I met a blogger in the flesh a few days ago, Nita, journalist, writer and author of A wide angle view of India, one of the most successful blogs in WordPress, now on a hiatus. Touring Europe with her husband Anil, Nita was spending a few days in Rome.
I so invited them for dinner at our home, where they met my family, my wife and our two daughters, and where we spent two delightful hours together. One of my daughters had recently been to Mumbai for work and vacation and Nita had been so kind to provide her with useful information about the city. We tried to prepare a good meal since Nita had said they were eager to experience a real home-made Italian food and loved pasta.
One daughter – the one who went to Mumbai – was busy but popped up to meet Nita and Anil. The other daughter, who has never been to India but is pricking her ears up in new directions since her sister’s trip, was with us the whole evening and enjoyed the company quite a lot.
“We need more engineers than we actually have in India” said Nita to her. “We’ve got to build new cities.” Which of course captured my daughter’s imagination.
Conversing with a blogger face to face may be strange at first but all was very natural, as if we had known each other since a long time, which in some way is true. I had frequented Nita’s blog for quite a while, a gold mine of information on Indian matters. The themes proposed and the discussions around them among Indians and non Indians (so many commentators!) were terribly enlightening and instructive.
Nita and Amil are warm, educated, open minded people. Nita is outspoken at times and may make her points with intensity of feelings. “Something I have in common with my father” she said. I had noticed this while reading her blog and I was on the whole surprised to recognize some of Nita’s patterns of discussion during our dinner conversation. Virtuality and reality are not that far after all.
We all had no problem of cultural communication, being part of the same global space, and yet being true Italians from Rome and they true Indians from Mumbai. I believe that globalization, far from necessarily destroying cultural diversity, may create like a bridge that allows exchange between the local cultures, which are the most interesting part of it all, beyond a doubt. We had a good time because of the Indian-Italian connection, not because we were part of a globalized world, that’s for sure.
Curiously, and speaking of globalization, Anil worked many years for the same multinational company my daughter is working for at the moment in Rome.
A very pleasurable evening and experience. Thank you dear Nita and Anil!
I realised how I have been recently posting stuff in conversations more than in my own blog articles, which happened at the MoR’s wild parties – alcohol, idea exchanges (and stupidities) -, but, even more often at times at other stimulating blogs – so many of them! – because of the owner’s qualities and of the aficionados’ virtues frequenting his / her ideas pub (or café.)
So, as it is my custom, I’ll transfer some of these materials to my blog – let the Russians wait – and will start with a dialogue I’ve just had with dear Douglas at the Hannibal Blog (see the header pict above,) a great frequenter (and excellent blogger,) Douglas, of this great place where a perceptive landlord hosts an eccentric bunch of imaginative people.
This Hannibal man btw is an echt German from Bavaria (a dear to me place) weren’t for a shiny Anglo-Saxon icing that is more than an icing possibly but I’m not sure.
Let me thank Douglas (his blog, and its header pict above,) patient enough with my Roman aberration, who helped me keep my brain juices working – to use a phrase of the first, and never forgotten, commentator of this blog, Ashish the Geek Wrestler and Emperor from Maharastra – or Le Empereur, as he now prefers – , about to go out again with my eldest daughter – she working at present in Mumbai – AND, in case of non proper (with her) behaviour, me being obliged to go there and kill him, but, he surely behaving, since he’s a Hindu angel, if ever such a species exists, and, if it doesn’t, he’s the first sample of it without a doubt.
My Latin and Greek classes are starting but I need some inspiration. Bits of the said languages will appear from now on over a gradual and mild crescendo. I might be didactic now since my mind is drained a bit.
The inscription on the Constatine’s Arch above (315 AD) I made it shorter. It is symbolic of the entire story I am about to narrate [see a big image of it]
And do not to worry if you don’t understand all the words, just carry on! I have learned languages with the natural learning method – see this post – ie through non formal practice. It’s the way babies learn. It proved effective at any age, with me and many other people.
Tomes and Sibyllae
I can hear readers crunching popcorn (one at least) which is good for a mind journey although I don’t know the direction we will take. I have so much confusion in my head for a task bigger than myself, for stress I have accumulated and for something terrible (but auspicious) that happened a few days ago:
I have finally retrieved my grandfather’s tomes, my Di Penates or Patron Gods, I could say [Di = Gods, Deus = God.]
It’s not the commercial worth of tomes that range in any case from the Renaissance until the 1940s. It’s theirvalore psicologico especially, plus their content, archaeology and humanities mostly.
I had been looking for them since years. 2-3 weeks ago I chanced to say afew words to one of my two senseless sisters I seldom see but plan to fix that, one day or another:
“Hey donna [domna, domina ] it’s AGES I don’t see them, grandpa’s books. Does anyoneknow where the hell have they gone for Chrissake??”
Sometimes my voice gets pretty peremptory, I’ll admit. With such powerful sibylsso hard to handle – Sibyllae: the Romans had few since Σίβυλλες were Greek mostly – male verbal force is a weapon I use once every 15-20 months possibly 🙂
My new family – Fatum decreed – is again a sibyllinafamilia composed of a wonderful wife, 2 gem daughters, an ol’ Philippine woman, a sancta about to defeat gravity I’m sure – and Lilla dulcis in fundo, our female Bolognese dog, greatest Sibyl of them all I have little doubts.
In any case as if by miracle days later while I was opening the condominium attic door I much to my horror saw the tomes all scattered in messy piles and ALL SOAKED with WATER!!
My rage starting to surge in waves – I cannot believe it, leaking water was a known problem in that room! – I began barking so loud my wife, the Philippine and two workers happened there by chance ran worried (for my health) to the place and helped me carry the tomes down to my study-room, to THAT moment a tidy, quiet place for writing and reflection.
Well, look at my refugium NOW!
A protector deity in our home
My paternal grandfather’s tomes, I said. He is the genius of our family, in both the modern and the ancient sense (the latter at least to me, my sisters having my father instead as their genius: see a Roman genius below.)
My father’s side means the North-West Italian alpine region of Piedmont – ie part of Gallia Cisalpina and Gallia Narbonensis – a totally different universe I’m ignorant of except for what was transmitted to us by dad himself – no small thing in any case.
I never met grandpa. He died of leukemia 2 years before I was born. I’ll say we are somewhat black sheep (oves nigrae?) compared to him – my dad and I.
He lost the fortune he had created from scratch because he firmly believed in his country, in Mussolini (since he had saved Italy from communism), but most of all he had (together with my father) a sort of feudal adoration for the Piedmontese King Vittorio Emanuele III d’Italia, which is understandable although a bit blind since this king was no big deal plus he basically betrayed us all also by cowardly fleeing from Rome when the Nazis arrived, which resulted in extra havoc – one reason, among many, why theSavoia lost their throne and we now are a Republic.
Fulvia[an outspoken Romana Venus with South titbits, one reason possibly she abhors anything North of Rome, even just Tuscany:]
Oh how interesting! I thought we were going to have language classes, pupus.
Extropian: Fulvia, MoR means his grandfather is like an inspiring guide to him.
MoR:My nature is shallow compared to his. I mostly like he mastered maybe 8 languages – both modern and ancient – and despite being a pioneer in aeronautics plus an hydroelectric engineer entrepreneur, the day he sold his company and retired (all his money in treasury bonds fallen to dust, pulvis, because of the war) – he dedicated his last years to the study, or studium, of the Etruscan language.
Mario: Lingua Etrusca hodie exstincta?Per Hercules, why not Roman or, better, Greek stuff? C’mon pupus meus!
MoR: Stop with this pupus you moron.According to my father who seldom spoke about grandpa he adored mysteries and, well, the Etruscansare a mystery.
Flavia:Sempre co’ sti napoletani eddagli a Mario! (always with these Neapolitans etc.)
[Naples comes from Νεάπολη id est Νέα Πόλις id est Nea Polis id est ‘New City’]
Weren’t these Tusci a great non Indo-European folk coming from some unknown place of the valde arcanus Oriens? I love all esoterica!
MoR: Not much esoterica here Flavia, basically a big enigma, or αίνιγμα. The Romans, it has been said, called them Etrusci or Tusci (thence Tuscany.) The Italian Greeks Τυρρήνιοι, Tyrrhenioi (thence the Tyrrhenian Sea.) But they called themselves Rasenna, or the shorter Rasna.
Their language not yet well deciphered, their civilization not yet well understood, one additional reason is Rome possibly embodied them into herself.
Pausa nunc. Non Chia vina aut Lesbia but some simple tuscum de Caerevinum (see Caisra in the map above, Cerveteri hodies), a light red Fontana Morella, good for a small snack with bits of cheese, or caseus. Lots of laughing, moronities. Pausae finis.
Why now Calabrian Κρότων (Crotone)?
MoR:Rome and all Westerners are a bit Tusci – also the British or the Swedish with their aurora borealis eh Fulvia? 😉
Fulvia:Mwaaahh! Those pale ghosts from the North pole sleeping with polar bears? Oh Oh OOHH Giorgio – she bellowed – you’re totally nuts!
[*much appropriately, she – vacca nostra – adjusted her bust, id est her gorgeous mammae she unfortunately knows how to impress men with … well, only the silly men easily to get impressed, of course*].
[To Italian readers.Vacca – Latin for ‘cow’ – if possibly evocative, it’s not derogatory]
MoR: Fulvia, ehm, you forgot the Latin alphabet the Swedish (or the Brits) took from Rome owes a lot to the Rasna alphabet. As simple as that.
Embodied … one might say Calabrian Crotone, Κρότων, disappeared in much the same way. Such a great city, Κρότων from Magna Graecia, which is coastal Southern Italy. And Crotone surely a key place in our whole story. Oh you’ll be VALDE suprised, VERY obstupefacti, I am sure.
Flavia: *puzzled look in her deep black eyes*[a mixture of Minerva & Juno, extremely brilliant at school; Fulvia? Well, Fulvia was and is a shameless Venus]
I don’t know where you’re aiming at. Magna Graecia – Big Greece or Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς – didn’t possibly correspond to Southern Italy only. The Greeks perhaps meant by Μεγάλη all the Greeks scattered over the coastal Mediterranean.
Besides, Crotone and the Etruscans, which connection …
MoR: Little in fact, but I mean, Crotone, so great and influential, what was left of her today? Same fatum as with Rasna, ie few remnants. And I might agree with Magna Graecia.
Κρότων continued to live in the centuries and seamlessly became today’s Crotone. Same happened to the Rasna folk. On a much larger scale same thing happened to Graeci-Romani Gentiles, id est Pagani. They were embodied – Paul Costopoulos pointed it out well – so we don’t see them. But … postea, later.
Extropian: Actually they are haunting us, one can feel their animae even in the new frontiers of physics! I so hope you’re taking us where I suspect you’re taking us. Ego expectans atque VALDE sperans, pupus de Roma meus 😉
Mario:Maro’, I knew we’d get back to the Greco-Romans, un bravo pupo sei. But just one thing, the gladiators: I’ve heard they came from the Etruscans.
Extropian: The Etruscans had many mores (Latin) they transmitted to Romanis, not that I am that big expert or valde expertus.
And the women or mulìeres Giorgio? Being expertus in just math and physics, can you give us onereason why Fulvia is impudens, or evenimpudentissima? 😉
MoR: Ah ah ah! Well, as far as I know the Roman mulìeres were freer than their Greek counterparts since the days they mixed with the Etruscans, but I should check that better.
Flavia: Oh, I’m more experta! I once read a wonderful fabula about this girl from Rome when Rome was so ancient she was zero compared to the Etruscans. She chanced to marry to this Rasna boy and went to live in Arrētium, Tuscia (see the Etruscan map above and ceramics below.) Many things happened to her but what hit me were her rasna sister-in-laws, the way they were mocking her: to their eyes she was …provincial, stupidly decorous and restrained.
MoR: Arezzo was more powerful, ancient & refined than Roma. Titus Liviuswrote Arretium was one of the 12 capitals, or Capitae Etruriae, said also Dodecapolis (δώδεκα, 12, + πόλeις, cities).
Fulvia:*giving Extropian her old mischievouslook * Impudentissima?? Ah adulescentulus meus, you just wait and see!
*To MoR* THAT is in fact much less fastidiosus, less boring.
MoR.Back to our points amici mei!
*Looking at Fulvia casually* My NORDIC grandmother used to kid his husband: “Tusci are just a bad copy of the Greeks also in the arts.” Nothing but a jest, though when grandpa died in 1946 she – nicknamed carrarmato di piume (tank disguised with feathers) – exerted her ‘feathers’over my poor dad who hadTOTA his father’s vast materials and studies collected and revised by experti.
Among them, an advanced Etruscan grammar, according to grandma. In the end tota were given Piedmont-like to Fatherland, ie handed over to Massimo Pallottino, the scholar about to become number one in world Etruscology.
Whether my grandfather’s materials were of any help I cannot say. I never heard my grandfather mentioned anywhere in any scholarly paper about the Rasna …
Mario:*Looking at my grandfather’s photograph* You have his same face, MoR, and your eldest daughter too. Amazing.
Fulvia: Let me see .. you talked earlier of India, reincarnation: had he reincarnated in you, he must have been very unethical in his life despite his achievements .. 😉
MoR: You are certainly right, and believe me, you’re damn lucky I am not in the mood of explaining what your next reincarnation will be!!
Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass but luminous, as it should be and as I hope it will ever ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.
Everybody left, except Flavia. We went to the kitchen and had a drink.
“Listen G – she said softly – we know each other since high school. I’ve heard you don’t see many friends after your retirement and that this research is what you care for more than anything else. Is it true?”
“No Flavia – I replied – I care infinitely more for my family. Yet, true, it’s taking me away from the present and reality and, while having me plunge deeper and deeper into Orphism & the ancient religions, it’s making me lunatic a bit and progressively isolated, sort of getting dangerous for my inner balance. But please don’t worry, I have spine, but most of all, I have the love of my wife and daughters and, of some dear old friend, I hope.”
“You surely have” she said, her eyes shining a bit. After another drink in silence she left.
The whole thing is in fact tough and I’m a bit breathless.
Not because of the poems – they are ready (and will be in progress in any case.) It is the cultural context around them that has exhausted – and troubled me – a bit.
I’ll try to explain.
Andreas Kluth’s Hannibal blog – a place extraordinaire I stumbled upon months ago – had once presented a fascinating metaphor possibly created by a certain Professor Phillip Cary.
“You can think – Andreas wrote – of “Western culture” as a human body:
[nums by MoR instead of stars].
1. The left leg is ancient Athens and Rome, Socrates and Aristotle;
2. the right leg is Jerusalem and the Bible, Moses and Jesus;
3. the crotch is the end of the Roman empire when the two “legs” met ;
4. the torso is the Middle Ages, when the two traditions became one [Dante, MoR];
[etc etc up to the rest of the body that can be pondered over at the Hannibal blog, *here* and *there*;MoR]
Ok. The left leg (1) – the Classical – has been THE main topic of this blog so far.
The research around my Greek and Latin classes though caused the other leg (2) – the Judeo-Christian – to more or less pound on my head.
Ouch what a blow my dear readers! – and later I might tell you why.
Mario: A blow? Why TH do you care? Just go ahead with the left leg, you always were a leftist ah ah ah!
MoR: You moron, MY problem is the ancient languages classes Mario! Now it turns that, while the classical texts are hard (leg 1), the Judeo-Christian ones (leg 2) are often that easy – Old and New Testament alike – that even ababy can read them, for reasons fascinating not the place here to discuss.
[I know there are comics, that there are web sites plus the Latin and Greek Wikipedia- which I adore. But I always prefer the best literature for language learning: ie starting with what is matchless]
Extropian: MoR is right. Wanna get into mountain climbing? Forget the Everest and start with simple (tho captivating) hills.
MoR: Ok ok Extropian, but you 2 didn’t get the MAIN point.
I’m not only facing here the daunting task of presenting the context of the greatest spiritual revolution the West ever had – the switch from Paganism to Christianity. And btw I’m a guy who, revering the Classical as much as I do, is not exactly excited to see the DEATH of it …
Extropian: “Num 3, the crotch?
MoR: The crotch, yes. Problem being: there’s a lot more, and a lot earlier.
Extropian: Urghhh! A LOT earlier??
MoR: Yyyeees! While trying to figure out the spiritual context of the poems, much to my horror (and fascination) did I realise that the (Judeo)-Christian leg was part of bigger – much more ancient – streams originating from Egypt and from the East (both Middle and Far East.)
To be more precise – and in a reversed order: from Egypt, Thrace, Anatolia, Palestine (the Jews, naturally, crucial,) Mesopotamia, Persia AND India.
MoR: I’ll repeat it! The Greco-Romans had already encountered A LOT EARLIER that much wideroriental humus – of which the Judeo-Christian leg was just a part – much earlier I mean than when we finally get to the darn crotch – ie the switching to Christianity and soon after that cataclysm, ie thehorribleend of the Roman empire.
Extropian:[*lost in reflection, eyes gleaming*] Mmmm, how MUCH earlier …
MoR: 800-850 years earlier, more or less. I’ll check better but I’d bet on it.
Long pause. Pauses are important. The sun begins to shine through the clouds folds over the eternal city … We drink strong coffee.
MoR: Which led me to reconsider the Judeo-Christian tradition as being NOT TOTALLY EXTRANEOUS to the Classical World (!) as I first had thought.
A kind of a BLOW, plus a troublingone because I got fascinated by it.
I told Lichanos over at his blog – his posts inspired me as for the Jewish heritage: “I feel the need of coming to terms with both traditions or legs – I said – AND, should I get back to Christianity, I will SUE you …” 🙂
The silence in my study-room is now disturbed only by Mario chesmadonna piano piano … My friends love me and they are worried. I am just excited.
This was happening yesterday in an apartment in Rome.
On another area of the planet 70 million Hindus plus 40,000 Indian politicians were /are about to gather near the banks of the Ganges. The water is cold. It is flowing to the plains directly from the Himalayas. The water is also dirty.
Not that the Indians will care – about the cold or the dirtiness. All they care about – the poor and the low caste, the rich and the high caste – is this sacred water purifying them from their sins and helping them with better reincarnations.
The Kumbh Mela hindu festival might though be special this year. The convergence of the 12-yearly Kumbh Mela with the longest solar eclipse of the millennium – it is believed –could guarantee an end to the reincarnation cycle.
Note. Sin. Purified by sacredwater. ‘Souls’ and ‘bodies’ separated butincessantly reuniting in a reincarnation cycle of life anddeath.
Ah what a marvellous introduction to what we are about to narrate!
Some of my posts have been just now nominated at the Indian Avant Garde Bloggies Awards.They are appearing on the comment section at the right.
It’s a huge Indian Bloggie festival promoted by the fantastic and indefatigable Poonam Sharma, a young woman with character who is constructing the new India like all the young Indians around her.
I feel honoured, and I am moved a bit, I’ll confess. It doesn’t really matter who will win since what matters here is that ideas, mutual respect, intercultural appreciation plus, last but not least, affection, have circulated among us.
For an Italian this is even more important since Italians – the ones I have experience of – are not that open to the world, like instead other folks from other seas, or past, are.
Let me repeat that the people from the subcontinent have been important for the Man of Roma’s blog. Don’t know why, they have been founding in some way – odd in a blog dedicated to Rome -, as many of my posts and conversations [see a sample] – here and in other blogs – attest (in my first not-easy-to-forget blogging year mostly – now West readers have kinda devoured me.)
So now I want my non Indian readers to get to know some of these people. I’ll let them speak via the Avant Garde Bloggies Awards web site (Poonam’s voice mainly.)
“Hey there! Avant Garde Bloggies Awards aims to find the worthiest bloggers around. You are here to have your voice counted to decide the worthiest blogger available.
Scrutinising Team: Dhiren, Vimal, Smita and Vee(I could not even have taken a single step without these four.)
Rashmi: A personal friend and English litterateur from Pune who loves to read poetry and books. She has another blog these days. I will update link soon. She was a theatre enthusiast, currently she makes her living out of her words.
I’ll finally add – I think it to be appropriate – some Indian fusion music (classical Indian + western pop) from the Destination Infinity blog. Here is DI first:
“The song ‘Taaye yeshoda’ from the movie ‘Morning Raaga’ [see below, MoR. ] is one of the best Classical/Carnatic fusion songs that I have heard till now. The first fusion song I heard was ‘Krishna Nee Begane’ [see also below] by Colonial Cousins. That was a brilliant fusion of western and classical. I have always wondered why there have not been many fusion songs after that. Carnatic/classical music has never appealed to me earlier …”
And this one too (unfortunately a better one DI proposed has been removed from Youtube):
I like the gentle touch of many Indian thinkers. I also like their profundity. We need both nowadays and we need more than ever different paths to love.
“It is easy to hate, and hate brings people together after a fashion; it creates all kinds of fantasies, it brings about various types of co-operation, as in war. But love is much more difficult. You cannot learn how to love, but what you can do is to observe hate and put it gently aside. Don’t battle against hate, don’t say how terrible it is to hate people, but see hate for what it is and let it drop away; brush it aside, it is not important. What is important is not to let hate take root in your mind. Do you understand? Your mind is like rich soil, and if given sufficient time any problem that comes along takes root like a weed, and then you have the trouble of pulling it out; but if you do not give the problem sufficient time to take root, then it has no place to grow and it will wither away. If you encourage hate, give it time to take root, to grow, to mature, it becomes an enormous problem. But if each time hate arises you let it go by, then you will find that your mind becomes very sensitive without being sentimental; therefore it will know love.”
[I met J. Krishnamurti at Café Philos, a good Internet café where Paul Sunstone – living “along the Front Range of the Rockies, near Cheyenne Mountain” – stirs discussions on philosophy and other thought-provoking stuff]
As a digression, I wonder why media today pander so much to the basest emotions of the public, thus favouring them to ‘take root’. Panem et circenses? An intrinsic flaw of capitalism? – the list could be long. A cui bono serious analysis here would be needed, though it could lead nowhere, societies being complex. For a discussion around this see the links below.
“True friendship is the most solid, the highest, the most disinterested, passionate and honest feeling that can link two persons. It implies sympathy of feelings, conviction to have found a twin soul, it is the most durable way of loving and being loved, … it is a fundamental component of happiness and, according to Epicure, the most precious good.”
“On the other hand – Bernazza adds – we cannot call authentic friends mere acquaintances ruled by feelings which are occasional, superficial, opportunistic, basically selfish. In this type of relationships liabilities are greater than assets and the final result is sorrow, most of the time.”
(his judgement on acquaintances is a bit extreme since many acquaintances in my opinion don’t necessarily end up with sorrow)
How can we attain true friendship?
“It is a construction to be built little by little, day by day, with patience and perseverance, with affection and intelligence, considering it is an achievement among the most complex, long, delicate that heart and mind together can accomplish.”
Friendship impacts on 3 points of CP’s list. Which list? A list regarding 20 major existential issues which, according to Dario Bernazza, we should address in the best possible way in order to diminish life liabilities and live a happy life. Friendship in fact regards points 4 (friendship), 5 (marriage) and 6 (children).
True friendship – Bernazza states – is the only factor that produces a good marriage or union between two partners.
True friendship is the only key to success in the relationship between parents and children, allowing mutual respect and the mutual fulfilment of rights and duties.
Bernazza’s idea of friendship is surely dated and it includes a wider range of affectionate relationships than the modern friendship concept does, being not far from Montaigne’s amitié, connected to the Latin amicitia and the Greek philìa.
On the other hand, romantic love to him is important only to a certain extent. Life to CP should be a careful construction. So I wonder if he would be for arranged marriages. Well, yes and no, since to him each person must be the real planner of his/her life.
[By the way, the Western romantic approach to marriage is just one possibility: arranged marriages thrived for thousands of years and are today still common in many parts of the world. Discussions on this theme by Indians can be read at Nita’s blog: 1 and 2]
Bernazza is an interesting example of cultural isolation. His thought is organic like the wine one finds directly at the farm, surely inferior to the big wines, but with a genuineness and that special patina which smells of the past.
But I’m asking myself: 1) is friendship really so important in the relationship with a partner and in parenting? 2) should living our entire life with a partner be the fruit of a thoughtful decision and a careful construction (when looking for “the one” why don’t we ask mamma, someone wrote) or should all be decided by attraction and romantic passion only?
I’d love to know
How things got to be
How they are.
Here is a first selection of themes from Man of Roma. Each link leads to pages with excerpts from our posts that illustrate the chosen themes. I couldn’t get much into the conversations kicked off by the posts for lack of time. You can have a look yourself since lots of additional materials are in the comments area of the linked posts.
This page is meant for those interested in finding their bearings in the ideas of this blog. You will notice leitmotivs that circulate and I have also chosen themes related to one another.
Another theme selection – to be published not immediately, I don’t want to lose all my readers – will regard the relationships between South and North Europe, Europe and North America, East and West, Great Britain and the Continent and much more.
The Human Mind is Like a Museum
The human mind is like a museum since it contains almost infinite traces of past conceptions, from Stone Age onwards. Words, language are an important portion of this museum, but lots of things are there that go way beyond words. In short, a huge disorganized archive we have in our heads and that we should inventory. It’s the activity of this blog, a little bit.
The Legacy of Rome
Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here, and Rome’s legacy is greater than we think.
Folks of the Mediterranean Sea
The Italian and Roman soul is intimately tied to the folks of the Mediterranean. We are all related. Food, plants and plenty of traditions are similar. On a long-period perspective we belong to the same historical stream, to the same area from which some of the great civilizations have germinated on this side of the planet. Of course there are differences among us, but we are not so dissimilar as someone might (or likes to) think. Many behaviours, defined for example as Islamic, actually belong to the ancient past of Mare Nostrum, the context and stage of all that made us the way we are.
Influences of the Classical World
The Greco-Roman classical civilization has moulded the world we live in today. Influences and survivals can be seen in behaviours, arts etc.
Sex and the City (of Rome)
An exploration of Greco-Roman sexuality and of what is left today of such different mores. I have dedicated a series of 5 posts (out of 105) to this theme but the series is always in the ‘top posts’ list on the right column. I wonder why.
I have tried to understand how alien Greco-Roman sex can be vis-à-vi contemporary sexuality, and why things have changed so much since then.
Dialogue Among Civilisations
Some communication has occurred with non Western people, very enriching though not always easy. Great civilizations tend to close-up a bit – noble gases, Ashish, one witty commenter of this blog, called them – they being like complete in themselves. We had good connection with the Indians. Their good English has helped. Rediscovering one’s heritage doesn’t exclude others, quite the contrary. It means having something peculiar to transmit, in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.
“The deeper one goes into one’s own experience – argued Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan – […] the more does one’s experience have in common with the experiences of others […]. The most unique is the most universal. The dialogues of Buddha or of Plato, the dramas of Sophocles, the plays of Shakespeare are both national and universal. The more profoundly they are rooted in historical traditions, the more uniquely do they know themselves and elicit powerful responses from others.”
Survivals of Roman Religion
When talking about religion it is important to understand that history and faith, science and theology fly on different planes and shouldn’t be confused. By Roman religion we mean any cult that was followed in ancient Rome, also foreign ones. As an example, the cult of the Anatolian Kybele, the great mother-goddess, was established on the Palatine Hill in 210 BC, according to Livy. To the historian, anthropologist etc. the number of Roman religion survivals is impressive.
Crisis of Values in Affluent Countries
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new different attitude which can enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes ahead which might cause our swift decline. In Europe especially religion is waning and people sometimes embrace weird beliefs (see below Neo-pagan underground temples in Northern Italy.) Rich countries should be full of happy people, all the requirements for happiness (or serenity) being present. Nonetheless one has the impression that often void rules and that people don’t know any more which are the right choices in everyday life.
Traces of Paganism in Italians
Sometimes Italians, especially from the South, are considered superstitious. Whatever we mean by this word, these superstitions seem often remnants of the Greco-Roman past. Italians were highly civilized long before Christianity arrived (9-10 centuries earlier,) while many Northern Europeans became civilised together with, and thanks to, Christianity. This couldn’t be without consequences.
These are confusing days in my life for no apparent reason. A project started a few years ago, possibly one of the most important in my life, is now finally reaching its conclusion. I should feel happy, I should feel like one with a stronger grip on reality, but I feel vague instead, with things to do escaping my control and piling up in messy ways while quake aftershocks accompany our days and nights.
A few days ago, in Destination Infinity‘s stimulating blog, I read about 5 Japanese concepts (the 5 Jap Ss) useful for managing anything, from our storeroom to our daily work. I’ll quote DI and highlight the words I found more beneficial to my present state of mind:
“Seiri– Put things in order. Arrange, sort. Keep only the essential items – Discard the unessential ones.
Seiton – Proper arrangement. Set in order. There should be a place for everything and everything should be in their place. They should be reached easily when needed.
Seiso – Clean. Keep things clean and polished so that you would love to work with them. This cleaning should be a part of daily work – not after things get messed up!
Seiketsu– Purity and Standardization. Operate in consistent fashion to yield consistent results.
Shitsuke – Sustaining the discipline. Maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4 Ss have been established, they become a new way to operate. But if there is a suggested improvement or a new tool, then a review of the 4 Ss is appropriate.”
This weird period of stress is probably the reason why almost every evening, on our small terrace overlooking the roofs of Rome, I have one or two shots of limoncello. As Lola put it, “it is Italy’s most famous after dinner liqueur. I like mine tart, zesty, not too sugary, ice cold and dreamy – she says, and adds:
“The homemade booze is always a million times better than the bottled, so here’s the secret to lavish limoncello.”
I’ll let you read her recipe and post on limoncello. Learn the art of Italian cooking from a creative woman whose roots are both from Italy and the US.
I habitually post once a week. Last week I spent all my available time in a short trip and in replying to comments here or in posting comments on other blogs. All I can do now is reporting some of these conversations by splitting them in a sequence of posts, this being the first one.
It’s not a vile expedient. A dialogue or conversation to me is important, my method post being evidence of it.
The people involved in the conversation(s) are Ashish, an Indian young man from Maharastra; Poonam Sharma, an Indian young woman from New Delhi; the Commentator, a Canadian of Italian origin from Quebec; Paul Costopoulos, a Canadian of French and Greek descent, from Quebec as well.
Texts in square brackets are notes by MoR. For the original conversation see the previous post’s comment section.
Saving a Friend From Metal Rock?
Poonam Sharma. Yes, Ashish must indeed be saved from rock music… All songs [proposed in MoR’s previous post] are new for me, so my unaccustomed ear will have a try at them.
MoR. So far the effect on him of my music preaching has been negligible.
A person like Ashish cannot be caged by Black Sabbath forever! Maybe the works by Bach proposed though are too complicated. Bach is severe but being mystical he might appeal to Indian minds like yours and Ashish’s.
Ashish. Thank you! [referring to my last post meant to redeem him] I also just begun on Indian Classical music with Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia’s Call of the Valley. Can’t wait to start on this … yes, Ashish must indeed be saved from rock music. I think it’s too late for that! You don’t know the beauty of listening to Heaven and Hell, then Stargazer and jumping to Ahir Bhairav just yet!!
MoR. It’s not that I don’t like rock, I’m still listening to it now and then. It’s just that a mind needs all types of nourishment. I’m sure you’ll find depths in Indian classical music unknown to Sabbath. Ahir bhairav? I checked, it seems to be a Hindustani classical raga. I wish I had some knowledge of Indian ragas. Why then don’t you flood me with links? Why don’t you become just a bit (or a lot) a Man of India – instead of repeating of yourself: ‘The British left, but left him’ …? 🙂
The Power of Sabbath
(Sabbath. Heaven and Hell – Neon Knights. Live. From this post by Ashish)
Ashish. Alright, this needs some explaining.
You see, I am NOT a music person. All this passion for music started when we started the cyber cafe as background music when I worked. The problem was that the hindi (Indian) songs were too much intrusive and I couldn’t concentrate so I loaded up my playlist with English ones. Slowly I listened to the music, started liking it and when I bought a new MP3 player I started listening a week.
Currently, on my holiday’s I usually go out for long walks early in the morning for I dislike meeting people. So what to do during the day when for the most part of 12 hours there is no electricity? How to relieve myself from the world? Thats where rock saves me. 😉
It’s not like I “hate” Indian music. It just seems more vocal focused. Whoever has the best voice wins. Heck, I even dislike modern rock as you know and prefer the 70’s or 80’s act meself. It’s the music.. so much different, myriad filled with epics, dragons (Ronnie Dio happens to be my favourite vocalist) or drugs!
As for becoming Man of India well there are too many Men of India preaching this and that. I prefer not being tied to a region or place. The world is free I think to live wherever I want, like whatever I want, eat whatever I want. (This is a rant not for you but for everyone who advises in regionalism..)…
Paul. Ashish, try to get «Beatles go baroque», Naxos 8.990050F, original Beatles’s songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney arranged by Peter Breiner in the styles of Handel, Vivaldi or J.S. Bach. A real treat. It was recorded in 1992, in Bratislava by the Slovak Philarmonic. The beat and the music is there with a special flavor.
Ashish. Paul, thanks for that! Thats seems like some Beatles I can stomach! (I have their greatest hits package but don’t listen to it that much.) Will try to find this! Thanks very much! 🙂
The Commentator. (…) I’m starting to like Ashish. He pulls out the Sabbath. I like to listen to hard stuff every once in a while. Why, just today I was blasting The Ramones. But what a long walk from the beautiful masterpieces of Western classical music to rock.
Let’s see Western musical heritage: classical, ragtime, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, rock, hard rock, motown, disco, punk, techno, grunge – interesting evolution. I know. An incomplete list and definitions. But you get the picture.
Ashish. LOL thank you Commentator. I’m just getting into the stuff actually. There is so much music and so little time!
MoR. Ashish, you say: “It’s not like I hate Indian music. It just seems more vocal focused.”
Voice, ok. But as far as I know there are lots of instruments as well, complex and exciting. Percussions are very rich, plus we have bow string instruments like Sarinda (see above) and Sarangi, stringed instruments like the Sitar (a great myth of my generation because of the Beatles and Ravi Shankar) and many others I don’t know the names of.
Probably Indian music is monodic, so melody plays a great role, and of course voice can be central, though not only I think. What I like very much is the way the Indians treat the melody (vocal or instrumental), fascinating for its sensual ornaments and especially quarter tones (!!), so exotic to Western ears!
Ashish.Nay, you’re talking Indian Classical music. I was talking about the regular – which is mostly film music and most all of which is vocal focused. But like I said above, the bug of classical music has bitten me now and I’m ready to dive in that ocean.
Bolly Songs and Classical Ragas
MoR. Great. I loved the music you presented in your post: the songs reminded me of my stay in India but the classical Ahir Bhairav type of music you present [which can be listened here] is much more profound, there is a total difference in depth. Depth is to be experienced especially at your age, since it’ll get deeper into your blood. [What I am not at all able to figure out is how, according to these Hindustani ragas, the music is slowly building up in more and more complex variations, I mean in which ways, according to which rules.]
Ashish. That is what I liked about it, depth. You could just lay back and watch as the music danced in front of your eye with varied textures.
Oriental Quarter tones
(We can finish with the Man of Roma talking about things he knows nothing about)
MoR. Oriental and Indian music has quarter tones, I can dare say. In the first notes of the song Hur Hura Asathe you have embedded in your post – I might be wrong – one experiences quarter tones.
On a keyboard, the distance in pitch between for example a C note and a D note (two white keys) is called a whole tone and this tone is cut into two halves (2 semitones) by classical Western music (C-C#; C#-D).
So between a C and a D we have only one possible note in between: C#.
In Oriental music instead a whole tone is cut into 4 different notes, 4 quarter tones.
It is one reason why the first notes of the said song (see the movie below) sound vague to a Western ear, which increases their fascination. I don’t think it is by chance by the way that the Italian word vago (= vague) means both vague and beautiful.
This whole inter-cultural thing is of course fascinating.
[See 2009 and 2013 updates at the foot of this writing]
Why sex, one of the joys of life, – lived with some freedom in the Greco-Roman world or at the time of the Indian Gupta empire (just to name two civilizations considered somewhat classical) – became in later centuries something to be ashamed of? Was it in the West because of the switch from Paganism to Christianity? And in India, was it because of Muslim or British Victorian influence, or of both?
(We make known to minors that one picture following may offend their sentiments)
Since I have been musing on these questions in my series Sex and the city (of Rome) – thanks also to a good discussion with two Indians, Ashish and Falcon – I was struck recently by all the commotion regarding the Victorians & homophobia thing in many ex colonies of the British Empire, and especially in India.
We are also at a time when French President Nicolas Sarkozy has just proposed to the UN to decriminalize homosexual acts all over the world, and all 27 European nations have agreed. The Church of Rome is instead strongly against it. The topic seems hot.
Same-sex love was accepted, it is well known, in Ancient Greece and it was sometimes a bit frowned upon in Rome but basically widely tolerated (Julius Caesar for example was probably bisexual: a future post on Caesar will also mention that. We also mentioned some possible female homosexuality in the secret rites of the Roman goddess Bona Dea).
As far as the ancient Indian civilizations I guess it was pretty much the same (see the image below at Khajuraho) although I need someone with more knowledge than I have.
Today India gay activists accuse “Britain of exporting homophobia during the 19th century when colonial administrators began enforcing Victorian laws and morals on their Indian subjects [the Independent].” Homophobia, they say, is something alien to the original Indian civilizations.
The organisation Human Rights Watch has recently published a 66-page report describing “how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860.”
Under accusation is the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” with imprisonment up to life. In short, it punishes same-sex love.
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs defends the Indian code:
“The law does not run separately from society …. Section 377 … responded to the values and mores of the time in the Indian society.”
“This is sheer amnesia” answers the Report:
“Section 377, at its origin, did not respond to Indian society or its “values or mores” at all. British colonial governors imposed it on India undemocratically. It reflected only “the British Judeo-Christian values of the time.”
A ruling is expected soon by the High Court in Delhi, following a “years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there.”
“We are squarely to blame if even 61 years after independence we are incapable to seeing which law is reasonable and which one is not. The British have moved on, and have liberal laws on homosexuality today.”
Sex. Always a complex topic in any society.
I need a higher authority on what is happening in the sub continent and elsewhere. Any Indian (or non Indian) take?
Readings. Here some of Nita’s recommendations on the subject:
In the previous installment we have spoken of the Egyptian society described by Naguib Mahfouz and of the Tunisians. We have also mentioned Italian Naples and Sicily (see the splendid Monreale cloister above). We wanted to emphasize the mutual influences between the North and the South shores of the Mediterranean and at the same time show how many behaviours – defined as Islamic, such as the patriarchal control of women – belong in reality to the endless past of the civilizations.
The Muslims influenced not only Italy but Spain, Greece and other Mediterranean areas as well. In truth they influenced almost the entire world since between the VIII and the XII centuries AD Islam stretched from the Atlantic in the West (Spain) to large portions of Asia. For the very first time in history more than 3000 years of experiences were accumulated from civilizations the most various – Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Syria, Persia, China and India.
Most importantly, all this was re-transmitted by them to the rest of the world: forgotten Greek texts and medicine, Indian numerals (called Arabic since that time), Chinese papermaking and thousands of other innovations. This whole wisdom and refinement was concentrated by the way (and for a long time) in the city of Baghdad, that same city whose historical treasures were looted and destroyed because of the present foolish Iraqi war.
It is hence fair (and a bit uncomfortable) to remember that Europe – which during the Middle Ages had forgotten a lot – was gradually given back by the Muslims not only large portions of its classical culture but also something that went well beyond the confines of the Greco-Roman civilization. The big leap Europe was about to make at the end of the Middle Ages was possible also because of this contribution.
More than We are Willing to Admit
North Africans and Islamic countries are linked to Europeans more than we are willing to admit. If the Turks want to enter the Euro zone it is also because they feel somewhat part of our world. Southern and Northern Italians (think of Venice), Spaniards, Greeks etc. received many elements from the Oriental cultures.
Hard-to-deny connections. This might though disturb some reader (of this devil’s advocate) 😉
Why? Because Muslims are not well seen today. A post by Nita, an Indian journalist and blogger (and an excellent source of knowledge on India), provides statistics from the Pew Research Global that show how “while more and more Muslims are turning away from the extremists, more and more people are turning away from Muslims.”
In the Wikipedia’s entry on Sicily I was reading yesterday that in a “recent and thorough study the genetic contribution of Greek chromosomes to the Sicilian gene pool was estimated to be about 37% whereas the contribution of North African populations was estimated to be around 6%.”
True or not, I read between the lines – I may be wrong – like a desire to prove that Sicily and Southern Italy have little to do with North Africans. Even if so, hasn’t genetics – as far as I know – little to do with cultural transmission? One can be mostly Greco-Roman genetically though subject to multi-layered cultural influences coming from no matter where.
We will end up this second (and last) part of our journey with two notes.
Veiled women. As far as the veil, to think of it as Islamic is incorrect because it was widely used by the Assyrians, Hittites, Greeks (see the picture on the left), Romans and Persians. In medieval Europe (and in Anglo-Saxon England) women were dressed more or less like Muslim women are dressed today.
In Judaism, Christianity and Islam “the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety. All traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, show her veiled.” (Wikipedia).
I remember my mother always wearing a veil in church. It was a common practice in Catholicism (but not only) until the 1960s.
Sexual jealousy. It seems to be present in Islamic societies and in all those patriarchal societies obsessively concerned for true paternity. In today’s Islamic forums there is a lot of discussion (and more or less condemnation) about jealousy.
It is said that Sicilians and Calabrians are usually more possessive than other Italians. Some cultural connection with Islam in this respect may be possible. It is to be noted that honour killings were easily forgiven by law in Italy, France and other Mediterranean countries until recently.
Youth with its endless energy has always been fascinating. All revolutions are made by young people, which are like gasoline, ever exploding, ever changing the world. The British industrial revolution was prepared by an agricultural revolution that greatly increased and rejuvenated the population, so one can say that this fundamental breakthrough was largely a product of young energies (which did not mean a mere extension of the workforce).
We now see a whole new generation of Indians and Chinese (together with the Brazilians etc.) fighting for a better future and rightfully enthusiastic about the progress of their respective countries. We are watching with interest this world readjustment occurring before our eyes and fuelled by the younger generations. Hundreds of thousands of these youngsters being active bloggers, it is easy to have a direct connection with them via the blogosphere. Here a list of a few Indian bloggers we have been in contact with: Ashish, Falcon, Poonam, Nita, Amyth, Ishmeet, Shefaly, Reema, Nova etc.
As far as the Chinese, we’ve been in contact with a young woman blogger only, AutumnSnow, the problem with China being the language, as far as we can tell (and/or our incapability of connecting to Chinese people so far).
“I am a die-hard nationalist! I LOVE going to malls on weekends and experiencing first-hand India’s spending BOOM. I LOVE watching IPL and all the cricketing world’s eyes glued to the Indian story. I LOVE Bollywood churning out movie after movie and filled-up multiplexes. I LOVE listening to analysts on CNN Money talking about “The India Story!”
I know there are miles to go still.. and there are mountains to climb. But I know that as a nation of a billion-plus people we are striving for better lives and for a better India. We are working hard and we are getting closer.”
Touching words. Following is a video he presents in his post. Produced by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), “in many ways … it captures the essence of India”, in Amyth’s opinion, talking of modern advances together with Karma and Dharma. Impressive, in our view.
Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything similar for China. Maybe the movie below can provide an idea of what is also happening in that country, although we being not allowed to embed it we can just follow this link here (courtesy of CutePiglet123).
Unbelievable views and pictures, in any case. Really.
We talked in the previous post of a decline of the Roman Empire type of situation here in the West. Omitting economical and political aspects this time, we rather concentrated on some cultural aspects of today’s Western (America + Europe) decline which resemble a bit what was happening in the minds of the inhabitants of the Ancient Roman empire: new sects and religions gaining ground, void, ethical confusion etc. with, at the end, a winning new religion, Christianity, conquering the population’s hearts (with a little help from the Emperors) and soon becoming the official religion of the Empire.
(Needless to say, it is only for the sake of analysis that people usually separate economical, political, social and cultural phenomena. Actually they are tightly interrelated and belong to the same sphere: Man)
Let’s now zoom in on one of the non Western religions that are gaining ground, Buddhism. We will consider some of the reasons why this belief, compared with the Abrahamic religions, could be more endowed to confront with modern science, which might further favour its penetration (at the top of the page, a Buddhist temple at Fréjus, France; above, the current Dalai Lama).
In some books the current 14th Dalai Lama reveals his position on science and on the relationship between scientific rationality and religious irrationality. “If scientific analysis conclusively showed that certain beliefs of Buddhism are false – argues the Dalai Lama – it would be necessary to accept those scientific discoveries and abandon those beliefs.” Wow, what a big difference, we should be honest to admit, vis-à-vis the presumptions of infallibility asserted by our Catholic religion …
Buddhism seems better equipped in its approach to science since, as the Dalai Lama says, “it grants maximum authority to experience, secondly to reason and only lastly to scriptures” while the Religions of the revealed Books (the Abrahamic religions) seem to consider these elements in a reversed order.
Additionally the encounter between Science and Buddhism seems also favoured by a fundamental disposition common to both: they do not believe in God or even in a soul, since Buddhism prefers to concentrate, among other things, on conscience. Buddhism and science “share a fundamental reluctance to postulate a transcendent Being as origin of all things.” Basically it is the denial of any metaphysics.
A Rescue Guide in Times of Crisis
In general I believe this simple thing: science provides a lot of answers but still voids are left (what is the meaning of life? How do we choose between right and wrong? Are there any absolute values? etc.) that might progressively be filled up, although so far they are not, thus leaving those who rely on science only with questions unanswered and inner tranquillity precarious. Humanities are able in fact to make up for further answers (philosophy) and for reconciling our soul through beauty (art).
(The problem is complex and it is discussed in the debate regarding the two cultures – the sciences and the humanities – and regarding the so-called third culture)
As far as we are concerned, in fact, novels, poems, music, paintings, philosophy, all humanistic culture, in conclusion, can somehow fill these voids. And religion? Of course religion can fill these voids too, but, although we have a lot of respect for those who have a faith, we are not religious (agnostic, not atheist), our position being that of the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius. So we are not disposed to easily believe in revealed things or tales – hope we do not hurt anyone’s feelings – which were satisfying for men living thousands of years ago but, frankly, not as much for today’s man.
Buddhism, being a philosophy and religion without a God seems more modern (even though some aspects of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, consider the Buddha as a God). Buddhism does not force us to believe in dreams in order to find a ubi consistam, namely a guide, a point of reference.
The truth is we are not even Buddhist. We have no parachute. But we like it this way.
I didn’t want to talk about politics too much in this blog, desiring rather to deal with our Western (Mediterranean, Roman) roots, with ancient habits still surviving today, with Rome past and present, philosophy, history, arts etc.
Three recent discussions though brought me into global politics again:
Another discussion took place here in my blog and dealt with a tighter European unification (which I see as a good way of fighting against Europe’s decline): a really LONG discussion among Alex and Andy (two nice Englishmen living in Milan, Italy) and Man of Roma.
Finally, a third discussion among Rob and MoR (in his and in MoR’s blog, 1 & 2) and Indian AshishandFalcon. It dealt with this void here in the West which we perceive as far as morals and values, plus a lot of other stuff.
Ok. What these three discussion had in common? Well, such minutia as the possible decline of the West, also vis-à-vis new emerging countries. I was also being asked by both Theresa and the Commentator to try a comparison between the Roman Empire and the Empire of the United States.
Ok, I’ll try, but:
Allow me to expand it to the entire West (America + Europe) instead of dealing with US decline only and …
allow me to restrict it to the possible effects such Western decline is having on culture, ideas and beliefs of the people involved.
Will this mean I’ll get back to my blog’s track? I do not know, really, but here we are, here is global politics again (though my own way) 😉
The heat is getting so appalling in here that thoughts become weird and erratic. I’m typing with sticky fingers, ants invading my human space in search of cooler air. Wondering if all this can be an extra motive why I accepted this topic again and why I feel like musing on ideas of decline…
Well, actually what we see here in Europe and America are all these people turning towards oriental religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, or doctrines like Scientology, or even Neo-pagan movements growing in Anglo-Saxon countries and probably originating from a disappointment towards Christianity and its different varieties (above, an image of the Neopagan Goddess and the moon).
A woman, a friend of mine, is starting to adore some crazy coloured stones she always brings along wherever she goes. Amazing, no doubt. And what about this person very close to me who turned to Sathya SaiBaba, the Hindu saint, long ago? Or this relative of mine who, once relocated in France, embraced the Muslim religion? (my mother never got over it, I’ll confess).
Many Muslims, vis-à-vis such Western spiritual crisis (and relativism), react in different ways, from a total acceptance of consumer society values up to forms of moral rejection or even active reaction (which unfortunately also lead to terrorism). But that’s another story. Let’s stick to the point.
As the Roman Empire. An Analogy
Referring to Western contemporary societies, numerous commentators and artists have talked of a decline-of-the-Roman-Empire type of situation. It is an interesting analogy, since in those old days the official Roman religion wasn’t so attractive any more and innumerable oriental cults were spreading among the different classes of the Roman society.
Italian Archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani ( 1846 – 1929 ) for example unearthed the remains of the Temple of Isis in Rome, who was imported by the Romans from Egypt and set on the banks of the Tiber, the sacred river of Rome. We have also mentioned in a previous post how Egyptian rites and culture fascinated the Romans at the times of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony (and in other times).
(Ants are now walking on my keyboard. I HAVE to make a pause and gently push them away….)
Since among all those foreign cults the final winner was the Christian sect, would it be totally absurd to wonder if once again there will be a winner? We mean – and it might be the heat – is it possible that again some faith (new or old) could profit from today’s Western void (which seems to affect Europe much more than America)? Italian Oriana Fallaci feared Islam would be the winning belief about to conquer Europe…. Well, we do hope that no Abrahamic religion (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) will prevail, for a number of reasons, some of which we can mention in the next post …
(ants and heat allowing… I need to buy AC, good also for mosquitoes, no doubt about it)
A fascinating depiction of Western void is offered by the acclaimed movies Le Déclin de l’empire américain (The Decline of the American Empire, 1986) and Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions, 2003) by the outstanding French-Canadian director Denys Arcand, both illustrating in an eloquent way this emptiness affecting at least two generations.
(to be continued tomorrow; we will associate this topic with Buddhism, science and the Dalai Lama. See you tomorrow then.)
The commentator thus commented my first comment to Rob’s post, saying: “Was the above (specifically regarding our values versus terrorists) a defence of moral equivalism?”. Well – apart from endorsing Islamic terrorism, which of course I don’t – if being a relativist means (as I think it means) not believing in absolute truths valid forever and outside any historical and social context, yes, I am a convinced relativist. Also democracy to me is relative (I can see many readers jumping up in their chairs).
Separation of state and religion, ok, I like it a lot, but this is not enough to proclaim our superiority over other civilizations (such as the Islamic) plus why should secularism be an absolute truth? As regards democracy, it doesn’t seem in my view the ideal solution for some people, plus it is not granted, as many analysts now start to recognize, that economical growth automatically will lead to more democracy. The case of Russia and China is often indicated as instructive from this point of view. And I believe it really is.
This reminds me when all the world applauded (me included) when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to swiftly democratize the Soviet Union. At the same time all the world protested (me included) when the Chinese students asking for more democracy (hence imitating the Russians) were crushed by the military in the Tien An Men Square in 1989 (watch above a famous movie regarding that tragic episode).
But then, what theheck has happened? Who theheck was right? The Russians (who accelerated democracy) or the Chinese (who hindered it because they thought it would tear down a country of 1.5 billion people)? I have lived almost one year in Russia (in the year 2000) and I have witnessed the almost TOTAL collapse of a society and all the terrible consequences that ensued (this country now pulling itself together thanks btw to its new Caesar, or Tzar, Mr. Putin: can this be by mere chance?).
I know Anglo-Saxons are very sensitive about this democracy thing. They use it as a propaganda weapon, not many doubts about it, but there is something deeper. If democracy was invented by the ancient Greeks, only the British and the American people in modern times were capable of creating truly great democracies (plus, isn’t the Indian democracy – the biggest in the world – somewhat derived from Great Britain as well? I hope Falcon won’t be upset 😉 ).
We admire the Anglo-Saxons for what they have achieved, for this great contribution and influence in all this. But if they do not really try hard to understand the rest of the world, especially those very old civilizations so different from theirs (and ours), and if they do not get out of their mental schemes, I am afraid their decline (and ours, unfortunately) will be swifter than expected. They (especially the Americans) cannot expect they can export their political solutions (that took so many centuries to develop, from Magna Charta on) to totally different historical and social environments (like Iraq or Afghanistan) which might embrace these solutions in the long run, who knows, although it is not granted at all, I am sure it is not granted at all, not many doubts about it. In any case, I am for democracy, that’s for sure. I just wanted to add some elements of reflection.
“apologists for terrorism, the mumblers and rootcausers, the people seemingly capable of understanding everything except the need for drawing a clear line between those who uphold the politics of democracy and those dedicated to their destruction. The left today …is a loose movement which is able … to mobilize … to oppose conflicts fought by the Western democracies against the ugliest of tyrannies and/or reactionary social and political forces…”.
Well, first of all I do not consider myself belonging to the left any more, hence many things he says here and elsewhere do not regard me much; secondly, I see in his words some hypocrisy, sorry to say that, exactly like in Tony Blair’s words (but I may be wrong and I’ll try to read more of his writings).
The thing is I am not blaming America for being a superpower and for fighting (sometimes badly, I’ll admit) for her interests. I love and admire America. And I believe she is a true democracy. But – as I said – I also believe that empires and powers (such as the Romans, the Turkish Ottomans, the Victorians, the USA etc.), are not ruled mainly by idealism or ethics; they are rather ruled most of all by Realpolitik, namely by practical considerations regarding their interests.
So, according to Norm, as you call him, am I an apologist of terrorism if I say that a democracy like America now says she fights against “the ugliest of tyrannies” (it is still to be proven for which reasons) while, at the times of Henry Kissinger, she fought for “the ugliest of tyrannies” (Greek colonels, ruthless dictators all over South America etc.)?
My opinion is that this passage by Norm is a bit abstract and apologetic, not to mention a few apparent doses of historical amnesia.
This post originates from a debate I had with Falcon,Ashish and especially Rob and regarding: values, the West, the Islamic extremists etc. First Rob replied to a comment of mine saying I raised too many issues so it’d be too arduous to fully accept the challenge. But the same I can say of his post (an even more complex reply to my comment lol), so I’ll just consider some topics mentioned by him (plus Ashish’s and Falcon’s remarks) and will talk freely without too much organization, being a bit tired after a long work trip (and hoping I won’t say too many silly things lol).
Is Decadence Advancing (or Just Old Age)?
Western leaders are talking so much about values. But where is the line between what they really feel and political propaganda? I am referring to the Tony Blair’s speech quoted by Rob but this of course is not only true of Western leaders. This is also true of almost any leader. Although on the whole I see some decadence advancing in our part of the world, which might correspond to the natural cycle of civilizations, more or less like what happened to the civilization of ancient Rome. I mean, Western leaders can try to propose their societies (and their values) as models, but what are the real ideas we are exporting around the world?
Just an example taken from today’s entertainment field. At least two movie industries are now flooding the world with their films: Hollywood and Bollywood, the former selling all over the world, the latter selling all over Asia (Muslim countries included) but now starting to be appreciated outside Asia as well. I may be wrong but Bollywood moviegoers seem to entertain themselves in a much healthier way, while American movies (not to mention US video games) are now so painted with blood, stupidities and disgusting violence (apart from some technological perfection which in any case is not much influential over the quality of content) that the final educational result on the public tends in my view towards new forms of barbarism (see above a view of the Hollywood boulevard: source).
Blind Hatred plus Moral Disgust?
I abhor the Islamic fascists, as you call them, Rob. And I am not neutral. Quite the contrary. These repugnant people have made the world much worse than it was before, in my opinion. But if we do not understand that many of them are also motivated by some sort of moral disgust towards some ways of the West, we miss an important point.
Take Bali, Indonesia. The islamofascists hit Kuta twice in 2002 and 2005 with some bombs and killed hundreds of people, mostly Westerners. I have been to Bali a few times and I believe it is not by chance they hit the Kuta beach area so much.
Bali is the only Hindu island in a country, Indonesia, mostly Muslim. This was symbolic to them, not many doubts about it, but I think a main point was also they hit right a place in Bali (Kuta) where the Westerners most succeeded in totally corrupting the local people who are now selling themselves in various ways for money, while in other parts of this great island the Balinese retain their unbelievable dignity and their incredibly refined cultural values, yes, so refined that even peasants look like princes (look above at the pure beauty of these two Balinese dancers: source).
Although by this I do not mean the West has no values, and the non-West has. And we are not the only ones to use values as ideological weapons, as I said before. Ashish, this young Indian blogger, puts it very synthetically: “Religion [and any idealism, I think he means, MoR] is merely the vehicle, the true goal is world supremacy. Does the west prevail over the east or is it otherwise? … The bosses only care about the profits [oil for the west, power for the clerics], be it the West or the Middle East. Religion is merely a way to get yourself an army, because nobody fights as ruthlessly as a fanatic!” Very well said indeed.
A comment from another Indian blogger also in his twenties, Falcon, who writes: “Let’s face it, a large no. of Islam followers have their rationality almost blinkered by faith. They may be very humble and polite and would gladly discuss religion and point out its greatness and fallacies but try touching Islam and they get defensive.”
Well, it is true, also some Mulsim students of mine behaved like that. But I remember things were a bit different before September 11. What I believe is that, especially the new Muslim generation is living like a generational wave. That terrible, unbelievable terrorist attack (nothing cannot be compared to it) has unfortunately fascinated too many young minds. Sept 11 is not the only factor, but the development of things in Turkey (once the most secularized Muslim Nation) is very instructive in my view. How long will this woeful wave last? Hard to say. It will none the less pass away, I am sure of it (or is it my hope and ideals blinkering me now?).
Left & Right
You quote intellectuals from the left, Rob, thinking it can make some difference to me. It doesn’t. The left is only my origin and I do not belong to any faction any more. It is a complicated topic not to be discussed here, but I try to reason with my mind only, not caring where good (to me) ideas come from and in my view what really counts has very little to do with this dichotomy.
For example, words such as reactionary elements do not mean anything to me. And they do not mean anything to the new generations. Listen again to Falcon commenting this post of mine: “Could somebody explain to me what exactly reaction mean? What was the action we did that we are facing a reaction?”. He then continues, going maybe towards some sort of relativism: “As long as there will be a feeling, that one set of ideals and values are better than the others there is bound to be a struggle for supremacy. Islam can teach us a lot things, just like any other religion. The only question is: are we ready to learn?”
Among my international students (systems engineering courses) the most interesting to me are the Indians, the Chinese and the Muslims. I find they are profound, less globalized (the term here being used in the negative sense) and extremely intelligent. Ok, they are also more exotic to me, but this is not the only reason.
One evening, in a small sweet town of Southern Italy where life is relaxing and food so exquisite, I was having dinner under the pergola of a nice restaurant overlooking the sea together with a group of 4 Muslim students in their thirties (image above: source), all of them affectionate and long-term pupils of mine. One is from Lebanon, quick-glancing eyes, restless, a real Phoenician; one from Afghanistan, elegant and supple, coming from a rich family of land-owners; one from Bosnia, acute light-blue eyes & acute mind; one finally from the Ivory Coast, a sweet good-natured black giant I called my body guard and who spoke very good French.
At the end of this pleasant dinner after a lot of laughing and pleasant chatting (and where unfortunately no wine was tasted) I touched upon the subject of the victim complex many Muslims (in my view) have and of the necessity of rolling up one’s sleeves to really solve problems (this playing-the-victim and always-blaming-the-others type of behaviour, I told them, was also typical of many Italians from Southern Italy, who keep blaming Northern Italy for many of their woes).
They didn’t overreact, but I clearly felt they took it badly. Sympathy among us was not broken, no, but I felt some further explanation was necessary. Unfortunately being already very late we had to separate, and since it was the evening before the last day of course, we didn’t have the opportunity to approach the subject again.
Poonam tagged me for this meme. It is the first time I accept a meme so here we go.
1. Last movie you saw in a theater? La Zona, by the Mexican director Rodrigo Plá. Saw it last night. Worthwhile.
2. What book are you reading? Montaigne‘s essays, which I usually read when I need consolation, this not being a good signal though lol.
3. Favorite board game?
It used to be Chess. My father taught me (and always beat me). But it was a long time ago.
4. Favorite magazine?
Mmm… difficult question, being not crazy about magazines. I mainly read on-line stuff like The Economist, Nature, Der Spiegel or, when I want to have fun, Stern, the last two being part of my never ending (and never succeeding) effort to conquer German.
5. Favorite smells?
Hard to say, not very good at smells. Out of context, I can say I only wish I could remember this deodorant I used in the States since everybody there who was close to me enough exclaimed: “Oh wow, a real Italian perfume!” How silly of me to remember it.
6. Favorite sounds?
Sea waves, wind on trees, birds in early morning (even if recently some sea-gulls are shrieking too much). And of course guitar & piano sounds (being though very picky about them).
7. Worst feeling in the world?
When I am attacked by sloth, which fortunately doesn’t hit me often.
8. What is the first thing you think of when you wake up?
9. Favorite fast food place?
A little take-away pizzeria close to the Colosseum called Il Gladiatorino. I generally hate fast food, and much prefer slow food. Only when I get lost somewhere, have little money and am close to a McDonald’s, I enter it, reluctantly.
10. Future child’s name?
No child foreseen in the future.
11. Finish this statement. “If I had lot of money I’d….?
… spend my time travelling all over the world.
12. Do you sleep with a stuffed animal?
No, never did lol.
13. Storms – cool or scary?
Cool. My computer wall paper has a wide corn field with green grass in the distance and an angry stormy sky on top. We don’t have so many storms in Rome, so I imagine they are exotic to me.
14. Favorite drink?
Hot chocolate with foam that can keep your spoon standing still.
15. Finish this statement, “If I had the time I would….”?
… totally dedicate myself to writing, reading, music, travelling.
16. Do you eat the stems on broccoli?
Not crazy about Broccoli.
17. If you could dye your hair any color, what would be your choice?
I cannot think of it. I would never dye my hair.
18. Name all the different cities/towns you’ve lived in?
Let me copy Poonam’s answer: “I would not prefer to write my living history here.”
19. Favorite sports to watch?
I guess soccer is kind of one.
20. One nice thing about the person who sent this to you?
Poonam, such a nice Indian girl, with a depth of her own and charm also from being a bit closed-up. I really wish her all the best.
21. What’s under your bed?
A huge box containing all sorts of pastas. I call it my little treasure but it is also a constant reminder of my cooking hopelessness.
22. Would you like to be born as yourself again?
Let me copy Poonam again: “Yes. Only next time I would not repeat mistakes made in this lifetime. :).”
23. Morning person, or night owl?
24. Over easy, or sunny side up?
Do not quite understand, but I usually prefer sunny things.
25. Favorite place to relax?
In the sun, wherever I am, though possibly close to the sea. Alternatively, in front of my library.
26. Favorite pie? Käse Kuchen, a German cake with cheese and lemon. Awesome. Like most things German.
A note of support for what our Indian blog friends Amith, Poonam and others are doing against child sexual abuse, a tragedy occurring all over the world. Poonam has written several posts about this topic (here is one) observing that “writing about a issue is only the first step toward awareness. But acting on the solution is the most important next step.”
And Amith has in fact moved into action through this NGO, Elaan, and the Elaan blog. You can visit these places to show your support.
(The Elaan image – which I had to cut a bit – has been designed by Arkoprovo Mukherjee)