Archive for September, 2015

cultural cross


Lake House with a View , Lake Como, Italy © Jim Korpi

“Food and art are the only two things that make me proud to be Italian,” an acquaintance admitted over a beer at an American-style bar with its menu in English. The bar sits outside the ring road of a small agricultural town in Italy.
“I like to travel to places where people appreciate what they have,” he continued. “Even something as simple as a rock. They build a monument around it, admire it, and are proud of it.”
Years ago I sat in a crowd of Dutch at a cultural event in the Netherlands where the music hired for the event was a Johnny Cash cover band. Those around me sang along in English to Folsom Prison Blues. Did they know they were singing, with their children present, about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die? Do they know where Reno is?
Recently, in the courtyard of an Italian villa, I listened to an outdoor concert. The band played only eighties rock in English. The crowd sat in white plastic chairs, still and seemingly confused.
My conversation at the bar, combined with the setting, reminded me of a story told by Thomas Friedman in one of his books on globalization. The story goes something like this:
A Chinese woman and her young daughter board a plane in Beijing bound for Los Angeles.
After the plane lands in LA, and they go through the processes of arrival, they pass a food court area where the daughter sees the familiar logo of McDonald’s. “Mom!” the daughter says as she tugs on her mother’s shirt. “They have McDonald’s in America too?”

Punished by Song


Festa della Liberazione, Liberation Day, Castelnuonvo Al Volturno, Italy © Jim Korpi

Julia sang like an angel. The whole church knew it. Without her they sang like the peasant rice farmers they were, from the heart but with little practice and harmony.
After a season in the fields, the town celebrated. Local musicians played music, Julia sang along to all the songs she knew. Birds flew south and listened as Julia bellowed below. Julia’s boss, a well-known farmer, asked her to dance. She could not turn him down. She danced.
The next Sunday when Julia arrived for church the priest met her at the door. “Julia,” he said, “Because of what you have done, under the eyes of the Lord, you are not to sing in church for one month.” Julia was angered. She was not the only one who danced at the festival. But she listened to the priest and obeyed.
The church went on singing with a broken tempo. Julia no longer carried them. Many in the church told the priest to “Let Julia sing.”
After service the priest pleaded with Julia, “You have to sing again.”
“God said I am not to sing for one month,” Julia reminded the priest. “So for one month I will not sing.”

human interaction


Grandfather & Grandchild, Codogno, Italy © Jim Korpi

A wall in my living room appears as though it has been attacked by someone practicing kung fu moves with the wet end of a neon-green paintbrush. Behind the green strokes is a dirty Crayon yellow. Sitting on the couch in this room sets the mind on a path of confusion, a mouse in a maze without cheese as an end goal.
I asked an Italian friend where I could find paint. “Ahhh….,” she said with an enthusiasm in her voice and eyes often found in someone asked for directions. “My friend sells paint. He can come by with some colors, you can pick one you like, and he will go get the right one and bring it back.”
This response took time to sink in. She knows a guy who sells paint. Reasonable. But not only does he sell paint, he quaintly comes to your place, like an encyclopedia salesman, and delivers the product.
If an Italian were to ask me where to get a can of paint in the United States, I would, without hesitation or referring to a close friend, send them to the nearest giant DIY store. There they would seek out the paint department, and stand confused at the counter looking for a human with some sign of store attire—maybe a name badge. They would see a button that says, “Push for assistance.” Once pushed, an echoing robot-like voice would announce, “Assistance needed in the paint department. Assistance needed in the paint department…”

home sweet and bitter


Repairing Street Sign, Milan, Italy © Jim Korpi

“Home is where the heart is.” It’s a catchy slogan for a doormat, but home and heart are not so easily pinned down.
My new home is familiar. There is comfort in familiarity, a comfort in the familiar faces of the neighbors you walk by every morning, a comfort in knowing the names of the streets when giving directions. There is a comfort in having a coffee at a familiar café served by a familiar waiter.
My present familiar is what it must be like to have a summer home in a cooler place, or to winter in a warmer state. Seeing people when I return, they say things like, “It’s been so hot this summer,” and I feel simultaneously guilty and fortunate to have been somewhere else, another familiar.