Mending the heart with Grace
These thirteen songs, written between February and January, have been composed all at once, generated by a feeling of urgency that aroused from both danger and necessity to oppose a reaction in order to affirm life.
They are a direct consequence of the historical moment we are going through, which, according to me, started with the indecent applause in the Senate as the bill against hate crimes and discrimination was rejected (October 2021). One of the lowest points along the long path in pursuit of human rights recognition. Rights that are persistently eluded, albeit permanent and urgent is the need to enact them, from ius soli to the end-of-life right.
Pressing matters, whose violent epilogue is brewing in a toxic culture, in which gender-based violence, rising school drop-out rates, culture used as a means of social division, miseducation to emotions, and childcare entrusted to digital entertainment thrive. And then the jails, the minority status we are living in, represented, at its worst, by incarceration without rehabilitation.
And then again, the new predatory models, perfectly epitomized by the “all you can eat” formula. The affirmation of populisms, of neo liberalism, of post fascism, the short-circuit of ethic values' system. A collection of evil that is constantly in front of our eyes but – buried by the unceasing bawling of the show business society (which is more and more the algorithm society) – we face it closed in our shell, with indifference, often embracing simple opinions that are more of a football supporter, rather than a citizen's.
Over this world, lying supine on a western couch, a relentlessly immobile domain, in which everything is delivered at home, the worst catastrophe of all is raging: war, with all it entails, from poisoning, to simplification, from inflation, to the frustration of any “cultural” endeavour. If Brecht could say that we sat on the wrong side because all the other seats were taken, now the wrong side is no longer the prerogative of the forces fighting for freedom. The wrong side, now proudly claimed by a certain far right, is the one on which we’ve all sat, in a purely antagonistic struggle, which nullifies and neutralizes the very concept of "right side", embodied by the values of those who fought war, true examples of resistance, such as the partisan relays, the role played by women, the human side of the resistance.
War, which has us harken back to the eloquent interpreters of History, like Bertolt Brecht or Lodovico Ariosto, when the latter, in his Orlando Furioso, identified the beginning of a new, more dreadful form of devastation wrought by firearms, which, centuries later, would lead to the advent of weapons of mass destruction.
We are living in a condition of constant crisis, word that contains the word Choice. Narrowing the scope of possibilities means getting used to making do with what we have, to choosing which value we shall attach to things, to picking our “safe havens assets”.
In our belief that the only things that matter are priceless, those that were donated to us, those allowing us, when looking back on our lives, to understand when our "time of gifts" was, in hopes that more will come, as only the crack enables mending of the heart with Grace.
Track by track
Bene rifugio (Safe haven asset)
Insecurity and fear, which accompany every crisis, especially those in connection with wars, cause prices to soar. Inflation, devaluation and uncertainty increase the value of the so-called “safe haven assets”, which are linked to finance or raw materials. The French writer Louis Férdinand Céline, fleeing the war, while everything was on fire, after having lost everything, showed the certificate that bound him to Lucette, his wife, as the only letter of credit that still had value. As the basket of goods gets scanter, we need to choose what we are to attach value to. Not only is love a haven, it is a revolution. Turning weakness into strength to rejoice. A tent, like in the Iliad, to take refuge in, wherein war is not raging. A tent kept standing by the strength of cohesion.
All you can eat
We look around and we notice that newsstands, book shops, historical shops disappear, increasingly replaced by malls andall you can eat eateries. This formula, which promotes mass-consuming in the name of saving, echoes a production and consumption model that is asphyxiating our planet: greed and consumption for consumption’s sake. It also speaks volumes about today’s social relationships. Squares brimming with Spitz cocktails and junk food, shoppers queuing at retail chain stores, a model that is drying up Planet Earth.
Faced with such a twisted world, in which we are but players in a game of illusory participation, we may well wonder whether it still makes sense to study, to make an effort, or we might as well abandon Ernst Bloch’s “Principle of hope” and, like all the rest, eat ourselves out of house and home, until we become walking digestive “gastrolatri”, to use a neologism combining the derogatory gaster (stomach), which the ancient Greeks used as opposed to anthropos (human being).
Gastrolatri, scoffing down junk food or “Masterchef dishes”, now that food seems to have become the only means to promote sociality, as well as its object.
La parte del torto (The wrong side)
In 1930s, Brecht could state with a degree of certainty that the good side was held by the rich, who detained both capital and power, and that the wrong side was held by those who had to fight for justice and freedom by overturning the bourgeois system. Today, when Giorgia Meloni utters those words to assert the pride of her party, heir to that same extreme right against which Brecht's struggle had arisen, a short circuit of values occurs, in which there is more no left or right, but just purchasing power.
For many years, being in the wrong had been the identity banner of a certain leftist idea. But having that left relinquished its role as advocate of the workers, of the disenfranchised, of the dispossessed, and of the last, it has left the field free to forces that have seized that wrong side, and, by fomenting fear of others, have led to a situation in which the wrong side is against a sense of humanity.
Legitimising vile instincts, the law of the strongest, racism, and any form of discrimination in the name of the majority and of the nation is an ancient pattern, which leads to the rise of societies in which the wrong side is not conceived as ideological opposition, but as opposing the very notion of justice.
Staffette in bicicletta (Dispatch riders)
On a concrete wall, along the Scandiano (Reggio Emilia) bike lane, I saw around thirty women's names. Out-dated names, which have now been replaced by other, more fashionable ones. Names that hardly have a name day. These names are the children of a love of literature, opera and theatre. Names reminiscent of another Italy, of the Italian Resistance, and of the post-war period. I got closer and read: "Homage to the partisan relays".
The partisan relays, or dispatch riders, were behind the front line, but kept the Resistance alive. The role played by women in the Resistance is vital, albeit not adequately recognised. No resistance would have been possible without the real support provided by these women who, risking their lives, provided support not only in terms of material goods, such as food, clothes or logistical actions (delivering leaflets, orders, dispatches), but, most importantly, through their human warmth. By being models of humanity in a world that has become inhumane, because the partisans were, above all, waging war on war, safeguarding and keeping alive what life is worth living for: the very value of life. They became mothers, daughters, sisters and companions of humanity. May their example guide and support us now, as we feeling the monster rising again beneath our feet, and their baton needs passing.
Sul divano occidentale (On the western sofa)
Goethe wrote “West-eastern Divan” as a tribute to the great Persian poetry. The diwan was a collection of songs, which, performed at the sultan's court, would inspire actions and behaviours. The sofa, in the West, is the place where we receive the forms of communication that inspire our actions, thoughts and behaviour.
In the illusion of partaking in the “live History” that “the society of the spectacle”, to cite Debord, offers us, the vast majority of people experience forms of participation and emotional involvement that are ready-made by the information system. Generally it is a communication model that aims to fuel fear and confrontation. Public opinion is permanently kept under pressure by the threat of the moment: Islamic terrorism, the economic crisis, immigration, the pandemic, and now war. Objectively different phenomena end up eliciting the same reaction, fuelling the same kind of morbidity, leaving us lifeless on the sofa, on which we had resisted, perhaps aided by some Glovo home deliveries.
Gloria all’archibugio (Glory to the blunderbuss)
The Orlando Furioso is set in the era of heavy cavalry. A world in which the very frequent fights were man-to-man, and the soldiers tore each other to pieces up close. A great revolution took place in the age of Ariosto: the advent of the firearm radically changed the profession of arms. While physical confrontation was previously necessary, it is now possible to kill and destroy from a more impersonal distance.
Ariosto, realizing the devastating power of this revolution, had the cursed and abominable device thrown into the depths of hell from which it had been taken.
Five hundred years separate the days of the blunderbuss from the dawn of the nuclear missiles. Man has increasingly perfected the art and science of destroying himself and the world he inhabits, eventually developing an arsenal that, right now, can destroy the whole planet hundreds of times.
Ariosto Governatore (Governor Ariosto)
The letters written by Ludovico Ariosto while serving as governor of Garfagnana bear witness to the ethics of the man Ariosto. The sense of helplessness in discovering that one cannot affect reality, a reality in which the powerful is always untouchable and the humble is perpetually the victim of harassment. The whole theme of the relationship between the intellectual and power lies in the relationship between imagination and administration, as conceived by one of the most open authors to the dimension of the fantastic. The painful acknowledgment of defeat by those who have nothing but words to offer.
A defeat of humanity, as “if all sense is on the moon, there’s nothing left on Earth but madness”.
La crociata dei bambini (Children’s crusade)
Brecht harked back to the Middle Ages episode of the children’s crusade, and set it in the wintry, snowy lands of Poland at the onset of World War II. Children led by a child commander, seeking a peaceful country, where there are no rubble, death or destruction, without being able to find it. There is a lot of Brecht, of his anti-militarism, of his denunciation of war as the supreme and most inhumane affirmation of the Capital, which in this ballad touches upon the very essence of innocence, childhood.
La cattiva educazione (Miseducation)
A few years ago a term has been coined to describe the murder of women. The rhetoric and narrative that accompany this crime are not free from the toxicity of the culture that generated this crime. A culture, whose most mundane, intimate and hidden aspects we have only recently begun to analyse. A culture that has affected everyone, capable as it is of permeating and even hiding its symptoms under a blanket of habit.
It was only recently discovered that sexist behaviours - downplayed as acts of locker room banter, foolery, or even gallantry, only a little vulgar, such as catcalling - are the symptoms of that culture of rape that lies behind the crimes downplayed as femicide.
There exists a thousands-year-old problem of miseducation, encompassing the failure to teach the management of emotions, rejection and separation, a culture of possession, domestic violence and of silence that accompanies it, the inability to name a condition. All this is miseducation: the crimes that offend humanity as a whole, which news sections are rife with, are the last stage of the miseducation that generated them. Miseducation going hand in hand with a misleading and dangerous use and abuse of sexuality, of the body, of violence and possession, justified by the hazy word Love, which is actually an aggravating circumstance.
Kant defined Enlightenment as the emancipation from a minority status, understood as the inability to use one's own intelligence without the guidance of others.
Minority status means the inability to be the master of one's own will, the inability to own up to one's responsibilities, and to fully become an adult. A condition which has been promoted by every form of power, from the ancient monarchs, for whom the people had to be a docile, headless body, to our present condition of standardized individualism.
One institution, though, more than any other, creates the conditions for the minority status through the use of force: the prison. The prisoner, whose detention should involve a rehabilitation process aimed at bringing about a change in the individual, becomes a minor over whom parental authority is exercised by a system of rules, for which no one is held directly responsible. Such bureaucratic organization of the exercise of authority takes the form of a long chain, whose last link, from one barred door to another, is the so-called “domandina”, namely the indispensible form needed to make a request to the Authorities.
The documented prison abuses, which are under investigation, the violence and restrictions due to the pandemic, the overcrowded penitentiaries and the suicides, the high crime recidivism rate, are like cries, which from penitentiary institutions reach the so-called civil society.
The prison population composition clearly reflects the social and economic inequality on which society is based, which makes us all feel as if lifer Salvatore was actually addressing us when he asked his judge (magistrate Elvio Fassone, author of the wonderful «Fine pena: ora*»): «What would have become of you, had you been born where I was born?”
*End of sentence: now
Cha Cha Chaf della pozzanghera (Splash splash splash in the puddle)
A child ceases to be a child, in his most instinctive manifestation of freedom and joyful affirmation of his instinct, when in front of a puddle, instead of jumping into it, he, more prudently, walks around it to avoid getting dirty.
This simple allegory of the puddle holds much of the loss of physicality marking the childhood of the latest generations, accustomed to experiencing the world through technological interposition, rather than through direct experience.
Jumping into the puddle, breaking the reflection in the water, is the most natural and effective way of accessing the sky and playing with it. Because, again, Profit is not the goal of the game, the goal of the game is to play. The onomatopoeic “cha cha chaf” doesn't just encourage us to get dirty in the puddle, it gets us dancing inside.
Il tempo dei regali (A time of gifts)
Over the last two years of intermittent confinement, life flashed before our eyes. Those who are my age begin to see the arc of their life journey, and thus realize that the most important things were the gifts, the journey, the encounters. Things that are priceless, hence regarded as gifts. Because, ultimately, life itself is a gift.
Perhaps this is what the great travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor was thinking when he entitled his wonderful book “A Time of Gifts”, which chronicles the first journey he went on, aged 17, on foot from London to Istanbul in 1933.
Although Europe had already fallen pray to totalitarianisms, his gaze is always full of curiosity and humour, unscathed by the hatred that surrounded him. A life lived with a feeling of gratitude, untouched by nostalgia.
The sort of gratitude that makes us look back on the road travelled as a kind of miracle, as if beauty were always available to everyone, provided that we keep an eye on it. A renewable miracle, even in dark times, cultivating the certainty that more gifts are in store for us, and that, although the path brings about detachment, separation and a crack, Grace is there, ready to assist and heal us, by bringing everything to Unity.
Con i tasti che ci abbiamo (With the keys we have)
A piano, whose keys were removed after they had been damaged by my nephews, became the cue to reflect on the fact that a melody can also be created by using only the keys that are left.
A simple, toothless melody, and yet compelling, capable of reasserting the “power of imagination”. Hence, we have to make do with what we have, not with what we wish we had… From what's left in the pantry, to the planet we’ve been given, we’ll always have to deal with the finite nature of things, and, to some extent, learn to perceive a possibility.