Monday, September 24, 2007

The first days of the new life

The first days in Germany have been, as it was probably to be expected, a mix of contrasting feelings. The first 24 hours were marked by its loneliness. With Susanne in Berlin, I went along with house cores most of Friday and Saturday, reading and discovering new ways to keep in touch with my country, finding out that I can check the news online, even if with a 6 hours delay, several other TV programmes (not that I really will have the time to) and, most importantly, the football games.

For Saturday evening I had sent out a call for a early meeting of the programme's participants. 4 eventually showed up, which at the moment I considered a great failure, before getting to know that the class would had been of a mere 15, rather than the 25 anticipated. Anyway, besides Anna, who I had already met during the summer, I was glad to make the acquaintance of Fanny, a hyperactive french girl, Ruth, an ever laughing German, and Nidhi, the youngest and possibly most lost of the group, coming from India. It turned out to be a pleasant evening spent in chatting. exchanging background information and wondering about the future classes.

The morning after, not having anything better to do, we met again (on the left, Ruth and Nidhi), missing Anna, with a half idea of reaching Rudesheim, but eventually changing our mind at the every last moment and jumping on a train to Worms.

I must say, I had great expectations about this city, background of some of the most important facts as the Concordat and the Diet.

Unfortunately, Worms was severely hit during WWII, even if to a lesser extent than Manz, and the reconstruction was even more modern than in other places I've seen, leaving a town with a few interesting building in a mostly modern pattern.

Some things were, however, noteworthy. The Cathedral, for instance, is a wonderful example of German romance architecture and holds the sarcophagi of several German emperors of the high middle age.

The Nibelungen Museum, per se little more than a well done and fun audiovisual escapade in the world of German mythology, is placed inside a remaining segment of the old city walls.

Also, the immense tower guarding the entrance of the city was a sight to be seen.

On Tuesday, thanks to the immense kindness of Ruth, who set next to us all through the process, the three non German of us got officially registered in Mainz, and therefore I'm, temporarily, a citizen here. Go figure.

Finally, on Wednesday it was the first day at university, for the induction. There, we were welcomed, in order, by the Programme supervisor for Germany, by the Fachhochschule's Dean, by an envoy of the London South Bank University who turned out to be the same old English gentleman who had interviewed me a few months ago, by the programme manager and my the English teacher (yes, we will get academic English lessons, focused on the writing of academic papers, on top of everything else). There we were also given the guides for the various units (and damn if it looks like a hugely load of work to do in a mere 12 weeks of classes plus a couple of pre-exam preparation).

In the afternoon, we amused the population of Mainz by taking a university scheduled ride all around the city on this yellow "train" designed to give an overview of the most salient aspects of the city and eventually proceeded to the nearest bar, again trying to get a sense of the group and an idea of each other.

The group, as I said, is small, counting at that time 13 elements, raising to 14 today with the late arrival of another student from India, and as heterogeneous as it can be: age goes from 20 to 32 (the latter being your truly), background goes from law to informatics passing through economics and media production, national background covering three continents (7 from Germany, 2 from France and India, 1 each from Italy, Russia, Peru), while gender wise is more or less balanced, 8 girls to 6 boys.

As a skin-feeling, they all look as pretty interesting, smart boys and girls, with some being more shy and reserved than others, but all in all I had a positive vibe, so to say. To my surprise, of the 7 non German, 4 already speak German, which might cause a bit of a friction, but I will also take German classes so I hope to be bale to close the gap.

Thursday was the moment of administrative paper in order to be enrolled officially at the university (and, in the afternoon, of AS Roma's game against Dinamo Kiev which I happily watched online), while Friday morning was the big day of the survival week-end, when, at 8 am, we left Mainz to reach this youth hostel in the hills near Dahn, to indulge in a day of team-building activities managed by professionals, including climbing down a 50 meters cliff, and an evening of barbecue and... free alcohol. At midnight, the time when even the most hardcore partygoers broke down and went to bed, the first hint of a group could had been seen where only singles stood in the morning. Pretty disconcerting for someone used to Italian University, was the Head of the Programme, and professor of International Management, who at some point first sort of played the DJ and then came down with a guitar and proceeded to sing with us.

Saturday, a pretty exhausted group returned to Mainz and dissolved, each heading to his chores, with a vague idea of regrouping in the evening, when ultimately only Fanny and myself met and were later joined by Caroline and Joachim, both German, and a friend of the latter. Those three, at midnight, headed to disco while the Latin ones decided to call it a night.

Sunday was spent home, watching Rome's game against Juventus and relaxing, preparing for the first official day of classes, the morning after.

In the meanwhile, I managed to establish contact with my family over Skype and, in pure Italian tradition, they didn't wait even a week before sending me a relief package... only, my father had the brilliant idea of sending it a Susanne's name and so it is currently sitting in a DHL station and runs the risk of being sent back, much to my frustration....

Friday, September 14, 2007

The last days of the old life

It would be too long to describe the feelings and what was done in the last days of what is going to be my life of past, to which I will probably never return. Friday the 14th, against all roman superstitions that say that you should never get married or start a travel or begin a work on tuesday and friday, marks the beginning of a journey that will keep me away from what has been, so far, my world, a travel that will last at least until 2009, but that many suspect will go further than that.

In the 10 days leading to the fateful moment, many things went wrong, many went incredibly well and some were unexpected. Just the few that come to my mind now I shall list, sure that many I must have forgotten already.

First of all, some things had to be closed. So it was that I organized my last, for now, VCN ethnic dinner, going back to where I started, at the Eritrean restaurant. I will have to find time to write the report of that dinner and to post pictures, but I shall just say that it was a very pleasant evening.

Then, and most important, my job. And the closing days were intense and rich of unexpected things indeed. On a friday that should had been a day off, I was instead running at the airport, shaving on the way, to pick up the CEO of an important american firm my company was signing a crucial deal with. The day saw me so busy in a hundred different things (among which, chaperoning the host, translating a news release, taking picture of the event) that at the end of the day my boss was patronized by my own CEO about having me doing everything. So it happens that almost at the every last day of a 3 years and 7 months experience I not only get to do an interesting job, but I get even noticed directly by my CEO. Irony.

The next wednesday, last wednesday, it was my last day at work and I offered my colleagues, old and new, a buffet. Most notably, of my previous department's colleague, only 2 did show up out of 13, which generally left me unsurprised, but in at least two cases was upsetting. On the other hand, the attending one, together with my full department and a tenth or so of people I have been close in the last years, did not only show up, but showered me with unexpected farewell gifts (among which, an Ipod shuffle and a number of books) in a way that, I must admit, together with the evident sorrow in most of the faces around, moved me. I hope I shall get a copy of the pics that have been taken that day, I'd like to show their faces.

Friends did, on the other hand, let me down. Admittedly, they had returned from travel abroad just days, or even hours, before, but finding myself alone on my last week-end in Rome was one of the most depressing experience of my life. They make it up on my last day, when we finally met, and yet the atmosphere was not merry at all. I suspect that, as some of my colleagues at work, they suspect I might not return from this experience, settling either in Germany or Italy.

And then, there was family. The farewell to my family was made of a number of rites and of understatement and had started as far away as a month ago, when I went to pay homage to the elder member of my family, my grandmother, and was closed with the one to the youngest one, my one month old cousin, Elisa, whose baptise I shall miss. And then there was the cleaning of the room, the packing (during which not once my mother entered my room), the evenings in front of the tv with my father, the installation of skype on the various computers and the dinner at my favourite restaurant the last night, the summerlike evening of a september day gifted with the most splendid light ever.

And so, the morning after, my father, and he alone, took me to the airport and, unlike all the countless time when he had delivered me there for my week-end visits to this or that country over the last 10 years, he parked the car and came with me on the check-in line, gave me the last recommendations and let me go, unconvincing smiles on both our lips and, at least on my side, an almost inhumane effort to keep my voice straight.

And now I'm here, in Mainz, alone (Susanne is in Berlin for a summer internship in a court of justice), to think it all over and wondering once again, but in a much stronger way than usual, if I've done the right thing after all. I hope so.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Books have always taken a good share of my time. Admittedly, more in the past, when full weeks were spent jumping from one title to another in a breathtaking swirling of names, characters and plots that nowadays I regret a bit, than in the present.

Over the last weeks, I had the chance of falling back in the habit, that someones could rightly label as addiction, and I had the luck and pleasure of engaging in books almost all falling in the second and perhaps even third degree. Thinking about it, I suppose, that doesn't really mean anything if one doesn't know the four degree of books, right? Then I shall go on and expose my personal (or maybe relatively personal, as I do not exclude that someone else has elaborated the same theory in a parallel and independent way, as it often happens with the great things of human life like the telephone and the infinitesimal calculus) theory.

All the books, but especially narrative books, are divided depending the signs that they leave upon someone's soul, a bit like fire and related burns.

First degree books are the bad ones. Even admitting one manages to finish them, and the real reader usually forces himself to, they will leave nothing behind, but a bad taste and the feeling of wasting time. Second hand book stands are full of such books, abandoned soon after having been picked up, or right after their cellophane envelope. The first degrees books have the peculiarity of being as numerous as the locust and yet impossible to name, as the mind usually forgets their title, and often their authors' name as well, as fast as humanely possible, and sometimes even faster, to the point that it is not unheard of the case of the reader who, so forgetful of the experience, ended up buying the same book twice, providing it is presented with a totally different cover, only to realize after the first pages the terrible mistake.

Second degree books are the pleasant ones. They are like the beer in a sunny day, as they are refreshing and yet of no particular importance if not for the time they spend in your hand, and often they have to be finished quickly, before the coolness evaporates. Moreover, like they beer, they disappear quickly and are often forgotten, and yet they leave something behind, even if it is in the back of our mind rather than around our waists. For instance, the lines suddenly popping up in the middle of a discussion, when something incisive is needed to describe something, even if the precise source of the quote often escapes us, are probably coming from a second degree books which are, most likely, the majority of the books we will read during our life.

Third degree books are the ones that leave permanent scars. They are life fire, and yet the fascinating phenomenon with them is that, unlike the fire, people who have been too close to a third degree book tend to repeat the experience. No, they do crave to repeat the experience actually, often re-reading the same book and anything else written by its author, hoping, all too often ending up frustrated, to find the same sensation under a different name. Third degree books are the ones where you are never sure whether the book passed his belief to you, or rather if you liked the book because it shares your own beliefs. Third degree books are like a whole meal, not only it contributes to your muscles, nourishes your neurons and produces the energy everything works with, but also add to the skeleton that keeps everything up, and one should never forget the old saying, which is often more true with books than with real food, that one is what he eats.

Finally, there are the fourth degree books. Rare. Precious. Almost all of them come from that mystical and mythical age everyone passes through between the disclosure of Santa's secret and the discovery of your own mortality, simply because before the earlier everything works its own inner peculiar magic and after the latter nothing does ever again, except the occasional miracle. Fourth degree books are the ones that end leaving you an immense sense of loss, and yet never really end, as you carry them along with you all the time. Fourth degree books are the ones that, not only makes you want to read forever, but makes you want to write yourself and, at the very least, makes you think in a written way for a while, making see yourself and your actions as if being narrated by a third person. To say that they make you better would be a sheer banality, as they actually make you, period. Some books of this category teach you more than a professor, they tell you more about life, at least the life that should be, more than many friends. I've even heard some teach you more than your parents do.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Done and Done

With less than 14 days to go until my moving to Germany, I'm starting to sort out the things to do and check them out. Week-end was obviously not a very productive time and yet...

- One way ticket to Germany, 14th September, 8.20 am. Done.

- Completing the summer readings, meaning at least 2 Stephen King's book. Done.

Yes, I know, summer ends the 21st of september, but I've always considered it closed the 1st of september and therefore I was quite happy I managed, barely in time, to perform my rite of reading. On friday, in fact, I got "Hearts in Atlantis" in my hands and read it from one end to the other over the day, finding it one of the best books by Stephen Kings just as well as one of the least Stephen King-like (except some supernatural in the first tale and in the last lines, the rest is pretty down to earth) and, sadly, finding myself in one of the characters, named Peter Riley (why, I won't tell, you'll have to read the book and guess, if you are curious). Just to make a big leap from one genre to the other, once finished King, being it september and thus summer over, I took up John Keegan's "War and Our World". Not bad so far.

Besides that, I've been dealing with Statistics, I've planned a trip to Berlin for the third week-end of september and then moved it to the last (which was lucky, as I had forgotten that the third week-end was already taken by some university activity) and then spent almost 2 hours figuring put the site of the german railways and booking the tickets (the site is, obviously, in german only).

With 8 days of work to go (the next two fridays I will use my last remaining off days), it's a strange monday to be a my desk, as my mind is in many places, but surely not on the folders in front of me.