Thomas Mann in Laos

Last year in Laos, I remembered a passage from The death in Venice that I could not really understand when I was a teenager.

Back then, I did not enjoy the book. Its long sentences sounded unnecessary complex; the fears and doubts of an ageing man were too far from my sensibility. Now I see how the complexity of the prose mirrors the complexity of the inner life of the protagonist, and passages like the following make much more sense:

“Lively, clear-outlined, intellectually undemanding presentation is the delight of the great mass of the middle-class public, but passionate radical youth is interested only in problems.”

[T. Mann, The Death in Venice, 1911. English translation by David Luke, 1988]

This sentence came back to my mind after visiting Luang Prabang, the delightful, and Phonsavan, the problematic.

Luang Prabang is Laos’ ancient capital. It enjoys a unique location, on a hill facing the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. The jungle that surrounds the city is still very present in the center, where nowadays a most perfect marriage of nature and urban architecture is achieved: tall, thick trees caress the many buddhist temples and the wooden colonial villas. And speaking of colonization, French influence is most evident in food: you can have excellent croissants for breakfast, or enjoy the typical sticky rice in those kind of restaurants you can afford once per year back home, and everyday here. The bar Utopia, faithful to his name, condenses the western concept of Heaven on Earth, and spices it up with cocktails and flirting backpackers. You can also stop at the night market or book a tour to remote villages or the breathtaking Kuang Si Falls. 





The Kuang Si Falls

All this you can do in the 1km stroll between the two ends of the main street, and on the neighbouring roads. The few who dare to exit from this tourist ghetto will find a town more chaotic, dirtier, equally dominated by nature, and which surprisingly also hosts some Laotians (whom you cannot see, for instance, in the pictures on the Utopia website).


Phonsavan has instead been described as a “charmless town” (Guide du Routard), “pervaded by a feeling of incompleteness” (Lonely Planet), “like the set of a Spaghetti Western directed by David Linch” (Wikitravel). To me, it looks like a gigantic gas station. It has been established only recently, in substitution of the neighbouring town destroyed during the bombing of eastern Laos. They chose to build it where road 1D from central Laos meets road 7 to Luang Prabang. Most buildings in fact face those streets, and they are modern – in the ugliest sense of the term – and covered with the dust lifted by running cars. Behind them, fields and huts, but also governmental offices, shops selling building materials – everything needs to be rebuilt here – and mechanics working on old soviet cars, those donated by URSS when Laos was just a pawn in the cold war chessboard.



Old Russian tank

If Luang Prabang satisfies your senses, Phonsavan and its problems pose questions stimulating them. How does a government that cannot afford to be generous with his citizens give a future to a region that did not yet recover from a war that ended 50 years ago? How to cope with the never-ending problem of cluster bombs that did not explode, and that today blow up farmers hoeing the ground and kids playing? How can one be positive about the future if even the local Buddha statue had his usual smile defaced into a sad sneer by a bomb?


Despite all this, Phonsavan is growing. The ambition of the government scattered official buildings quite far away from the main streets 1D and 7, hoping that one day the empty space will be filled by a developed town. Small neighbourhoods with villas popped up here and there. MAG is clearing of mines larger and larger areas. The Lone Buffalo foundation teaches English and tries to recompose a split up community through soccer. And the neighbouring Plain of Jars with its mysterious civilization may bring to the area the attention it needs for further development. But neighbouring countries deny having stolen archaeological finds, whose return could ignite a deeper investigation of the area – for which, by the way, no money seems to be available at the moment. So the problem is nowhere close to be solved.

In Phonsavan, I met an Israeli couple that came back to Laos 20 years after their first trip. Back then, travelling in the country was a serious hazard, because of the attacks by rebels. They visited Luang Prabang when it was a troubled city, much as Phonsavan is today. “I am not completely happy how the problem was solved there”, the man told me.


H.P. Lovecraft and a manifesto for daydreamers

Most readers and publishers consider horror stories as part of popular fiction, together with romantic novels, science fictions, and all possible shades of grey. Yet there are some authors of horror novels that received a wider acclaim. One is Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories are much more than just horror tales: in some of them it his hard to tell what happens inside the characters’ mind from what takes place outside, while others can be considered the start for detective fiction in general and Sherlock Holmes saga in particular. A second one is Stephen King, whose books inspired many Hollywood directors to make good, great, or just average movies.

The third most famous writer of horror fiction is probably Howard Phillips Lovecraft. I cannot tell any of his stories that was turned into a brillant movie. On the other hand, the atmosphere from his works has been an incredible source of inspiration for novelists, directors, and even game developers. This is because the imaginary worlds he created are more uniform, hence more easily recognizable, than those by Poe or King: little shady towns hidden in the woods of New England; forbidden books whose readers are driven mad; heinous gods…

“…of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.”

[H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulu, 1928]

On the other hand, it is hard to find any relevance in Lovecraft – and any interest in his work – other than the “atmosphere” mentioned above. So readers that are not fascinated by horror fiction tend to simply skip him.

His 1929 short story The Silver Key is somehow an exception. On top of being a classical Lovecraftian tale – with mysterious events happening in a baroque style – it is a manifesto for his whole life of daydreamer. The main character of the story is Randolph Carter, Lovecraft’s alter ego who appears in several other stories. In which we find out that Carter has a number of supernatural experiences, many of them connected to his ability to travel in his dreams to a fictitious world. But something changes in The Silver Key:

“When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams. Prior to that time he had made up for the prosiness of life by nightly excursions to strange and ancient cities beyond space, and lovely, unbelievable garden lands across ethereal seas; but as middle age hardened upon him he felt those liberties slipping away little by little, until at last he was cut off altogether. “

Something must have happened for him to lose his ability to dream of enchanted worlds. We find out what in the next paragraphs.

“He had read much of things as they are, and talked with too many people. Well-meaning philosophers had taught him to look into the logical relations of things, and analyse the processes which shaped his thoughts and fancies. Wonder had gone away. […] Wise men told him his simple fancies were inane and childish. […] They had chained him down to things that are, and had then explained the workings of those things till mystery had gone out of the world.”

People around him despise his ability, and force him to connect himself and give importance to real life.

“So Carter had tried to do as others did, and pretended that the common events and emotions of earthy minds were more important than the fantasies of rare and delicate souls. He did not dissent when they told him that the animal pain of a stuck pig or dyspeptic ploughman in real life is a greater thing than the peerless beauty of Narath with its hundred carven gates and domes of chalcedony, which he dimly remembered from his dreams; and under their guidance he cultivated a painstaking sense of pity and tragedy.”

But you cannot be forced to love something you despise, hence Carter quickly loses interest in real life.

“Amidst this chaos of hollowness and unrest Carter tried to live as befitted a man of keen thought and good heritage. […] He walked impassive through the cities of men, and sighed because no vista seemed fully real; […]. Travel was only a mockery; and even the Great War stirred him but little, though he served from the first in the Foreign Legion of France. […] Having perceived at last the hollowness and futility of real things, Carter spent his days in retirement, and in wistful disjointed memories of his dream-filled youth.”

After a series of Lovecraftish events (including: dreaming of long time dead ancestors, night walks in scary woods, and the mysterious Silver Key from the title), Carter disappears, probably having left to the dream world “wise people” wanted to bring him away from.

“Carter’s relatives talk much of these things because he has lately disappeared. […] There is talk of apportioning Randolph Carter’s estate among his heirs, but I shall stand firmly against this course because I do not believe he is dead. […]  It is rumoured in Ulthar, beyond the River Skai, that a new king reigns on the opal throne of Ilek-Vad, that fabulous town of turrets atop the hollow cliffs of glass overlooking the twilight sea wherein the bearded and finny Gnorri build their singular labyrinths.”

As said above, the whole story can be seen as a manifesto for the life Lovecraft chose for himself. A life that he spent almost entirely in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was seldom seen outside his house and died in poverty, having never really found a real job. Nothing was more important to him that his fantasies, and the stories he could get from those. Sufferings and hopes of average people do not interest him: those that matter are only “rare and delicate souls“. Bored by real life and confused by hard sciences, he claims the right of dedicating his whole life to daydreaming.

“There are twists of time and space, of vision and reality, which only a dreamer can divine; and from what I know of Carter I think he has merely found a way to traverse these mazes. “

Everybody who is strongly passionate about his job – let it be literature, science, or anything else – has to fight with the same demon Carter finally succumbed to. But Lovecraft’s manifesto concerns a much wider public: it applies to anyone who gives up a reality he/she despises or simply cannot understand. Lovecraft’s answer to this feeling may be dangerous; it is for sure dangerous for our society. But his merit lies in having been able to put all this into words, reaching out far more people than any of his other works.


How Lausanne looked like while the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program were taking place

On 2nd April 2015 an historical agreement on the Iranian nuclear program was reached in Lausanne, Switzerland. It came out of the negotiations between the world powers – most notably USA, represented by John Kerry – and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Three days before that, all the members of the mathematics department of the polytechnical university of Lausanne (EPFL) received an angry email from one of its members. He was complaining because in the last four days his collaborators were regularly stopped while trying to access the library in the Rolex Learning Center, one of the buildings of the university. Those who stopped them – as they stopped everyone else – were security guards, a quite unusual presence in the campus, who forbid the access without further explanation. Even if no communication on the presence of the guards had been given by the administration, everyone at the EPFL had understood by then why they were there.

The Rolex Learning Center is probably the most prestigious building at the EPFL, if only for his shape. To imagine how it looks like, take an A4 sheet of paper, make some small circular holes in it, and then push its short sides while keeping the other two firm on the table. The sheet would lift at some points, and do not move in others, in an irregular sequence of ups and downs. Apart from the library, it hosts studying rooms, a fancy restaurant and a less fancy cafeteria, working rooms for students, a bookshop, a bank, and more. Being a building that does not belong to any faculty, it is to some extent the centre of life at EPFL, and located right at the middle of it. It was impossible not to notice that it had been closed an patrolled, and easy to guess why: if the negotiations between the world powers and Iran come to a positive conclusion, the Rolex Learning Center will be the place designated to announce it.

The morning of the day the agreement was reached, I decided to walk to the Beau Rivage Hotel, where the negotiations were taking place – a classic, for also the Treaty of Lausanne that ended the controversies post-WWI was signed there. With his population of 140.000 people and its relaxed Swiss attitude, Lausanne looks more like a big village than a small city. Starting from the lake, it climbs on the side of a mountain so steep that sometimes in the northern suburbs you still have some snow, while on the lake you can feel Spring coming. I walked 20 minutes down hilly streets to get to Beau Rivage, without noticing any difference from a normal day. The Beau Rivage – a massive Art Déco building, so big and expensive that I always wonder whether it is ever fully booked – is roughly 100 meters from the lake, and has a private street maybe 50 meters long, that was blocked with a barrier. Next to the barrier, a young man with a flashy green jacket was standing. Not a security guard, more like the doorman to whom someone told to move some meters forward. The relaxed atmosphere was enhanced by the pictures published on the Swiss press of John Kerry walking around the streets around the hotel, stopping at groceries and cafés. The 20 Km of Lausanne running competition, to be held in 3 weeks, will probably be noticed more by, and create more troubles to, the Lausannois.

Negotiations about Iranian Nuclear Program - announcememnt of the agreement at the Rolex Learning CenterI spent the rest of the day at EPFL as usual – discussing some mathematical problems with colleagues, and then thinking about some others on my own. In the evening, a movie night was scheduled in the department. Slightly before the movie started, rumors spread that an agreement was reached, and that the authorities were gathering at the Rolex Learning Center.

When I arrived in front of the security guards, the Swiss police had joined them, and the press had already entered the building, with the exception of one journalist and his cameramen, that for some reason were not allowed in. Under an increasing rain, he tried to play it cool, telling the camera his ideas about what was going on inside. A small crowd had gathered next to the entrance – most of them were Iranians, who cheered their minister when he entered the building. When it was clear that things were going on inside only, I went back to my office. My window is maybe 50 meters from Rolex Learning Center, but the cries and the music from the students’ pub another 50 meters away were louder than any sound coming from there. Then I went watching the movie – which was, by the way, The meaning of life by Monty Python – and finally left EPFL in a metro full of students and their beers.

Some colors from my world tour (without filters or photoshop) – part two

[Recently I have been travelling around the world for 74 days. I am writing a series of posts about this trip – a list of those can be found here. This post continues from here.]

The Darmouth Green of the Jungle around Luang Prabang, Laos.

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The bright green of the growing grass during the wet season in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territories, Australia.


The honeydew green of crocodiles in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territories, Australia.


The bright yellow of the leftovers of the rice harvest around Kampot, Cambodia.

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The dim yellow of the lights in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.


The cream yellow of the opera house in Sydney.


The yellows of Buddha statues in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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The pale gray of elephants in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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The ivory white of the limestone islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam.


The white smokes of clouds in the Australian skies.

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The white snow in New York City.


Some colors from my world tour (without filters or photoshop) – part one

[Recently I have been travelling around the world for 74 days. I am writing a series of posts about this trip – a list of those can be found here.]

The deep black of the Bendigo gold mine in Victoria, Australia, 70 meters below the ground, when all lights go out.


The brown of the lava rock in Mauna Kea, Hawaii (and all the colors of the rainbow, too).


The slategray of the Ghan, the train connecting north to south Australia.


The reds in the Hong Kong market.


The magenta from a Tai Chi lesson in Hong Kong.


The flame red of Uluru, Northern Territories, Australia.


The orange of the lava tubes in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.


The purple of the sunset in Darwin, Northern Territories, Australia.


The auburn Red of the moulds in the Angkor Temple, Cambodia.

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The Munsell blue of Bondi beach, Sydney, Australia.


The petrol blue of the Mekong river around Can Tho, Vietnam.

IMG_5731 - copie IMG_5742 - copieMore colors here.

The kinds of people you meet while in a world tour (part two)

[Recently I have been travelling around the world for 74 days. I am writing a series of posts about this trip – a list of those can be found here. This article continues from here.]

The barber that came to Australia from Italy 46 years ago. “Back then, you could buy an apartment in the Italian district of Melbourne for nothing, nobody wanted to leave here. Then this place became posh, so Italians that sold their apartment made a lot of money.” “Did you sell yours?” “Me? I never owed one, when I came here I had less than nothing!”

The horse trainer from Victoria, Australia. “So you’re from Italy? I was there last year.” “Where exactly?” “Paris.”

The Facebook enthusiastic. They barely know you, but they already tagged in 14 pictures from what they describe as the best day of their life. Their degree of separation to anyone in the world is 3. The worst happens when two of them meet: then a pictures-uploading competition starts. Where do I find the time for not looking at all of them? (semi-cit.)

Picture from a David Shrigley exhibition in NGV, Melbourne

Picture from a David Shrigley exhibition in NGV, Melbourne

The backpacker. Any shelter is decent enough for spending a night, any food scrap is good enough to be eaten. Doesn’t miss a party, especially during the happy hour. May miss a couple of museums without thinking twice, though.

The working holiday visa traveller. In Australia, they are more common than kangaroos. They work for a few months saving as much as they can, and then spend all their money travelling. They mostly come from Europe, but sometimes from Asia, too. Most of them have just finished high school: “The government cheated us by reducing high school by one year – a German girl I met told me – so we’re taking it back.”

The Greek-American who grew up in Brooklyn. “It was an amazing place to be. Not false like Manhattan. Everybody was there: Europeans, Africans, catholics, protestants, orthodox and whatnot. Communities were very open. My lifelong friends are Italians and Afro-Americans from that time. That’s when I learnt racist jokes and to make an excellent Carbonara.”

The stargazing enthusiastic at Mauna Kea. They live in Hawai’i, but in the coldest and farthest point from the sea, surrounded by a landscape that comes out of some sci-fi movie from the 60s. And they adore it.

Mauna Kea, Hawai'i (Big Island), Hawaii, 45 mins before sunset

Mauna Kea, Hawai’i (Big Island), Hawaii, 45 mins before sunset

The couchsurfers. They will create out of nothing a bed to host you, some free time to show you around, and a crew for you to hang out with. Probably the best way to get a first impression of a city.

The English butcher travelling around Australia. “This travel is a first time for me.” “First time out of Europe?” “First time out of south England!”

The old friends. While in a long travel, sometimes it is good to feel at home again.

The ex-alcoholic and drug addict. “I quitted drugs and alcohol seven years ago. But I need to be addicted to something, so now I am addicted to food and travelling.”

The Italians abroad. They almost unanimously believe in the seemingly contradictory mantra “Italians are nicer and smarter, but life here is so much better.” I am one of them.

The kinds of people you meet while in a world tour (part one)

[Recently I have been travelling around the world for 74 days. I am writing a series of posts about this trip – a list of those can be found here.]

The Italian who saved some money when he was working as a pizza-maker in Australia and spent them to be a volunteer at a family run guesthouse in a small village in Laos. Well, not just an average guesthouse, but one located here.



The Indian who is too lazy to work, and too rich to need to work. So he decides to write a thriller, and his family sends him for 3 years around the world to get enough documentation to build his plot (and to keep him away from troubles back home).

The “purer” traveller. No matter how cheap you travel, or how much you go back to the nature, or to the “pure essence of travelling”: there will always be someone doing that more than you. Do you eat and dress only local, travel on tourist-free buses, sleep only in guesthouses where no word of english is spoken? You’ll always find someone who only hitchhikes on pickups, gets his food right from the farmers, and sleeps in temples.

The cyclists. The young Swiss couples that biked for one year and half from Switzerland to Cambodia, and are now planning to go back by train, because by plane would be too abrupt, but on the other hand “we cycled enough”. During their trip they spent on average 25$ a day per person, including extra money for attractions, trekking, etc. (but many cyclists travel with much less, see The “purer” traveller above). The not-so-young Australian who sold everything back home and will keep travelling by bike until he runs out of money, or finds a reason to stay. Much to my surprise, they share a very relaxed attitude towards travelling and the risks that come with it.

The Dutch couple that also sold everything they had back home to travel, but after 4 months decided to settle in Laos to build a butterfly garden. The outcome of their efforts is probably the closest place to the Eden I’ve ever seen. More about this here.


The part-time workers. Every year, they work like crazy for 6-8 months, and in the remaining 4-6 they invest in travels all the money saved. They come from Canada, from France, from Australia.

The Vietnamese girl that is a journalist, that is also a chef, that also writes books, that also translates books from English, that is also a voracious traveller, that also hosts fellow travellers. Not exactly the image of Vietnamese you have back home.

The tourist. The category every traveller struggles not to fall into. He is shipped from an attraction to another as if he were a package, spending half of the remaining time taking nonsense photos, and the other half in places identical to those he can find back home. Saying Good morning and Thank you in the local language is the deepest he gets into the culture, but he is proud of that. His daily goal is to bargain down the prices as much as possible. His cold and abusive attitude towards most vendors is the main responsible (together with The vendor – level one, see below) of the absence of a normal dialectic between travellers and locals.


The vendor – level 1. To him, a traveller is just a chicken with a big pot of gold lurking somewhere between his wings. Smiles and talking are timed to stop at the very moment a transaction is concluded.

The vendor – level 2. To him, a traveller is still a pair chicken+gold. But he is aware that the traveller may have more gold lying back in the henhouse, or many fellow chicken he talks to. So the vendor is eager to distribute smiles and, in general, every courtesy and attention that won’t cost him anything.

The vendor – level 3. The one every traveller wants to deal with.

The enormous amount of small, young beings that populate every village I saw in Laos: small children running after puppy dogs, chicks orbiting around hens, piglet playing in the mud.

The Khmu village in Laos that celebrates a wedding dancing (at the light and power of a generator) a surprising contamination of dance from the 80s, techno, and melodic traditional music – till 5am in the morning.

The Laotian who studied in the French school in Vientiane, then took advantage of the connections between Laos and Eastern Germany to obtain a degree in Economics from Dresden. Once back home, he became a white-collar in a bank, then a radio dj, then a live dj, then the owner of the first discoclub in Laos, then the first tourist operator finding financial support for removing bombs from the the archeological site of the Plains of Jars. Or at least, that’s what he claims.

(continues here)

[ita] Invito alle crittografie enigmistiche: seconda parte


[Questo post è per chiunque voglia leggerlo, ma soprattutto per Alessandra. Il primo episodio è qui.]



Iniziamo questo secondo post sulle crittografie con le sinonimiche. L’esposto è una parola incompleta, le cui lettere mancanti sono indicate da puntini.

Crittografia sinonimica (1 1 5, 4 4 = 9 6)


Il Popolese

Alla parola mancano due lettere. Non è chiaro, a priori, quali siano: ad esempio, “O” e “C” darebbero Vortici, mentre “E” e “C” darebbero Vertici. Quasi tutte le prime letture delle perifrastiche sono frasi del tipo


lettere mancanti


sinonimo della parola dell’esposto completata

Un po’ di esperienza ci dice che la prima lettura in questo caso è strutturata così:

Prima lettera da inserire (1)

Seconda lettera da inserire (1)

un qualche verbo sinonimo di “inserire” (5)

sinonimo dell’esposto completato da tali lettere (4)

un qualche verbo sinonimo di “ottieni” (4)

(con le ultime due potenzialmente interscambiabili).

Il trucco, per risolvere queste crittografie, è avere abbastanza esperienza ed immaginazione per trovare le giuste variazioni di “inserire” ed “ottenere” che diano senso alla seconda lettura (alle volte, si trovano parole un po’ “stiracchiate”). In questo caso, la soluzione è

E C letti, CIME dici = eclettici medici

da intendersi: “se leggi E e C (al posto dei puntini), la parola che dici (cioè Vertici) è (sinonimo di) cime”. Notare un tocco di eleganza: c’è un legame tra “letti” e “dici” che non ci sarebbe stato, ad esempio, tra “letti” e “hai” o tra “metti” e “dici”.

Ecco un altro esempio, la cui soluzione è in fondo alla pagina1.

Crittografia sinonimica (1 1 7 6 = 5 10)


Fra Diavolo

Le crittografie perifrastiche sono come le sinonimiche, ma invece di descrivere la parola (o la frase) dell’espesto con un sinonimo, lo si fa con una perifrasi. Ecco un esempio, ancora con soluzione in fondo alla pagina2.

 Crittografia perifrastica (1’1 2 6, 2 2? = 6 8)



 Nelle crittografie pure, invece, l’esposto è di solito una sola parola.

 Crittografia (3 2 4 3 = 5 2 5)



Il significato dell’esposto non ha alcuna importanza nelle crittografie pure. Il gioco consiste nel dare una descrizione della sequenza di lettere, o di come la sequenza risulterebbe omettendo o spostando alcune tra queste. Ad esempio, la prima lettura può essere una descrizione delle posizione relativa delle varie lettere nell’esposto (hai TA dopo PIS) o di cosa succede rimuovendone una (via TI PISA hai)3. Al solito, quale di questi sia giusto ce lo dice la seconda lettura:

Col PI dite STA = Colpi di testa

Quest’altra bella crittografia si risolve utilizzando una delle tecniche-esempio viste prima4.

 Crittografia (2 1 2 6 1’1 = 8 5)


Lo Stanco

Alle volte, anche l’esposto delle crittografie pure presenta lettere mancanti:

 Crittografia (1 4 4 = 4 5)


Arsenio B.

Questa non è difficile da risolvere. E’ chiaro che la prima parola della prima lettura sarà la lettera mancante, e se vogliamo che l’esposto sia completato in una parola con significato, è probabile che tale lettera sia A. Otteniamo dunque gratis anche un’altra parola: ROMA. Poiché Arom nella seconda lettura non avrebbe senso, ROMA sarà la terza parola della prima lettura. Fin qui abbiamo dunque ottenuto:

A **** Roma = A*** *roma

Ora dobbiamo trovare una parola di 4 lettere che dia al tempo stesso significato compiuto alla seconda lettura, e completi la prima lettura esprimendo il fatto che “inserendo” la A, otteniamo ROMA. Forse è finì? In fondo la A “finisce” la parola ROMA. Proviamo:

A finì Roma = Afin Iroma

No, finì non va bene. Pensateci un po’: la soluzione è nelle note5.



1. F O scopron OSTICO = fosco pronostico

2.  v’è la mirica, ma Ti? = Velami Ricamati (V’è è una perifrasi di Ecco, mirica è un sinonimo di tamerici. Ti è il nome la lettera da inserire. Il resto è mestiere)

3.  In questo caso, la parola ottenuta spostando o elidendo lettere (Pisa nel nostro esempi) ha di solito un significato.

4.  fa R se scosti l’E = Farscesco Stile.

5.  A crea Roma = Acre Aroma.

Enno Flaiano: Nel 1968 / In 1968

[English translation below]


Nel 1968

I porti invecchiano
Venezia è sempre da salvare
L’Inps assediata
Gli statali in sciopero
L’edilizia in crisi
Gli ortofrutticoli danneggiati dal Mec
Il turismo regredisce
Le acque sono inquinate
I treni ritardano
La circolazione in crisi
Lo sciopero dei benzinai
Gli studenti preparano la protesta
Rivolta nelle carceri
La riforma burocratica ferma
Napoli paralizzata
Sciopero dei netturbini
La crisi del latte
La pornografia è in crisi
Il divorzio è in crisi
Crisi dell’istituto familiare
I giovani svedesi non si sposano più
La torre di Pisa ancora in pericolo
Il porto di Genova paralizzato
I telefoni non funzionano
Posta che non viene distribuita
La crisi dei partiti
La crisi delle correnti dei partiti
Lo Stato arteriosclerotico
Il Mezzogiorno in crisi
Le regioni in crisi
Il Comune di Roma aumenta il disavanzo
Ferma la metropolitana a Roma
Duello di artiglieri a Suez
I colloqui di Parigi stagnano
Nel Vietnam si attende l’attacco
I cinesi preparano una sorpresa?
I negri preparano la rivolta?
Gli arabi preparano la guerra?
I russi nel Mediterraneo
De Gaulle in pericolo
La sinistra in crisi
La destra in crisi
Il centro-sinistra in crisi
Fine del parlamentarismo?
Il freddo ritorna.

(Ennio Flaiano, Diario degli errori, 1976)

In 1968

Seaports grow old
Venezia still needs to be saved
The national pension system is besieged
The State employees on strike
Building industry in crisis
Farmers suffer because of the EU market
Tourism regresses
Water is polluted
Trains are late
Traffic in crisis
Station attendants are on strike
Students prepare a demonstration
Rebellions in the jails
The bureaucratic reform has stopped
Naples paralyzed
Dustmen are on strike
The crisis of milk
Pornography in crisis
Divorce in crisis
Crisis of the family
Swedish youngs don’t get married anymore
The leaning tower of Pisa still in danger
The seaport of Genoa paralyzed
Telephones won’t work
Mail is not distributed
The crisis of political parties
The crisis of trends within political parties
The arteriosclerotic state
South of Italy in crisis
Departments in crisis
The deficit of the municipality of Rome increases
The subway in Rome has stopped
Duels between gunners in Suez
Negotiations in Paris are at a standstill
In the Vietnam people are waiting for the attack
Chinese people are planning a surprise?
Black people are planning a rebellion?
Arabs are planning to start the war?
Russians in the Mediterranean sea
De Gaulle in danger
Left parties in crisis
Right parties in crisis
Center-left parties in crisis
End of the parliamentarism?
The cold comes back

(Ennio Flaiano, Diario degli errori (Journal of mistakes), 1976)

My Locarno Film Festival

What comes next is a personal account of the 67th edition of the Locarno Film Festival, that was held on August 6-16th, 2014. I was there for a long weekend, watching roughly 4 movies a day, for 3 days.


What is a film festival? Do real people having nothing to do with cinema go there?

Second question first: yes, a lot!

First question: That’s a gathering of: actors, journalists, fans, interested people, all encompassing the main product: movies. As a spectator, you have a lot of different screens, mostly inside cinemas or big halls. In Locarno there were 4-5 movies being screened at the same time, the first starting at 9:00 am and the last ending around 1:00 am. A real hero could watch 7-8 movies a day. All movies are organized in different categories, the most important one being the International Contest. Movies from this latter category are candidate to win the Pardo d’oro, which is the main award.

On top of this, there are public meetings with filmmakers and actors, private and non-private parties, and all the standard money-making business that converge where people converge, from kebabs to paint-your-name-on-a-rice-grain shops.

Why did you go there?

To watch movies, and let them inspire you. One will mostly find the festival kind of movies, which are often outside the commercial logic and therefore hardly screened on cinemas or tv. This is especially true for Locarno, which is very well-known1 but does not have the financial power of, say, Cannes, which can attract blockbusters and world-famous stars. It does not mean that you will like all movies, but that all movies have something interesting. More popular movies are also screened, especially during evenings in the beautiful setting of Piazza Grande (the main square).

To discuss with people interested in movies: mostly, with people I already knew, but there are many venues to share your ideas with unknowns. For instance, the Swiss-Italian TV held a contest for twitter-reviews of movies, using the hashtag #mypardo. I find very stimulating (though sometime frustrating) to condense in 140 characters at the same time your opinion about a movie and its plot. You can make it plain, but then there’s no point at all of tweeting it. You can make it very intellectual-haiku style, but then you’ll be the only one understanding it. For instance, I tweeted the following about the movie Durak

Durak: nell’unità di tempo e luogo, tragedia notturna polifonica per violino stonato con il resto dell’orchestra

(Durak: in the unity of time and place, a nocturn polyphonic tragedy for a violin out-of-tune with the rest of the orchestra).

With hindsight, I understand it’s hard to get an idea of the movie from the tweet. The following is a more well-thought tweet I did about Perfidia:

 Una volta si doveva tornare dal Vietnam per essere disadattati, oggi basta essere adulti. #perfidia tragico Taxi Driver all’italiana.

(There was a time when it was necessary to be back from Vietnam in order to be a weirdo. Now it’s enough to be grown up.#perfidia tragic italian-style Taxi Driver).

Also, reading other people’s tweets was extremely interesting.

How does it feel being there?

Well, it’s a good opportunity to understand if myths about movies match reality: is everybody in town was crazy about the festival? (mostly). Do tons of people run from one screening to the other? (yes, at least tons according to swiss standards). Can you sit at a bar and have an aperitif with people that are in the movie business? (more or less, especially those from minor productions). Are real stars are so beautiful and remote as one may imagine? (well, I did not see any of them, and I am not even sure what real star means).

So, what did you watch? 

Many things, ranging from good to extremely good. No movie left me breathless, but some scenes did. Let me just mention a few movies that I liked. I try to spoil as little as possible.

Mon père, la révolution, et moi (My father, the revolution, and myself). What if your father is a Turkish refugee in Switzerland, and so much of a clumsy dreamer that he will go from being your hero to being your desperation? Powerful autobiographical story of a young Swiss-Turkish filmmaker. Sweet, optimistic, and told with smile, even in the most dramatic moments. Like the father, that in his fifties still has press clippings stuck next to his bed.

Ventos de Agosto (August winds). A typical aesthetic movie. In an Amazonian cost so beautiful and peaceful to be boring, a boy and a girl become lovers because they do not have much else to do. A mystery will bring them apart. Amazing photography and characters of exotic beauty. Also, there is an extreme attention to details and to how the story is told: what to screen, what to suggest without really showing, what to leave untold. But the plot is too simple and too short, and the movie feels somehow incomplete.

La Sapienza (The wisdom). The most peculiar movie I watched. A materialist, deeply rational architect goes on a trip to Italy following the traces of the great Renaissance master Borromini. He will meet a young man willing to become an architect, that in his innocence will teach him the importance of curves and light in buildings as in life. It is at the same time a movie about architecture, and a deeply philosophical one, embracing the neoplatonic philosophy of Renaissance. The structure of the movie itself also owes a lot to architecture, with many symmetries running through it. It is shot in a very unconventional way: the actors move rigidly, talking to each other with their bodies stiff and not really interacting.

Durak (Idiot). In an ultra-corrupted Russia, a guy tries to save 800 people trapped in a crumbling building, while everybody else just tries to save himself. Everybody is calling each other Idiot, but who is the real one? Those who cannot find their place in the society, or those that do nothing to improve it? A night-long Odyssey told from different points of view, in the style of the great Russian novelists. Interesting movie, not exactly a festival one: it is more of a “mass awakening” kind of movie.

Perfidia (Perfidy). Angelo is a 35-years old son with no job, no girl, and no interests, leaving in an eternal present of boredom. Family troubles will shake him out of his dullness, and make him realize how harsh and unfair society is towards him. His reaction will be even harsher and more unfair. Overall the film is good, and the photography in a couple of dramatic scenes is extremely good. A Taxi driver from the suburbs, without the commercial need for an happy ending (this is not Hollywood!). The dating scene, especially, reminded me a lot of the masterpiece by Scorsese.

TotemsA short movie of stunning beauty participating to the national contest – a minor category. A girl tries to come over his past and his admiration for a grandfather that used to be a novelist and now is just an old jerk. Myths that falls, while a neighbour artist erects totems.

Will you go there again?



1. It is accredited from FIAPF – the International Federation of Film Producers Association – as a Competitive film festival, the same category of Cannes, Venice, and Berlin, among others.