Saturday, 26 September 2009

Mary Poppins and Marina

In the last few days I inherited a number of books that appartained to my cousin. Despite the fact that two years have gone since she has left us, we were all greatly moved by the feeling we were somehow violating that universe that was so personal. From that search unattended treasures came to surface, treasures from childhood forgotten in the dark of a humid basement.

I took those books in my hands with the feeling that all the tenderness of the world was in them: they could see all her joy as a kid, all the hesitations of her first readings, all the smiles and the tears. I came only later, when she was almost a teenager, and I remember how much I was envying her for all those books filled with warm and soft illustrations, with all the warmth and softness typical of the images from the 50s and 60s, I wouldn't be able to describe the feeling they gave me differently.

While I was trying to find some room for those little treasures that still smell mould and distant afternoons at the beach, here I see it, hidden in an old Mary Poppins' edition: a little letter, a treasure in the treasure! Discovery of discoveries that made me see old faded images. I can't avoid copying it here, because it implies all that childish freshness and that simplicity of feelings and that greatness I had already mentioned in other posts.

"Dear Marina,

we received the letter you sent lately, and the postcard as well.

I have heard that you are feeling better and, breathe well the air from the sea, as when you will be back in Parma you will breathe foggy air.

For Saint Lucy's day we remembered you and we thought to give you a Mary Poppins book for a present.

Pray that I am sure you will laugh much when you'll read it, like you did when you were with us.

How are you now?

And when will you be back?

Kisses and hugs your



S.Lazzaro, December 12th 1965"

Well, today I want to remember her like this...

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Il Paese Sbagliato

Supposing that others might be moved, as I was, by this book is certainly wrong. Though, as I firmly believe in what Fossati* would call "belonging", my premise is that who reads me will be likely to share those thoughts with me.

Reading some of the paragraphs in this wonderful book deeply moved me.

"Il Paese Sbagliato" by Mario Lodi, Publisher Einaudi Editore, Series ET Saggi, 1970 and 1995. The book has been translated in French, English and many other languages, but is currently available in French.

Recognizing all the freshness of those child's thoughts, pure, free of hidden motives is a blow similar to the ones you'd get with lashing ocean's waves: overwhelming and energizing at the same time.

For those who don't know the book, it's a text where Lodi collects a series of episodes and information about what he himself called one of the few "happy islands" in the Italian scholastic outline of those years: the classroom where he taught from 1964 to 1969 in Vho (close to Cremona, Italy). Lodi was, as many other elementary teachers, a member of MCE (Educational Cooperation Movement): the teachers who adhered to the movement, decided to take a distance from traditional pedagogical methods, and to replace them with a new way of teaching that placed kids at the centre of the system. Kids are therefore no longer seen as subjects/objects whom teachers had to impress with notions and rules, on the contrary they were treated as a human beings and free thinkers. As Lodi explains very well, the aim of such a didactic method (inspired by the French Freinet) is the attempt to release men from a supine attitude, making of them autonomous thinkers and therefore independent from dominant logics.

I shall mention one passage of the book for all which, I believe, is still strictly persuasive and modern:

"During World War I, Agostino (ndr. a seventy years old man who was invited to school to tell the story of his life) says that Germans were our enemies, while during World War II at the beginning they were our allied. I don't understand this mess: well who is Italy's enemy?

The conversation brings to the conclusion that Italy's enemy, like any other country's, doesn't exist. On the contrary there are different interests (like oil wells for instance) that are pushing governments to start conquer wars and therefore to "invent" each time the enemy.

[....] (ndr. during the discussion with kids) We slowly get to the atomic days.
- Is it true - asks Angelo, - that a submarine passed below the ice at the North Pole and made half a tour of the world without using any petrol nor coal, but using another thing [energy] that I know they call atomic but I don't know how it works?
- Nuclear energy is the one that freely exhales on the sun. Man was able to reproduce and lock it up, and then to use it.
- Well, nice thing, - exclaims Angelo, - and he made the bomb with it!
Angelo's statement provokes a chain reaction on what man can do with his brain. And on what he can provoke.
- We are in favour of peace, - says Fabio interpreting everybody else's thoughts.
- Otherwise...- adds Angelo, but he stops.
- Otherwise? - I ask him, inviting him to express his thoughts.
- Otherwise that stripe [meaning the line that represents Agostino's lifetime that overlooks those of Italy and of humanity**] ends there and there is no future.
- You are the ones who will write the future, - I tell him.
- Indeed, - says Angelo,- we will make a line that begins there where Agostino's one ends. - Well, you're getting rid of grandpa Agostino, - I tell him, - but I don't believe he is quite ready to close up his book yet.
- Oh all right, - smiles Angelo, - it means that we will make some way together then." page 197

Now I' asking myself which kind of adults those kids have become, if they have kept that honest look on the world, or if they were ensnared by modern life's uselessness, if they too gave in in front of the many temptations and the constant brain washing we are exposed every day? Who knows!

What remains is this important evidence, always topical as I was saying, a moving token that, I hope will never get lost amid the many books out of prints.

*ndr. Ivano Fossati is the most important living musician and song author in Italy, amid the many songs he wrote he translated from French "Le Déserteur" by Boris Vian.

**ndr. upon the teacher's suggestion, kids had made a graphic representation of Agostino's life, they traced on an horizontal line the happenings he had told them, those that had had consequences at national level, when not worldwide, together with some more personal events.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

It's a Snap!

I confess: I'm a fundamentalist of photography and I don't regret it! This is why I cannot but tell you about this brand new book from Canada:

"It's a Snap!: George Eastman's First Photograph" by Monica Kulling, illustrations by Bill Slavin, Pub. Tundra Books, Toronto, August 2009.

In this book, greatly illustrated by B. Slavin with watercolour pictures of various formats and perspectives, the author tells the story of how Eastman was able to invent, over 100 years ago, the prototype of modern photographic machines.

There are at least two factors of extreme interest in this book:

  • the first being the human experience of the character whom we meet at the age of fourteen: a fatherless child, obliged to leave school and find a job to support his family, Eastman decides to try a hobby to relax in his free time and chooses Photography. Like in "The Day-Glo Brothers" book, the main character in this book is very young as well, in Eastman's story too - like with the Switzer brothers - the ability to apply fantasy to a practical activity ended up giving unexpected results, with important implications in modern life;

  • the second factor is the historical and, indirectly, sociological one. Having kids approach photography from the pre-Digital era, and pre-Reflex as well, is not a mere scientific exercise but it allows to compose a much wider fresco including past and present customs, allowing highlights on their differences and likeliness. Who never posed for a group picture? But in the past, posing required quite some time. Nowadays we take pictures in every occasion, to remember precious moments, how about 100 years ago? When did they use to take pictures?
Monica Kulling's simple and solid writing, with the right pinch of irony and practical information, is the perfect way to get to understand the complex world of photography, and Eastman's intriguing life's course. Illustrations, at times whole page ones, others little fragments framing particular moments, some in colour, some in sepia tones (recalling the atmpsphere of old pictures), are completing the text with harmonious beauty allowing a parallel vision of the story told.

If you're interested in the book:

Friday, 4 September 2009

"Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudì"

A new book about the enigmatic architect Antoni Gaudì has just been published in America:

"Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudì", by Rachel Rodriguez, illustrations by Julie Paschkis, Henry Holt and Co., September 2009.

By the same authors who had already created, in 2006, another interesting book on the life of Georgia O' Keefe*, comes a second work devoted to another important character of the artistic world such as Gaudì whom, like O'Keefe, introduced his own very personal application of nature's beauty into art.

This picture book, for kids of age 4 to 8, tells about Gaudì's idea to represent the beauty of nature through architecture. Anyone who has seen "La Pedrera" or "Casa Batlò", just to mention two of the many works by Gaudì, cannot but remain speechless when approaching the visionary power of this incredible artist. Introducing kids to this multifaceted architect is, with no doubt, a wonderful idea that deserves being communicated.

For the few things I was able to see, the book seems a very interesting work, also the authors seem to be invariably attracted by original, partly bashful characters, whom conducted very intense lives, partly veiled of mysterious discretion.

To be honest I am not crazy for the illustrations: I believe there are some that are very interesting, while others are - to my very personal taste of course - too saturated, too mellow. Of course I realise that it's no easy task to translate Gaudì's work into illustration. It is anyway an appreciable effort, at times absolutely fitting.

* "Through Georgia's Eyes" by Rachel Rodriguez, illustrations by Julie Paschkis, Henry Holt and Co., Febbruary 2006.