January. Cold, grey, busy Torino. After celebrating NYE with my dear Canadian friends, I fall sick. Marco, Leila and Etta come to my rescue. On Sunday January 6 I move into my new apartment where I will soon be rejoined by Niels. The place is full of books and I profit from it. I read The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, To the heart of the storm by Will Eisner, The hundred-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, and Novecento by Alessandro Baricco. The first is the subtly humorous story of concierge Renée Michel and her strategies to conceal her intelligence. I am not really fond of it; and I am not hooked by Jonasson’s book either. In the end, I drag along with the former and I leave the latter unfinished. Of these four, I would therefore highly recommend only Will Eisner’s comic novel on 1920s Germany and Alessandro Baricco’s short piece on Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Novecento. Good stuff.
In February I am often on the move. There are two books, in particular, whose memory remains inescapably linked to the rail-tracks. The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian tells the story of the individuals behind the commercialisation of citizenship by a global business elite. I spend most of my time writing about citizenship as part of my research, so it is not a surprise that I find this story a compelling read. However, it is probably the other book I read while train-spotting that I would recommend to you, my friends: The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart. What an amazing story this is! When I read a manuscript, I have the habit of underlining the sentences that strike a chord with me; but with this book it does not make sense, for I find myself underlining everything. It is a bit of a heavy story to read, but it talks about philosophy through the virtues, vices and ideas of two opposite characters.
In the rare moments I am in Torino with some spare time away from my monstrous Ph.D. thesis, I volunteer to read at the Mauriziano Public Hospital. This is possible thanks to a fantastic association. Initially I am a bit lost: I stopped reading short novels when I was a child. So in the first week I only include in my repertoire two books by Stefano Benni: Baol and La Grammatica di Dio. The following week I add a series of books that I collect through life’s best strategy for survival: asking around. Our coordinator Sara puts me on the right track with Francesco Piccolo’s Momenti di trascurabile felicità; the unconventional librarian of the café where I go to write together with Teresa sells me Andrej Longo’s Dieci; and the infallible librarians of my favourite place in the city give me Julio Cortazar’s Historias de cronopios y de famas and Daniil Kharms’s I am a Phenomenon Quite out of the Ordinary. All these books are extraordinary, in their own way.
Already quite a bit of reading, eh? Keep in mind that I am finishing my Ph.D. thesis and I am lonely. Reading is a way to keep my brain going.
In March I leave the apartment. I am officially homeless. In the mountains of Trento I read Martina’s present: Le otto montagne by Paolo Cognetti. This is a simple, fetching book about silence, loneliness, and wilderness. In the same period I read another book that was given to me as a present from Dani, although it had arrived to me through the outlandish hands of Giallu: Tim Krabbé’s The rider. Here again, my friends, what an amazing book this is! If you want to understand how I felt when I was racing my bike back in 2016 you have to read this story. Let me transcribe the incipit here.
Meyrueis, Lozère, June 26, 1977. Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafés. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.
In April I hail to Spain for a series of interviews that are part of my Ph.D. thesis in Madrid and Andalusia. In those pre-depression day I read another book courtesy of Martina: Joshua Foer’s L’arte di ricordare tutto. I finish it, but, for once, I would rather have not.
In May I fall into a depressive anxiety. June, too, is a ghastly month. Giallu, who sacrifices much of his well-being to stay close to me, lends me Cormac McCarthy’s All the pretty horses. I dig into it. I read the book sitting on Ponte Santa Trinita unbothered by the gallivant tourists wandering around me. If you do not care about getting this book, try at least to listen Calexico’s homonymous song.
In July, again, I am unable to read. But August is the month when I rebound. During some of the most beautiful days of my life high on the mountains I read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Back home, I read another book from Martina (La casa, written by an old acquaintance of this blog: Paco Roca). She, and he, nail it. Then, on the shores of the lake of Caldonazzo I read a book that will have important consequences my way of living. Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History. The reason why I read this book is that during the last few months I have visited two Magnum exhibitions: one in Torino, together with Guillaume, upon my very last day before moving out (a sunny day, dawn of Spring time, an yet a feeling of twilight as I bid farewell to the place); and another in Cremona, alone, after interviewing a doctor in the historical city centre. These were remarkable exhibitions that made me think of how photography can be an extraordinary tool to decipher certain customs and conducts that we take for granted. So I read this book and now I just cannot stop. (Note: since August 2017 I visited more than ten photo exhibitions and read countless photography works).
September. I move to Neuchâtel. Fall is coming and I find it fitting to read another book from Martina (You & a Bike & a Road, a comic book by Eleanor Davis), one from J.H.H. Weiler (Un’Europa cristiana), and, as I said, many classics of photography. In my trips to Paris I read Astérix chez les Helvètes, Astérix en Hispanie, and Concita de Gregorio’s Cosa pensano le ragazze. I also read Albert Camus’ L’Etranger – in French! I am rushing through now: I realise this post is already too long. Mercifully the best books of the year are already behind us.
In December I spend a few days in London with Francesca, Marco, Camilla and Isabella. In the occasional breaks from baby-sitting I read Darina al Joundi’s Le Jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanter. Wonderful present from Giulia. If you want to read about undaunted women in Lebanon, this story would make. I also read 101 Things to Learn in Art School, finally succumbing to a book I have seen in all the bookshops of the exhibitions I visited during the year. (This was The Photography Gallery‘s one: I spent three hours reading in their cafeteria). Not amazing.
My year comes to an end with an eclectic dab, combining Banksy’s Wall and Piece and Hergé’s Tintin in Tibet. Okay, this is really it. You might have expected a grand finale for this post, but I have used all my creativity and spare time to write it. Let us wrap it up and go.
Update, March 2 2018.
Grazie Lore, un gustoso viaggio nel passato recente.
Ecco qui un simpatico aneddoto:
Il libro del Krabbé non era inteso al principio come un regalo, ma come un prestito.
Tuttavia, io sono ancora in possesso del “cavalli selvaggi” di gianlu che considero ormai come un ostaggio.
Si tratta quindi di un chiaro caso di stallo alla messicana letterario.
Per decenni il turismo di massa è stato considerato una risorsa fondamentale per lo sviluppo economico e sociale. Oggi in molti luoghi è evidente il contrario. Ho scritto un articolo sul tema per Unimondo che poi, in un certo senso, è la continuazione ideale di quello che ho rilanciato qualche giorno fa. Qui però parlo di turismo in generale e di come abbia trasformato Las Palmas, come altri luoghi, in un concentrato di hotel, ristoranti all’ultima moda, bar con le insegne al neon. Lungo Las Canteras, una delle più grandi spiagge urbane d’Europa, i grandi marchi delle multinazionali hanno rimpiazzato i fruttivendoli, i negozi di barbiere, i mercati, i fornai. E’ un esempio di gentrificazione, un termine inventato nel 1964 dalla sociologa Ruth Glass per descrivere quello che stava succedendo a Londra in quartieri operai come Islington, dove a partire dagli anni Sessanta si trasferirono molte persone delle classi più agiate costringendo i precedenti residenti ad andarsene per via dell’aumento del costo dell’affitto. Anche a Firenze, la città che mi ha adottato da qualche anno, lo spostamento in periferia di varie facoltà e centri culturali ha ridotto gli affitti regolari nel centro storico in favore delle rendite rese possibili da Airbnb, aprendo così le porte all’idea di ‘città vetrina’. Se volete leggere tutto l’articolo, potete farlo su Unimondo.
It took us six months longer than initially announced, but we are now moving out from our house and we are leaving Florence.
It is a huge change for me: this has been my life for the last three years. I cannot imagine a better place and a better routine than this. But as I have written previously, I am a bit like a bike: balance only comes when I am in motion. So off again.
Before moving to the future, I wanted to take a second to recollect some thoughts on the past. Daniele and Anna have been my point of reference since I moved here. I am not going to bore you with the usual sentimental rants: Daniele is a brother to me, full stop. Rationally, however, I can identify those things that brought us together: we shared the same silly irony, the cultural references (boris, stories about panache, impressions, suicidal bunnies), the desire to take up little nerdish things and get passionate about them (poker, bruti), the striving for new projects (gingerello, cineforum, hostels, dinners and presents) and plans for the future (morocco, dolomites, maremma, poggio la noce, pelago – am I the only one to see a pattern here?). With him, just like with Matteo, it was a constant sdrammatizzare. (It is term that I won’t bother translating in English). Looking back at these experience I realize we always involved other people. It is going to be a lot harder without him, and Ada, Jonas, Meha, Nele, and Markus.
The house, of course, was special also because it came with a certain magic of itself. The last few days we were packing everything and cleaning up the storage room and the mezzanine. It was a bit like public works in Rome: any time we were moving something some strange memories from the past would emerge. I will write more on this in the next few days, as I will officially move out next week and I will spend some days in Ponte alle Riffe 39 alone with all my demons.
Before that, I am off to Switzerland for the hardest bike race I have ever done, with the worst preparation I could possibly have, and with a very messy road trip ahead. The red team is on the move again. I am very happy I am going to go.
Last Sunday i rode my second gran fondo from Fiesole to Fiesole, 105K. It was supposed to be something like this.
It turned out to be more like this.
And think that the day before the race I arrived in Florence and it was about 35°, a temperature substantially higher than what I had in Switzerland. On Sunday morning at the start of the race it is still sunny, but all the riders of the pack have checked the weather forecast and know it is going to rain. Except me.
I start the race on the back of the peloton and since there are more than 500 participants in the first few km I get stuck in the traffic. Things look good when I start the first climb from Le Cure to Fiesole, rolling up with my pace and passing many riders.
On the long descent to Vicchio I manage to stay with a relatively large bunch and then on the second ascent of the day, the steep climb to Cima San Cresci, I leave the bunch behind together with a friendly chap who has pretty much the same pace as I do. We even find some time to joke on the way up. When we arrive on top of the climb I stop to wait while he drinks and eats at in the feeding zone: this way we can go down together on what is supposed to be a very technical descent. I have always considered myself a pretty bad rider when it comes to going down, but this time I surprise myself. Me and the friendly chap go down like rockets and by the time we finish the descent we have a large group of riders in sight, only a few hundred meters ahead. We give it all in, strong and hard, and we manage to catch up. It turns out to be a really massive group of about 50 riders, with 40 km of flat terrain ahead before the next ascent. It all looks good, then and there: when you are going on a flat terrain, staying in a group means you save 90% of your energy. That moment I remember thinking ‘conditions are ideal, this couldn’t get any better‘. In fact it can’t; but it can get worse: it starts raining, and it is not rain really, it is a proper storm. A few minutes after we pass from this road, a tree collapses. The picture below was taken by a local newspaper.
What comes next is probably the most stressful hour of my 2016 thus far. With the roads inundated, riders start falling on the ground. The water does not only come on me from above: it also squashes in my face and in my eyes because the contact with the wheels of the riders ahead. I see extremely little and am I riding on a very slippery road surrounded by other cyclists at something like 45km/hour. In those long minutes I think of all the things that can go wrong: I might crash, I might slip, I might be taken down by another rider, I might loose my contact lenses, I might also ruin my mobile phone that is drowning in a pocket full of water. This is probably the most stressful thought of all. It is not the idea of loosing the phone that bugs me much, it’s more the GPS in it and the record of all the fast km that I have done until there. Anyways. I do not want to stop, and I continue.
So does the rain too. The storm stays with us until the end. But when we arrive to Sieci we know the most stressful part is over, because we have to climb up again. On a ascent the water is less annoying for a rider, because you go slower so there is less of a squash in your face and in your eyes. The ascent from Sieci to Olmo is long and steep and my large group explodes. Some riders loose pace, some others go up faster than I do. I stay pretty much in the middle; and then on the descent from Olmo to Firenze I gain terrain, coming down very fast again. This time it is mainly the fact that I know the roads extremely well and I am taking some risks, in spite of the wet surface. In the last ascent to Fiesole I feel I am completely wrecked because of the water coming into my bones. I arrive on top with a time of 3 hours and 12 minutes with an average speed of 29KM/hour and something like 150th.
Three days later I still haven’t fully recovered from the fatigue.
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.
In September I brought my road bike to Florence. (I wrote something about it already). Somehow unexpectedly, I then managed to use it very consistently until a month ago, when my muscles decided it was about time to stop working properly: after exploring the whereabouts of Florence and getting ready to travel further away, my riding adventure had to come to an abrupt halt. But I can’t complain: Tuscan fall has been kind to me, my bike and my occasional riding partner Giallu. These are some pictures I took while on the road.
For those of you who are wondering. Most of my acquantances have this bizarre idea that I do a doctorate, therefore I do not work. To the surprise of many, I still have regular working hours and this is the reason why I generally ride my bike early in the morning just before sunrise or late in the afternoon just before sunset. This is also the reason why, apart for some occasional fog and thunderstorms, I often got a stunning light to which, unfortunately, my mediocre does not fully pay justice.
Ricordi della Firenze di giugno con un intermezzo romano calato a casaccio. Per una volta tanto sono foto di luoghi più che di persone. Le riguardo ora che a Firenze non ci sto più [sic].
It must have been the big mural on the wall, ‘Veneto Indipendente‘; or maybe those notes from out there; or the mountains making their appearance from far away. Whatever it was, I cracked down in tears. The last time it happened was a few months ago, shortly after Thomas left. Back then I started sobbing when I was in my Institute’s canteen: a rather embarrassing scene. At least this time I was on a train and nobody knew me. Or so I hope. The other passengers must have thought I had lost a relative or something. Instead, I was awakening some recent thoughts. Like the image of leaving Florence knowing that when I will be back some people won’t be there any longer. And the image of Jewish Maariv; the lights from the Opera House; the letters of hope and those of despair; the long walk like a group of hobos and the bus-ride we never got. It took some minutes to rebound, until I remembered we always find a way to fill our voids, happily ever after.