Month: March 2014

Why do you do what you do: thoughts on what makes your heart race

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I have been a full-time professional journalist for a decade and a free-lance, half-time writer for the past 3 years. Those who knew me then, when under eye dark circles were the byproduct of nicotine abuse and frantic nights in smelly press rooms keep asking: don’t you miss the thrill? The traveling, running around, caffeine addiction, anonymous hotels and incongruous schedules? I usually giggle and say I still have all of those: raising kids is a hell of a ride, too and to cope you need concealer and caffeine in equal amounts.

I had wanted to be a journalist since I could speak: I simply never conceived any other daily occupation. When that became a reality I had just turned 21 and felt as if I had won the lottery. I got paid to do what I always wanted to . It didn’t even feel as a job. I was blessed enough to have an amazing woman editor, who was an endless source of inspiration and funny, smart colleagues to hang out with till early morning. That precious set of circumstances changed after the first couple of years and  – as most humans do – I started living the reality of having a job: the occasional narrow minded boss, the sneaky co-worker, the internal politics and the back stabbing. If to that we add that being a journalist in Italy can be especially frustrating in terms of exposing the truth and correctly informing your readers, it’s easy to understand that I wasn’t sorry to leave. At the end of my working day, I didn’t feel uplifted at all. Rather depleted. 

Still, when Brussels started going crazy with anticipation of the US President visit in these past few days, the first gushes of nostalgia in many years resurfaced. 

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I stayed home for the whole day as advised on TV: the whole city was fibrillating, traffic was closed or blocked all around, Obama’s security detail was impressive. And yet I didn’t see with my own eyes any of that. I didn’t wake up at dawn to go to some hotel where the leader of the free world was staying, hoping to catch a glimpse of him or to have the opportunity of asking him a question. I didn’t observe the huge bodyguards nervously talking on their radios and I didn’t have a cigarette with shaky hands in the chill of yet another morning on the street, waiting for something to happen. I just had to switch on the TV to have an HD sight of many things I could not have seen with my eyes. Yet, it was not enough.

So I spent some time surfing the net, in search of the most accurate image or video footage of Mr. Obama’s EU tour and thought: why did I enjoy that much being a journalist during those years? What was that made my heart race and the fatigue go away? It wasn’t the news. I was bad at finding scoops and not shrewd enough to sail through sources and compromises. I was good at writing down what happened and lucky enough to keep some clarity of thought even at 5 am (but, well, I now realize that is what being in your 20s means). What made me feel alive was of a more anthropological nature. I loved observing power. People in power. Dissecting their gestures, their tone of voice, read their insecurities and their flaws. Their humanity.

Those I can’t see in HD professional video coverage of the news.

 

Have you ever thought of what makes your own heart race? 

 

The Great Beauty of living the diaspora

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I’ve been to Rome for the mid-term holidays: a few days packed with old friends, too many cappuccinos and endless car rides, stuck in traffic. I barely slept and regret – as usual – not having stayed longer to catch that extra glimpse of sunlight and eat that last pastry.

Most of all, though, a deep sense of uneasiness has stayed with me since I came back. I rarely go to Rome and the one time a year I do so, it’s never harmless. Last year I felt troubled as if I had run into the guy that broke my heart. This time I felt as a guest. Worse, as an official member of the diaspora.

When I landed in Brussels I was invited to one super boring national themed dinner. There were old time Italian expats and a few mixed couples. I was sitting in front of an Italian lady (let’s say, mid-30s, an age that then I considered irrevocably old) married to a Finnish guy. She started a long lament on everything that was wrong with Italy, on all things she was happy of not having to deal with anymore, on the incomprehensible attitude of her fellow nationals still living in the country. We were sitting in a rather bad basque restaurant and I can still see her ranting on public health, schools and garbage management. I couldn’t really see what she was talking about, being a very fresh expat. Hospitals seemed perfectly fine to me, public education excellent and garbage management was still acceptable. I went home and chatted to a friend that I had spent the night listening to a fool who lost completely touch with her native country and talked of it as some place I had never been to.

A decade later, I sometimes feel that I am becoming the Finnish wife. Luckily, I am not alone and neither is she. We are probably part of the diaspora.

The diaspora watched the Oscar-winning film, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), mesmerized and somehow moved. By the enchanting photography, the oh-so-italian aesthetics, the ever present cynicism and cruel portrait of the reality of the most decadent city in the Western world. (You thought that was Vegas? Go to Rome, they do decadent as none could). From the hairdresser to the the diplomat, the diaspora members were unanimous in acknowledging the good work done by the filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino and somehow proud of the Foreign FIlm Award received by a fellow national.

In the same way, the diaspora looks with hope and a cautious optimism to the coup that brought at the head of the government a bright and ambitious 39-year-old politician. We read foreign newspapers (since the Italian ones are basically written rather to gossip within the political caste than to inform average citizens of the facts) that report of the logical and right and modern speeches this young prime minister gives and we think that maybe  – maybe – the country will enter a new era.

At the same time that we discuss the faraway homeland sitting in a fake Italian restaurant, our friends and family home tweet and flood Facebook talking of a different reality. The Oscar wasn’t well deserved – they say. The film is mediocre, it just quotes Fellini from the beginning till the end and it depicts an inexistent Rome. Even when it’s accurate, it doesn’t explain nor analyze why Rome is like that. (Really? Is it a BBC documentary or a piece of art?). One day after the Oscar was awarded, instead of celebrating a victory, most newspapers indulged in misplaced articles on how the Oscars are awarded and the dubious online voting system. Basically, they insinuated that someone paid for that award since the film per se could never get there by itself. Seen with the eyes of a long time expat, this is slightly disturbing.

The Italian film didn’t deserve the Oscar and – I evince from social networks – the new prime minister is no better than his predecessors and bound to fail. There is no place for hope or room for a positive attitude. The country is sinking and sometimes I have the impression that its residents would like it to keep sinking in order to say “I told you so”.

In that fake Italian restaurant, too many times the diaspora close a conversation with the same phrase: “You know what, sometimes I think Italians are crazy”.

What about you? Do you feel the same uneasiness when going back to your home country? Do you have the impression that people there and the diaspora inhabit different planets?

PS The Great Beauty is a superb film.