn more. Would you like to come there too?