When memories knock on the door

It has been a long time since I didn’t write something in my blog, and this evening is one of these evenings in which you look back, long the path you took and try to remember things, people, situations.
It was more than 10 years ago, oh my God… nobody told me that time would have run so fast… I was living one of the most remarkable period of my life, when I was student at the University of Bologna. I don’t have many pictures of this period, but I guess it’s normal, no smartphone, no camera, no selfie… and nevertheless my memories are quite clear, even if I don’t have facebook remembering me that.
My best friend Francesco was late with his studies, therefore for the Italian law (back at the time), he had to leave for military service or to choose civil service for some kind of associations. He was taken in an association assisting disabled people. In this way I got to know AIAS, a wonderful group which works to give a normal life to people affected by many different disabilities. They had a program of volunteering, for the free-time. It was simply based on this: if a person with a disability wants to go to an event, a concert, a sport match, whatever, you will be his/her assistant with a free entrance. You can imagine that, for a young student with no money, the opportunity to go for free to events and to do, at the same time, something good, it’s really attractive.
I had to pass an interview with the responsible for the free time. Alberto, the most improbable manager you could have imagined… earrings, unshaven, easy-going, but with the perfect knowledge and competences to handle this job. Alberto told me: “You know… many people start but they don’t find what they expect, or they simply don’t have the right character to handle certain situations. So, we always ask to the new volunteer two test evenings, in a center called Platani. You just have to help people to have dinner, give them food. It’s absolutely nothing difficult, but some people don’t continue after the experience.” I went in this center, and Alberto was right… it was one of the most touching experience of my life. Quite naively, I never had direct contact with disabilities or sufferance in general. The people there could not eat by themselves… they didn’t have the hands to do so… some of them could move only their head. Of course, my job was not strictly necessary, the center had quite high standard services, but it was a way to share a life moment, like dinner, with people from outside, chat a little bit. The first evening I didn’t speak too much. I admit the 20-years old boy was a bit shocked to feed other people like chicks… but the second evening, and the third were much better!
Alberto called me, asked me about my experience, if I would have liked to continue: “Yes, of course, I can continue, I like to come here, and it’s not a difficult job for me to feed people”. “No” said Alberto, “this was just a test, we need you to do different stuffs. For dinner, there are many old women volunteering. We need dynamic and young people for different activities… We want to give people the opportunity to live as much as possible a normal life, in any activity they want. Therefore, your behaviour doesn’t have to be the one of an old pitiful woman. You just have to be yourself, and be with them like you would be with any other person. They don’t look for pity, neither for the friend of their life, if you have to say f*ck yourself to someone, just do it.”

From that point on, I had a series of wonderful experiences, meeting amazing people. I can’t write everything here, but I want to share some of the most beautiful memories I have (all names will be invented):
– I remember when with a group of 10 people, we went to an attraction park called Mirabilandia, not far from Bologna. I was driving the small bus and in charge of Luca in wheel chair. We did all the attractions that were allowed also for disabled people and more… Luca was light and skinny, so for me was an easy job to just take him on my shoulders, when needed. At the end of the highest attraction Luca vomited… but he was totally happy.
– Bruno was an intellectual disable and didn’t speak too well, but he was the best mate you could ask for going to drink in a pub. He had a great quality. He was able to choose at a first glance the most beautiful girl of the bar and go directly to her to have a chat. I feel a bit guilty, I admit in this way I got many telephone numbers…
– Giulia and Giuseppe were a couple of people with Down Syndrome, they were dating… yes you understood well, they were dating! In the most innocent way you can imagine, and the cutest couple I ever seen. Giulia lived in an institute far from the city, and Giuseppe lived in the city centre with his family. I was the “chauffeaur” of that evening, just driving them until a kind of Village Fair and back home. I was almost invisible and really discreet, just enjoying the Fair as well.
– Filippo was a big fan of the local Basketball team “Fortitudo” and he didn’t want to miss a match. He had down syndrome, and he was really strong… really really strong… I had some difficulties to calm him down when getting too excited for the game, but hey… he was a real supporter! Never giving up, even when Fortitudo lost!
– I remember a couple of volunteers which organized their wedding in one of these centers. Old Granma’s and Grandpa’s volunteered to cook an amazing dinner, and me and other youngers were serving at the tables. It was an hard job, but was so fun!
I could continue for hours, with other funny stories, and people but this post is already getting so long, and many things I prefer to keep for me and enjoying the memory.
I started my PhD and I didn’t have too much time anymore (or at least, this is, what I tell myself), I left Italy, and I went to live abroad, where my language skills were surely a limit (or at least, this is what I tell myself), so I stopped my volunteer activity.
Ten years passed, and it’s perhaps time to don’t let this experience just a memory.


Il Museo delle Intenzioni

Ho trovato un interessantissimo canale su youtube sulla scrittura creativa di Rick Du Fer. Qui il link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrvYLh4iY3s&spfreload=1

E al suo primo esercizio, sulla creazione di personaggi concettuali, da lui proposti ho cercato di svolgere questa tensione narrativa. Vediamo un po’ come viene!

Notte fonda al Museo. Tutto sembrava avvolto da ovattati silenzi, ma due voci farfuglianti, provenienti dal settore storia antica, rompevano la quiete notturna.

“Ma si ti dico! Ai miei tempi era molto piu’ facile educare il popolo. Si prendevano le teste calde e le si portavano da me.  “SHISH”, un colpo secco e tutti erano contenti. Molto piu’ umano! Colpire pochi per educare molti, dico io. E poi… sapessi che teste di alto intelletto ho fatto cadere! Un lavoro d’altri tempi, chi-ru-r-gi-co!”

“Ma troppo lento, troppo lento, amico mio. Quanti anni ci sono voluti per restaurare la pace? L’ordine! In una sola notte, io consenti’ la fine di una guerra sanguinaria attraverso un’esplosione di pace! Certo… un prezzo alto da pagare in vite umane, ma cos’è la vita dei singoli se confrontata al benessere dei popoli?”

“Mio caro Ragazzino”, si aggiunse una terza voce gracchiante, “un conto è terminare una guerra, un conto è conservare la pace! Modestamente io mi ersi a difensore dell’ordine, separando un’intera città di litiganti, a destra e a sinistra, evitando lo…”

“Ehm, Ehm” , esordi schiarendosi la gola, una voce timida. Sembrava provenire da una stanza in fondo a destra, verso i servizi igienici. “Scusate lor signori, sapr..”

“ Chi osa interrompermi? Chi è là?”

“Ehm.. è difficile da spiegare in due parole, diciamo che io sono colui che è…”

“Che è chiuso in bagno dopo una cattiva digestione!!” proruppero in coro i tre, non trattenendo le lacrime dal ridere.

“Beh, si piu’ o meno” rispose imbarazzata la voce. “In realtà mi sono nascosto. Sapete… questo posto l’ho costruito io…”

“Complimenti, un’opera davvero ben riuscita! Rivoluzionaria!” disse la prima voce. “Esplosiva” aggiunse la seconda, “Statuaria” commento’ la terza.

“Grazie, grazie… troppo buoni. Come dicevo, mi nascosi qui per… per non interferire troppo con l’evoluzione della mia opera. Speravo che l’umanità imparasse ad amarsi… dite che posso uscire?…”

Et j’entends siffler le train

TreniTrains are windows where we can see running many different lives. You can decide to exclude yourself. Reading a journal, playing with your phone, hiding your eyes behind sunglasses. Don’t cross the glance of the others. But sometimes you can’t turn the head on the other side. Something inside refuse to think that’s normal.

Regional train between Ventimiglia and Nizza in a hot spring day of May. A train like many, with the characteristic smell of iron and piss. Crossing the border we arrive in Menton, first French city, in a borderless Europe. Police everywhere checking the train. They do their job you think, it will not take too long. They get nervous, they found something. No, they found someone. No they found many. People. Desperates. Emigrants. They were hiding in the interspace between two wagons, six of them. I could just see them from the back, head down, walking slowly.

The train move, next station: Montecarlo. In front of us a group of people, two men and two women. Beautiful, smiling, suntanned, fashion. They did shopping, they had bags of Gucci, Dior, Armani. It looked like an episode of “Sex & the City”, with the blonde woman around forty, crossing the legs and waving hair with studied movements.

You feel the contradiction and it hurts. You think that something is wrong. You feel hunger. Against Society? Governments? Emigrants? Police? Consumerism? And yet… it’s your turn, your station arrived, you go out of the train. The dirty glass of the train window reflected my face, the most hypocrite character of this situation: … the silent observer.

Ama et fac quod vis!

Et Voilà, the big step is done! In a beautiful afternoon of May, “Ibi et Post” get married.

In a society which seems to push us to worry for the future, career, job, money etc… I must admit, that this was the most spontaneous thing I have ever done. Like spontaneous and marvelous was the Yes of my wife when I proposed her.

It was difficult to organize, 4 different languages, different religions, different cultures, and… different chemistry topic! An organic chemist which married an inorganic one… seriously… There is no more common sense in this world.

However, despite any difference, we had a beautiful multilingual, ecumenical and multicultural ceremony! I will add that it was also a multidisciplinary wedding, because we had a Poster Session during cocktail!! I know… it can looks weird… but it wass really funny!

We will continue to live our lives following this path. Aware that despite any problem, difference or obstacle, after all, there is only Love which matters.

Leggere fra le righe

libri volantiEra tempo che non leggevo un libro fantasy. Da giovane ne ho letti talmente tanti, che ora quando leggo di un gruppo eterogeneo di umani, elfi e nani che improvvisamente si ritrovano a dover affrontare una qualche missione, mi viene di gettarlo alle ortiche (questa è più o meno la fine che con me hanno fatto i libri di Terry Brooks). Riuscire a trovare un libro fantasy davvero “originale” è molto difficile.
Questa volta invece, (complice il mio Amazon Kindle), sono andato oltre, ed ho scoperto una saga molto avvincente e davvero ben scritta. Sto parlando di “His Dark Materials” di Philip Pullman. Per capirci, dal primo libro è stato tratto il film “The Golden Compass“. Il film non da giustizia all’intera trilogia, e soprattutto non ne sviscera il significato. Non girarono poi il seguito poichè fu un flop negli Stati Uniti. Ma leggere la trilogia, specialmente in lingua originale è stata davvero una bella esperienza.
Nonostante la bellezza del romanzo in se, sentivo che qualcosa mancava… ed era la stessa sensazione che ebbi nel leggere “Le Cronache di Narnia” di C.S. Lewis.
Sono entrambi libri scritti a scopo “pedagogico”, vogliono entrambi insegnare qualcosa, sebbene di natura opposta…

Mi spiegherò meglio:
C.S. Lewis oltre che scrittore, accademico e sicuramente interessante personaggio (parte della sua vita è descritta nel film Viaggio in Inghilterra) fu anche un predicatore anglicano di spicco, e scrisse molti libri di teologia. Le cronache di Narnia sono intrise di simbologia e ideologia cristiana. La figura di Aslan il leone, corrisponderebbe al Cristo, che interviene in ogni momento critico, poco lasciando, a dir il vero, al libero arbitrio dei personaggi. Il mondo è diviso in buoni e cattivi, alcuni cattivi si pentono, e le storie mancano a volte di vera fantasia… perchè tutto ciò che non aveva molto senso in termini di oggettività nell’universo di quel romanzo, viene spiegato semplicemente con… “è magia!” (Questa critica gli fu più volte rivolta nel club Inklings, di cui fecero parte anche J.R.R. Tolkien e C.Williams). Si ha come l’impressione che a Lewis non interessi la storia in se, ma solo il messaggio!
La stessa impressione ho avuto nel leggere His Dark Materials, sebbene il punto di vista sia diverso, Philip Pullman è un ateo convinto, e i personaggi buoni della sua trilogia puntano non solo a scardinare il potere di tutte le chiese, ma ad uccidere Dio (o la creatura che si è resa tale nel romanzo). Dal punto di vista dell’oggettività del romanzo è ben articolato, si collega a teorie scientifiche della materia oscura, o come viene chiamata nel romanzo Dust. Ma sebbene più raffinato dal punto di vista della storia rispetto a Narnia (non certo dell’inglese… Pullman non può essere paragonato a Lewis, docente di letteratura inglese ad Oxford), l’intento pedagogico è evidente. Il mondo diviso nettamente in buoni e cattivi, solo che qui i cattivi sono gli altri.

L’intenzione per la quale si scrive un romanzo, da l’impronta, la propria anima a tutta la storia. Questi due romanzi sono pedagogici, ma non hanno (secondo me) avuto il merito di cambiare o formare le idee di nessuno, semplicemente quello di rafforzare le proprie opinioni, forse.

Quindi, mi sono ritrovato a pensare la stessa cosa che pensai all’età di 15 anni. C’è un solo capolavoro assoluto… e questo è “Il Signore degli Anelli“, che rimane l’insuperabile punto di arrivo a cui tutti i romanzi fantasy vorrebbero tendere.
Tolkien non scrisse con l’intento di redimere qualcuno, non è un romanzo pedagogico. E’ un romanzo estremamente umano! Ricco di passioni e contraddizioni, non ci sono solo nettamente buoni o cattivi, ma diverse tonalità di grigio. Il Male non è mai visibile, Sauron è un’entità oscura che nessuno ha mai visto ma che agisce nel nostro mondo. I personaggi sono deboli e profondamente umani nelle loro debolezze. Certo, in molti suoi punti si può scorgere la sua visione del mondo, la sua cristianità, (lui se ne accorse solo dopo la prima correzione) ma dopotutto questa è la calligrafia che uno scrittore lascia sul foglio, traspare, è la Realtà in trasparenza!
Ecco, l’intenzione con la quale Tolkien scrisse Il Signore degli Anelli è diversa da quella di Lewis e Pullman, Tolkien scrisse la sua prima storia (Lo Hobbit) per i propri figli… per raccontargli una storia. E dopo l’amore paterno, e arrivato l’amore per il suo lavoro, la filologia, la mitologia. Tutto ciò che scrive è scritto con disinteressato amore.
Questa è la base di un vero capolavoro!

Challenge accepted: Learning Lithuanian…

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_BabelI have been told once: “Sometimes, it’s best to shoot on sight and ask questions after.” In my Marie-Curie Project I wrote that I’ll spend 3 months in Lithuania, next year, to work on thermodynamics, a field in which I am totally an outsider. Still… I am quite confident that I will sort out something. On the other hand, I have much more doubts on the fact that I’ll ever be able to communicate in Lithuanian… not that I would really need for my job, but if I’ll stay there 3 months, I want fully immerse myself in this culture.

Sometimes ago, I heard about an italian guy opening a startup on a new-based system to learn languanges. If I well understood, it works predicting words you could already know, by similarity with your native language,  by particular interests you have, re-directing you on text, videos, articles, etc. already present in the net, at your specific level.

Bliu Bliu (that’s the name of the website), recently called for an Online challenge to learn Lithuanian in 30 days with their system. Now.. I am not so skilled in languages, and I have so much work to do this period… but they look very sure of their methods, and for me could be an interesting start for my future staying in Vilnius, whatever the result will be… therefore my dears:


Along Came Marie… Curie!

marie-curieOnce passed the barrier of discouragement that plague any researcher-aspirant-academic which risk to become, the most educated fries-fryer of Mc Donald’s Restaurants; it is possible to reach the Nirvana, the Hakuna Matata status.

You don’t feel anymore anxious about the future, because future will come anyway… and It doesn’t worry about you. I decided to be happy in any case, whatever will be the turn of my career.  I am the luckyest man on earth! I am healthy, I have a wife (very soon),  a family, friends, and the most beautiful fluffy Cat.  I am going to work every day  happy, as a non-permanent, without perspective, Post-doc, because curiosity is driven me. I know, it will perhaps come the day, I will have to do a job which I don’t like, but this is not a reason to don’t appreciate today’s life.

Applying for many jobs, I finally realized that the most important thing is to understand  if the values of the company, of the project, of the job profile you are interested in, are in line with yours. If not, it’s not a good deal.

After all, I believe in Progress, in a borderless Europe, in fundamental research. So, with this spirit, I decided to write a project Marie Curie! For non-specialist,  Marie Curie fellowships (in my case an Individual Fellowship, IF) are European actions which aim to promote innovation and research in different research fields. The IF support individual researchers at postdoctoral level and beyond to work on a research project of their own design. Mobility between countries is required in order to acquire new skills and experience, as well as to enhance the employability of the supported researcher in the future.

Write the project it’s honestly not easy, but it was exciting. You feel the idea inside growing. It might not work, it might be a failure, but there is no innovation without risk… and the first task is to convince other people, supervisors, collaborators, university administrations, that the idea is good. It’s worth a try. I had to contact experts in different topics saying “Good morning, you don’t know me (basically nobody knows me), but I have this idea, are you interested for a collaboration?” I was really lucky because I met open-minded and really helpful people, which took their time and listened me, giving me plenty of good suggestions.

It was a lot of work and I was aware that the success rate for Marie-Curie actions are pretty low, but I started to like so much the idea, that I considered participate already a success.

I got finally a positive answer, and soon I’ll start a new adventure. The adventure of an Italian, working between France and Lithuania, exploring the edge between synthetic organic chemistry, thermodynamics and biology. Marie Curie actions, however, are not only about research, as I committed myself to Science divulgation, to implement my transferable skills (management, communication, intellectual properties… and of course french language!).

Therefore, from now on, in my blog, I’ll keep in the category “Scientia“, all my impressions,  my progress and failures, during the next 2-years of this Marie Curie Action.

Did I already mention that I have the most beautifu fluffy Cat?

Intrum Justitia, credit recovery or professional extorsion?


intrum copy

Moving from a country to another brings always many problems, especially to a bureaucratic level. I am generally really careful with all my documents and I make sure that all my contracts and bills are regularly paied and closed. When I left Switzerland I closed my telephonic contract, and, as usual in this country, I gave to the company an official document of the canton which certified my new address.  I therefore quickly forgot all this story.

Ten Months later I received an intimidating letter, from an international credit-recovery company that I didn’t know, “Intrum Justitia“. They were  asking money for a generic service given by my former telephonic company, in the last ten months. I was, of course, quite surprised and worried by the fact that an anonymus and private company could ask money to private citizens threatening legal steps. To confirm that they were a real and serious company, after my questions, they sent me the link of their website….

After some mails we arrived to understand that my contract was indeed regurarly closed, but the last bill was not paied. This last bill was sent to my old address, (even though the telephonic company was regularly informed of my new address), therefore could never reach me. In the meaning time this bill increased considerably, and I got informed ten months later by Intrum Justitia, which also pretend to be paied of its service.

I answered that I agreed to pay my bill, but that I didn’t recognize the rest of the debt, and that I would  have not paied their not requested service. They sent me a letter intimidating me to pay in the next 5 days otherwise I would have had legal troubles. Because “it’s duty of the consumers to make sure to have paied all their bills”.

Indipendently of the specific case, what I found outrageous and at the limit of a criminal charge, it’s the request of money from a private, into a short given time, threatening legal actions. This is called EXTORSION.

I therefore decided to don’t answer anymore to Intrum Justitia, but to contact directly the telephonic company. I explained them the situation and I gave my availability to pay what I had to, refusing to pass through Intrum Justitia, which at this point I considered  untrustworthy.

I got a positive answer and I  paied only my bill. The debt was cancelled.

The moral of the story is:

-Always keep your documents well ordered

-Never pay anything without really understanding

-Pay always your debts when is right to do it

-Never be scared of bullies!!!

Faites l’humeur, pas la guerre

WP_20150107_004La società francese ha risposto al terrore, la società francese è già stata capace di dimostrare ieri, con dignità, rispetto e civiltà, la superiorità di una democrazia partecipata  e universale. Di fronte al disgustoso e brutale uso della violenza di fanatici, che nulla hanno a che vedere con il sentimento religioso, la francia è stata capace di non cadere vittima della paura, di non cedere alla tentazione della violenza. Ci sarà chi nel prossimo futuro approfitterà di questa tragedia per promuovere una cultura d’odio, legittimandosi dietro partiti politici che promuovono la discriminazione. Ma non è stato cosi ieri, di fronte all’orrore.

Sono sceso in piazza con centinaia di altre persone, perchè mi sento parte di questa società, ci vivo, e non è stato un attacco ad un solo Paese ma un attacco alla libertà di espressione e alla dignità dell’uomo. Sono stato profondamente colpito dalla compostezza con la quale la società ha reagito, forte e cosciente della sua identità basata su Libertà, Uguaglianza e Fraternità. Nessuno si è lasciato trasportate da moti di odio e  razzismo, verso una minoranza musulmana francese, che è rispettata e parte integrante di essa. Quando sei forte degli ideali civili in cui credi, non hai bisogno di cedere alla violenza. Questa è stata la miglior risposta che si potesse dare.

Le persone riunite si sono strette per mano girando in circolo. Qualcuno poggiava a terra una candela, altri alzavano in alto una matita, una penna, l’unica arma di democrazia legittima. Molti hanno gridato “Je suis Charlie“, altri “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité“, “Non au racisme” e infine una delle frasi, che sono convinto, avrebbero apprezzato i giornalisti di Charlie Hebdo, “Faites l’humeur, pas la guerre”.

Remembering the Student Resistance in the Raid of November the 25th at the University of Clermont Ferrand


I attended, one week ago, to the ceremony for the commemoration of the of the tragic Nazi Raid at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in 1943. It was probably the largest raid effectuated in a University. 500 people were arrested, 130 deported in concentration camps… students, professors, researchers and resistance members.

In 1943 Clermont-Ferrand was chosen to host the University of Strasbourg, that were moved in Auvergne during Nazi occupation of Alsace. A group of students guided by Jean-Paul Cauchi founded the resistant group “Combat Étudiant“.

I was always impressed by the courage and generosity that in any hard time, in any dictatorship and injustice, students were able to show. A mixture of naive irresponsibility and firm belif to change the world. It looks strange nowadays when I see students on the hallway of a campus, lost in their smartphones and evening parties, but yet… even today… considering what is happening in Hong Kong or other parts of the world.

After all, it’s not strange, where else can you meet smart people with the  desire to improve the world, the desire of knowledge and freedom combined with the unconsciousness of youth.

Students and Professors of Strasburg and Clermont-Ferrand met a tragic fate, they were betrayed by an infamous Judas, Georges Mathieu, former member of the academic resistance that became the head of the Sonder-kommando which organized the Raid.

The 25th of November 1943 the Gestapo broke in the hall of the University, killing Prof. Paul Collomp, professor of Egyptian history and regrouped 1200 people, arresting 500 of them. Members of the Resistance, suspected people and Jews were deported in concentration camps and only few of them came back at home after war.