Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Aria fresca

Early on Saturday morning. Arianna on the bike, myself on a trottinette, half an hour through the empty streets of Paris to reach Gare de Lyon. Other youngsters arrive by bike. They have portable mattresses for bouldering. We take the train to Fontainebleau.

We walk randomly until we reach the Gorges d’Aupremont. Then we head to Barbizon, which became famous after the Barbizon School of painters like Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet, and Jean-Baptiste Corot. We note the picturesque main street, the luxuriant gardens, the sophisticated roofs of the houses. 

It is already late afternoon when we leave Barbizon: Fleury-en-biere, Perthes, Saint Sauveur sur école, Avernaux, Saint Fargeau. These villages remind me of my childhood, when I would visit them often, week in, week out. Never in person; in the videogames. Many of them would be based on World War II, and in World War II there is always a moment when you play the American soldier (or, more rarely, the British trooper) advancing through Normandy and then down until you reach Paris in the summer. I know this sounds extremely controversial. Awkwardly, the image of a chill French summer stuck with me.

We arrive at the farm. It is our first encounter with a public space in almost three months. It takes little to adjust. The owners smile often. I am destroyed. Arianna bursts with energy. We have dinner and breakfast in the garden. It feels like I am now living the dream I had during the confinement.

We walk to Ponthierry, then along the Seine to Vosves, and from there to Villiers-en-Biére. We decide to stop there. There is a big field with crops and a park that is completely empy. We nap there. We later discover the park is empty because it is closed to the public to contain the spread of the virus. Ops.

We finish the day with a very long crossing of the forest. After winter and two additional months with ho human beings, the forest is taking control again. Most tracks are completely hidden by the vegetation. Without the map, we would not be able to find and follow them. It feels special to walk in the wild.

We arrive in Bois le Roi and back to Gare de Lyon.

Libera uscita

Bois de Vincennes, Bois de Boulogne, Asnières-sur-Seine, rue de l’Abreuvoir.

Luca, Marco, Estelle, Marco, Jimmy, Francesca, Jean Thomas.

Applauses

On Thursday March 12th I went to see Andreas in Vevey. We climbed up a Dent with the skis, ate a soup, and then I headed home and packed some clothes. On the evening I was at the Reithalle in Bern to watch Perro Bomba, as part of the movie series organised by Christina and Lisa. I sneaked out of the room to watch the televised speech by Emmanuel Macron. The next morning, very early in the morning, I hopped on the train from Neuchatel to Paris. I breathed a sight of relief upon arriving at Gare de Lyon. I had spent the entire week worrying that the French government may close the borders abruptly, tearing Arianna and I apart.

I remember going to L’Odeur du Book on Saturday. It is a small bookshop managed by an Italian couple. I bought a big volume, Visions du sport – Photographies 1860-1960, and read it at Le Timbale. Three young men on the table next to mine were drinking Belgian beer and playing a complicated board game. Outside it started to rain.

It was an open secret that the French government was going to impose a lock-down soon. The rest of Europe had looked at Italy with contempt when the government introduced draconian measures in the weekend of March 9th; just like Italy had looked at China with contempt between January and February. That weekend I was skiing in Leysin with Yvan, Jean-Thomas, Maria, Quinn: on Saturday evening I could not get myself away from the phone upon hearing the news the Lombardy was to be quarantined within 12 hours.

The French government had decided to wait before imposing the lock-down to allow the first round of the municipal elections to go ahead. The elections were due the weekend I arrived in Paris. Arianna and I had dinner in the house with Luca and Marco. We bid farewell. The next day, Macron announced the lock-down.

I spent the following two months working on my presentations and indicators. Together with Arianna, we grew a little garden in the kitchen; and we ran up to the Sacre Coeur every evening at 19:00. At 20:00 we would be on our balcony clapping with the neighbours: the young couple in front of us, the elderly lady with a dachshund (Toby) visiting her friends on the ground floor, the elderly homosexual couple with elegant colourful clothes further down the street. Bizarrely (for Paris), the sun shone through the entire lock-down: it felt like we were living in a warm Mediterranean city.

 

A few weeks ago, the lock-down was gradually lifted. The applauses disappeared gradually, too. A few die-harders continued to clap every evening at 20:00. They slowly decreased in number, then one week ago the applauses stopped altogether. The posters advertising candidates of the municipal elections are still hanging on the streets. I suppose that taking them down is not considered an essential activity. Awkwardly, it still feels like that grey electoral Saturday of mid-March.

Earlier this week, the government finally allowed bars and restaurants to open their terraces again. The first day of opening, Tuesday, was magnificent. I realised how much I had missed the feeling of reading in the sun, with people around me. In a classic French ironic twist, on Wednesday evening a thunderstorm brought mayhem on the city. The temperatures have dropped to 10 degrees and it looks like it will be raining for the next seven days or so.

Passage Cottin

Due corsie con corrimano in mezzo, centoventi gradini che salgono, una rampa ripida, stretta tra case piuttosto malridotte. E’ giorno, luce limpida e tersa, ma sono comunque caratteristici i quattro lampioni in stile belle époque. Sulle finestre di una casa sono stesi a prendere aria dei panni bianchi. Ho annotato ‘a prendere aria’ e non ‘ad asciugare’ perché le scale sono per lo più in ombra. Nell’unico squarcio soleggiato, verso la cima della rampa, sta seduto un ragazzo, ingobbito a leggere. Indossa una maglietta rossa e ai suoi piedi c’è uno zainetto, rosso pure quello.

Ci sarebbero altre due dettagli importanti che una fotografia, anche solo immaginata, non può catturare: il rumore di un allegro spadellare che esce da una piccola finestra lungo la rampa; e il puzzo d’urina che ricorda la doppia identità, diurna e notturna, di questa rampa di scale.

Tre piccioni

Non amo i piccioni, animali goffi e paurosi. Oggi però ne ho trovati tre capaci di ispirare simpatia. Facevano il bagno davanti alla fioreria che si trova in fondo alla strada dove abitiamo. Li guardavo mentre facevo la coda al panificio, un panificio sempre molto frequentato. Come gli altri avventori ero goffo, con la mascherina e gli occhiali appannati, mantenendo le distanze in maniera innaturale (un pò come in questo cartoon del New Yorker). Loro, i piccioni, erano a mollo nell’acqua che usciva abbondante da un tombino. Sembravano in spiaggia, contenti e perfettamente a loro agio.

Weekend long reads, May

Valerio Millefoglie, Ricordi di una vita in bottiglia, Il sole 24 ore. Bill Buford, Baking bread in Lyon, The New Yorker. Anthony Lane, The enduring pleasure of night ride, The New Yorker. Paul Theroux, Paul Theroux recalls a fear-filled lockdown, The New Yorker.

“In times of crisis we should all be diarists and documentarians. We’re bound to wail and complain, but it’s also useful to record the particularities of our plight … Still writing gives order to the day and helps inform history”.

 

Atomised individuals

Last year, Arianna and I went to the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. We saw an exhibition on Picasso’s rose and blue periods. We were planning to return this year for the exhibition on Edward Hopper. Our plans have had to adjust to a global pandemic, but we may still be able to pay a visit: the exhibition just re-opened and, unless things change, we could travel to Switzerland starting from early June.

In the meantime, Edward Hopper paintings have assumed a brand new meaning. As a recent article put it, we are all Edward Hopper paintings now. In his depictions of modern American life you may see very different things: sad loneliness, contented solitude, longing, hope, despair, isolation, meditation… The way you look at those images may tell something about your own experience with the lock-down.

Un Paese maschio

Fa abbastanza impressione notare come le “nove firme”, tutte maschili, di Repubblica parlano di un paese fatto di soli uomini.

Screenshot 2020-05-20 at 10.09.16

Viste da fuori queste cose sono inconcepibili. Mi domando come sia possibile che in Italia siano solo una minoranza, tra l’altro una minoranza di sole donne, a scandalizzarsi di fronte ad una narrativa così parziale della realtà.

Covid-19 and the sudden death of free movement

It has been my dream to appear in a podcast. I was hoping this would happen with L10nel, but Jack never gave me a shot.

Alex Afonso finally made this dream come through. I have been his guest in the latest episode of ‘The Borders of Equality‘, the podcast he manages at the University of Leiden. We spoke about the different ways in which human movement is being restricted by governments all around the world, and what consequences this entails. The conversation is probably too long; but all in all it came out well. Thanks to Alex, we touched upon a variety of different issues and I hope we managed to provide precise figures.

Anecdote: I was supposed to meet Alex in 2013, when I was interviewed for a doctoral position at King’s College London. He was my designated supervisor. Unfortunately, Alex got robbed the night before and could not show up for the meeting. I did the interview with Adrian Blau, an extremely kind and competent professor. I got the position and a scholarship, but in the end chose to go to the European University Institute instead. Alex and I met many times afterwards. He has never been robbed again.

Hibernation premium

Facebook ha registrato quasi 18 miliardi di ricavi (+18% annuale) nel primo trimestre del 2020 e un aumento sino a quasi 3 miliardi di utenti attivi sulle sue piattaforme, che comprendono anche WhatsApp e Instagram (Business Insider). Anche Microsoft ha comunicato che la pandemia ha avuto un impatto “minimo” sugli affari: le vendite nel primo trimestre sono cresciute del 15%, portando i ricavi a 35 miliardi di dollari (Cnbc). Spotify ha visto crescere i propri utenti attivi nel mondo a 286 milioni (+31%) (The Verge). Netflix, a sua volta, ha registrato un aumento di circa 18 milioni (Cnbc). Non ho i dati di Zoom, ma anche questa compagna ha registrato incassi enormi a inizio 2020.

E’ l’hibernation premium: compagnie che spostano la nostra vita su internet hanno guadagnato moltissimo da questo periodo di ibernazione. Sarebbe tuttavia sbagliato pensare che si tratti di un cambiamento repentino: una parte importante della nostra vita era già mediata dagli schermi prima della pandemia. Quel che è successo questa primavera non ha fatto altro che accelerare un processo già in corso.