San Giuan fa minga ingan (Saint John does not deceive)

Today January 27 is dedicated to San Giovanni Crisostomo. I know that because it brings me back to the stories I heard from my Grandmother Imode. San Giovanni Crisostomo is the protector of the town of Asola, where my Grandmother was born. Every year on this very day the silver torso of the Saint is put on display for the people to honor.

S.Andrea Cathedral in Asola (Photo by Massimo Telò)

My Grandmother was a great storyteller. She was born ten years before WWII started and she lived through the fascist regime of Mussolini. Particularly she had to endure and participate as other school kids at the time to the events of the Fascist youth organization. During these infamous events , she and her companions would mock secretly the pompous chants and ceremonies of fascist indoctrination. I can’t imagine anything less coming from school kids. A child-like mind it’s the best antidote against fascim.

I also learned from other stories how her brother Vigilio refused to enroll in the army, and hid in the country. The women of the family would bring him food in his hiding spot. Imode had not met her husband Giuseppe at that time. My Grandfather was a little older than her and during the War he joined the Partigiani faction (the resistance army who contributed in fighting the Fascist Regime and their Nazi allies). He and other partigiani were taken as hostage by German troops and released in exchange for safe passage during their retreat through a Partigiani controlled territory. Because he safely made through that dangerous situation I am here alive today.

The collection of her stories was not limited to the the serious and harsh times of the War. She had also plenty of funny and incredible stories told in a combination of mantuan dialect and italian. Today I can still understand perfectly the dialect but for some weird brain circuitry if I try to speak it my Spanish gets in the way.

She told me so many times about St.John’s celebration that one time, roughly twenty years ago, I insisted to go. I was in high school at the time and I had to take a couple of days off to do the trip. After all it was a family event, so skipping school was not a big deal. I was also too young to drive and my Granma never learned to, so we took a train from Milan Central Station, and got picked up by relatives in Asola. I remember reading a volume of Father Brown Mysteries from G.K.Chesterton during the train ride and looking out the windows to the farmland of South Lombardy.

That day 20 years ago, I went to mass with my Granma and observed the Priest and the Major opening the shrine where the torso of the Saint is stored, each with his own key. Then we walked through the busy fair and hang out a bit in town, but the spirit of my Grandmother’s tales was gone. Asola had already lost the magical rural character, agriculture got eventually more dependent on machines and peasants had to find other means for sustain themselves. The service industry was about to be created to absorb them.  This is the reason why some 50 years ago my grandparents, moved to the north of Milan to seek employment bringing their two young daughters with them. Urban life and job security took place of the magic tales I used to hear.

In the rural culture this moment of the year was crucial. It’s the end of January, days are starting to get longer and the extended daylight time allows for more working hours in the field. It’s time to get ready for spring, ten days earlier bonfires were made in honor of San Antonio. It’s time to go back and clear the fields, make ashes, prepare for the sowing. Winter’s reach is far from gone and the temperature are still low. In fact, according to another legend the three coldest days of the year (28-29-30 of the month) called “Giorni della Merla” are about to come. But somehow the worst is behind and people look at the upcoming Spring with hope and expectations.

The City of Mantova seen from the lake

 

 

 

Even if the magic was gone, I always like to go back to Asola, visit my relatives and enjoy the culinary treats of the Mantova region. Everywhere in Italy food is amazing, but I have a little suggestion: next time you go there visit the City of Mantova and the adjacent territory. You won’t be disappointed.

Going back to my grandmothers tales about rural life is in real resonance with this period of the year. Similarly to old times rural culture,life on the boat is dependent on seasons and daylight time. Short days mean for us long night watches when sailing, and shorter work days at anchor. In the morning it is dark and cold it’s hard to get out of bed, and when night comes early it prevent us to do much work other than sitting in the cabin and cook meals.

Today January 27th is also new beginning for us. We are not making any bonfire, or honoring relics, but if feels like a new chapter. We came to Jascksonville to get all squared up with Basic Safety Training. Sea Survival, Fire Fighting, First AID, Personal Safety and Social Responsibility, and we succeeded.

We took care of bureaucracy and established a new domicile. Days are longer and temperatures are mild to warm. The steps to get ready seem infinite, but we keep knocking a few off the list. I can’t wait till there will be only excuses on the list. I am trying to make 2017 a NO EXCUSES year. Wish me good luck!

How to write 100 blog posts in a very long time

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This is the 100th post of La possibilità di un’isola, and I feel somehow it needs to be celebrated. The name of this blog comes from title of a novel by Michel Houllebecq, the first book of the french novelist I read, a book that I loved. I chose it because it is the perfect explanation of what was happening in my life: in 2009 I was leaving my country and my profession as an organisational psychologist to go live aboard Velero Bicho in the archipelago of Los Roques. The islands were real, this life change was a new possibility for me and this blog a way to keep track of it.

Amongs all the changes during my life time, writing has always been a constant. A variable constant to be fair, as the process is definetely influenced by life events, including periods of drought followed by more prolific ones. I have always loved to write, and I have always being scribbling something, on the pages of notebooks of different size and colors, sometimes on a computer, trying to compose something “serious”.

I think my first real attempt was a short story I wrote for the class journal when I was 12. A short sci-fi novel imagining a scientific expedition to Mars. It’s funny to read it now, but it is also impressive, for the scientific details I was able to introduce at that age. Then I won a the first prize in High School for creative writing, with a short story about the dilemmas of culture and counterculture, seen with the eyes of a high school student. The prize was 100.000 lires (roughly 50 euros, a bit more considering inflation) and a copy of Moby Dick. Who could tell that a dozen years later I bought and refit a sailboat in New Bedford, the whaling capital of the world and the city where Ishmael, the protagonist of Melville’s novel, wakes up in an inn at the beginning of the book.

The university time was a moment in my life when I clearly decided that writing wasn’t going to give me a job and so I hoped that Psychology would. Writing was serving academic purposes, with occasional side projects like articles for self-published magazine with a group of friends, co-writing in a theatrical play, research articles about adult learning with Ariele. When I moved to Torino for work I took a class of creative writing with Marzi at Verba Volant. That’s the only time I invested money in writing, but then I left for the other side of the Atlantic, and things became busy.

This wasn’t the first blog I opened. The first one was a travel blog about a holiday trip to India, a perfect alternative to email to send information to friends an family. Then I took part to a collective blog. With fellows gathered from Ariele’s outskirts we started Leaderlessorg, an intellectual exercise to figure out how the web 2.0 was a revolution in the way people relate to each other, with a focus on the work organisations. None of these blogs were successful or gave me money, they were a new form of communication I was discovering.

Writing takes time and effort, and sometimes I have to sacrifice it from work and other duties. And it’s not always a pleasure. It can be rewarding and excitng when everything flows, but for the most part it’s made of unsatisfying attempts of moving forward, like placing heavy blocks of concrete in order to make a building. The decorative part comes later, once the graceless but solid structure is in place.

This is my 100th post in more than 5 years, not a great average. I write when I can, and when I have something to say, or a content to share. In these last years I moved through different countries and switched the language of my posts from Italian to English, because my public became more and more international, and also because it is a good practice for a non native speaker. I rarely write in italian anymore, a language that I am starting to miss.

Blogging makes writing more and more immediate, fast pace. According to experts, you are required to give fresh content every 2 or 3 days to have a decent traffic, but I have never been able to achieve it. After all nobody is paying me, nor telling me how my life should be lived, but it’s clear how today the competition to get the attention of internet users is very hard. The contents are shortening, videos become the favorite media, everything is compressed to the minimum, up to the 140 characters limit of Twitter and other Social Media, modern haikus for distilled thought. “Reading requires time. No one cares about anything anymore, we have all become frivolous and superficial” a friend of mine told me few days ago, when I asked him why my blog had so few readers.

Over time, I tried to focus on certain topics and genres, but it’s not really how this blog works. When I left for Venezuela, my main interest was to underline the cultural shocks I was living in first person, lustful shocks to be honest. When we left on Tranquility and started cruising, the blog became a logbookwith new blog posts to track our progress. In that situation a lot was happening and I had trouble to keep track of it. Sometimes nothing happens and it’s hard to think about something to write, and I somehow freeze.

Sailing and traveling are a big part of my life, but this blog is not about sailing, or about traveling. It is more like my mind, it constantly wanders through different terrains. I recently figured out that it is a perfect way to capture and deal with daydreaming. Instead of starting the project of building a boat using natural fibers, I write about it. It may or may not happen in real life, but writing about it will make something out of simple speculation. Hopefully pointless speculations can be of some interest for readers.

 The 100th post is not an important goal per se. It gave me the opportunity to retrace my steps so far, and to notice how this virtual notebook mutated through time and space, a slow and laborious path which continues after many years and, thanks to the support of you readers, it has never been so alive.