Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Category: travellin

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?

Atlas Gran Canaria

In this post I summarize the philosophy, the history, and the projects of the Atlas association of Gran Canaria, with whom I have been volunteering with over the last month of August 2016. I drafted this text together with Chelsea.

***


OUR PHILOSOPHY

Ours is a campaign for sustainable travel as an alternative to mass tourism. We exist to re-think the act of travel, promote encounters, partner with the local community, and build exchanges for experiences, not just excursions. Join the campaign!

OUR HISTORY

Gran Canaria and the Canary Islands in general are a favourite destination for many travelers, making it a popular place for mass tourism to occur. In 2015, almost 12 million of international tourists landed in one of the seven islands of the archipelago. Mass tourism is generally considered to be an opportunity for local development. Yet, the benefits of mass tourism are highly concentrated. Economically, for instance, an estimated one in four of the tourists who come to the Canary Islands arrive as part of all-inclusive vacations rarely venturing out of their hotels. In fact, the rate of unemployment in the Canary Islands stands at nearly 31%, being one of the highest in Europe, in spite of the enormous influx of tourism arriving to the islands every year.

The “Tourists Go Home” movement in gaining momentum all throughout Europe and in many places in Spain. In Gran Canaria, this movement is already creating a tension and a difficult connection between local residents and tourists. Atlas began with these things in mind. We wanted to create an association that would promote an alternative to mass tourism: when large cities shout #TouristsGoHome, we extend the invitation #TravelersWelcome. When Atlas was created in the Summer of 2015, we built our story and our practices upon the foundation and common objective to start a campaign involving travelers with the local communities and local communities into the experience of travelers.

THE ATLAS CAMPAIGN

Atlas exists at the core of a dynamic web of relations involving an expansive, yet closely-knit, network of global and local associations and NGOs as well as volunteers and travelers. This is what we call ‘the Atlas campaign’.

The Atlas campaign is based on a partnership between travelers and the local community, which has three characteristics. First, it is Open. Our association welcomes and encourages alternative travellers from all over the world to come together in collaboration and as a community of volunteers, artists, researchers, writers, students, entrepreneurs, and those simply looking to take a vacation in an accommodation that offers more than a bed to sleep in. Second, it is Expanding. As more and more people are joining in we are making a greater impact. Not just within the community, not just within the lives of those who contribute their time, talents and financial resources to it, but also on a larger scale, situating our campaign within the global movement to re-think travelling and its economic, social, and ecological impact. Third, it is Equal. We believe in and stand for equality amongst all parties involved in this partnership, the campaign does not embody a vertical hierarchy, using and share our strengths equally. The Atlas campaign is open, ever-expanding, and horizontal.

DOC1

The projects of our campaign are geared specifically toward Gran Canaria, but are situated within a broader context. Our campaign is part of a global movement for alternative travelling as an alternative to mass tourism. In 2012, the number of international travellers in the world crossed the symbolic threshold of one billion for the first time, and forecasts of the UN’s World Tourism Organization predicts that the two billion mark will be reached by 2030. These constantly increasing figures show the enormous potential of traveling for global change. Yet, the impact of mass tourism is economically concentrated, socially uncertain, and ecologically detrimental. Our campaign is part of a global community that encourages individuals to use alternative travel for social, economic, and environmental benefits.

In 1995 the Charter for Sustainable Tourism was adopted at the first World Conference on Sustainable Tourism, held in Lanzarote, one of the seven islands of Gran Canaria. This historic action took place under the auspices of UNESCO, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the leading associated international organisations and related programmes, such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the MAB Programme (Man and the Biosphere), the World Heritage Centre, the European Commission and the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development. Twenty years later, in 2015 a new Charter for Sustainable Tourism was signed by the participants at the World Summit on Sustainable Tourism meeting in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the Basque Country, Spain. We share the objectives of these international charters in carrying global tourism towards more responsible ways of conducting and conceiving this activity; and we promote concrete projects serving this aim.

CURRENT PROJECTS

The projects of the Atlas campaign are organized into four streams that compose an organic framework for alternative and sustainable travel built on an invitation to enter the island of Gran Canaria, re-think the way we travel, connect with the people and with the place, and explore further.

The first stream of the campaign is the network of accommodations. This represents an invitation to enter Gran Canaria and discover local neighbourhoods and small villages that are situated outside the main tourist routes, in lesser known, authentic, and surprising places to stay. At the moment, Atlas has four accommodations. Atlas Las Palmas is a large hostel that was opened in 2014 in La Isleta, a local barrio that has not been directly affected from by the mass tourism coming to the island’s biggest city. Acusa Seca Cave House is a six-person accommodation that was opened in 2015 in the most isolated cave village on the island that was the site of an aboriginal settlement. El Warung Cave Hostel is a ten-person lodging that was opened in 2012 in Artenara, the highest mountain village of the island. Agaete Hostel is a ten-person hostel in a fishermen’s village on the coast that will be opened towards the end of 2016. The network of accommodations is designed to encourage conscious traveling aimed to bring a positive social, ecological, and economic impact for the local communities. All the accommodations that are currently working featured on national newspapers: El Warung in ElDiarioAtlas Las Palmas in LaProvinciaAcusa Seca Cave House in El Pais.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 7.17.30 PM.png

The second stream of the campaign is made of the activities. This is an invitation to re-think the way we travel. The activities include, but are not limited to: Taller de Ideas: a series of talks on contemporary social issues; Science of Travel: a round of presentations given by the volunteers who come to work for Atlas; informative documentaries; concerts featuring local artists and bands; fair-markets. The activities are designed to reflect upon the impact of traveling on local communities and inspire individuals to invent their own journey.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 7.09.01 PM

The third stream of the campaign is made of the festivals. This is an invitation to create connections in the course of a three to five-day event. At the moment, Atlas is part of the organization of two festivals. Las Palmas Gathering, a five-day festival started in 2015 where alternative travelers and boat-hikers tell their stories and hike together. Alife Artenara, a three-day festival of yoga, music, meditation, and hiking started in 2016. The festivals are designed to promote community lifestyle and establish a profound connection across participants, as well as between participants and the setting where the festivals take place.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.37.42 PM

Finally, the fourth stream of the campaign is made of thru-hiking. This is an invitation to explore the most remotes parts of island traveling only by feet and by boat. Atlas is currently promoting two trails. Canary Islands End-to-End is a project to foster the use of one of Europe’s longest and least known Grand Randonnees, the Canary Islands Trail, or GR 131, a seven-island trail that can be done in less than a month hiking through coastlines, volcanoes, mountains, plateaus, deserts, pine forests. Agaete-Artenara-Tamada Trail is a three-day hike from the Pacific Ocean to the highest village in Gran Canary and the second highest village of Spain. These experiences of thru-hiking are designed to give all travellers, from the most trained to the least experienced, the opportunity to embark in a unique journey where their feet are the only engine.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.37.36 PM.png

The projects of Atlas have expanded quickly over time. Today, the aim of the campaign remains that of promoting travel as an organic experience, covering different aspects of sustainability. The realization of these projects has been possible thanks to the collaboration of local associations, travellers, and volunteers alike. In fact, whether you’re staying in our accommodations, volunteering for the month or attending an informative discussion on our rooftop terrace, we desire to express together a concrete idea of alternative tourism aimed at creating learning opportunities for empowerment, growth and global understanding.

JOIN THE CAMPAIGN

All those who share our philosophy are welcome to join the campaign. There are different ways to become involved.

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.

Dutching

Pédaler avec charme

I have received a few messages from readers complaining for the abrupt interruption of publications on this blog. To be honest, it is mainly relatives worried about my health – a reasonable concern in light of recent events and previously expounded theories. Unlike my blog and Aston Villa, I am still doing fine. In the last few weeks I have been traveling. Let me sum up so I myself can keep track.

First off to Spain. It is a shame I do not have a good camera, because there are so many vivid imagies I should have captured. Instead I only took a picture of a book which I found in a museum of photography. I thought it was funny that it appeared randomly open on a picture of South Tyrollean valleys. Anyways. I was in Madrid for work and I stayed in a room in Lavapies, arguably one of the city’s most vibrant, alternative, and popular neighbourhoods. My stay was courtesy of Pedro, whom I hope to meet soon. Then down to Sevilla, also for work: I could barely appreciate La Giralda, el Alcazar, la Torre del Oro, el Guadalquivir, which I had already seen in 2009 in a torrid day at around 45° when I was living in Granada with Anna. This time my mind was closed, much more closed than it used to be, so I only had a remote glimpse of the exotism, the monuments, the women, the fiestas. As a sentence written in a lost book, todos hellos parecian confabulates para arrastrar a los centavos mas alla de lo que los limited que podian proportioner una domesticate imagination.

Then back to Florence. Unfortunately I had to cancel my participation to the Florence Gran Fondo which took place today (sic), because I am away. However, I still managed to go on a couple of long rides with Giallu and Bjorn. It is probably safe to assume that I have ridden more kilometres in 2016 than in the previous three years combined. And it has become somehow addictive.

Cycling is really becoming a thing for me. I am spending too much money buying fancy outfits, too much time watching highlights of professional races, too much energy studying stories of old champions.

The video above is about the story of a Swiss rider, Hugo Koblet. And it is probably fitting, since I just moved to Neuchâtel to work on my PhD dissertation – hint: that’s why I had to miss today’s Gran Fondo in Florence. Here, again, I have to thank Jean-Thomas, who made my stay possible and provided such gorgeous looks on the lake.

 

Je me souviens just part of it

Monsieur,

D’après un article (4 fév.), il y a confusion concernant la devise du Québec. Comme vous l’avez écrit, elle est de E. E. Taché. « Je me souviens » n’est que la première phrase [de la devise], ce qui explique peut-être la confusion. La devise va comme suit :

Je me souviens / Que né sous le lys / Je croîs sous la rose.
I remember / That born under the lily / I grow under the rose.

Je suis la petite-fille de Eugène-Étienne Taché. Ma tante, Mme Clara Taché-Fragasso de Québec, est la seule des filles de E.-E. Taché toujours en vie. J’espère que [cette information] éclairera quelques-uns de vos lecteurs.

The text quoted above is a letter sent by Hélène Pâquet in response to an article appeared on The Montreal Star in 1978. Hélène, as she herself explains in the last paragraph, is the nephew of Eugène-Étienne Taché, the Assistant Commissioner for Crown lands in Quebec and architect of the provincial Parliament building. Upon his death in 1912, Taché wanted the motto written above to be carved in stone below the coat of arms of Quebec that appears above the Parliament Building’s main entrance door. So it was done; and since then Je me souviens came into official use. In contemporary Quebec it still occupies so many spaces, including the licence plates of the cars. For many French Quebeckers Je me souviens poetically symbolizes the days of New France (the lily) and the subsequent conquest by the English crown and the Confederation (the rose). Some say that when the French Canadian says “Je me souviens”, she not only remembers the days of New France but also the fact that she belongs to a conquered people.

This story is meant to show you that Quebec is a place of powerful suggestions. I spent three weeks in its biggest and most vibrant city, Montreal, and now that I am back to Florence I can upload some pictures and add some explanations – you will see the explanation if you clic on the picture. I am also going to upload a music video; and I would have chosen a video without any advertisement at the start but then this is by far the best live version of it and it deserves to be seen.

The video is somehow related to one particular thought I wanted to share with you. When I was in Montreal it was Freshers week, which is the time when all new students arrive to university and go pretty crazy celebrating. It is the first moment in their life they are free, and independent, and you can read it in their face. There is excitement, but there is also fear: it is a sense of utter freedom, and utter loss at the same time. It is a passing ritual I love, because in that moment your brain and your heart are clean, so clean and free that you can start from scratch and discover so much and you won’t feel alone because there are so many people around you who are in the exact same situation and you can perceive they feel exactly the way you do. I was lucky enough to be in that kind of situation many times in my life, having changed place and started something new – quite often, already. So every time I would find myself in a situation like this – well, you know, I would share the excitement, and the thrill, and everything that comes with it. Not this time, though. This time I just saw very, very young students, and for the first time in my life I felt I was a bit more mature than they were. I was happy for them, though. But I was not part of it, as I was a passenger riding in the backside. And so I thought of the song, and finally, many year after I first listened to it on the radio, it made perfect sense.

Unless you change and become like children

Those of you who know me are aware I am not religious (“Yes I am Hindu. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew“). To the surprise of many, though, I believe there is a lot to be learnt from religions in general. Today I wanted to share a text from the gospel. My mum sent it to me about a week ago. It is Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14, and it goes like this: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost”. I am sharing this because I spent a good part of the last twenty days working with a group of about thirty kids in a summer house on the oceanic coastline of Asturias.

It has been my now traditional summer volunteering abroad (see: 2013 and 2014) and my participation was made possible by Legambiente (thanks!).

These last few days I have thought hard about ways to capture my memory of this experience. In a book I am reading, Jorge Luis Borges writes: “Cuando se acerca el fin, ya no quedan imágenes del recuerdo; sólo quedan palabras”. I will appropriate this reflection for the sake of my post. In fact I would rather share some imagines of the kids and our activities, but I cannot: due to Spanish law, I am not allowed to take pictures of/with the kids. It is a shame, because they are so animated, funny, and cool. Just try to imagine a group of thirty people between 5 and 17 year old and they are all screaming, throwing a ball around, jumping in the ocean and asking me to keep them above the waves, riding down the river on a kayak, surfing – pretty well, too – and digging into a cave, climbing up on the trees like crazy goats, cooking pasta with a respectable degree of discipline, fighting over a glass of coke, asking a few questions in English, poking me in Spanish, cheering in Italian, pouring water all over the place, and much more. They are Edgar, Ainoa, Christie, Yaiza, Joni, Angela, Jose, Kevin, JoseLu, Aitor, Fabiany, Elena, Blanca, Dani, Christian, Christian, Angel, Carla, Alejandra, Monica, Sara, Keila, Israel, Adrian, Dioni, Tonio, Zaira, Liberated and they kept my spirit up this month.

To compensate for the lack of pictures with such a youthful group, I took a few photos with elderly people. I shot them in the different parts of Spain where I was before and after going to Asturias. The first pictures in this gallery were taken in San Sebastian/Donostia; the last in Oviedo, Puebla de Sanabria, Zamora, Madrid; and in between there might be a bit of Gijon and Ribadesella.

The problem with these pictures is that they are anonymous to me. When I look at them, I smile – especially those with the people eating, thinking, looking around – but I do not find trace of the little journey I lived through. Rather than looking at the photos, thus, this time I can better recall by reading my scattered notes on a notebook, or going through the random signs I left on the map, or even smelling the bracelets the kids made for me. I have some reminiscences by looking again at the books I was reading these days – Hemingway and Kerouac – and listening to the kind of songs I was listening to – Daft Punk, Bear’s Den, The Rural Alberta Advantage, The White Buffalo: a pretty scattered selection, eh? If I think about all these things now, I can safely conclude I have experienced occasional loneliness, sunny days, rainy days, intense sickness, optimism, tenderness, relaxation, idleness, adrenalin, satisfaction, hanger, and everything in between.

Traditional addendum: I am now off to Paris for two days. I am then flying to Montreal in a pretty hazardous journey that involves a stop-and-go through a couple of airports in New York. If everything goes well, I will be in Quebec until mid-September.

Erwitt in Berlin

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/a87/2397665/files/2015/01/img_0560.png

Can happiness be haggis, neeps, and tatties?

My ride took a bit longer than expected. What was initially supposed to be a short stroll with the bike away from my laptop turned into a two-month journey across four countries and very different feelings. I have, in fact, been thinking a lot about myself, for reasons both professional and personal—but then who hasn’t? It is just that there are people who tend to think about themselves it more than anybody else: generally, it is either those who have a lot of spare time, or those who tend to be egocentric. I am a bit of both.

Matter of fact, I am about to speak about myself and stuff I have done – once again.

First I have ridden my bike. Quite remarkably, I rode with my dad the whole way between Trento and Tuscany. Although we did not make it to Florence because of sheer lack of time, it was a good ride. We had lot of water, huge meals, and approximately 400 km down the way. My dad is still stronger than I am when it comes to long-distance ride, which is not surprising as he does not waste too much energy thinking about himself.

Bike Ride
I have also written. My articles have been published on Unimondo: some of them in Italian (Università, il dilemma dei finanziamenti privati; Mondiali in Brasile, l’importante è partecipare;Regno Unito: una lunga serie di sfortunati eventi; Mondiali in Brasile: dove è la festa?), some others in English (How Eurosceptic is the new European Parliament?; A new deal between the EU and Turkey on immigration rules). But I have gone international too: Iris, Jasper and all the other Orange fella will be proud as my articles have been translated in Dutch (Voor het eerst vuurwerk in Europees Parlement; EU en Turkije sluiten nieuwe overeenkomst over immigratieafspraken).

I have been to the Balkans. First I went to Serbia for a volunteering program. After last year’s experience in Slovakia this year I landed in a town only 33km away from Belgrande. Lying between the rivers Sava and Kolubara, Obrenovac has been badly hit by the floods of the last Spring. I spent two weeks working with a group of international volunteers in the houses that had been damaged by the water and the mud. I then traveled south to Sarajevo, for an immersive three-day in one of Europe’s most inspiring places on the occasion of its international Film Festival. Much more should be said about this experience, but I won’t – not here, anyway.

I have hiked, keeping up with the good tradition started with Manuel and Mindo. This year, after the 2012 and 2013 editions, we managed to put together the whole crew, adding Dani and Giallu, and sleeping in a comfortable refugee, Dolomiti del Brenta. In spite of what Jonas thought before we left, we never got lost, as the pictures of us looking desperately hopeless in the fog can confirm.

Finally, I have read some books. While I am still trying to nail down War and Peace, I have been disappointed by Canada entertained by New Europe, and intrigued by the Consolations of the Forest. The latter is probably one of the richest, deepest, and most honest books I have ever read. Those of you who are into nature, philosophy, and vodka should probably go for it.

And that’s about it. I am in Edinburgh now and will be here for a month experiencing the joy of the local cuisine, the excitement of the upcoming referendum, and the company of some old and new friends. I am planning to make a better use of the blog than the recent past. But if the days keep being as beautiful as today it won’t be easy to keep up.

Questa foto non l’ho fatta con il mio telefonino. Non l’ho fatta oggi. Non l’ho fatta io. Ma rende l’idea.