Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallows' Even

Pumpkin carving in Union Square - New York City
It is common belief that Halloween is a typically American celebration. The truth of the matter is that American didn't even know what Halloween was about until the end of the 18th century.
Since Halloween stems from not so subtle pagan rituals and customs, the first Puritans who reached the new continent were very carefully about exporting it too.

It was the Scots and the Irish who brought it all the way from their country. Halloween is a pagan holiday of Celtic origins and, nowadays, it is mostly accepted as an innocent way of having fun by both the Catholic and the Protestant Churches. After all, as long as it's game and fun, what harm can it do? Besides, how much does it retain of the ancient rituals? Only the main structure, of which we aren't even aware.

It is not certain whether making jack-o'-lanterns also has Celtic origins or was instead introduced by Christianity.
What is certain is that pumpkins seem to have been made to be carved (and make gnocchi), and aren't they just creepy?
Yet, they make a nice view on a grey weekday afternoon when, taking a lonely walk, the sight of a round orange pumpkin mixes with the smell of fallen leaves.
It is good, once back home, to forget all about it and concentrate on a hot and steamy cup of bergamot black tea.

How do you celebrate All Hallows' Eve?
Do you carve pumpkins? Do you have a nice picnic at the graveyard?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Ennio Morricone conducting
Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart are dead and will be no more.
Symphony #9, The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky's #6 and Mahler's #2 link us to an ominous past before which our era stands small and insignificant.
Shall we infer that meaningful symphonies can no longer be produced?

The quality of Art has changed; anybody today is a potential producer of art, a mediocre one, and so many call themselves artist, but they are a different kind of artists: they lack the capital letter.
Fortunately, we're still blessed by a few unique works of rare profundity, and these can be found in the most common product of mass consumption: the movies.

Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and in general all of his music), Alan Silvestri's Forrest Gump ballad, Trevor Jones's The Last of the Mohicans, Danny Elfman's music to the 1989's Batman, Brad Fiedel's The Terminator, Bill Conti's Rocky, and Gustavo Santaolalla's theme to Brokeback Mountain.

How useless would an actor's acting without the proper music for certain scenes?

The best soundtracks have substituted what was once classical music. The emotions they give us are linked to more or less dramatic scenes, but the beauty of it all is that we can adapt their music to a particular event of our life. Just like classical music, they can accompany us, they reveal an emotional state, they express by means of an articulate language, one that springs from the author's personal interpretation of a dramatic, albeit fictional, event.

Do you have a favorite soundtrack?
Does it accompany a particular moment of your life?   


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Christmas 2011
Quiet outside. Not a sound.

It's the best part of the day because the silence enshrines those who aren't sleeping yet. It is a holy sensation to realize that the only light in the dark comes from where you are.
I often imagine a passer-by peeking, unseen, into our kitchen: he will see the cotton tablecloth and a pinkish light from the lantern, and he will think of the scene as a warm Kincade indoor setting. 

A temblor.
It doesn't stop and it's not the refrigerator fan. The walls and the ceilings shake.
The rumble.
C.'s hand, gently holding mine from the nearest side of the table, has now a firmer grip. I get up prompting her to do the same, and I say, "Come". I open the door leading to the terrace and fire-escape, but we just stand underneath the door jamb. The rumble is much louder from outside.
C. doesn't understand why we're not rushing in the yard, so I say, "Trust me".
She is holding me tight leaning her head against my chest, and I hold her tight too.
I see a cat bolting scared across the back street from the backyard.
And it's gone: "See? We're still here together". 
No big deal, really. I'm used to it, but the rumble, with its soft and caring muffled sound, still manages to form in me a sensation of deep disquietude.

I used to be very fascinated by Jung's description of the human psyche as linked to the geology of the earth.
What if the quake was but a perturbation of the soul? Mine, maybe, or her's, or someone else's, or, rather, of a wider collective conscience?

This happened last night at 12.22am and lasted for about fifteen seconds.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake, or a temblor? Which aspect of it scares you the most?   


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

You Can't Be a Happy Artist

Barbed wire and a plant - 2004
American novelist Jack Kerouac believed in the Buddhist concept that life is Suffering.

Maybe not every single moment of one's existence is dictated by suffering, but can one really be an artist - a poet, a writer, an actor, or a musician - without having experienced a degree of sorrow? In other words, can a happy man be a successful artist?
When I say "artists" I am referring to grand and genial personalities who created masterpieces and key concepts during this and the past centuries: Melville, Kerouac, Dostoyevsky, Poe, to name a few writers; musicians like Beethoven Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler; actors and directors like Kubrick, Volonté, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy; painters like Van Gogh and Modigliani; scientists like Tesla and Einstein.

I often noticed how famous but not talented actors were able to obtain a high and touching performance while going through a rough patch. For some curious incidence, the character they portray is going through a similarly tragic moment. This is the case with actors like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD, Mel Gibson in The Beaver, Stallone in Rocky, only to name a recent few.

Herman Melville expressed through Moby Dick his outcry against the cruelty of God while Beethoven cast his challenge at God by creating his masterpiece, the Symphony #9, when he was completely deaf. Many of the artists I mentioned here were scarred by a life of extreme poverty, or they experienced family losses at a very young age, depression, mal d'etre, exile, physical impairment, extreme solitude, with all the consequences that such conditions imply.

As we can see, many great works arise from a tragic moment in the life of their authors, and the ones I mentioned are just some of the most notable examples.

I can't help wondering, then, with the pretense of knowing the answer, whether the unhappiness in the life of all of these artists can be considered the main agent in the greatness of their creations.