“Luciana have you seen Lilli Gruber’s interview with Conte?” and she: “I never see that show, at that time I’m almost always out”. Luciana is Luciana Castellinaborn in 1929. I collaborated with her on some initiatives de The poster but I had never met her. We met in Lecce, during an Arci initiative on nature at School. Luciana invited me to have a conversation with her. How do you say no to Luciana Castellina?
She came by train, alone. I went to pick her up at the station and we went to dinner with a group of friends who sometimes call themselves comrades. We were five and two bottles of primitivo are gone. An unforgettable evening, talking about everything with Luciana, who has not seen everything but almost. The next day we meet two classes of high school students. During the meeting we talked about many other things besides nature at school, and we heard some testimonies from foreign students including a young Afghan woman. They asked her about the situation of women and she told about terrible things, failing to hold back the tears.
To make matters worse, I asked her of music because the saddest one I know came to mind (Watermelon in Easter Hay, by Frank Zappa). Music is prohibited in Afghanistan: if the Taliban hear music coming from a passing car, they hit the glass with rifle butts, shattering them, the instruments are destroyed. Watermelon is part of Joe’s Garage, a work dedicated to an imaginary country that bans music. Joe gets in trouble for this and is locked up in jail. From his cell she imagines her last guitar solo, before the end of the music. Whenever I feel it, I get emotional: Zappa was a great desecrator but the ban on music had hit him hard. He hadn’t been able to make a mockery of it, as he had done with Tipper Gore, who wanted to introduce censorship into the lyrics of rock songs she thought were offensive. During a US Senate hearing, Frank testified in favor of freedom of expression and, during the same hearing, Tipper read some obscene texts, to show how despicable those words were. Frank recorded it and then composed backing music for Tipper reciting obscene words (Porn Wars). Music is the best.
Frank published Joe’s Garage at the time of Khomeini’s rise in Iran: music was also banned on that occasion. To tell the truth, Frank ended up in jail on charges of obscenity when he was very young. In the USA there are no boundaries to intolerance.
During the meeting at school, with Luciana, I told about my first time in an Arab country: I was walking around the city alone, I think it was Tangier, and I saw everything written in Arabic, feeling in another world. Then I saw the street numbers and I surprised myself thinking: at least they write the numbers like us … and after a second I realized that we were the ones writing them like them!
I tell the boys present: try to multiply two Roman numbers … and they understand that it is not possible. And how did the Greeks write the numbers? When did we switch from Roman to Arabic numbering? It was of a cultural revolution equal to the discovery of America or the invention of printing. A real paradigm shift, however, kept in the background. We believe we are so superior to “them”!
Luciana, sitting next to me, smiles. She has a stack of white, recycled papers on which she writes notes: she writes one for me and passes it to me. “But Europe has done one more thing than the others: many revolutions. It is true that the others have not been able to do them because we with colonialism have prevented them. But we can teach this! “
Obviously I am reminded of Gandhi who made a revolution without violence, precisely against our colonialism, but in principle Luciana is right. An English proverb says: you are what you eat, you are what you eat. I think I invented another one: you are who you meet, you are the ones you meet. In fact it is not quite like that … you become who you are thanks to the people you meet. In Papua, where I have spent a significant portion of my life, they take it literally and in some villages parts of the dead are still eaten to acquire their properties, a sort of communion.
Meeting people like Frank Zappa and Luciana Castellina enriches. I’m not saying that you become like them but you learn to look at the world with their eyes as well. And when you are faced with particular situations you ask yourself: what would Frank think? What would Luciana think?
Luciana she was very disturbed from the words of a certain Rondolino about who, including her, participated in an event organized by Santoro to comment on the war in Ukraine: “For him I would be a rapist …” How to react to such things? I would sue him … suing him for damages, asking for a millionaire compensation. To then assign it to Afghan refugees, and also Ukrainian ones, of course. Luciana is still thinking about it, I think. Or she if she left him behind. If you meet a “souvenir” left on the sidewalk by a dog what do you do? A complaint? You turn around and leave. If you step on it you try to clean your shoe as best you can, but you don’t make it an obsession. I would do so. Don’t worry about them but look and pass.