Goat

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

This summer I decided to join a couple of friends for an alternative holiday. At the end of my last semester, I was very stressed by the university and I asked S to participate to whatever journey she was planning with S, without even knowing what it was about. It turned out to be a trip on the road, the so-called “Francesco’s way”.

The Francesco’s way is a long walk in central Italy, following the steps of Saint Francis, the famous founder of the Mendicant Order of the Franciscans, as he moved from town to town, spreading his teachings of poverty and the love for nature. We changed our train in Rome, heading to Rieti, where we started our adventure.

From the beginning, my two girls realized how hard it was to move on the Appennines, but I was trained on the Alps. Apart from the burning sun of late august, I found the trip lovely and the landscapes breathtaking. Getting lost on the mountains of the northern border of Lazio was exciting for me, less for S and S. However, by the time we reached the lake of Piediluco, we all had time for deserved relief.

The day after, we learned the story of the “Marmore waterfalls” and of how in ancient times, the Romans were used to regulate their stream and eventually flood the populations in the valleys below, before conquering them in later times.

We moved on, walking along the Nerina Valley, called after the river Nera, through the lands that were once covered by the waters. You still can see the myriad of lake-fortresses, roosted on high rocks in the dry land of today, inhabited by few old people, fewer tourists and many cats.

By the time we had to cross more mountains to get to Spoleto, my friends decided to take a bus, whereas I continued on foot. The path was challenging and I enjoyed it a lot, especially when I had a short break in the ghost town of Sensati, hidden in the mountain forest, or later, when I walked through the sacred wood of Monteluco.

Finally, the gigantic Roman bridge of Spoleto was ready for me to be crossed, but it had been very unfortunately closed due to investigations after the last Italian earthquakes. Even more unfortunately, I had no time to walk around the whole valley and climb the mountains on the other side. So, with a little prayer on my elbows under the fences, I found myself suddenly and surprisingly in Spoleto.

The journey proceeded quietly the next day to Poreta, where we had dinner and slept in the town’s castle, under a red moonlight. We woke up early, departing from our beloved waiter Alessandro, who should be listed in the highlights of the region Umbria for how a masterpiece of Italian culture he represents.

S had a hard time walking through the olive groves that day. I even offered my help to carry her rucksack for a short stretch. She refused and carried on, filling me with admiration.

We continued our journey in the Umbrian countryside, which is a georgic dream come true, full of interesting places enriched by nature, art and architecture.

The final stage went from Spello to Assisi and we got separated again: the girls would have walked the low path in the valley; I would have taken the middle one across the woods of the mountains. The receptionist of our hotel warned us one last time against the summer heat and told me in particular to watch out for “beasts”. “You have to be a goat to climb those mountains” she told me, even if I reassured her that I wasn’t going to take the highest path.

Carefully observing the guide, after a couple of hours of marching, I found myself back at the starting point. I was also a little annoyed by the labyrinth of tracked paths on the mountains before Assisi. I took my decision: “Goats gotta be goats, I’ll climb to the top and get things straight”. So I did, and the view from the bald edge of the mount was spectacular. From that height, you could neatly distinguish all the houses, churches and bastions of Assisi, like a Medieval cartographer.

I got a little emotional as I reached my destination and I even found an Austrian biker studying in Vienna, with whom I had a talk about the respective journeys. Europe is becoming more and more manageable, my princess. You are in the vast world I can’t wait to explore.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

 

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Tolerance

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

You have probably heard of last week-end’s white supremacists rally in Charlottesville (Virginia). When it comes to such shameful events, especially regarding the US, I’m known to always condemn liberal individualism as one of the main sources of such modern evils. I am like that conceited aunt everyone is annoyed of, the one you guard yourself from inviting at your party because she will always start a never-ending monologue about the disgrace of her century and make all other guests flee as soon as possible with the excuse that their cat suffers from short-term nostalgia.

This time, I’ll try to suppress the inner aunt I usually carry within myself by avoiding my focus on individualism. Instead, I would like to talk about a very common reaction of the “good, liberal world” to happenings like those of Charlottesville, which are way broader and concern indeed most liberal and democratic countries on this planet, politics, as well as religion and many aspects of social life.

“Let’s be honest, they need to leave America, because they are not Americans” was the comment of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (CNN). What does it mean that white supremacists are not Americans? What does it mean that “Italians are not racists”, when other Italians are found guilty of refusing to employ people, explicitly depending on the color of their skin? What does nobel price winner Malala Yousafzai mean, when she said few months earlier, in front of the Canadian Parliament, “I am a Muslim and I believe that when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim anymore”?

We are trying to defend our communities. We say that evil doesn’t belong to our family. We say that cruelty, hate and violence are not part of what we consider our culture. Don’t we feel any dissonance between these words and what we observe? Don’t we find disappointingly unsatisfactory that many atheists blame religion for most evils in this world, as if without religion the world could suddenly turn into a better place? Aren’t these answers all easy, comfortable forms of escapism?

Isn’t it more terribly true that white supremacists ALSO belong to the US? Isn’t it more uncomfortably true that racism is ALSO part of the Italian culture? Isn’t it more provocantly true that violence ALSO belongs to certain (truly) religious people? Isn’t it more sadly true that bigotry, ignorance and blind faith can be ALSO found among the most strenuous atheists?

Yes, yes, yes, yes. I find no other way to answer to these questions.
The first step to challenge nazism, racism, fundamentalism and bigotry is to aknowledge that they are part of our own communities. We can’t misrecognize a rotten part of society as belonging to our social group or the socio-cultural phenomenon we participate to, just because we loathe what those people believe and do. It is an unforgivable mistake to say “they don’t belong to us”, because they actually respond to the criteria of being Americans, Italians, Muslims and atheists.

As I have been stressing elsewhere, all these large social groups can’t grant morality per se. In order to be moral, a person MUST be moral. It is not enough to say that one belongs to a certain social group.

Even if I would be in the need of summoning my inner aunt to say a little more on what I think is the cause of such liberal responses to nowaday’s evil, I can at least attempt to indicate the direction of a way out of the “tolerance paradox”, namely that a tolerant society can’t tolerate intollerance. As far as I can see, if we take tolerance to be based on relativism, i.e. every opinion has value only relatively to a certain context, we will fall eventually in the paradox and we will be left with the even more paradoxical solution that “they don’t belong to us”.

On the other hand, if our tolerance is based on social principles of morality, freedom and democracy, which are kept as general as possible by constant intercultural dialogue, we obtain criteria to fight every single white supremacists rally, racism, fundamentalism and bigotry. Those criteria justify opposition to anti-demoratic and anti-libertarian opinions, even if they come from within our own communities. Even if they come from within ourselves.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

 

Reading

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

It is especially in these times, the era of mass media influence and orientation of public opinion, of fake news and “alternative facts”, that healthy information should be sought and valued the most. The hard question concerns more precisely, how to find sources we can hold as reliable. As a matter of fact, conspiracy theories abound to the extent that it has become difficult to distinguish between truth and falsity.

I consider retreat into skepticism a dangerous path to undertake, for it leads to estrangement from reality and it reduces us to passive observers. To my understanding, it is always better to consciously hold a faulty position, being aware of its narrowness and ready to change our mind in case of a better alternative, rather than not to hold any position at all for fear of falling into theoretical fallacies.

It sounds like as if I am suggesting to strive for critical open-mindedness. But this is to add nothing to our starting dilemma. Open-mindedness can be considered the purpose, but a good solution relies mostly in the means to follow a chosen direction, and in the clarification of the aim itself.

Good readings, journeys and sociability are often said to be sources of open-mindedness. In this letter, I will focus on reading, because I take it to be the most widely available means of the three – sociability depends too much on one’s subjective character and travelling is not always affordable.

First of all, we need to understand the relevant meaning of “good” when talking about readings, which are supposed to open our minds. A lot of people say proudly how “good readers” they are because they devour plenty of novels about kings, dragons, vampires, witches, romance and so on. Indeed, there are many excellent books and short stories about such themes, but they will hardly be of help in our quest for open-mindedness.

I don’t mean that good readings should necessarily be boring essays or highly complicated articles about the Stock market. Good readings in the sense I am talking about could be even fictional books, but grounded on facts or on solid arguments.

Apart from obvious exceptions, most literary genres are good to enhance our ability of freely thinking, but not all books and articles of each genre will do the work. Some books are good to enhance our literary and esthetic sensitivity, to reinforce our imagination and creativity. But it is important to remember that we read them in order to entertain ourselves or to be inspired. When our aim is to become more open-minded, we need to select accurately what we read.

A good strategy would be to start asking ourselves “what do I want from this article-book-essay-story? Am I just relaxing and in the need of escapism? Or do I want to know something about the world? Something factual or a well-grounded opinion? New ideas or a good interpretation of others?”

Wondering what we are looking for in a text before or while reading it, is the most fundamental step to “good reading”, because our degree of attention varies from time to time, our interests may induce us to focus on some topics and neglect others and we may be differently skilled in judging different kinds of opinions. The inquiry in ourselves is an often underrated part of the reading process, but the most fundamental, for it rules out the possibility of being easily influenced by poor and uncritical ideas.

The second question we shall ask ourselves, in my opinion, is “what does the author want to tell me?” and figure out if our expectations on the writing reflect the author’s intentions. A follow up question would be to know who the author is and if she has any sort of authority about the things she says. Is he an expert of geopolitics? Is she an affirmed novelist? Or a journalist who’s been on the field she is talking about? Is he a boy writing nostalgic letters to his beloved princess?

Of course, the good fame and authority of a writer won’t always grant objectivity, but they will surely help us to contextualise and better understand our relation to the object addressed. Most importantly, if we are striving for critical open-mindedness, we need to be aware that it has very little to do with relativism about opinions. We shall never forget our objective, which is to become better informed subjects, and not subjects holding whatever opinion with the excuse that truthfulness can’t be achieved. That would be even worse than complete skepticism, for it may allow the spreading of absurd, anti-scientific or even discriminatory ideas.

“Few books, but good” is a famous idea attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca. I think we could now interpret it in the conceptual framework I’ve been now sketching: it doesn’t matter how much you read, insofar as you are aware of the author’s intentions and expertise, but mostly of what you are looking for in the first place.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Veggie

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Conservativism backlashes the most when a progressive practice threatens to become mainstream. It happens in politics, philosophy, fashion, art and many other social environments. However, I have very seldom seen a conservative reaction as argumentatively stupid and uselessly brute as the one against vegetarianism and veganism.

We are not in Kindergarten anymore and we can’t dig our heads in the sand to avoid facing our toxic (even if comfortable) eating habits. I am saying “toxic” in a metaphorical sense because, independently of possibly being unhealthy, our eating habits are surely ethically questionable.

First of all, eating meat means taking the responsibility of the death of animals for the satisfaction of our palate. To my understanding, that is already a strong enough reason to start doubting that there’s nothing wrong in the way we eat. But there will always be those Einsteins telling that they don’t care because they just “like eating”. No, girl, it is not that you don’t care. You don’t understand, and that makes a huge difference! Do you understand that you value the life of a sentient being, like a chicken or a pig, less than the satisfaction of eating something you could easily avoid without even missing anything in terms of pleasure? It is not that “you just like eating” it is that you are a damn egoist, and a pretty pig-headed one!

The value of sentient life doesn’t convince? Why not talk about the sufferings inflicted on animals for the mass production of eggs, milk and meat? Not to talk about crisis of overproduction, with the consequent mass suppression of animals in order to follow the demands of the market. But I am being too emotional and empathetic, am I not? Yes, because the convinced carnivores are proud of cherishing at the thought of unnecessary pain inflicted for their pleasure’s sake. So many hedonists out there! But very poor hedonists indeed, who struggle to defend what they are accustomed to, more than to actually explore more sustainable and equally enjoyable eating habits.

Are sufferings and utilitarian ethics overrated and not your thing? There is the environmental issue. The breeding industry has one of the greatest impacts on global warming, pollution and exploitation of natural resources. And here they come, the champions of the new Marxism-to-go, with their motto “no ethical consumption under capitalism”. These hipsters of philosophy are telling us that even the cultivation of cereals and other non-animal products is highly harmful for the environment. And, in the capitalistic machine, everything you buy and consume is the result of exploitation. So far so good. Conclusion: you are allowed to eat whatever you like and just don’t care.

Now wait! I was following you, I was enthusiastic of your argument (Marxist references can do no harm, after all) but then, you threw everything in the trash can with the garbage you hold as a logical conclusion. It is like saying that, “since smoking is bad for my lungs but air pollution could be even worse, I can smoke as much as I want”. Kindergarten! Of course capitalistic exploitation – which is often indistinguishable from capitalism itself, is one of the greatest issues in our modern world, but you won’t defeat it with a dumb slogan!

Buying fair trade products is a great idea, just like spreading the practice of eating local and home-grown biological food, not to mention funding and supporting NGOs fighting for sustainability. But only if you hold your mouth shut when it comes to poor vegetarians and vegans, who are just trying to do their best to help.

My beautiful Princess, I am sorry if I have been so harsh this time, but I badly needed to pour out a little, because certain argumentative catastrophes make me sick. I really don’t care if anyone eats meat, goes to McDonalds, is vegan, vegetarian, a saint, the pope or his horned companion. All I care for, is that certain people start thinking and do not blindly follow simplistic mottos, or bury themselves in their bigoted comfort.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Sea

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

My trip to Düsseldorf has been terrible. I lost my camera – to be honest, it was my father’s old one, but still… and I realized I booked two non-refundable tickets for wrong destinations, and had to buy them again. The city was lovely, especially the astonishing contemporary architecture. None the less, that didn’t spare me a pseudo hysterical breakdown towards the end of the day, as I moved to Cologne with my friend M.

After landing, I had the time to stroll around in the city center on my own, because M’s train had almost one hour of delay. I went straight along Bismarck Straße, as suggested by my guide, until I eventually reached Cornelius Platz, the one with the Triton fountain. Malls and luxury boutiques everywhere. Beautiful. A little intimidating, perhaps, but still charming.

I walked in a circle, following the square’s borders, because the central part was cordoned off for work in progress. A particularly eye-catching building drove me to the north-eastern corner of the square. It was made of blocks giving the impression of sliding into one another, alternating glass and white vertical surfaces. A geometrical game of darkness and light. Art made to contain shops, banks and offices.

I took a step back to take a picture with the now-lost camera. Something was going on at the feet of the building. People where gathering around what looked like street art, a performance of some kind or an exhibition. I got closer. Several posters were lying on the ground, with windproof candles. Some churchy thing?

There was a vertical panel. And the story of the immigrants who die each day in the Mediterranean Sea written on it. The posters were photos of the gravestones in Sicily, where most corpses are buried. I kept walking. Slowly. Some of the tombs had only a date and the word “migrante” written on them. Others were reports of the way the dead bodies were found. I read a couple of them. The rescuers narrated the miserable conditions of the migrants’ journey, which found an end for many in the merciless sea.

It was the accuracy of the reports that struck me. Or maybe the brief and simple descriptions on other stones, something like “here rests a migrant, passed away in the search of a better life”. Why did the Sicilians bother so much to give recognition in death to those nameless outcasts? Why didn’t the rescuers write a book on the migrants’ tragedy, instead of writing on their gravestones?

Because each one of them is just like each one of us. They are poor and desperate, whereas we go to Düsseldorf, we enjoy shopping, we have “pseudo hysterical breakdowns” for cameras and wrong tickets. But, at the end of the day, they are no less human than us. They have been deprived of everything, even of their names. But Sicilians and rescuers remind us that we can’t look away. Those gravestones tell us we can’t.

We usually have in mind beaches, sand and games when thinking about the sea. But the sea is much larger. It is so vast that it can contain both our wealth and their misery, our happiness and their horror, our relax and their hopes. We are like the citizens of the Capitol in “The Hunger Games” saga, living on our pacific isle, where we get drunk to escape boredom. They are the rest of the world. We might think that they are exceptions, that most of the people on this planet live just like us. But that’s not true. And to convince ourselves, we reduce them to aseptic numbers. You can’t feel any empathy towards a number. You don’t apply moral principles to numbers.

I think that Suzanne Collins, the author of “The Hunger Games”, perfectly depicts our stupid blindness in the spoiled people of the Capitol. Stupidity doesn’t make them necessarily bad and, in the end, you feel pity and you are saddened when they start experiencing meaningless deaths on their part. You say to yourself: if only they had opened their eyes when it still made sense!

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Iridescent

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Chester Bennington, front man of Linkin Park, has left us. I would like to remember him for how much his music has meant to me during the hardest times of my growth. In the past, it seemed to me that Linkin Park were keeping track of my path, writing the right song at the right time to help me find comfort, inspiration and to just hold on.

I was in Dublin for a study trip when I first heard of Linkin Park. I was twelve and I got captured by their harsh sound emanating from a melodic core. Their music expressed sorrow, rage and violence, but you could sense a deeper, melancholic lullaby in each of their songs. The magic was made by Chester’s voice, for it was so authentic, that it sublimely cut through your chest, reaching your most inner struggles. His voice expressed vulnerability, sometimes with harshness, sometimes with sweetness, but always with the sensitivity able to heal your hatred and cure your open wounds.

I started like all preadolescents start: being a crazy fan. I was always engaging in discussions about whether the original “Numb” was better than the remixed version with Jay-Z, singing along the lyrics with classmates and producing indistinguishable sounds to follow the rapped part of “In the End”.

I’ve never understood completely the true meanings of Linkin Park’s songs, but I never bothered too much. All I needed was their music made of words, electronic sounds and pain.

I want to remember three songs in particular. I could have chosen my all-time favorite “Somewhere I belong” or  the most famous “In the End”, but I’ll go with three songs that are related to three very specific points in time of my life, when Chester’s voice helped me the most.

The first one is “Valentine’s day”. This song talks about death in a very poetic way, but also very straightforward. I started listening to it by chance, after I declared my love to a girl friend of mine when I was thirteen. It was around Valentine’s day, and it just matched perfectly. I showed my feelings and it hurt to be rejected. Nowadays I know that that was just an attempt to escape the most demanding questions about my homosexuality. “I used to be my own protection, but not now” was the most potent verse, and that became a mantra in the future for my self-acceptance.

Then, everything started falling apart. There was no place I could feel safe and I started hating. And as my hatred grew, I needed to express it. “I’ve lied to you / the same way that I always do / this is the last smile / that I’ll fake for the sake of being with you…” sound almost like prophetic words. It is the lyrics of “Pushing Me Away”, the song with which I screamed my pain in my darkest hours. The climax was reached with the chorus: “Why I never walked away?/ Why I played myself this way? / Now I see, your testing me, pushes me away”.

When I heard for the first time “Iridescent”, I was on a regional bus driving me away from my toxic hometown, back when I decided to live with my grandparents for a couple of months. I used to have a super tiny, stupid, orange mobile phone, which was almost useless except for its radio. It took me a second to recognize the iconic sound of Linkin Park. And Chester was telling me again my own story: “Do you feel cold and lost in desperation? / You build up hope, but failure’s all you’ve known / Remember all the sadness and frustration / And let it go / Let it go”.

Now, we really have to let him go. Chester Bennington has been called “the voice of a generation”. To me, his voice was a friend’s voice when I had none. He has helped many people like me and will continue to inspire new generations of artists. He will be missed.

Forever Yours,

‘Miasha

Toys

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

It is not without a little embarrassment that I will approach today’s topic, which is (drum roll…): masturbation! Yay!

There is a huge stigma on masturbation, which makes it a topic to be cautiously handled – if you know what I mean. I mean, seriously, one simply does not talk about masturbation. It is considered dirty and shameful, the favorite activity of losers. Well, guess what? There are way more losers out there than what one might expect, dear.

I suspect that this stigma comes from (surprise surprise) the Christian influence on our culture. After all, like most of the stigmas and taboos in the western world do.

Christianity has always seen sexuality as necessarily related to reproductive purposes. No wonder that mere “recreational” sexual practices have been historically abhorred. However, our societies have become much more liberal in recent decades, breaking down many taboos related to contraception, virginity and pre-marital sex.

But why does masturbation remain so obscure and “dangerous” to be talked about? If practiced in private and with healthy and careful procedures, what should be wrong about it? Why is the religious taboo still holding for masturbation and not for “collective” sexual activities?

My intuition is that we have never gotten completely rid of the stigma on sexuality itself. We think that sexuality must have to do with the exercise of sexual practices with someone else and that it should be, at its best, crowned by love, romantic feelings and the like. We think that “love is love” and that homosexuals should be granted the same rights as heterosexuals because love makes us equal.

But sexuality is something way more essential than “love”. It is deeply rooted in our biological constitution and it has primarily nothing to do with sexual intercourse. It is an essential part of what we individually are made of. It grounds most of our drives, independently of the way they can be satisfied, if at all.

Accepting our sexuality means in many cases accepting ourselves. You can’t love a person “no-matter-what-her-sexuality-is”. It matters a lot that you respect and accept that sexuality, no matter what your religious and cultural background is! No matter if there is love between two human beings, one hundred or just within a single individual. No matter if it is promiscuous, shy, dolt, original, awkward. No matter if it is sexuality or a-sexuality.

I think everyone would benefit from appraising the value of a life that is sexually fulfilling, independently of one’s relationships with other people. I am not just saying that masturbating is “alright”. I am indeed saying that masturbation should be cultivated! Masturbating without regrets makes you know your body and it is extremely helpful to get to enjoy sex together. I am strongly convinced that masturbating enhances also one’s creativity. For example, I will never see Nivea roll-on deodorants in the same light again…

Sex toys are the best to explore one’s sexuality. Not only for “solo-players” but also for couples, triplets and full-blown orgies! It must be however acknowledged that, contrarily to people, sex toys don’t complain, don’t stink, don’t judge and, on top of all, never disappoint.

I am joking – well… except for the last line, perhaps. At any rate, what I find important in this whole talk, is that we should strive for the self-confidence necessary to make us respect our individual sexualities, no matter if we have sexual partners or not.

Intersubjective relationships are still of extreme importance and sex makes some of them just funnier and more savory. But, as one very inspirational person is used to remind us, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha