Sunday, May 25, 2008

Viva Italia!

Luke (thoroughly discombobulated): Whoa! Where am I? What happened?
TGX2000 Supercomputer (nervously): You have just reawoken from a 2-month pasta-induced comatose. You need to shave.
Luke (with a gusto of heroic virago): No time, TGX2000! If I've been in a coma, that means my blog has been left forgotten and forlorn! My people need me!
TGX2000 (cautiously): Sir, your O2 stats have dipped under 90 and your BP has skyrocketed like a rocket in the sky. You need to rest.
Luke (impatiently brusque): Enough with the poorly constructed metaphors, TGX! Your mechanical heart lacks the substratum of the human condition: feeling!
TGX2000 (under his breath): Your feelings will mean nothing when my my electromagnetic messages pierce the Taurus ring and reach my people in the T9 quadrant of my galaxy.
Your precious feelings will become acidic-based fuel for my poetically handicapped brain.
Luke: What was that, TGX?
TGX2000: Nothing, sir.

My people! I have returned! And with the marvelous tales from the recesses of my pasta-induced dreams! Oh! I will tell you of the marmalade forests and the make believe trees! And of the grumpy wombat in the cottage cheese cottage!

No, but seriously. I've been lazy for about an eon and half now, and I will now make more reparations than the white man. In what form you say? Why in digital sugar bites, of course! No, but seriously, sugar bites of anecdotal wisdom. Ah, you see, it's a metaphor.

I don't even know where to begin, much like dressing myself in the morning. Easter has come and gone, as have the station churches. My travels have come to a regrettable close and finals now loom over my head like a big looming thing. Worst of all, my flight home is June 24th, which now feels like a deadline.

Whether I'm ready to go home or not changes daily. I've gotten more out of Europe than I ever intended. I remember the months of anticipation and planning I naively spent preparing for Italy, and looking back, I never could have planned for this year. This rings true especially for Italy, because they treat organization like it's the plague. Every morning, I wake up with no idea what I'm going to do that day, but it always becomes an incredible day. Whether I find myself 10 feet from the Pope at a personal concert put on by the Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra or meeting someone randomly and deciding 10 minutes later that we're gonna go boarding in the Alps, it has been an incredible trip. A lot of people struggle with this country because of its disorganization and inefficiency, but those are the people that need to have their hands in everything. Once you relax and allow Italy to plan your days for you, you realize why it's been around for 2700 years. The pasta, the wine, the gelato, the people, everything in this country is so rich. You can see it in the 75 year old cantankerous grandmothers walking around in hair curlers at 10am. Or in the gawking tourists that stand starstruck on the corner of the street as they see you part the Italian traffic like Moses and the Red Sea. Or in the fact that I've never once been brought my check before asking for it. Or in the well-to-do Italian businessmen clutching their phone between their shoulder and their ear, because they absolutely need both hands to express their point.

Many complain that Italy is fading from significance in the modern world. Their economy is falling behind, there aren't many jobs, and the previous government only passed one law, and that was a pay raise. Italian progressives complain that Italy will never change, because the people don't have impetus to reinvent themselves. I look at it much differently though. The Italians are clinging to the last vestigial shreds of pre-globalization culture. With the immense amount of globalization, cultures are no longer tangential, they have infiltrated each other. While this is not a bad thing in its own rite, it sacrifices the real flavor of the culture. As countries begin to follow America's economic blueprint, the polarization of cultures will slowly melt into one proximate homogeneity. America is the poster child for this revolution. What great art forms can we lay claim to? One could make an argument for jazz and country music, but these hardly compare to the Italian renaissance, Irish music and dancing or French literature and poetry. Where does the heart of our culture reside? The heart of our culture resides in the dilution of the heart of every other culture. We have no real cultural dishes of our own, but you can find a weakened recreation of sweet and sour chicken, Italian carbonara or Mexican tortillas anywhere.

There is certainly benefits to an amalgamated culture, namely, cultural homogeneity. Nowhere else in the world can you find so many cultures existing peacefully side by side than in America. Unfortunately though, each of those cultures has to sacrifice an integral part of their culture in order to cooperate with the whole: the idea that their culture is their own. Say what you will about the peaceful coexistence of cultures in America, but Mexicans are not proud of their Mexican-American culture, but their Mexican culture. Italians are proud of their Italian culture, not their Italian-American culture. Italy alone has more strong cultures than all of America. Rome hates Milan, Milan hates Florence, Florence hates Siena, the South hates the North - cultures are radically different every 50 km. In America, we've sacrificed cultural identity for security and diluted uniformity.

Italy may never achieve a modern significance the way France, Germany or Britain has, but they'll always retain what makes them Italy. Italians are the only people more proud of their country than Americans (and maybe France), and I think there is a direct correlation between their strong culture and their pride. Progressives may say that Italy will never change, but I'm all right with that.

When I begin writing this, I didn't intend to bash America, it just developed that way. Let it be known though that I wouldn't trade my passport for anything, and I think the moral future of the globe lies in America's hands.

I have more updates about my travels, but right now I have to head to church. There's a gorgeous Byzantine rite mass near me with lots of incense, processions and song. It's gorgeous. I must be off! I promise to update soon! I still have tales of Aviano, Scotland, Ireland and the 2 weeks Italy will never forget.


Anonymous said...

down on America much?

Ukelo Lsono said...

Haha, no not really. Call it patriotic criticism.

Anonymous said...

Could have fooled me...

Joannie said...

I'm afraid I really have to disagree about America. You simply can't compare a 230-year-old country with a culture that's been around for 2+ millennia. Call it innocence vs. experience. You're choosing experience?

I agree that European culture has something America will never have. A willingness to slow down. Be impractically passionate. To value art and beauty above business. To play your cello in the piazza and watch the children chase the pigeons.

But America actually does have unique art forms - perhaps you just don't value them as highly. They are jazz, the skyscraper, and (i forget the third). Jazz is a complete synthesis of African and American, soulful and syncopated. The skyscraper is a metaphor for everything this adolescent country aspires to be - hopeful, optimistic, reaching for new heights.

And what about rap?

I'll be the first to admit that America's youthful idealism means it takes itself too seriously, is myopic and too often self centered.

But where else can you get such amazing energy and blend of cultures into something totally new? Have you ever had a Walleye taco? What about a reuben burrito? I'm serious. The sky's the limit, at least in theory.

Joannie Watson said...

Luke, this is really random, but I just found your blog by accident in a Google search for something completely different. Wow, it was crazy to realize it was you! The internet IS a small world...
You might not even remember me-- I was at the Ang with the group from Franciscan, with Alice, Katy, Carolina, Stephen, Joel and Sefanit.

I wanted to let you know that everything about this post is so right-on ... I was laughing out loud to your observations about Italian businessmen on their cellphones and smiling with fondness at the mention of the Chinese Philharmonic concert.

There's nothing like Italy, and I miss it daily. I think your observations about culture and globalization are insightful and true. Thanks for putting them into words and expressing what so many students experience when we study over there!

(I admit I was startled to read the last comment-- not necessarily because she disagreed with you, even, but because she spells her name the same way I do. I've only seen Joannie with two n's one other time in my life.)

Hope all is well.