giovedì 25 novembre 2010

l'arte di arrangiarsi

The occupation has ended, with a whimper. Classes began again today as everyone had expected, the desks had been put back in their rightful places, the signs removed from the windows. I came into my fifth year class and asked, "Soooo, what have you guys been up to?" The answers included: staying at home to play video games, playing poker, and attending the assemblies organized by the students.

The assemblies included a meeting with some of the immigrants who had been occupying an old factory smokestack near my home to protest the new curfew in their neighborhood, a rapper who found solace in music during his time in prison, and a scholar of the Piazza Fontana bombing. An assortment of political causes, insomma. Then this morning, instead of having classes for the fourth and fifth hour as usual, the students held an assembly for the whole school outside on the basketball court and requested that the teachers join them.

I went with Giovanna, my teacher, and watched as an intrepid group of students with a microphone implored their peers to come up and share their thoughts about the occupation, about the reform, or about politics in general, with no success. The teachers who had braved the cold stood on the edges, a few smoking, while the others watched from inside or waited it out in the teachers' lounge. The kids sat in a big ring around the basketball court, talking to each other in lowered voices, staring back at their friends with the mic, but no one wanted to come and share their views. Those who actually had articulated thoughts maybe were too shy. They are teenagers, after all. Giovanna and I had a giggle, thinking that now these kids were experiencing a little bit of what we deal with every day: the difficulty of making adolescents talk.

As they repeatedly lectured the others about standing up for their rights and how they should be ashamed that they wouldn't speak, Giovanna and I began to talk about Italy in general. She said that the students were protesting (in part at least) the debt owed to the school, but the truth is, there just isn't any money. People do work all the time, she said, that simply isn't paid. There's no money. Berlusconi pushes private schools to funnel money towards the church and private enterprise. Only immigrants are willing to pay taxes. There's corruption everywhere. And people just won't speak up. She said Italy has always possessed l'arte di arrangiarsi, the ability to worm out of even the most dire problems, but maybe it is getting too bad. Maybe Italy is losing its art.

She said that she thought the families would always be what holds Italy together, what gives it the ability to adjust. She looked around at the teenagers before us and said that the situation is bad, people don't have work, so they depend on their parents. And their parents, with their pensions and what little extra money they might have, support them, shelter them.

We spoke about immigrants, the school system, and politics, both in the United States and Italy. Giovanna said that she, ormai, has become a bit of a pessimist about the way the world is going.

We ended up going inside because Giovanna was beginning to feel the cold. I came back down to hear the last bit of the assembly, but it didn't seem like they had made much progress in cajoling their fellows to speak. A pair of my students came up to me to ask me what I thought as a foreigner. I told them that they had great power, being able to shut down a school even for three days is impressive, but they needed to organize and get productive, don't waste those precious days.

But what do I know? My only act of rebellion in high school was dying my hair blue.

martedì 23 novembre 2010

volantino dell'occupazione

This is a volantino that I found in the school yesterday that explains some of the reasons for the occupation. It says:

As everyone knows the school reform is causing enormous difficulties for Italian schools...
Specifically in our school:
Halving of the funds for projects like theater, photography, dance, and school newspaper that now have to pay for themselves to prevent their extinction
170,000 euros owed by the government to the school Cremona-Zappa
Financial problems that lead to the cancellation of school trips (over 2 days long) and remedial courses
No funds to repair laboratory equipment
No money to buy and maintain photocopiers, to which every student has the right.

These are just some of the problems that our school has and they will continue to grow if we don't make our voices heard...NOW!!

skuola okkupata!

The students have taken over my school!

I received a message from my tutor, Giovanna, yesterday saying oggi i ragazzi sono in autogestione quindi non venire per il first, today the kids are self-teaching so don't come for class. Autogestione, like last year? I thought. Don't you guys plan these things ahead of time?

I came to school anyway because I needed to pick up and photocopy a few things. I left my bike at Cremona, noting the large number of bicycles out front and thinking, Weird, people saw a glimpse of blue sky and decided to ride to school? I went first to Zappa, the school next door, and so didn't notice anything else strange.

Returning back to Cremona via the basketball courts, I saw a lot of students in giro, heading towards the gym where I could hear whistles and yelling. Weird for them to have a game during school, I thought. I came in the back door and up the steps to find backpacks strewn all over the floor, the stairwell barricaded with desks, and a group of my students from last year milling around. "Grande Rachel! Sei venuta!" said a boy who had wanted me to friend him on Facebook. "Scuola occupata!"

The school is occupied! So no, not autogestione. More like coup d'etat. I went to the teachers' lounge and found all of my colleagues huddled in the overheated room, snarking about the fact that they were there and if the students wanted to have lessons they could. I found Giovanna, surprised that I had come, and she explained the situation a little bit more...

La Signora Chiara (the head custodian) had found many windows open afterschool on Saturday, but she and the other custodians closed them all. Still, apparently the kids arrived super early on Monday morning and, without open windows, convinced the doorman to give them the keys (still not clear on how this worked). They blockaded the school until 8 am, when all the professors showed up, but the vice-principal convinced them to let the professors in. So they entered, lessons were technically held, but no one came. So the profs all crowded into the teachers' lounge to look over their ledgers and grumble.

They are protesting la riforma and its subsequent budget cuts to school programs. Signs up around the school say that politics have become personal vendettas and power plays, and someone had scattered fliers making the students' case.

Giovanna said that the students and the vice principal had decided the occupation would last until Wednesday, but by that time, she said, most of the kids will probably be sleeping in rather than linking arms in front of the doors. She said she hoped they did something productive with their time off, occupations had become fashionable, they just weren't like they used to be. I kept hearing that from the teachers: it wasn't the same as it used to be back in 1968, that's when occupations meant something.

They asked me if these sorts of things happened in the U.S. Maybe in the 1960s, I replied, but nowadays I don't think we realize it's possible.

This morning I overslept my alarm by almost an hour, leapt out of bed, jumped into my clothes, and raced to the school. I was worried that with letting the professors in on Monday and negotiating an end to the occupation for Wednesday I would still be responsible for my 8 am lesson. I was relieved when I saw the huge group of students outside the school. A couple of my 2nd year students from last year were blocking the gate, but I said, "Good morning sunshines!" and passed through them. "Ciao Rachel," they replied, smiling, even as one girl said, "Ma non dobbiamo fare entrare nessuno!" We're not supposed to let anyone in!

Looking up to see the front doors completely blocked by desks and inside no one but students, I realized that maybe things had escalated. Another prof was trying to get past the first guards, so I returned to hear what they were saying. Basically, the girl explained, no teachers were allowed inside, but if we wanted to go around back we probably could get in if we really insisted. The other prof decided no, I decided yes, I was curious. So I locked up my bike and went around back, where I was greeted with more of my second years, including the ringleader, a girl with a partially shaved head named M.

They smiled at me and said "Ciao Rachel!" but M said, "Non puoi entrare." You can't go in. I wasn't going to insist but I asked them how occupations worked, this being my first. M explained in Italian that they had let professors in yesterday and they had held some assemblies but today no, today began the real occupation. They had slept there overnight, I heard one boy say that he had stood guard outside from 11 pm to 5 am. M continued that the principal and the vice principal were going to call the police but what could they do? "Siamo 500 cristiani qui dentro." There are 500 Christians inside. One boy said, "Io non sono cristiano." I'm not Christian! and she replied, "Vabbè, per dire." It's a figure of speech.

So I bid them good luck and turned on my heels, saying hi to the kids that were arriving. I unlocked my bike and went home.

My thoughts later on...I think this entry is long enough.

venerdì 19 novembre 2010

super 8 film festival

Last weekend under the infinite rain cloud of fall, we discovered Milan's International Super8 Film Festival, which relieved our need to be outside of the house but protected from the downpour. It was held in a little musty theater next to a church, filled with a few damp enthusiasts and a few professionals, some of them sort of famous. Outside under the shelter was a little mercatino where you could buy your very own Super8 camera and projector. Being a little fascinated by old machines that make good noises, I was tempted, but my almost total lack of knowledge held me back.

During the question and answer sessions with a couple directors, one of a much lauded music video for Baustelle and the other of a short film with the Italian actor Sergio Castellito, the problems plaguing Italy kept resurfacing. I think it's a favorite topic of intellectuals here, and why not? They brought up the difficulty of seeing a movie in its original language, everything is dubbed, there's very little funding for independent projects, a mafia of cinema that determines what is appropriate for the public...When asked what advice he had for an aspiring filmmaker, one director replied, "Di andarsene via da qui appena possibile." To get out of this place as soon as possibile.

My favorite short was a Colombian film called "La Fabula del Negro Bautista" but being beautiful no one put it on youtube. So enjoy some of the other super8 films from the festival and contemplate stagnation.

The famous music video for Baustelle's "Piangi Roma"

Music video by Blackie and the Oohoos, a Belgian band

Blackie & the Oohoos - Love Boy from robin vandenbergh on Vimeo.

"The Birthday Cat"by Freya Elliot from the UK, I think

giovedì 18 novembre 2010

speaking of machismo...

Berlusconi may really be in trouble this time. His scandals are piling up and (more surprisingly) seeming to stick, his supporters are slipping away from him, and a vote of confidence in December could cause his government to fall (chaos! exciting!). A New York Times article sums it up nicely for Anglophones.

In the meantime, videos on YouTube have popped up calling on Berlusconi to dimettersi or resign. Some have taken it to the movie trailer territory:

We'll have to wait until December to find out what happens. The slippery signore may scivolare his way out of this one too.

martedì 16 novembre 2010

machismo and the Italian high school student

Last week, in one of my fifth year classes at the technical institute, I presented an article about machismo in southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Greece, and to a lesser extent Portugal) and its ill-effects. The article basically argued that southern Europe's economic woes--such as lagging productivity, enormous debt, an aging population and low birthrate, and a shrinking workforce--could be helped by courting women into the labor market. (In Italy the employment gap between the genders is 22%).

I picked this article because I wanted to start some debate about women's rights and childcare. The article ended up being very difficult for them (gah why you so erudite NYTimes?) and so we didn't get to discuss the issue as much as I had hoped. So I assigned them some homework, a couple of comprehension questions and then an opinion question: What do you think about women working?

Most of the answers were almost identical, little robot responses that said women working is a good thing for the economy. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy the robots are leaning towards feminism. But my favorite response was this one, from a boy R:

"In the workplace I think that women should be treated like men and have the same rights because they work as hard as men.
I'd prefer that my wife, Valentina (his unmarried deskmate), stays at home to look after the children and I would work harder to sustain my family.
Perhaps it is machismo!"

lunedì 15 novembre 2010

a moment

Photo by Guelfo Ajello
Last night we cut through Parco Sempione on our bikes. It wasn't yet 8 but it seemed later, daylights' savings always takes some adjusting for me, the sun was long gone and the nebbia had begun to creep between the trees. The gates of the park are open until 9 but no one ever seems to go in after it gets dark, only a couple of people walking their dogs. We rode down the white muddy path under the dim lights and between the trees and heard music, a saxophone. A lone man was playing jazz beneath the loggia of the old arena, without a hat on the ground and no one to hear him but us. Sad jazz that echoed and ribombava under the Napoleonic arches. I felt I could have been anywhere. He didn't acknowledge us and we passed him by, I never know when to stop, but his music followed us all the way out the gate into the street.

martedì 2 novembre 2010

Rocco e i suoi fratelli

It's the last day of All Saints vacation weekend, it's raining, and the only food I have in the house is food that needs something else to be not gross (like rye crisps). So of course I'm delaying my inevitable drenched venture to Esselunga by staying in my warm room and writing in here.

Last week, F and I went to Gnomo, Milan's community art cinema, to see Rocco e i suoi fratelli, a 1960 film by the great Luchino Visconti. Actually we thought we were seeing Napoleotani a Milano and we didn't figure out we had mixed up the days until a Corriere della Sera movie critic came out and started talking about scenes of violence and prostitutes and false moralism. I was a little bummed that we had traded a fishes-out-of-water comedy for a three-hour melodramatic opera, but I soon got over it watching the film.

This movie has traumatized me a bit, I keep thinking about it. I enjoyed seeing old Milano, the train station, the Navigli before there were so many cars to foul things up, and watching a portrayal of the southern Italian immigrant experience. The brothers together with their mother were fascinating, and Rocco, the saintly brother, was beautiful and frustrating. Nadia was a unexpected force, and I can't help but think that her fate was unfair. The 1960s scenes of violence affected me greatly, me the jaded millenial, and I've been thinking about them a great deal.

Anyways, if one has 180 minutes to spare, I would recommend this one, if only to get you thinking about a movie for more than five minutes.