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.


The waste of a conference

borsseIn my personal experience, a conference was never a waste, I was really lucky because I had the chance to travel a bit, to meet really smart and nice people, eat good food (not always), exchange ideas and occasionally even be interested by the topic (just kidding), I am never… (I am kidding now).

Anyway I believe to be this kind of person that in conference could be defined a “collector”…. I was really used to get crazy for collecting all the possible useless gadgets, pens, books, and of course “The Bag of the conference”!! But I am now a “Regretful collector”… I realized how many useless plastic / PVC / acrylic bags I collected…. and they are all broken… They broke just after the first or second week…. Useless plastic things made in china…  And I found particularly incoherent the use of those bags in conferences dedicated to “sustainability” and “green chemistry”, considering that for 200 or 300 participants, you realease in the environment such a potential waste.


I instead particularly appreciated the initiative of 2 Universities, the University of Salerno (Italy) and the University of Freiburg (Germany), that while hosting a conference, provided to their guests, bags completely made of cotton (or some mixed fiber). These bags (miracle of modern technology) not only didn’t break, but they are still of use for shopping. If one day they should break, it will be possible to repair, and if one day I’ll decide to throw them away, I’ll not feel so guilty, after all it’s not such a waste.

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?

Per fare tutto ci vuole un Fiore


Un autunno di circa vent’anni fa vennero con le ruspe ed il cemento per rinnovare la strada dove abitavo,  in un piccolo paese del centro-sud d’Italia. Un po’ prima delle elezioni comunali, i lavori andarono avanti, realizzarono la strada, i marciapiedi, e gli spazi appositi  ai lati per piantare alberi e piante. Erano delle buche quadrate delimitate da piccole lastre di marmo, destinate ad essere riempite di terra con un bell’alberello al centro.

Ma… passata la festa, gabbato lo Santo. Non furono mai piantati alberi, non furono mai riempite di terra e rimasero delle buche di cemento su cui si accumulavo, calcinacci e sporcizia. Gli abitanti ovviamente lo notarono, e ricordo qualche commento sul fatto che una volta passate le elezioni, non ci fu piu’ interesse a finire i lavori, a piantare qualche alberello. E sono passati vent’anni… quelle buche sono ancora li… vuote…

La cosa che mi stupisce è accorgermene solo adesso, ma non perchè considero questa l’ennesima inefficienza del servizio pubblico, oramai siamo passati oltre. Ma perchè per la prima volta in vita mia mi sono posto la questione: “Com’è possibile che in vent’anni ,nessuno, dico nessuno degli abitanti, abbia pensato: “Sai che c’è? Adesso ci metto una manciata di terra e ci pianto un seme… una pianticella, o ci lascio crescere le erbacce…”.

Tutti, me compreso, abitavamo in degli appartamenti  puliti, il pavimento lastrellato in marmo da scivolarci sopra con le pattine ogni tanto, le piante con le foglie di plastica, le tendine alle finestre, ma nessuno, davvero nessuno, percepiva il bene pubblico come anche bene proprio. Il nostro mondo finiva oltre la soglia del portone di casa, il resto era Terra di Nessuno, per la quale non valeva la pena darsi da fare.

Viaggiando qua e là poi ho cominciato a vedere in altri Paesi, i cittadini stessi adottare un pezzo di marciapiede davanti casa, prendersene cura, per il semplice fatto che è bello avere un alberello di fronte a te, quaIMG_0917lche fiore, senza nessuna pretesa di proprietà. La strada assume tutto un altro aspetto, si trasforma in giardino, un quartiere bello dove abitare, perchè a cosa serve abitare in una bella casa quando il suo esterno casca a pezzi o il circondario è lasciato al degrado? Perchè non ho mai pensato di riempire quella buca con un po’ di terra e piantarci qualsiasi cosa? Forse lo faro’ un giorno che tornero’ a casa, per ora ho piantato dei fiori in una piccola striscia di terreno incolto di fronte la mia attuale abitazione. E’ stato bellismo il giorno che ho visto un’ape posarsi sul mio fiore!


Les oignons de Nouvelle-Zélande

Généralemenonionst quand je vais faire les courses j’utilise la technique du “regarde et prend”. Cela consiste non pas à avoir une liste de choses à acheter, mais plutôt à courrir dans tous les couloirs du super-marché, mettre dans le chariot tout ce qu’on pense en avoir besoin, évaluer en quelques secondes quel produit est le moins cher.

Ce n’est pas une méthode intelligente je sais, et ce n’est pas ainsi que l’on devient un consommateur responsable… mais les mauvaises habitudes sont difficiles à corriger. Quoiqu#il en soit, même un mauvais consommatur comme moi reste abasourdi quant il voit, au rayon fruits et légumes, le monument de l’économie mondialisée! Le stupéfiant rayon du symbole de la puissance de l’homme!!  L’oignon de Nouvelle-Zélande!!

Maintenant, pour ceux qui ne s’en souviennent pas, quelques rappels géographiques. La Nouvelle-Zélande se situe à l’autre bout de la planète… À environ 19000 km en ligne directe. 19000 km???? Cet oignon a voyagé plus que moi!! Il doit être le roi de tous les oignons!! Il doiz avoir des propriétés spéciales, protéger du cancer. S’il-vous-plaît, dîtes-moi qu’il a un pouvoir aphrodisiaque au moins! Pour venir de Nouvelle-Zélande il doit être l’ingrédient secret dans une spécialité Maori. Peut-être pour devenir un meilleur joueur de rugby!!

Et… non… il est juste normal, commun, trivial, “Allium cepa”, un oignon… qui se trouve juste à côté de son collègue francais sur l’étalage d’un super-marché. L’oignon de Nouvelle-Zélande à 1,36 € le kg et son homologue francais à 1,28 € le kg. Que se cache t-il derrière cette différence de 8 centimes? Je veux dire, quelque chose ne va pas, ou bien l’oignon francais et surévalué ou alors en Nouvelle-Zélande ils asservissent des pingouins pour cultiver des oignons! Est-ce que nous ne réalisons pas à quel point notre économie est ridicule?

Comment est-il possible qu’après plus de 19000 km, et tout le CO2 produit pour expédier les oignons d’une ferme perdue en Nouvelle-Zélande vers un super-marché perdu en Auvergne, nous n’ayons à payer qu’une différence de prix de 8 centimes?

Così miagolò Zampathustra

E cosi avvenne l’incrIMG_0542edibile, non lo avrei mai pensato. Ho scoperto dopo trent’anni di essere una persona-gatto! Non era nella mia lista di cose da fare, prendere un gatto… anche perchè sarebbe piu’ corretto dire che il gatto, anzi la gatta, ha adottato me! Da piccolo non ho avuto molte esperienze con gli animali a parte i miei due criceti, Napoleone e Ulisse… si lo so, i nomi possono sembrare un po’ altisonanti per due sorci, ma posso assicurarvi che avevano delle grandi personalità!

Con gli anni poi non ho piu’ sentito la necessità di bestie attorno a me, diciamo che mi bastavano quelle con cui quotidianamente bisogna aver a  che fare. E poi un Miao Miaaoo, due fusa, uno sguardo felino e tac, ti ritrovi la casa e i maglioni pieni di peli! Non voglio scendere nei soliti discorsi triti sui nostri amici gatti, cani, quanto sono i cocchi di casa, che gli manca solo la parola etc. Anche perchè credo che umanizzare gli animali domestici sia sbagliato, sia per noi che per loro. Ma non vi sentite un po’ in pena per quelle povere bestie che vedono frantumata la loro dignità canina o felina, indossando dei cappottini rosa? Pero’ una cosa la voglio dire, la loro presenza ci dona davvero qualcosa di speciale, che vale bene qualche pelo in casa!

Come dicevo non avrei mai pensato di aver avuto una gatta un giorno, ma adesso che lei è qui, non credo riuscirei a farne a meno. Capisco anche meglio la differenza tra l’avere un cane ed un gatto. Il cane deve essere addestrato, devi imparare a comandarlo, ad essere il padrone. Con il gatto, devi imparare a rispettare le opinioni altrui. Non c’è verso di insegnargli qualcosa, è lui che insegna a te! Un recente studio sul comportamento dei gatti ha finalmente dimostrato cio’ che si sapeva da sempre: “I gatti ci riconoscono perfettamente, e capiscono benissimo cio’ che si vuole da loro… semplicemente se ne fregano….“. Hanno il loro carattere, ognuno speciale e il loro rapporto con noi è basato su un mutuo rispetto…. anche se apparentemente un altro recente studio sostiene che i gatti ci considerano come dei felini, solo molto grandi… e un po’ piu’ stupidi.

Ad ogni modo, con Luna, ehh si, l’ho chiamata Luna, forse non troppo originale, ma quando non sapevo ancora che fosse una femmina avrei tanto voluta chiamarla Schrödinger, forse è andata meglio cosi; dicevo con Luna l’intesa è perfetta, io gli lascio i suoi spazi e lei mi lascia i miei. Lei adora venire a dormire sulla mia pancia, che a quanto pare è un posto abbastanza confortevole, e insieme ci facciamo dei gran pisolini. E’ super educata e non mi ha mai graffiato neanche per sbaglio. Ha un solo difetto… è convinta di essere in dovere di svegliarmi tutte le mattine (compresi sabati e domeniche) fra le sei e mezza e le sette, salvo poi rimettersi a dormire beata. Ma gli si perdona tutto, in fondo chissà cosa gli dice la testolina, magari pensa che sia per il mio bene. Un giorno rimasi a casa perchè non mi sentivo bene, e lei, è rimasta tutto il tempo con me, attaccata, a dormire si, perchè è la cosa che piu’ gli piace, ma anche per controllare che tutto fosse sotto controllo e rassicurarmi ogni tanto con qualche bacino.

E cosi magari fra qualche anno pensero’ a una gatta… che aveva una macchia nera sul muso e una vecchia soffitta vicino al mare con una finestra a un passo dal cielo blu!

Le cose che non scordi

Non ricordo il mio numero di telefono…. l’ho detto.  Non ricordo il codice di avviamento postale della mia città… e se mi presentano delle persone per la prima volta ho il fantastico dono di dimenticarne il nome nell’arco di pochi femto-secondi. Ho sempre detestato imparare le poesie a memoria o le tabelline, persino i nomi dei cantanti famosi. Apparentemente il mio cervello, consapevole del limitato spazio del suo disco rigido, cerca di conservare solo le informazioni piu’ strettamente necessarie alla vita di tutti i giorni… Almeno cosi mi piacerebbe giustificarmi!

Ma com’è possibile allora che io dopo trent’anni riesca a ricordarmi il numero di telefono del mio compagno di scuola delle elementari, nonchè vicino di casa?? Non l’ho mai chiamato!!! Forse in terza elementare per farmi dare i compiti a casa, che avevo il morbillo. Ma neanche oggi mi sognerei di chiamarlo, non siamo amici. A parte dirgli, “guarda da bambino eri un bulletto da giardino d’infanzia, spero tu sia cresciuto“, non avrei altri argomenti… eppure mi basterebbe alzare la cornetta, comporre il numero senza neanche controllare l’elenco telefonico.

Mi ricordo che Andrea Pazzagli fu portiere dell’Ascoli, ma non ho mai seguito il calcio e nemmeno l’Ascoli! Mi ricordo il giorno in cui la bambina dei vicini che si chiamava Anna, mi insegno’ ad aprire la porta di casa girando la maniglia! (Ero molto piccolo ok?). Ricordo che il giorno che si seppe della tragedia di Chernobyl, mia madre butto nell’immondizia un’intera infornata di cozze ripiene!! Da allora soffro di dipendenza cronica di cozze ripiene grigliate.

Ricordo quando, sempre da bambino, parlavo con un contadino che veniva a prendere l’acqua con il trattore vicino casa mia. Era vecchio, diceva di essere stato emigrante per tanti anni e che scriveva poesie in dialetto, me ne recito’ una e io… che ho dimenticato Il 5 maggio, la donzelletta che vien dalla campagna e gli irti colli, ricordo invece benissimo questa: “So’ iiete all’Australiee e so fatte di soldi, li quatrinee… ma la nostalgie mie era la ventricinee!“.

Di certe persone ricordo la voce, il viso, l’odore o una frase detta di sfuggita, uno scambio di battute brevi, ma non ricordo i loro nomi, non ricordo chi sono, non saprei ritrovarli.

Perchè alcune informazioni, all’apparenza cosi inutili, rimangono impresse indelebilmente nella nostra memoria, mentre altre vagano in un limbo di neurotrasmettitori che funzionano a fasi alterne? Che spettacolo sarebbe se riuscissimo davvero a comprendere il meccanismo con cui il cervello conserva la memoria e formula pensieri!! O forse è meglio non capirsi troppo e lasciare il cervello ricordare ed aggiustare a suo modo i nostri ricordi, senza sforzarsi piu’ di tanto, probabilmente noi non sappiamo perchè alcune cose le ricordiamo ed altre no, ma lui si… almeno spero…. ho voglia di cozze ripiene…

God Save The Pimp!


European elections are approaching, and the ex-“Cavaliere” (yes…  in the meanwhile, he lost the honorific title) seems to be only a bad memory. After the Bunga Bunga Parties, he is now comdamned to social services in a Almhouse… poor people… like if age and diseases are not enough. But is Silvio really finished???? How many times I wished that… now I don’t dare to give an answer, also because is not the right question!

He is just a man… to which people paid too much attention, taking care only on sexual scandal and never on  his most scaring crimes (if you really want to know the complete list of his legal problems just look on wikipedia, it’s too long to discuss it here). The real problem is the “Berlusconism” which will survive to him, the tendency of a part of italian society to think that “Success is measurable only in money, and that honesty is just a word in the vocabulary”

“Berlusconism” is not something that identify only people that voted his Party, so the 30% of population. Honestly I met intelligent people voting Berlusconi, and I met even honest folks voting for him… I just never met someone which had both these features at the same time.  “Berlusconism” belongs to the left and to the right, from the rich businessman tax-evader, to the working class TV-addicted. So, once Berlusconi will disappear, will Berlusconism disappear? Probably not…

And don’t consider this just an italian phenomenon, they were doing the same with fascism.

A specter is haunting Europe… the specter of Berlusconism…