Showing posts with label France. Show all posts
Showing posts with label France. Show all posts

29 January 2021

Book review: The Gate, by François Bizot (2004), *****


In 1971, on a routine outing through the Cambodian countryside, the young French scholar Francois Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge. Accused of being an agent of American imperialism, he was chained and imprisoned. His captor, Duch, later responsible for tens of thousands of deaths at the Tuol Sleng prison, interviewed him at length; after three months of torturous deliberation, during which his every word was weighed and his life hung in the balance, he was released. No other Western prisoner survived. Four years later, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Francois Bizot became the official intermediary between the ruthless conqueror and the terrified refugees behind the gate of the French embassy: a ringside seat to one of history's most appalling genocides.


Bizot was incredibly lucky to see what he saw and come out alive, then move on to survive in Phnom Penh for several more years and write a harrowing and unique account of the Khmer Rouge rule. The gate of the French embassy, where many notables of the old regime had found refuge, and through which they will have to walk to their fate in the hands of the communists. A unique first-hand experience that very few western writers have been able to share so much in detail. He talks to many revolutionary soldiers and discusses politics as well as the details of day-to-day existence, the next harvest, education. Reading him is almost as good as having been there, without the dangers and the discomfort!

Read about my trip to Cambodia here.

See my reviews of other books on Cambodia here in this blog.

23 November 2020

Film review: A Year in Burgundy (2013), by David Kennard, ***


The film follows Martine Saunier seven wine-making families in the Burgundy region of France through the course of a full year, and delves into the cultural and creative process of making wine, as well as its deep ties to the land. What lies within the rhythm of a year, from vines to grapes to wine? 

The film is in four season-sections, and plays out against that backdrop: spring showers, drought, heat wave, hail and storms, harvest moons and the damp cold of winter. Each vintage is a time capsule, a bottled piece of history of a very specific year, with its particular weather pattern, its crises and its triumphs. It all goes in, whether you want it to or not, and 2011 was full of drama. (from Ibmd)


A bit of a disappointment. If you don't know anything about Burgundy you will certainly learn something. If you've been there a few times you will still get a few bits here and there but not much. Much of it is cliche. Brugundy deserves better. Still, if you have it for free on Prime and want an easy evening, go ahead an watch it, with a glass of Burgundy wine in hand of course.

09 November 2020

Film review: Somm, into the Bottle (2015), by Jason Wise, ****


Sequel to the previous Somm movie of 2012, this documentary takes the viewer into the private world of famed producers (who open exceptional bottles for the occasion).


A peek into cellars that most of us humans will never get into, and a good dose of self-irony about a profession that means different things to different people. Definitely recommended after the first.

We learn that the word "spirit", used for alcoholic beverages, comes from the fact that wine has been used in religious functions for a long time, it takes the "spirit" out of the body, especially when abused! Not sure it is true, but it sounds fun.

We also learn that Julius Cesar instructed his legionaries to drink at least a liter of wine a day, more before going into battle.

One somm opines that aging wine in wood is like adding salt to food: you may need it to exalt the flavor, but not too much. Some may not like it at all, of course. But if you do choose to oak a wine, beware: your barrel is going to be like a wife for your wine, choose well or your wine will pay the price for your mistake!

A few spoke about scoring wines. Some find it useful, some hate it as an oversimplification that is not reliable: no single somm will score the same wines the same way if given the same bottles blind over again.

19 August 2020

FIlm review: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009) by Jan Kounen, ****


In 1913 the first performance of the ballet “Le sacre du printemps” took place in Paris. The composer, Igor Stravinsky, is whistled for his radically new music. But in the audience there is a woman who is intoxicated by the dissonant rhythms and feels that this music is just as groundbreaking as her fashion creations: Coco Chanel. 

Seven years passed before the choreographer Sergej Diagilew introduced Coco to Igor Stravinsky, who had since fled Russia to Paris. Coco Chanel invites the penniless composer to live with his lung-sick wife and children in their luxurious villa in Garches and to revisit his spring sacrifice there while she creates the first synthetic perfume with Chanel No. 5. The novel is apparently based on a true story: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky actually had an affair.


A captivating story of two icons of the XX century, coming from two entirely different worlds (fashion and music) but sharing a revolutionary approach to
their work. Strawinsky owes his professional survival to a woman who almost destroys his family.


03 April 2020

Film review: L'Esprit du vin (2011) by Olympe and Yvon Minvielle **


A film sponsored by Château Lagarette, a biodynamic producer in Bordeaux.

A dozen or so biodynamic wine-growers express their vision of the present and make proposals for the future.

They ask eminently social and even political questions: What food? How Could humanity restore the ideal of living together?

Through their stories, practices, and the accumulation of knowledge from their experiences, the producers of the film and a group of farmers, biodynamic wine-growers, try to open a path. They want to show how the spirit of bio-dynamics could provide answers to these questions.


This film is an all-out passionate defense of biodynamic viticulture. I say defense because most of the interviewees talk as if they are under siege, as if the evil forces of modernity are out to extinguish the feeble flame of tradition. No alternative point of view is presented in the film. If you want to hear alternative voices, skeptical or critical of biodynamic wine, you have to look elsewhere.

Clearly, the growers interviewed are very passionate about their wine, but often they get carried away. Just a few pearls from their statements. A basic theme of the film is a high level of hostility toward "technology": there is "technological" wine, which is artificial and then there is biodynamic wine, which is natural. Oddly, little attention is paid to organic wines, although biodynamic certification requires a wine to be organic to begin with.

A couple of speakers identify "technological" wines as the result of American influence and specifically the work of Robert Parker, while, on the contrary, "Europe" is the custodian of genuine winemaking. Well, Parker has nothing against biodynamic wines and actually promotes it. And, of course, there are lots of American biodynamic producers and in fact the USA is the biggest biodynamic farming producer in the world.

One speaker argues that biodynamic vineyards are better equipped to resist the negative radioactive impact of Chernobyl, thus lumping together as if it was a dogmatic truth a whole host of questionable assumptions.

A major problem for me is when, as several speakers repeat in this film, the argument is put forward that what is important in biodynamic wine is NOT the result, but the relationship between man and nature, a new philosophy of daily life. Assuming the latter is somehow better served in biodynamic farming, for me the end result, ie good and healthy wine, IS WHAT MATTERS.

Technology, a word that is often repeated with a grimace by many interviewees, destroys the relationship man and nature, farmer and vineyard. Biodynamic preparations restore the correct energy flows! A corollary of this argument is the open hostility of one speaker to established wine associations such as the Masters of Wine. In his view, these associations have been created to serve technology against the natural traditions of wine.

One speaker is very honest when he says biodynamic farming is like a religion: you can not demonstrate it, you can only believe it. Another one compares it to acupuncture: not scientifically proven, but many believe it anyway. Not surprising that biodynamic farmers also accept homeopathic principles, as they use extremely diluted solutions in some of their preparations.

A quirky claim toward the end of the film is that biodynamic wine is especially appreciated by women! Maybe so, as a woman grower claims to have produced a "concert wine" in her biodynamic vineyard because both wine and music share a spirituality for people to appreciate.

If you already believe in biodynamic farming this film will make you feel really good. If you are trying to understand more, it will give you only half the picture.

For a wise and cool view of the subject, read Jancis Robinson, one of the world's most respected authorities.

You can watch the film reviewed here on Youtube.

You can buy the DVD (in French as well as English) here on Amazon. Hard to come by and very expensive, however!

26 July 2018

Book review: The Judgement of Paris (2005) by G. Teber, *****


The Judgement of Paris was a blind tasting that pitched American wines from California against French reds from Bordeaux and whites from Burgundy. The name is a play on the "Judgement of Paris" in Greek mythology.

The author was the only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976—a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France’s best—for the first time introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine.

The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. At this legendary contest—a blind tasting—a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France’s best.

George M. Taber, the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks—repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. With an eclectic cast of characters and magnificent settings, Judgment of Paris is an illuminating tale and a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old.


The definitive book on this historical event. French wine had been the uncontested world leader until that day, and maybe continued to be the leader, overall, but it was now hotly contested!

Spurrier put Bordeaux vs similar blend Californians, and Burgundy vs Californian Chardonnays. It was initially intended to be a tasting to introduce Californian wines to sceptical French experts, but once everyone was around the table Spurrier told them the real plan: a challenge.

The test was not scientifically exact: more American wines (6) than French wines (4) were included in the sample. And yet, take the whites: every single French judge scored an American chard first.

Another charge was that French wines were too young and would give their best later on in life. But several rematches years later saw the Americans prevail again.

A very detailed book about a pivotal point in wine history.

See my review about the film "Bottle Shock" about the same story which I reviewed in this blog.

14 November 2015

Film review: Red Obsession (2013) by David Roach and Warwick Ross, ****


Red Obsession is a film about power, passion and the fine wine game. Something unprecedented is happening to the fine wine market and that something is China. While the dragon economy could bring untold wealth to the revered wine-making region, the terms of engagement are different from any other customer in the past. This market is young, voracious and unpredictable. Demand is massively outstripping supply. The product is finite and this new client wants it all. For better or worse, Bordeaux is hitching itself to this new, infinitely wealthy client. RED OBSESSION sets out to explore this phenomenon and the link between China and Bordeaux.


A most interesting documentary on the rise of wine in Chinese society. The Chinese drank less than one bottle of wine each per year until just a few years ago. They have recently discovered wine. Not just to drink it, but to show it off, to display as a status symbol, and to invest in. In the past the Americans, and then the Japanese, similarly impacted the world of wine, but the sheer scale of the Chinese onslaught is greater by an order of magnitude. One Chinese billionaire who made his fortune selling sex toys has no qualms admitting in front of a camera that he prefers a bottle of great wine to great sex.

I was also pleased to see that some of the most prominent Chinese wine collectors seem to appreciate cigars and pipe smoking but not cigarettes. I can certainly sympathize with that. Great wine drinkers think alike!

While China is furiously planting new vineyards in regions with appropriate terroir and climate, and is already the fifth largest producer of wine in the world, the fascination of prestigiuous Bordeaux makes them spend billions on the most recognizable brands of Chateaux. This is driving the market crazy and may well portend a bubble in the making. Counterfeiting of expensive wines, like of so many other luxury products, is widespread.

It is going to be interesting to see how this pays out. China will soon be the largest producer of wine as well as the largest consumer. It will decisively affect both demand and supply. For now supply is more quantity than quality: local wines are mediocre (with some notable exception) and mostly for local consumption. Demand, on the other hand, is more focussed on quality, with rich Chinese buying only the best of the best. The global wine market is undergoing a Chinese revolution.

See my selection of movies on China on this blog.

25 November 2013

Film review/recensione: The lover /L'amante (1992), by Jean-Jacques Annaud, *****

testo italiano di seguito


The Lover is director Jean-Jacques Annaud's adaptation of Marguerite Duras' minimalist 1984 novel. Set in French Indochina in 1929, the film explores the erotic charge of forbidden love. Jane March plays a French teenager sent to a Saigon boarding school, while Tony Leung is a 32-year Chinese aristocrat. They look at each and they both see a blinding white flash; it's kismet. He offers her a ride in his limousine and soon they meet in his "bachelor room" where they revel in a wide variety of creative sexual encounters. However, they both realize their love is doomed.

She comes from a troubled family that includes a mentally-disturbed mother (Frederique Meininger) and drug-addicted brother (Arnaud Giovaninetti). It also appears that her family would not approve of an interracial tryst. But then neither would his family, since in order to inherit his father's wealth, he must not break from a traditional Chinese arranged marriage.


A high-quality erotic movie, of course, and a deeply romantic one. Deep passion intertwined with surrepetitiousness and sin. Very exciting.

But for me the main picture was that of colonian life in Vietnam in the French colonial time. Here we see as Asian man in control of a beautiful European lady. He is Chinese, not the colonized Vietnamese, but still an "Asian". Despite his wealth and sophistication he is still considered a second tier person by the white colonizers. But here he is in control. And she, too, frees herself from the constraint of her condition as a white lady at a boarding school, and takes her liberties with the man she loves. Or maybe does not love, but desires.

Duras said her book was partly autobiographical, which adds interest and lends credibility to the story.


Sul finire degli anni venti, in Indocina una ragazza di quindici anni, figlia di una donna povera, conosce l'uomo piu' ricco della regione. Fra i due nasce una grande passione, ma le rigide convenzioni sociali finiranno per prevalere sull'amore.


L'Amante è un film di grande sensualità ed intensità emotiva. Passione e trasgressione si mischiano per creare una miscela esplosiva. Molto eccitante. Questo è il primo messaggio che recepiamo dal film.

Tuttavia per me il secondo, e forse più importante, messaggio è quello di farci vedere la vita nell'Indocina colonizzata dai francesi negli anni venti del XX secolo. Vediamo un uomo asiatico (un cinese, non un vietnamita colonizzato) che controlla una bella donna bianca del paese colonizzatore. Nonostante la sua ricchezza e la sua sofisticata classe, egli è pur sempre un asiatico e come tale considerato una persona di seconda categoria. Ma qui è lui che domina la situazione. Ma anche la ragazza si libera delle costrizioni imposte dalla sua condizione di bianca e si prende le sue libertà con l'uomo che ama. O forse che non ama, ma che vuole.

Duras ha scritto che il suo libro è in parte autobiografico, il che accresce la credibilità e l'interesse per la storia qui esposta.

Versione italiana del DVD

04 June 2013

Recensione film: J'ai oublié de te dire... (2008), di Laurent Vinas-Raymond, ****


Lorsque Marie, jeune fille de 25 ans sans passé ni avenir, rencontre Jaume, un vieux monsieur, ancien champion cycliste devenu artiste peintre, c'est une grande amitié qui se lie. Grâce à lui, Marie va se découvrir une identité, qu'il est lui-même en train de perdre.


Un film ambientato in Francia che rivela molto della natura più intima della Francia, o almeno di quello che la Francia vuol far credere di essere: romantica, attaccata alle tradizioni ed impervia alla modernizzazione ed alla commercializzazione. Nel bene e nel male. Una Francia sensibile alla campagna ed al buon vino.

Ma anche un film su come la natura umana può svilupparsi sulla base di un incontro casuale e come una persona può scoprire il meglio di se stessa tramite l'altro. Un altro che si può amare anche se non esiste neanche lontanamente la possibilità di una relazione di coppia.

Un ottimo Omar Sharif ma anche una bravissima Emilie Dequenne.

19 March 2013

Film review: Casablanca (1942), by Michael Curtiz, *****

Buy the poster by clicking here

Casablanca: a French colonial city during WW II: still governed by unoccupied Vichy France, with a daily flight to neutral Portugal, from where ships sailed regularly to America. A city easy to enter, but much harder to leave, especially if you're wanted by the Nazis. Such a man is Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), whose only hope is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American in love with Victor's wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the ex-lover who broke his heart. Ilsa offers herself in exchange for Laszlo's transport out of the country and bitter Rick must decide what counts more...

The film is bursting with memorable quotes!


So much has been said about this film that it would be presumptuous of me to add anything. I will try to sum it all up in one question, however. Casablanca is about a fundamental choice some people have to make at some crucial point in their lives. The question this film leaves us with is a difficult one. What is more important: finding love or fighting for freedom? 

Rick, the eternal cynic who did not stick his neck out for anyone, chose to fight for freedom. I am not sure what I would have done. Perhaps I would have chosen love. Maybe I am a wimp, or maybe I take freedom too much for granted, as I never had to fight a war for it.

15 December 2012

Film review: You will be my son (2010), by Gilles Legrand, ****


Paul Marseul (Niels Arestrup), owner of a prestigious vineyard in Saint Emilion has a son, Martin (Loran Deutsch), who works with him on the family estate named Clos de l'Abbé. Paul is a demanding and passionate winemaker but is a domineering father. He is not happy that his son may one day succeed him. He dreams of a son who is more talented, more charismatic . . . and more in line with his own aspirations. Things deteriorate as Paul's trusted manager (Patrick Chesnais) is dying of cancer. Philip (Nicolas Bridet), his brilliant son, who is also in the busines, returns from California to see his dying father. Paul sees Philip as his ideal son and turns away from his own flesh and blood.

31 July 2012

Film review: A Good year (2006), by Ridely Scott, ***


Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe--who first worked together on the Academy Award-winning Gladiator--are reunited in this romantic film, which is based on Peter Mayle's book A Year in Provence.

Crowe plays Max, a workaholic London bonds trader who doesn't know the meaning of vacation. When his uncle dies, leaving him a picturesque estate in the south of France, Max views it as an opportunity to cash in the vinery and pocket the profits. The film is reminiscent of Diane Lane's Under the Tuscan Sun in the way the scenery plays as much of a role in the film as its characters. The lush village and streaming sunlight portray Provence as an idyllic, magical place. Even Max falls under its spell. While not a particularly likeable character, especially in the early part of the film, Max also isn't a bad guy. Nothing that happens comes as much of a surprise. Still, while the film doesn't fully utilise Crowe's range of skills, the actor is charming in his role and A Good Year provides fine viewing. --Jae-Ha Kim for Amazon


A feel good movie to take you to Provence for a couple of hours. Crowe is not at his best, whereas Marion Cotillard is the real star.

The moral of the story is one I share: work to live, don't live to work. The setting (ruthless London city trader sees the light and a pretty woman and turns good) is a bit trite. But then again the point the movie is trying to make is a simple one. But a strong one.

But this is also a movie about wine. You learn a bit about French wine making specifically, though American wines enter the fray when Max's cousin comes into the picture. A couple of references are made to the France-California rivalry: I would recommend watching the film "Bottle Shock" together with this one. This movie was made the same year as the rematch of the  Judgement of Paris, again won by California over France.

The ending is predictable, sort of, but with a fun twist...

20 July 2012

Film review: Julie and Julia (2009), by Nora Ephron ****

Julia Child in Time magazine

A culinary legend provides a frustrated office worker with a new recipe for life in Julie and Julia, the true stories of how Julia Child's (Meryl Streep) life and cookbook inspired fledgling writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams) to whip up 524 recipes in 365 days and introduce a new generation to the magic of French cooking. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) co-stars in director Nora Ephron's delicious comedy about joy, obsession and butter. It was to be the last of her movies, as she died in 2012. Bon appetit!

06 July 2012

Film review: Bottle Shock (2008) by Randal Miller, ****


The build-up to the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris competition between French and Californian wines. Napa Valley's Jim Barrett (Lost Highway's Bill Pullman) has been plugging away for years with minimal success. A former attorney, Barrett runs Chateau Montelena with his wayward son, Bo (Chris Pine, the Star Trek prequel's Captain Kirk), who would rather do anything than assist his stern father. Bo's co-workers include Gustavo (Six Feet Under's Freddy Rodríguez) and Sam (Transformers' Rachael Taylor), who long to produce the perfect chardonnay. Naturally, the young men compete for the favors of the beautiful blonde (the movie's least interesting angle). Across the Atlantic, Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) struggles to keep his Parisian wine shop going (cheapskate American Dennis Farina is his only regular customer). Then Spurrier conceives a contest to attract customers.


While based on a true story, the film takes some liberty at embellishing the facts with romance and family feuds, but this does not detract from it being highly instructive for wine lovers.

The title is a pun: the "bottle shock" is what may ruin a wine because of vibrations and temperature variations during protracted and unprotected transportation. It is also the result of the tasting, which shocked the wine world for what a bottle of California wine was able to produce.

The competition itself should have been given more time in the movie in my view, as it was the event that justified making the movie in the first place and changed the world of wine ever since.

Also, the movie does not make it clear that the competition was only for a few varieties, ie Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvigons/Merlot blends, and as such can in no way be interpreted to be an overall match between Californian and French wines.

Finally, one can not help but notice somewhat of a pro-Californian bias in the movie, but this is perhaps inevitable given the nature of the real historical events. I would like to see a film of the 2006 rematch, which California, again, won hands down, in fact by an even greater margin.

See the book "The Judgement of Paris" which I reviewed in this blog.

04 July 2012

Film review: Chocolat (2000), by Lasse Hallström, ****

Driven by fate, Vianne (Binoche) drifts into a tranquil French village with her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol, from Ponette) in the winter of 1959. Her newly opened chocolatier is a source of attraction and fear, since Vianne's ability to revive the villagers' passions threatens to disrupt their repressive traditions. The pious mayor (Alfred Molina) sees Vianne as the enemy, and his war against her peaks with the arrival of "river rats" led by Roux (Depp), whose attraction to Vianne is immediate and reciprocal. Splendid subplots involve a battered wife (Lena Olin), a village elder (Judi Dench), and her estranged daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss), and while the film's broader strokes may be regrettable (if not for Molina's rich performance, the mayor would be a caricature), its subtleties are often sublime. Chocolat reminds you of life's simple pleasures and invites you to enjoy them. --Jeff Shannon for Amazon

A drifting single mother comes to inject a healthy does of laicism and joie de vivre in a sleepy French village soaked up in bigotry. The two are at first ostracized but then, slowly, people in the village, and eventually even the strict, hypocritical and controlling mayor, are moved to see the brighter, sweeter side of life that chocolate represents. You don't have to be a chocoholic to get the point!

Binoche is simply superb throughout.

This well paced film is an invitation to free ourselves from stereotypes, and enjoy what life has to offer. I don't know if Steve Jobs ever saw this movie, but he might have said it is an exhortation to "be hungry, be foolish". Don't sit back and watch life flow past you, but look at what is new, unusual, apparently useless or even frivolous, and go for it: much good could come out for you!

14 April 2012

Film review: The Dreamers (2003), by Bernardo Bertolucci, ****


Paris, spring 1968. While most students take the lead in the May 'revolution', a French poet's twin son Theo and daughter Isabelle enjoy the good life in his grand Paris home. As film buffs they meet and 'adopt' modest, conservatively educated Californian student Matthew.

With their parents away for a month, they drag him into an orgy of indulgence of all senses, losing all of his and the last of their innocence. A sexual threesome shakes their rapport, yet only the outside reality will break it up.

13 February 2012

Film Review: The Swimming Pool (1968), by Jacques Deray, ***


Contains the French version and the original English spoken version in FULL HD resolution !!! Classic 60's French drama, the Blu-ray features the full HD version of the originally in English spoken and recorded movie. Starring screen legends Alain Delon (Lost Command, Borsalino, Mr Klein, Swann In Love), Romy Schneider (What's New Pussycat, Ludwig, Deathwatch), Jane Birkin (Blow Up, Death On The Nile, Dust) it's the story of two lovers, Marianne and Jean-Paul who are spending their vacation in a sumptous villa near St.-Tropez. After a visit Marianne invites former lover Harry and his teenage daughter Penelope to stay. With the swimming pool the main centre of action, tensions soon rise and passion turns to deadly violence.


It must have been pretty shocking in the late sixties to see Schneider's naked breasts, but somehow it's not the same 45 years later :) A classic story of possessive love and obsessive lust. The movie makes me sort of detest Alain Delon, a spoiled brat in the story and perhaps in real life? In the disc there is an alternative end to the story, with policemen coming up to ... well I won't spoil it here, but somehow my disc was defective and the alternative end is cut off. There is also a short extra with an interview to the two protagonists just before the shooting of the movie.

What I found most interesting here is the lifestyle of the sixties, the clothing, hairstyle, smoking habits...

12 February 2012

Film Review: Midnight in Paris (2010), by Woody Allen, ***


This is a romantic comedy set in Paris about a family that goes there because of business, and two young people who are engaged to be married in the fall have experiences there that change their lives. It's about a young man's great love for a city, Paris, and the illusion people have that a life different from theirs would be much better.

10 December 2010

Recensione: Nerone: Duemila anni di calunnie (Oscar storia), di Massimo Fini, *****

Un mito sfatato, un imperatore riabilitato

Il lavoro di Fini è eccellente. Particolareggiato e documentato quanto uno studio di quell'epoca può essere, il libro mantiene però una narrativa piacevole e divulgativa anche per i non addetti ai lavori. Nerone è stato un personaggio controverso, contraddittorio, contrastato ma mai noioso e scontato. Le calunnie che ne hanno macchiato la reputazione nei secoli sono qui smontate ad una ad una, meticolosamente e con la passione dello storico, che resta distaccato dalla materia della sua ricerca per mantenere per quanto possibile una sostanziale oggettività. Nerone è stato un grande imperatore, "democratico" per i parametri di allora, e deve essere riscoperto. A quando la dedica di un "Viale Nerone" a Roma?

09 March 2010

Partire, tornare o ...viaggiare? Ali e radici della mia vita fino ad ora.

Vivo a Bruxelles. Perché? Ne parlavo con il mio amico Marco De Andreis, che ci ha vissuto anche lui fino a qualche anno fa. Forse me ne andrò un giorno, ma non sarà, credo proprio, per tornare a Roma come ha fatto lui. Come Marco, anche io detesto Roma quando ci sto. A differenza di lui però, la continuo a detestare anche quando non ci sto.

Quando ci vado mi spazientisco per mille ragioni, e non vedo l'ora di ripartire. Il momento più bello delle mie visite è la corsa in taxi o trenino verso l'aeroporto. Allora mi rilasso, e penso che anche questa volta l'ho sfangata. Bruxelles, si capisce, non ha neanche un centesimo dei tesori d'arte di Roma, e neanche il sole, e neanche i prodotti freschi al mercato a prezzi bassi, e neanche il mare caldo d'estate a pochi chilometri di distanza d'estate, e neanche le montagne per sciare a pochi chilometri di distanza d'inverno e neanche la pajata, l'amatriciana e la coda alla vaccinara.  

E allora? Perché preferirla? Perché Bruxelles è più ordinata, vivibile, culturalmente attivissima, a dimensione d'uomo, e soprattutto cosmopolita quanto Roma è provinciale.

Insomma sono destinato a restare un emigrante per sempre? E perché no?

Ho passato dieci anni negli USA, cominciando con quattro alla School of Foreign Service della Georgetown University dove ho conseguito con la lode una laurea in relazioni internazionali (studiando politica, strategia, economia, diritto internazionali, allora in Italia non esistevano università che se ne occupassero).

Durante quel periodo passai anche alcuni mesi in Polonia, quando c'era il comunismo, e li racconto in questo libro.

A quel punto mi sono convinto che quanto avevo appreso negli States sarebbe stato utile al mio paese (vero) e quindi apprezzato dai miei compatrioti (non sequitur). In Italia, sul piano professionale, ero oggetto di invidia e non di stima e tanto meno di ammirazione.

Andai all'università di Roma per farmi riconoscere il titolo di studio, ma con la mia laurea un arcigno professore della facoltà di Scienze Politiche mi disse che poteva iscrivermi al terzo anno. Cominciamo bene, mi dissi, ma non mollai.

Tornai in USA e dopo sei anni al M.I.T., completai un corso di Dottorato di Ricerca (Ph.D.) in studi strategici (anche questi, allora, non c'erano da noi). Nel frattempo avevo lavorato - cosa che gli studenti universitari in America fanno sempre, anche se non ne hanno bisogno - prima con mansioni più semplici e poi via via come assistente, ricercatore ed infine insegnante.

A 26 anni di età tenevo al M.I.T. il primo corso universitario tutto mio sulla proliferazione nucleare, con nome, cognome e stipendio miei. Mi invitavano a conferenze in tutta America,  pubblicavo i miei primi articoli (con il mio nome e cognome, mai e poi mai un professore si sarebbe sognato di metterci il suo). Già prima di finire il dottorato ero, per così dire, entrato nel giro, e da solo, senza conoscenze, parentele o amicizie con chicchessìa.

Decisi comunque di riprovare in Italia. Non presso l'università pubblica, dove non avevo alcuna speranza di entrare nelle roccaforti del baronato, ma in una fondazione privata. Insistendo molto riuscii ad  intrufolarmi per la porta di servizio nel principale istituto internazionalistico italiano, l'istituto Affari Internazionali, dove imperava ed impera ancora (2010) un'oligarchia ferrea ivi installatasi alla fine degli anni sessanta (sì, sessanta!). Apprezzavano il mio lavoro e mi pagavano benino, ma ero sempre il ragazzo di bottega da tenere, appunto, in bottega, e non il giovane collega da lanciare in pista.

Cercai appigli anche presso altri centri di studio, che però in Italia erano di due tipi: alcuni legati a personalità singole, solitamente geriatriche, anzi direi da museo di storia naturale. Una volta presso una fondazione politica romana intestata a Ugo La Malfa, un dirigente ultra settantenne, ex ministro, mi disse che stava alla loro generazione prendere le decisioni importanti, non ai quarantenni idealisti che pretendono di cambiare il mondo. Non potevo credere alle mie orecchie, ma ci dovevo credere.

Mi veniva da pensare che in realtà il mondo negli ultimi decenni lo hanno cambiato i trentenni se non i venticiquenni: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, Jeff Bezos negli anni ottanta e novanta e Jim Wales, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg e loro simili più recentemente. Avrei dovuto dirlo al vecchietto ex ministro, ma mi trattenni.

Altri centri studi erano invece legati a filo doppio ai partiti politici, con una loro linea ben precisa di politica estera. Né dai fossili né dagli apparatchiki ebbi mai la possibilità di pubblicare. Qualche volta andai in televisione come “esperto”, ma solo perché avevo un amico alla RAI, non perché qualcuno apprezzasse quello che avevo da dire.

Provai anche presso una prestigiosa università privata di Roma, la LUISS, ma un altro ultra settantenne che teneva corsi nelle mie materie mi offrì un contratto di insegnamento che mi pare si chiamasse "integrativo": in pratica il professore di ruolo decideva il curriculum, faceva un paio di lezioni, restava titolare del corso e prendeva quasi tutti i soldi, mentre io avrei dovuto fare tutto il resto: lezioni, esami, colloqui con gli studenti ecc.

Dovunque ero considerato il “junior”, il ragazzino di bottega. Dopo un po' di anni di questa deprimente trafila ero pronto a ripartire.

Feci un concorso di medio livello per il segretariato internazionale della NATO, lo vinsi e mi trasferii a Bruxelles. Ci passai oltre sette anni e ne fui gratificato, professionalmente ed economicamente, anche se il lavoro col tempo diventava ripetitivo. Poi siccome allora i contratti dei funzionari erano tutti a tempo determinato dopo due rinnovi mi rimisi a cercare. Provai a restare alla NATO. Per superare la routine feci vari concorsi per posti un centimetro più alti di quello che avevo, ma siccome a quel livello la cosa diventava politica, ed io dietro di me avevo un non-paese che non mi sosteneva, non ci riuscii. Mi disturbava vedermi passare davanti stranieri meno capaci di me solo perché i loro governi, i loro ministeri, si davano da fare per sostenerli ed i miei no.

Ebbi comunque varie offerte di lavoro, soprattutto nel settore privato (da tedeschi, americani, perfino indiani, ma mai da italiani) che mi hanno continuato a trattenere qui a Bruxelles. Che non sarà un capolavoro architettonico o urbanistico, ma ci si sposta abbastanza facilmente, si parcheggia ovunque e le macchine si fermano al semaforo rosso e alle strisce pedonali, che puoi attraversare ad occhi chiusi... 

E poi è una città che si trasforma, vive. Molte brutture degli anni sessanta stanno sparendo per dar spazio a moderni palazzi di indubbio gusto e funzionalità. Come del resto vivono e cambiano le grandi città: Parigi, Londra, Berlino, non Roma.

Morale: ho fatto male a lasciare gli States? Professionalmente sì, di sicuro. I miei compagni di università del M.I.T., anche europei, che sono rimasti là, magari diventando cittadini americani, sono professori, amministratori delegati, ambasciatori, direttori di istituti. Ci tornerei? Non credo, non mi piacciono le minestre riscaldate. E poi da “junior” che ero, in quattro e quattr'otto ormai sono diventato un “senior”, anzi di più, insomma troppo vecchio per ricominciare una carriera. Non so come ma non ho mai avuto l'età giusta! 

Non ho figli, che io sappia, ma se ne avessi gli consiglierei di guardarsi bene intorno tous azimouts prima di decidere alcunché. Di imparare svariate lingue straniere. In Italia siamo un disastro con le lingue e la cosa ci danneggia enormemente. E poi di non fermarsi mai troppo tempo nello stesso posto, né geografico né professionale. Di essere curiosi ed avere il coraggio di rischiare ma senza fare i Don Quixote della situazione e meno che mai i Sancho Panza.

Restare per sempre a Bruxelles dunque? Forse, anche se dopo quindici anni si è esaurito un po' l'effetto novità, la curiosità. Ma allora dove? Potendo scegliere, andrei in Asia, in una cultura diversa, ricca, nuova e per questo stimolante, in un paese che si stia costruendo un futuro, possibilmente democratico, e che non viva del fatto che i problemi non si risolvono “si pperò noi c'avemo er Colosseo”. Se avessi uno straccio di spunto, una opportunità lavorativa, una partner, lo farei subito. Tanto la pasta c' 'a pummarola 'n coppa, grazie alla globalizzazione, si trova dovunque. E forse lo farò comunque, anche senza lo spunto. Per invecchiare lì?

Non necessariamente, e qui vengo alle considerazioni finali: si parla tanto di identità, di radici, ma io non sento veramente di averne: sono italiano, ma mi sento anche molto americano, un po' scandinavo, un po' mitteleuropeo. E c'è tanto mondo da godersi nei così pochi anni che ci stiamo. Penso che potrei diventare anche molto indiano o cinese col tempo. In fondo il futuro è in Asia orientale, che piaccia o no.

Per poi magari andare a morire su qualche isola tropicale - tanto oggi c'è internet e di Robison Crusoe non ce ne sono più, e si può fare quasi tutto quasi dappertutto. E meno male.

Più che radici, preferisco avere ali.