Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Tables and chairs

There is a reason why all of my recent posts were about Paris: from 1 April 2021, Arianna and I no longer live there. In this post I will tell you about our final 24 hours there.

On the late afternoon of Sunday, we ride to Saint-Denis. This is our last chance to visit Atelier Baptiste and Jaina, our two neighbours we got to know thanks to the pandemic. In Spring 2020 we looked out of our windows clapping, at 8pm sharp. This is when we started to wave at them, since they live right in front of us. Then, in June, once the lockdown was lifted, we met at Patakrep, in Place Petrucciani, during a warm early summer evening. It has been almost one year since they first invited us to visit their Atelier. Finally, we go.

The Atelier is an incredible place: located along the Canal de l’Ourcq, in front of the Stade de France, in the first banlieue north of Paris. The Atelier is part of an old abandoned factory, with four rows of low, red-brick houses, each occupied by a group of artists: sculptures, cartoonists, web-designers, painters, blacksmiths, etc. There are two large streets with small tables where scattered groups of people sit to drink a beer and smoke a cigarette at sunset. Baptiste and Jaina welcome us in the house they share with eight other artists. They work on the clay, and guide us through their latest creations. We leave the Atelier late in the evening.

Monday is our last day in Paris, and it is sunny. We finish painting the apartment and we leave outside our furniture: it is gone in less than thirty minutes. Same story for the food that we deposit in the Frigo Solidaire outside La Cantine du 18e: an initiative to learn from. We go to have lunch along the Canal Saint Martin, near Place de la Republique, with Marco and Estelle. In the afternoon we bid farewell to the owner of the house. She has been rather unpleasant with us for some time now, but shortly before leaving she opens up about her troubles. Each person travels with their baggage, and sometimes it can be very heavy to carry.

The house is pretty empty now. We dine on the small table, one of the last things left in the apartment, right next to the window. In front of us we see Baptise and Jaina, and wave at them one last time. When they close their window, Arianna notices a reflection. It looks like there is someone walking on the roof of our house. Isn’t that weird? Curious, we leave the apartment and walk all the way up the stairs. There is a small ladder that leads to a manhole. When we put the head out, we are mesmerised. We can walk on the roof.

Sunset in Paris, a view on the whole neighbourhood, Butte Montmartre bustling with little lights. Four people are having drinking beer and smoking on the roof. They welcome us there. (They are down-to-earth, funny, half-French, half-Russian, half-Swiss, half-Argentinian. Could have become fantastic friends, if only we’d met earlier). This is quite a shocker. I spent much of the last twelve months complaining about the lack of space and light in our apartment. I did not know that we had one hell of a terrace at our disposal. I could cry about it, or laugh. Arianna and I decided to take it as a final gift, our grand Parisian finale.

Sacré-Cœur

Con circa 10 milioni di visitatori all’anno (prima dell’inizio della pandemia), la Basilica del Sacro Cuore di Montmartre a Parigi è il secondo monumento storico più visitato in Francia dopo Notre-Dame de Paris. Tanto per capirci, l’afflusso di persone che salgono in cima a butte Montmartre, dove si trova la Basilica, è superiore a quello di persone che si recano al Louvre e alla Tour Eiffel.

Fino a poco tempo fa ignoravo che questa basilica è particolarmente divisiva nel dibattito francese. La struttura che vediamo oggi fu eretta dopo la Comune di Parigi del 1871: secondo un decreto dell’Assemblée nationale del 24 luglio 1873, la costruzione dell’edificio serviva a “espiare i crimini della comune .. e affermare l’ordine morale”.

Non a caso, il diciottesimo arrondissement è uno dei quartieri più popolari di Parigi e anche il luogo in cui il 18 marzo 1871 il popolo parigino si era sollevato. Il 24 maggio 1873, François Pie, vescovo di Poitiers, avanzò il desiderio di rinnovamento spirituale della Terza Repubblica, espresso attraverso il “Governo di Ordine Morale” che collegava le istituzioni cattoliche a quelle laiche, in “un progetto di rinnovamento religioso e nazionale, le cui caratteristiche principali erano la restaurazione della monarchia e la difesa di Roma all’interno di un quadro culturale di pietà ufficiale”, di cui la basilica del Sacro Cuore avrebbe dovuto essere il principale monumento. Vista da questa prospettiva, l’imponente struttura che domina sul diciottessimo arrondissement assume un significato vagamente minaccioso.

Grazie ad Aurélie, ho scoperto che tre anni fa un parigino propose, nel quadro di un bando partecipativo della città di Parigi, di radere al suolo la basilica. Fu il progetto più “likato” di sempre. La sindaca Anne Hidalgo non diede però seguito alla proposta.

Place Petrucciani

Paris, early June 2020, twilight.

It’s been a week since the French authorities have lifted the lockdown. From our apartment, in Rue Sainte-Isaure, Arianna and I can hear people chatting and having a beer in Place Petrucciani, just down the road.

It’s a festive atmosphere. We love the square. Small, unpretentious, dedicated to the author of (among other feats) this moving performance, it brings together three different bars, one supermarket, and one bakery. It just got a beautiful restyling after this lockdown: people cannot spend time indoor, so the bars are allowed to expand their outdoor area and reclaim space from the cars that would otherwise make their way through the square.

A rainstorm suddenly breaks out. It’s a deluge. As the rain pours down from the sky, we go to the window and watch, and so do our neighbours. We are in awe. Normally, the people in the square would run away and seek shelter. But not this time: having spent the last three months locked inside their houses, they are thrilled to get a good shower and dance. Watching from our window, we wish we were there with them.

Itinerario fotografico a Parigi

Marais

Qui ci sono due piccole gallerie, una grande galleria, un grande museo e due negozi. Le piccole gallerie dove ci sono mostre di grande qualità sono la Polka Galerie e la Fondation Henri-Cartier Bresson. Sono poco lontane l’una dall’altra. Poco più a sud, scendendo verso la Senna, la Maison Européen de la Photographie ospita regolarmente grandi mostre. Nella stessa area, al Centre Pompidou è sempre possibile trovare due o tre mostre fotografiche. I negozi che mi sono segnato sono Images et Portraits all’interno del Marché des Enfants Rouges (per stampe e cimeli) e Comptoir de l’Image (per libri).

Montmartre

Qui c’è la sede di Magnum Photos , che è sempre possibile visitare e ha periodiche esibizioni. A Le Bal  c’è un’originale selezione di libri, e un bello spazio per leggerli.

Altri arrondissement

Vicino a Gare de l’Est c’è una libreria specializzata in fotografia: La Comete. Nella zona di Odeon, La Chambre Claire ha una selezioni di libri rari. La maggior parte delle mostre fotografiche che ho visto a Parigi le ho visite a Jeu de Paume, a Concorde. Infine, a Hotel de Ville capita talvolta di trovare una mostra di fotografia.

Paris, 1922-1941

In the interwar period, Paris became home to many of the two million migrants and refugees who found their way to France – Armenian, Eastern, Southern Europeans, Russians refugees from genocide and civil war, those persecuted by European fascism came to Paris in the 1930s. Through the various communities of newcomers, Paris became a mosaic of migrant inscriptions that were in dialogue, built on one another and changed Paris forever.

Among the refugees living there, Fred Stein (who took the picture below and many others), Paul-Adolphe Löffler (who wrote the text below), Hanna Arendt, Alfred Kantoriwicz, Bertold Brecht, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Mann.

Les jours passent, incolores, sans événement. C’est seulement le soir quand nous sommes ensemble que je sens la chaleur de la vie. Elle est gentille, Ilonka, elle ne se plaint jamais d’étre obligée de se lever de bonne heure; å midi, elle déjeune d’un cornet de frites en se promenant dans the rue. Samedi aprés-midi, elle fait la lessive. Que je hais cette société dans laquelle nous vivons! Vivons? Existons. Nous existons obscurément dans la ville lumiére. Nous et d’autres milliers.

Paul-Adolphe Löffler

Engelberg and clouds

Exactly one year after our last free ride trip, on 7 March Jean-Thomas, Yvan and I were back together for what looks like the only journey together on the Swiss snow in 2021.

In the Swiss canton of Obwalden, the cable ride took up all the way up to Mount Titlis (3,238 m). In the afternoon, the clouds rose from the valley, creating that heavenly impression of skiing on the sea. The other mountain tops looked like little islands on the horizon. I had to think about this other time, almost ten years ago now.

You gotta love my contradictions. I hate the gentrification of mountains, yet I am part of it. I am dubious about the ethical implications of keeping the lifts open (Italy and Switzerland shut them down during the pandemic), yet, again, I take my seat and ride on.

Nostalgia

What is the connection between Swiss Kohreihen songs, modern tourism, and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel?


The term nostalgia was coined in the late 1600s by an Alsatian student, Johannes Hofer. He used it in his medical dissertation to describe the specific emotional state felt by the Swiss mercenaries uprooted from their mountains, stationed in the service of Louis XIV, and weakened, in fact, by what was previously called la maladie du pays. The 1767 Dictionnaire de Musique by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, himself a citizen of Geneva, claimed that Swiss mercenaries were threatened with severe punishment to prevent them from singing their Ranz des Vaches or Kuhreihen songs.

Nostalgia would become an important trope in Romanticism. This led, among other things, to the development of early tourism in the Alps. Trips to the Swiss mountains became widespread among the European cultural elite in the 19th century. The first organised tourist holidays in the world were organised in Switzerland by British impresarios (Thomas Cook and Lunn Travel companies). It was the genesis of what we know today as ‘going on vacation‘.

For some people, nostalgia continued to designate a medical condition typical of those who are far from the place where they were born. Well into 1946, in the United States doctors still referred to nostalgia as “the immigrant psychosis” due to people pining for their home countries as they attempted to process life in a new one.

In Europe, nostalgia had lost its exclusive connections with a place and was no longer considered a medical condition. Poets started to use the word when longing for the past or even for the present. Nostalgia represented a very powerful concept in the Austrian literary school of the early nineteenth century of Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth. Their writings inspired for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film imbued with sentimental nostalgia.

Recent research finds that nostalgia can have positive psychological functions, such as to improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning. In a study tracking the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on entertainment choices, more than half of consumers reported finding comfort in revisiting both television and music they enjoyed in their youth. There are many other examples of how people can find comfort in nostalgia in times of isolation.

Of course, this is quite a change from the initial findings of Hofer, who described the syndrome of nostalgia through its symptoms: fainting and high fever, stomach pain and death. Among the suggested treatments: opium, leeches and, in extreme cases, terror. The latter was adopted by a Russian General who, in 1733, decided to bury alive soldiers incapacitated by nostalgia. It is reported that “after two or three burials, the outbreak of homesickness subsided“.

Bottles make for good photos

About a month ago I took a picture of bottles in the snow. I thought it was a good, playful photo.

Yesterday I discovered that Robert Capa took a similar, better photo when he was on holiday in Zurs in 1950.

AUSTRIA. Zurs. 1949-1950. Ice bar.

Il patriarcato

Prima o poi mi piacerebbe avere una prole. A un certo punto, mi toccherà spiegare loro che, dalla nascita della Repubblica nel 1948 a oggi, tutti e sessantasette i primi ministri della Repubblica Italiana sono di sesso maschile.

Poi aggiungerò che anche i direttori di banca, i registi, i dirigenti d’azienda, i rettori universitari, i magistrati, i direttori dei giornali: praticamente tutti uomini.1 Perfino i sacerdoti, pensate un pò, haha- e poi trasformerò quella che voleva essere una risata in un finto colpo di tosse. Comunque è questo il patriarcato, lo so che sembra un parolone, ma la definizione semplice-semplice è quella di è un sistema sociale in cui gli uomini detengono principalmente il potere e predominano in ruoli di leadership politica, autorità morale, privilegio sociale e controllo della proprietà privata. L’Italia in cui sono cresciuto.

Forse loro, i miei interlocutori immaginari, mi chiederanno come ci stavo io, in una società che ha di fatto istituzionalizzato la subalternità delle donne. Spiegherò tronfio che scrivevo post indignati sul mio blog. Poi mi schermirò dicendo che ho passato tanti anni all’estero. Per carità, aggiungerò con simulata indifferenza, non che in Belgio, Canada, Francia e Svizzera non ci fosse un patriarcato. Però almeno il dibattito pubblico non era monopolizzato da uomini. Per essere concreti: roba come questa, in Svizzera, io non l’ho mai vista.

Forse dirò perfino che le persone che erano direttamente superiori a me sul lavoro erano donne, Jelena e Nicole. Non so se aggiungerò che i direttori erano però due uomini e che la maggior parte delle persone con cui ho pubblicato articoli sono uomini. Sarà probabilmente a questo punto che loro (la mia prole, ancora immaginaria) mi inchioderanno: ma come fai a parlare tu, se tutte le liste di libri che hai fatto negli anni sono dominate da scrittori uomini?

Sotto-sotto lo ho sempre saputo che tenere questo blog si sarebbe rivelata una pessima idea.


1 Stando ai numeri di quest’articolo, nell’Italia del 2020, su 76 rettori universitari e 6 rettrici; 20 membri maschi del consiglio superiore della magistratura e 4 donne; e sono sempre 4 le donne al comando di una redazione su un totale di 65 testate giornalistiche.

Weekend long reads, March 2021

Alfredo Giacobbe, Io sono scarso, L’Ultimo Uomo. Wolfgang Streeck, Vaccine debacle, The New Left Review. Julie Beck, Hiking Is an Ideal Structure for Friendship, The Atlantic. Cal Newport, E-mail is making us feel miserable, The New Yorker. Sarah Stillman, The Race to Dismantle Trump’s Immigration Policies, The New Yorker.