A comment by Noor on “The encounter”

Here is a thoughtful comment about “The encounter” by my friend Noor. Thank you Noor, Catterina, Giuseppe for bothering to write your comments. They nurture my own interest in the stories and open new frontiers to my imagination on one side and ability to listen on the other.

Dusk HR

Dusk and the sea. From the author’s terrace – Pizzo, October 12, 2015. Photo by F Marincola

Comment on: “The Encounter

Umeiyama is not as proper as she is made out to be. While she is not active, and ever so barely reactive in the airplane encounter with this strange foreign man, her lack of disapproval was encouragement enough for George’s advancements. How proper could she be if she’s all too ready to admit to a total stranger the fact that she does not love her husband? I feel I need to shake some sense into her, and scold her to value herself. What kind of a reason is it to love someone “if you really want me to”?! George was not asking her to give up her window seat, nor to read a book he recommended. He was asking her, a stranger woman who happened to be seated next to him on a plane, based on a very one-sided conversation lasting a maximum of 20 minutes, and pure physical attraction, if she could love him, because he believed at that moment that he loves her.

George was attracted to her beauty and her submissiveness. This enough should have enraged Umeiyama to either shut him down completely or challenge him in integrity and intelligence. What would he add to her life? What is he willing to do worth uprooting her life and gaining her love in return? If sitting properly and looking pretty was all it took for him to love her, would his shallow and cowardly testament of love be enough to love him back? If he were a true gentleman, wouldn’t he have waited for her to initiate physical contact after his rushed and meaningless declaration? Wouldn’t he, at the confirmation of her willingness to reciprocate, confront the husband and inform him himself that he is going to take his wife from him?

Beauty is what attracts lust, not love. Had she been as proper as George convinced himself she was, she would have been stiffer than a board and colder than ice towards him. She even missed the opportune moment to plant a hard smack on his face after he reached out for her hand. No, Umeiyama is a rightful little tart, with no self-respect. George on the other hand is the sensitive, introverted, bullied teenage boy who never grew up. He finally meets someone who will never tell him no, loves him “because he wants her to,” is completely submissive, and even indulges his pedophile’s tendency with her eyes “of naiveté and wonder, of a little girl who loves her father.” It is rhetorical when I ask if he would have behaved similarly had a gorgeous yet assertive woman been in the same situation as Umeiyama. Whatever fantasies his colorful yet shallow mind would come up with would have stayed right there: in his mind.

Contrary to what one may conclude after hearing this one woman’s opinion, the happy ending does not bother me. However, it is not the kind of love one might wish for. I am a firm believer that men are the protectors of their women, and while both are equal, both are very different, and each is to be respected. George and Umeiyama’s love comes off to me as very convenient, comfortable, boring, and as multidimensional as a stick figure drawing. My judgment may have been too harsh, but it is based on the brief glimpse we are given in the story. Had the story gone on to say that George and Umeiyama went on to explore their compatibility and finally and truly fell in love and lived happily ever after, I may have had a less cynical reaction to the highly flawed and shallow interaction on which two people based their entire future on.

One quote from the story really stood out to me in its truth and adaptability across culture boundaries: “love is too brittle of a concept to challenge the conformities of life.” We all take this approach, the approach of building our lives as per whatever vision implanted by society, our ambitions, and our values, and as a Q3, or Q4 milestone in our lives, hope to have and may finally allow an element we perceive as love to enter our lives and conform to it. Far from criticizing this, I applaud it. Love and lust are too often confused. The former is human, the latter animal. Love, very much like hate, needs to be controlled and monitored. It should be complementary to our lives, and should not consume it. Done right, I think commitments is the factor for success. How lovely would it be to go through the ups of our life with our loved ones, the down of life with their support, and share their ups and support them through their downs?

***

Rebuttal:

Dear Noor,

Thanks for the heartfelt comment and perspective. Thanks again for reading and writing. I learn so much from you and do not worry about being harsh, as you can see others particularly my best friend have been quite harsh recently about my stories and their characters, and I am happy about it!

I a short rebuttal, I emphasizes that “The encounter” is meant to be a humorous and benevolent snapshot of a serendipitous interaction between two shy people. It is based on my imaginary portray of what might have happened between George and Umeiyama (N.B. these are pseudonyms). The story intentionally does not address what happened between the initial encounter and its end. So it might have happened that “George and Umeiyama went on to explore their compatibility and finally and truly fell in love and lived happily ever after”. Just I do not believe those details are necessary and one could go ahead and built the continuum of she or he pleases. In truth, I did not ask myself to George what happened between those two salient moments. George did not offer to share I felt it was unnecessary and intrusive to go into such details. A life passed between and God only would know what went by and why should we judge if the end suited them? Perhaps, it is not why and how things happen that matters as much as how well their consequence fits the lives of the recipient without affecting or hurting others. There is also an account about Umeiyama’s abusive husband that justifies her unhappiness but I believe it can be left to the readers’ imagination. In the end this is just a short story. Why don’t we just grant to our friends the benefit of the doubt?

And I do not totally agree: “beauty attracts lust” only! Beauty in all its forms it a universal catalyst that can spark the reaction of love and devotion, which in turn could last for a life-time, through the stage when the aging gardenia is not as beautiful anymore but still impregnates the soul with the memories of its scent.

A final update that I believe is pertinent: Umeiyama passed away, devoured by cancer, sometime ago and George is now a solitary man, who each morning sits in the veranda of his home that overlooks the Pacific Ocean from which one could navigate, in the imagination, all the way to Japan. There he drinks coffee with extra cream and a package of sweetener. At his side stands an empty armchair.

Dry Petals – Poems by Giuseppe Masucci

It is with pleasure that I post this link to the new poetry book by Giuseppe. “Dry Petals” is the first publication in English and you can learn more about it from his website but here I post my introduction to the book that I had the honor to write! Some poems have been posted before in this blog (see blog index) but most are virgin!

 

Jasmines and Basil

Jasmines and Basil – El Granada, California, March 2017 – Photo by F. Marincola

 

INTRODUCTION to Dry Petals

It is a privilege to write the introduction to the first poetry book in English by my literary twin, Giuseppe. We have inter-twined our writings inspiring each other; alike and different at the same time as the distorted reflections from a funny mirror. Giuseppe is a lost soul with a semblance of redemption like myself and many other middle aged men, who search for the absolute truth in the most unlikely of places: the image of the sky into the tranquil sea (The Sky in the Sea), so reminiscent of God extending His hand to Adam in “Judgment Day”; or talking to a bow that breaks the waves ahead (Soliloquy at Sea).

His style is dry with recurrent sounds like the breakers at shore that repeat their eternal song, yet it is never the same and hypnotizes without end.

“Fu vera Gloria? Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza” –

I am not qualified to rank the quality of Giuseppe’s poems. How could anybody judge the impalpable whisper of the wind? All I can say is that his poems “met the shoreline of my sea”, like Leopardi and Edgar Lee Masters did in my youth. Like Chekov’s stories, the poems are not meant to offer a conclusive message yet we carry them with us and they reemerge at resonant moments along customary life. Sometimes they elicit strong emotions like hallucinations in a feverish spike (Isma), sometimes soothing ones like a mother’s lullaby (The Shoreline of my Sea), sometimes disturbing like the howling of winds (Pray), or melancholic (Dozen of times).

I conclude paraphrasing Paul (the composer)’s reflections upon reading “The Timeline of Love” in my short story “Tiger (Conclusion)”.

An old friend wrote this poem sometime ago. It is beautiful! I like to read it once in a while and, although I am not sure if I understand each concept, I like how it sounds. I have been trying to translate it into music but it is impossible.”

“Poetry is the de-evolution of culture. Poets have figured how to use words to make music, …and create beautiful lyrics that appeal beyond their significance …but it is difficult to turn it into my kind of music. Perhaps, I was wrong all along. Perhaps, there is a limit to the power of notes, …of the alphabet of music, …perhaps the deeper notes stirred by emotions expressed by words cannot be reproduced by any other instrument …

Thank you Giuseppe for this beautiful collection and:

“Ad Maiora!”

A conversation about the short story “Sabrina” (Continuation)

So we add a second chapter to the conversation stirred by “Sabrina“. I thought it was worth publishing this interaction with Giuseppe because it raises interesting questions about the relationship between the author and the characters of a story. Comments are welcome!

the shape of rain HR

The Shape of Rain – El Granada, California. March 2017 – Photo by F. Marincola

February 15th 2017

Dear Franco,

I’ m flattered by your request to express my opinion about the Sabrina’s story.

I confess that I had to re-read your conversation with Catterina Coha just published in the blog.

I cannot deny that most of the arguments that she makes resonate with me save for a “distinguo”.

  1. The writer’s view of the two women characters and the way he presents love
  2. Luca’s view and behaviour toward the two women: Martina and Sabrina (and perhaps all women)

I feel that I could easily and quickly comment on and dismiss the second point by stating that Luca is an autistic creature clueless about women. But, I am not sure I can truly do that.

In fact I am puzzled between the choice of following the “distinguo or just focus only on the first point: the author’s way of presenting the story.

There is a central paragraph in (Part One) that may shed light on what I mean:

“Luisa spent long evenings and nights sitting on an armchair in front of Luca or cuddling at his side on the sofa but rarely she crossed the threshold of his bedroom. Not because she would not wish to, but because most of the times Luca did not seem interested in moving in that direction. He rather kept extracting from his friend all that she could tell about how women think. It was an obsession and he would often bring up Christina with the lame excuse that she could serve as an example. Luisa, in turn, listened patiently and empathetically to the youth sweetheart with the maturity of an experienced woman and she reckoned that her beloved Luca was still, even after all these year, the same insecure boy who, in spite of all the fortune that had been bestowed to him by destiny, particularly in gallant affairs, had learned nothing about women or, perhaps, even about life. So night after night, a maternal instinct overwhelmed her and all she wanted to do was to hold in her arms that handsome, lonesome, and clueless man.

The author characterizes Luca as “… had learned nothing about women””. Yes it is true! And I wander if this is just a pretext also for the author to be excused from his ignorance when it comes to talking about how a woman loves. If the author would have put directly in the mouth of Luca a sentence such as: “I think that Sabrina loves me as …or because…” then the distinguo 2 (the character’s perspective) could be accountable for all the arguments raised about Sabrina, Martina and so on. The indirect description of sentiments keeps the author bound to Luca, as if they were the same person.

In the discussion with Catterina, the author tries instead to keep it separate, arguing and defending the freedom of the story, the fantasy of the writer and so on.

Unfortunately, this novel without the “distinguo” gives a superficial picture of the perception of love not only in the context of women but men too. The author just grazes the surface of the huge sea that this kind of feelings cover.

It might be possible, in the next novel connected to this trilogy that both Luca and the author would redeem themselves.

But at the end who am I, as a man who tries, either to defend or to comment on a woman’s love? The only thing I have learned is that I could acknowledge the lack and inability to understand how a woman loves. Maybe, I just can smell the scent of it.

***

February 16th 2017

Dear Franco,

I am writing to apologize for the harsh comment. I was too direct and perhaps too critical. My intention was to elicit a key point. I beg you then, if you are not completely pissed, to pardon me. I could write another review considering another aspect although secondary focusing on the relationship among the three women toward the protagonist.

***

February 16th 2017

Dear Giuseppe,

I am not upset at all. I really cherish intellectual diatribes. Of course, I did not agree with your comment and I was pondering about how to respond from my perspective but I had no time as I am getting settled here in Half Moon Bay (by the way, nothing is less rewarding than the process of moving; after all this work, when you look around and order is re-established, one realizes that it all ended just about as it was left at the previous place! But of course, the new place, Half Moon Bay is truly spectacular!)

…I think your first comment was a little difficult to interpret for me in a rush and I needed to read it carefully. What I think about the conversation around “Sabrina” is that it is raising interesting perspectives about life and the role that fiction plays in its description. This is why we can work on a follow up conversation between you of me. So give me a chance to respond to your original one and then you can offer your rebuttal. Of course, we would only publish it if we like it perhaps in the form of a short story. We could set the stage somewhere along the Pacific coast or at a tavolino in the Piazza of Pizzo. Did you ever watch “My Dinner with Andre“? It is one of my favorite movies and we can set the conversation similarly around a dinner table.

… But give me some time!

***

February 21st 2017

Dear Giuseppe,

Sorry for the belated response but I was captured completely by my move to California.

Do not apologize at all for your severe criticisms! I should not have asked you if I did not want your opinion! As they say for children, those who are abused do better than those who are neglected! I do not know how precisely this holds for children, but definitely applies to authors! So I am happy that you and others even bothered reading and commenting on my story.

Going to the “distinguo”, please let me emphasize one more time that I am not Luca and I do not identify with him (I wish I was as charismatic!) and this goes also for the overlap of sentiments! The reason why I do not put words on Luca’s mouth is because I emphasize his introversion that is at the root of all his problems (remember the original episode with Clara in the walk in “A Walk in the Park”?). Clara story will come back eventually and will perhaps uncover more about Luca’s personality. I believe that, as in Lucas divorce, most relationships fail for no good reason except poor communication and its gnawing consequences. This is Luca’s paramount characteristic: his inability to verbalize feelings both for the benefit of the listener and for his own. This is why I have to let the author (or other characters in the story) speak for him! Also, don’t you think that, why we are sometimes good listeners to verbalized concepts, we re not as attuned to the communication that can occur through silence? Yet, how many times does one keep his mouth shut to avoid confrontation letting a whole universe of emotions extinguish in the silence? It is just Luca or it occurs to many among of us? And do we realize how corroding is that silence?

But again, this does not mean that I am Luca and that I cannot separate myself from him. In fact, it is the identification with a character is the antithesis of writing. The beauty of writing fiction is just the opposite: the liberation from oneself and the repetitiousness of one’s life to extrapolate scenarios beyond the constraints of routine and explore novel and unexpected frontiers. Think about the opening pages of “La Coscienza di Zeno” (to come close to your origins!). Do you believe that Svevo had nothing to do with Zeno just because of the vivid description of the character in the first person? Or he was simply intrigued by the extreme depiction of an otherwise regular person similar but not identical to himself? Was Svevo Zeno and am I Luca or not? Where is the distinguo? We will never know and it does not matter! I would leave poor Luca (and his creator!) alone; while we all shelter our existence beneath a framework of logic (or appearance of logic) we breathe through our instincts: the mysterious bonding of irrationality unites both author and character but not any further beyond that point.

Fiction writers, perhaps differently from poetry, cannot focus on themselves! I do not know how to explain this concept exactly; perhaps you should look at a fiction writer as a photographer who uses Photoshop to enhance reality. It is just part of the writing process not to be interested in your own life, it would be like taking a photo of yourself through a mirror over and over. How many times can one do it without dying of boredom? Probably, as for most fiction writers, I like to explore a character close to a putative reality but also free to float without boundaries in an imaginary world. Reality can be quite plain most of the times and with defined limits. Imagination is not! But how far can we push it? So, in some ways, the writer tries to identify and empathize with a character, imagine its reactions in distinct situations and, like a ventriloquist, speak through it. Other times the writer uses different techniques to express feelings without making the protagonist speak for himself. Think about Madame Bovary: the first time Emma speaks is at the middle of the novel spouting a sentence to address her dog: “I think I made a mistake!” But what a powerful overture to Emma’s tragic existence otherwise depicted by describing her behavior and response to her environment! So, is it possible that Flaubert spoke through Emma at that moment? Was he she? History argues that he was representing the story of his sister and, perhaps, through that process identifying a bit with the latter. But in the end who cares? Did this prevent him from composing probably the best novel ever written? And again, whether it is there or not, the symbiosis between author and character is momentary and ethereal because neither the character nor the author’s engagement exists beyond the boundary of the story and all will be over as soon as the drape is lowered to cover the stage where the comedy was played. It reminds me of one of the closing paragraphs of the Pickwick Papers when the Charles Dickens himself interjects to bid farewell to the characters of the story:

“…Let us leave our old friend in one of those moments of unmixed happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some, to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them.

 It is the fate of most men who mingle with the world, and attain even the prime of life, to make many real friends, and lose them in the course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the full extent of their misfortunes; for they are required to furnish an account of them besides.”

 

 ***

I like to read your poems though; perhaps they are a way to touch a life that I cannot reach on my own! So I repeat! I am not Luca or any of other of the characters in my stories! Just as much as I am not Jeremy, the serial killer in “The Leopard Story” or Christian, the dying man in “The visit”! I might be closer to Giuseppe in “The Wise Men of Pizzo” but even that, it is a snapshot of a part of one person’s life as I also mentioned in: how people read fiction! So please, do interpret my stories as a confessional! There are priests for that and I could go to one if I really needed to (in modern times they are called therapists and they do just the same than Don Pino did for Giuseppe in “The Wise Man of Pizzo” but they charge way more!).

Back to the story! If you allow the “distinguo” to exist, Luca is a perfectly reasonable character and his “autism” as you call it or “apathy” as I would reflect his grievance against and distrust of women’s “love” after catching his wife with another man. Keep in mind that all assumptions that he carried a promiscuous existence during his marriage are never substantiated by the story! Like too often happens in true life assumptions create a self-enforcing reality; his friends assume he is a womanizer based on his youth’s behavior. But, as a writer, I was very careful to allow these insinuations without, however, providing any evidence of their actuality. Luca had no affairs at all living in full absorption for his work. Now, failing in his personal life after so many years and losing all he had, he is incredulous and skeptical. Of those women who talk to him about “love” he questions instinctively their commitment wondering how could he ever believe a woman’s words again. Women are naturally attracted to him and “love” him because he is handsome and charismatic but beyond that how far would they go to enter his true world? Can’t we just excuse his skepticism when he hears one more time: “I love you”? What does it mean? How many times did Christina tell him the same?

His skepticism reminds me of an old joke:

…A guy (could be a woman) writes to the girlfriend (writing to the boyfriend):

Dear,

 I love you desperately,   … for you I should climb the tallest mountain! I should swim across the stormiest of oceans and cross the most unforgiving desert …just to see you! I cannot wait to embrace you!

 Yours…

 P.S. “See you tomorrow …if it does not rain!”

As you can see, there are contingencies in love! And are not only dependent on men! I have seen enough from the other side! Trust me, I know women quite well and they are just as wonderful and beastly as men can be. So my stories are attempting to represent distinct characters. Most of them are quite real, not because I slept with them or some acquaintance of mine did, as Catterina hinted, but because I was able to extract their tales over a glass of wine or a casual conversation in a plane and them magnify and embellish them within an imaginary boundary to make them universal. I believe it is the art of listening that turns reality into a tale beautified by the visual arts of our imagination.

So, be patient with Luca and his women. They just stand as a provocation to our imagination. What would you do in similar circumstances, what would somebody else do?

Also, remember that this is a study of a character that I want to explore in a more complex and sophisticated novel if I will ever get there. It is about dissecting the dynamics of divorce among decent people. I guess you could agree that most often the true characters in the comedy of life go through it without knowing how to explain what happened.

Finally, you know my personal life and you know that I know how to love and to reciprocate love! There is nobody further away from me than Luca.

A hug and looking forward to your reply

Franco

***

February 23rd 2017

Dear Franco,

Thanks a lot for your reply I appreciate it very much.

I just want to point out that my observations were not personal at all and my way of writing was maybe not so clear. I talk about the writer as the photographer as you call it, and the protagonist. I would never put your personal life and feeling in the comparison at all. Said this, I should comment further on your answer.

The letter to me is a real essay on itself and merits more consideration and discussion and part of it could be published in the blog. I agree with all your reasoning that is very well explained.

My only concern at the end is that I would have put more of the observations and descriptions of women’s love, like a photographer would do, directly in the mouth of Luca. In this way, maybe the photographer (or the author as I call it) sits on an indirect position over this delicate issue of women’s way of thinking. Since you are going to write more about this character, I will look at it more carefully:  his way to express his thoughts in particular if you put him in a contest of a thriller, as you anticipate in a previous correspondence (see “A conversation about the short story Sabrina”).

So I thank you again for your letter and a very warm presentation of your way of thinking and writing.

A hug,

G

Mush by Jamie Marincola

“Mush” is a report  by Jamie on winter adventures in the Arctics in January …but seen from an unusual angle… I hope you will enjoy

 

addy-with-his-musher

Addi with his musher, January 2017, photo by Jamie Marincola

 

“Mush”

Why am I here? What is my purpose? If I were to never get out of bed again would my life be any more meaningful than if I carried through the motions of my routine existence?

These are not questions pondered by a sled dog. A sled dog knows its purpose.

It’s the crack of dawn in the Swedish Lapland. It’s the first crack of dawn in nearly a month, but it’s more than enough for the dogs. They howl and whine and growl and pull at their collars. Food is served. Some scarf it down; others pass on their breakfast mush in favor of mushing the sled. They’ve been through this routine regularly since they were puppies and know there’s still two hours between food and pulling, but it’s enough time to get pumped and energized for the day’s trek.

Addi is the oldest dog on the trip; nearly ten years old; a pure Siberian husky. He waits patiently, indulging in his meal before taking on what’s left of his neighbor’s. In his youth, he had skipped his share of nourishment during the fervor of the morning, but now has the patience to get his fill. His legs are tired from yesterday, yet the ache he experiences isn’t from exhaustion, but rather anticipation for the day’s voyage.

He gets a visit from an enthusiastic visitor. She was his musher yesterday and may very well be again today. She also gives good pets. Addi takes the opportunity to stretch out for a hug. Mushers love hugs almost as much as Addi loves pets. The pets last a good minute, but only confirm that Addie loves pets more than mushers love hugs because this musher is on to the next dog before his hug is complete. There’s always next time.

The sun meanders on the horizon as the hours pass. The anticipation is palpable. Jah Jah, a younger male whose aggression lead to his castration as a puppy, lets out a snarl and a leap hoping to get closer to his sled. Finally, the hour has come when the mushers surface from their cabin.

The forest erupts in disharmony.

Every dog expresses his or her eagerness through a unique combination of motion and sound. Once fitted with a harness, Jah Jah leaps to and fro, a sign that he is ready for action. Although each sled is facing the same direction uphill, coordinates mean nothing to Jah Jah until the journey begins. Addi is lead more gracefully to his position, but not without delivering a significant tug to his musher.

 

 

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On the Road – January 2017, photo by Jamie Marincola

All dogs are secure. They begin to pull in unison, but get angry when their straps hold them in place. Their musher mounts and uses her body to bolster the sled while she loosens the anchor. The sled budges which only confirms to the dogs that their tugs are not in vein and they should try harder until the musher succumbs to their efforts.

Finally, the sled in front disappears up the hill and their turn is near. The wood of the sled creaks as the reins quickly alternate between slack and taught. Jah Jah gives a quick snap at his partner who quickly alternates the direction of her pulling to maximize her distance from him. Even Addi loses his cool and shouts at his partner who returns the exclamation.

In an instant, their musher lifts her foot and the resistance that had been holding them back is gone. They are free. The energy that emanated from their jaws and unleashed towards their neighbors now singly focused on their sole purpose.

The tranquility of the forest is restored.

 

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The Ice Hotel – January 2017, photo by Jamie Marincola

 

 

A conversation about the short story “Sabrina”

This is a dialogue between the Catterina Coha and myself that evolved with each episode of Sabrina and with a few additional comments from Giuseppe, which be both things it is worth publishing. I hope you will enjoy. Any opinion is wellcome!

 

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Centre for Islamic Culture – Doha, February 11th 2017 – Photo by F. Marincola

 

A conversation about the short story “Sabrina

***

After the publication of Part 1

Catterina’s original comment:

…Well, so far Luca has found two women with propensity to “be enslaved” to men, and one who finds comfort in sharing cynicism. No wonder he feels like a cold fish…neither slavery nor cynicism deserve love. Martina’s character remains too undefined to judge, but this may be exactly the problem. She may be too shallow to be described beyond her physical appearance.

Luca’s quest for understanding women in this company is pointless. He needs to find a woman, who could answer with the words of Montale (see attached) from a wall in Monterosso, Cinque Terre:

 

…Non domandarci la formula che mondi possa aprirti,

Si’ qualche storta sillaba e secca come un ramo.

Codesto solo oggi possiamo dirti,

cio’ che non siamo, cio’ che non vogliamo

 

…Do not ask us the formula that could open a world for you

Yes, a few crooked syllables dry like a stick

Just this today we can tell you

What we are not, what we do not want

Catterina

 

***

 

Reply from author:

Dear Catterina,

You should elaborate a little more (explain better what you mean for “propensity to be enslaved”). Also, I am not sure about what is the point made by the words of Montale; can you explain what they have to do with the story?

Of course, I am flattered that you have strong opinions about the characters! It’s the all purpose of writing. Frankly, Luca is not that original of a character. Luca could be the man character in Dostoevsky “The “meek one” or the “man without qualities” in Musil’s story, or in “the Trial” of Kafka. Men like Luca are more common then appreciated, lost in a bubble of cynical existentialism, just the opposite of the optimistic determinism of Le Candide!

Luca like those other characters cannot be judged in ethical terms because his ethics are too evanescent. But the women around Luca I believe are quite extraordinary. Of course, the characters will emerge as the story goes on but I think we could learn from each of them (…most of them, by the way, are sketches of real people collated into one story. So they are less far from reality than they may seem).

Thanks for reading it anyways

Franco

 

***

 

Catterina’s reply:

My dear Franco

Sorry for the cryptic nature of my comment –

I guess to me the women characters are closer to a man fantasy of women than to real human beings.

I know – you say they are modeled from real people – and maybe they are indeed (sadly) how you have interpreted the women who either you or somebody you know well – have slept with …because in this story this is all they do.

To your credit the description of Sabrina is colorful and funny but it is totally unclear what is her motivation to sleep with Luca – Servility? Financial benefits? Fear to be fired? …Because if it is love, it would not work without trust but only resignation to be hurt and abandoned like a slave after she is no longer needed to please the master. And he does not treat her as a lover – more like a butler – at best a wise butler.

Martina …it is not sophistication that she lacks – but hypocrisy that she shows. She has little to loose by being with an old man – from what we know about her – and it is unlikely that she does not know that he sleeps with the others. – So love and honesty is not in the picture either – but of course, she likes him and being with him could make her life so much better…I admit it is not rare for women to think this way – seek security and shelter and comfort from a man.

…And Luisa

She is an old friend who could never get love from Luca and resigned to be a close “body”.

But her consolation rests in this illusion of sharing a superior intellect with her friend.

But there is no passion, no ideals

Cynicism may sound good but it is to run from! It is dry.

I guess I am more attracted to people who are irrationally passionate

And honest – although not elegant perhaps – in their passion

I do not find any of these women extraordinary at all

Although yes they can be real

Thanks for your patience,

Catterina

 

***

 

Reply from author:

Thanks Catterina,

This correspondence is a lot of fun!

I think that your “executive summary” of the women characters is perfect but is just exactly what a “third” party would think; an icy and objective analysis of a situation as seen from the outside. I try to describe my characters from their point of view (I guess the extreme is “The Leopard Story“, in which Jeremy (a professional killer) is portrayed according to his own logical process and, if you allow, his “dignity” even though in the end he remains a horrifying criminal. I believe that it is fair to judge behaviors according to our point of view, but we should not forget that it is just ours against that of another human being, which may be just as legitimate. It could be the moral version of the “theory of relativity”!

Thus, the women in this story may very well be characterized as you judge them but, I am sure you would concur that if they were questioned about their situation, they might agree with the crude facts upon which your judgment was based but not with their interpretation and they would justify their behavior differently. This is the point of the narrative in my characters and if you allow this is the way the narrative of life most commonly flows: we rarely argue about the facts but rather their interpretation creating a reality around them that supports our point of view. Nobody is right or wrong in my stories but each character (even Tommaso in the Old Boys Academy) acts according to what his or her instincts (often rationalized as moral choices) tell them to do at a certain point in life. The same character might make different decisions in identical situations at a different time point. We may call them disingenuous but how can we judge? I believe that most human beings can justify most of they time the reasons why they do what they do, no matter how illogical their choices may seem to others. I am finishing the Sabrina story and although your summary of her character is convincing, you will see that it will taste differently when seen from her point of view (this is why I am using the stratagem of making her talk to God/Saint Francis in Part 2, so we can hear from her voice, how she feels).

I wish you would let me put together this correspondence into an “edited” blog because it is stirring interesting points related to narrative and the literary rather than the contextual value of a character.

Thanks so much for caring.

Franco

 

***

 

 Catterina’s reply:

Dear Franco,

Of course I have a propensity to grant you your wishes. So go head and post our correspondence.

And I agree that we all live with deep contradictions that we rationalize in our own ways.

I think that in this case, the piecemeal posting may have triggered premature opinions about the characters – questions that would have been resolved by reading a little further…

Anyway, as I left out the “Montale” words from my prior explanation I will explain here:

Luca seems to think that there is some revelation that could explain women nature and reactions (la formula che mondi possa aprirti) and all he gets from Luisa is (qualche storta sillaba e secca come un ramo) cynicism

If he would listen with his heart (which he may be unable to do because of a slight autism), he could understand what women are not (slaves or commodities) and what they do not want (to feel used and lied to)

Thanks,

Catterina

 

***

 

Reply from author:

Dear Catterina,

Thanks for agreeing to put together this correspondence as a blog. It is deeper than we appreciate. It has to do with aspects of life more than writing styles. As we try to look at life from different angles we observe characters that change like chameleons according to the lights and shades of the surroundings. I love your points particularly because they trigger reactions and thoughts. You make me think more deeply about what we are trying to accomplish by writing and it is great to do it with you: are we simply painting something that we see, or are we creating beyond what we can see?

It will take me some time to work on this correspondence. Secretly, I was setting up the Luca character for a thriller story since the trilogy (Walk in the park, Old Boys Academy and Sabrina) is a preliminary sketch of a novel I am working on. So, as you said, it makes less sense reading bit by bit rather than the finished story, but in the end isn’t the way life goes? Don’t we just judge others most often according to the ‘episodes’ we happen to observe rather than the complete picture, which most of the times we miss?

So, I think more and more about our correspondence and about the fact that I could be not only a better writer but also a better human being.

 

***

 

After the publication of Part 2

Catterina’s comment:

…Sabrina is now emerging and starting to shape into a more interesting character.

As for the “question” of marriage (“Should I marry Martina?): Luca could have asked if he should buy a Ferrari, just the same. Since there is no emotional commitment, marriage here is only a commercial transaction, which will be mostly advantageous to Martina. Perhaps for Luca it is a way to relive his own sense of guilt, although I doubt that he feels guilty. Maybe he is really trying at his best to interpret the societal signs that he thinks point him towards the right direction, but an autistic person cannot distinguish the difference between a label and its true meaning when it comes to emotions. It is like a blind person choosing between two shades of colors. We’ll have to wait for the rest to know to which degree he is truly autistic.

 

***

 

Giuseppe enters the picture:

I cannot avoid answering to this drastic comment by Catterina. It may seem that Luca is autistic but then I wander if half of men are like that. I believe it is a much more subtle way to feel. I believe that Luca is a sensible man but not grown up and his narcissism excludes the understanding of others in particular the feelings of a woman. I believe that none of us boys or elderly men have gone completely through this stage of sensibility. Some of us like Luca; have not yet reached the consciousness of love. I do not defend him at all; I just would leave it to the possibility of explaining who he really is! Personally it took me several hours of therapy and dozens and dozens of poems to just have a pale idea of what it is to be loved by a woman and love back. May be you, as woman, have an explanation to this complicated reality.

 

***

 

Reply from author:

Very good point Giuseppe, I believe that Luca, perhaps sadly, is quite representative of a lot of people and perhaps mostly men. The sadder thing is that he is not a bad person. He is a common being, who is also fortunate to be attractive to women and, perhaps because of this, he is spoiled and not trained to understand them but, besides this twist peculiar to this character, a lot of men, you and I included, wonder why it is so difficult to love. I am not even sure that it is narcissism but it is more a sort of existentialistic depression that hampers a lot of middle age persons and affects emotions. I am exploring with this character this aspect of humanity and this is why I choose somebody who is beyond the common hurdles of ordinary life behind which we often find excuses for our choices. Here is a perfectly fortunate man, with all he can hope for and yet; he still shares the problems of several men of his age. No excuses for Luca except being a man like many other. But let’s see what will happen to him and the other characters. In the end, these first chapters are just the setup for the real story.

 

***

 

After the Conclusion

Catterina’s comment:

Dear Franco,

It is interesting how there are times when we enjoy playing games, living parallel lives and finding comfort in our contradictions. It is, perhaps, the pleasure of going back to the fantasy world of childhood, to the make-believe games we used to play. It is, perhaps, the need to brake the boredom with a diversion from the certain and expected, or the appeal of a creative solution out of our misery that allows us to change everything without changing anything.

Luca, Sabrina and Martina, all lie to each other, and lie to themselves, living for a while in the fragile equilibrium of the make-believe game, to escape their problems. But, as always happens in life, the magic breaks, and in a way, perhaps unconsciously, it is exactly what they all desire, growing weary of the game.

Sabrina, far from “enslaving” for others, emerges as the most fortunate and emotionally solid. This is because she cannot blame herself for her failed marriage, and whatever “sins” she might commit, she does it to survive while she is completing her mission, which is of unquestionable high moral value: sending money to her children to assure a better future for them.  In addition, she found herself in the perfect position to do what it is in the feminine nature a fulfilling task. Taking care of others can bring in itself a form of pleasure, especially when a woman is deprived of the ability to do so for her children. This is not a servile attitude, but I would rather characterize it as a form of power when applied to a cherished person, in sharp contradiction to the powerless Luca, well described in the “conclusion of Sabrina”, who is lost longing for the women who, from his very first recollection, were the providers of caring affection.

Martina is the biggest loser, but she is so proficient at hurting herself that Luca has hardly any role in the outcome.  As most women, she cannot help it but link her sense of worth to childbearing, to the point that this is borderline pathological, and she will keep running away from any real relationship assuming that her physical inability to have children is like an “original sin” from which there is no refuge.

To the main question of what is “love” there is not one answer, but many answers. Love is a lot of different feelings, mostly the product of our own fantasies, an energy that happens to fall by chance more than fate, on whoever is in the right place at the right time.  Whether it will lead to a “relationship” that lasts in time may depend more on the degree to which each of the lovers has something unique to offer to the other.  In the case of Sabrina, if Luca were to leave her, she would find another master with a nice disposition to care for and feel, in her own way, happy.  Luca just needs a “warm body” near him …but is this not what we all need?

Of course, I still believe that there is another form of love, much more rare, which can link two people through the soul in a privileged bond that has no equals, no substitutions. However, it will probably be the topic of another story…

Catterina

 

***

 

Now Giuseppe interjects:

Well Franco, I believe you succeeded to give the angle that is a compromise between all the possibilities that could have followed Sabrina’s decision in the church in front of St Francis. Luca maybe could have redeemed himself but not. He just went through the evening rituals and then to bed. Only Sabrina with her love knew that she had to accept all that Luca could give in his own way and nothing more. I think this is the most realistic ending that one could expect.

I am waiting to see Luca become a real wise man and not only an old boy. Let see the next novel.

 

***

 

 Dear all…

So entrenched we are in the evolving judgment of the characters that I sense simultaneous success and failure! I was able to stir strong emotions and created what Chekov would call “a page-turner!” at the same time. Did the succession of events made my story so superficial to make my characters just bearers of accidental information? Why are we so critical of them? Is it because they are too real or because their portrait fails to convince? Do they miss the shadows and contrasts of the artist’s masterful touch that could make them live? Are they just poor quality sketches for a telenovela or are they worthy of deeper appreciation? Do we care about their actions or about the way they were described? Did the latter make the story worth reading or was it just another mind-engrossing tabloid in front of us?

In the end, we are not here to judge the human value, but rather judge whether in our readings, we learned or felt something novel, triggered by the description that we did not stop to notice before.

Like the face of a homeless begging for money; how many of us would recognize that face just a few minutes after distractedly evading his gaze?

I would like to end with Luca’s own word in the “Old Boys Academy (Part 8)”:

“…I wish one could crafts emotions, tune them up or down at will. But that is not possible! …We can describe how we feel but in the process we cannot change what happens inside of us. Semantics do not help in my case! For an artist graphics is about geometry, music is about mathematical harmonies, photography is about light and angles, poetry about verbal consonance, narrative about dynamics of flow because the content is wrapped in form and that is what the artist cares about. The emotions that the artist bestows and that admirers covet are a given reality shared by all humans upon which the masters base their work. They are the dough that allows the chef’s masterpiece. We all can experience at times fantastic feelings, emotions, and thoughts. They are no different from what a poet experiences but we do not know how to translate them into a universal language that everybody can understand as well as the poet can. The reason why we can relate to great artists is because they describe just exactly what we are feeling but we cannot express. Artists do not invent emotions; they cannot create or change them! They can only describe them better than most. I am no artist, and I wish I could better explain to all of you what I feel tonight but perhaps you can imagine it if you ever went through the same.”

Life by Sabrina

Another poem by our friend Sabrina – I think it is beautiful but we are waiting for Giuseppe‘s comments!

flying-birds-at-hyppos-pond-hr

Flying flock at “Hippos Pond” – Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, January 2017 – Photo courtesy by a friend

La vita

La vita è bella,e triste…

Vivere come l’uccello,

Sopra l’acqua

Volare nel piacere

di vedere nel riverbero del fiume

Il sole che l’acqua lava

Life

My life is wonderful and sad

My life flies like a bird above the water

I fly and enjoy

In the mirror of the river

The sun washed by the water

Farewell Speech, Sidra January 26th 2017

I was asked by many to post my farewell speech after almost 4 years at Sidra, in Doha, Qatar. I will miss so many things about beautiful Doha and “The Country Governed by a Dream“! Thank you all for being great friends and I hope the distance (almost the opposite part of the world is where I will be in Half Moon Bay, California) will only increase our bond rather than extinguish it.

Thanks you all again

nesting-tree-at-ndutu-hr

Nesting Tree – Ndutu at Ngorongoro Conservation Area – Tanzania, January 2017 – Photo courtesy of a friend

Farewell Speech, at Sidra Medical and Research Centre, Doha, Qatar – January 26th, 2017

Thank you all for showing up to say goodbye to the old man!

I have mixed feelings about farewell speeches.

They remind me of a neighbor and friend of mine: a highly achieved man, the advisor for financial affairs to President Clinton, but primarily known among friends as the most compulsive man on Earth. Irony of life, he showed up in my clinic one day with the diagnosis of advanced kidney cancer and I ended up taking care of him at the National Cancer Institute. He was not lucky and quickly reached the end.

The unusual circumstance is that he had organized his own funeral that was attended by the President himself. He had worried about seating arrangements; sequence of speeches and he even had his own farewell speech read by his wife. It was humorous and austere. He gave final advice to the President and of course, it was emotional. This is why since then I have mixed feelings about farewell speeches …and you may want to pardon if I may sound emotional.

Of course, I do not intend to reach the ultimate frontier yet. But the distance will be so great that I know I will not see many of you for a long time and some of you forever. I will miss all from California.

It has been a magic journey worthy of the Arabian Nights; from the time I first visited Qatar invited by my loyal friend Lotfi Chouchane at the end of January 2011 right after my mother’s funeral, to the Sabbatical at Weill Cornell in 2012, to the tenure at Sidra.

There were only five of us when we started. I am the only survivor among them and not for long. Several who contributed before: like David Kerr who is responsible together with David Anderson and Anqi Qian for the design of our beautiful research floors, Bill Owen, the CEO who forged the image of Sidra during its golden times …and my fearless executive assistant Savita Anderson, …and several who came after …they are all gone. But we should not forget their legacy. Perhaps none was perfect, but they all had a part in shaping the history of Sidra.

Most are still here from those times:

Our friends from other institutions; mentors and partners:

Dr. Fathy Saoud, Ahmed Elmagarmid, Ghida Al Juburi, Ibrahim Janahi, Javaid Sheikh, Bob Crone, Hamda Al Naemi, Eman Sadoun, Alex Knuth, Ramzi Mohammad, Imed Gallouzi, Hadi Abderrahim, Theena Khorsheed, and so many others. How many “historic moments” we shared nurturing the dream of making the impossible happen!

You are our best allies, not the consultants who come and go. You are the ones who can support each other within the historical context in which decisions were and will be made. Let’s cherish our friendship and support! We cannot survive as academic isolates. Our challenges are not outside but frequently within our own institutions. They are misunderstandings that occur because of the different ways we look at problems! Those who abide to academic standards ought to be allies independent of where they belong.

…And all of you …our Sidra Research people! Those who came because believed in “The Country Governed by a Dream” as I used to call Qatar …and those who came because believed in me.

…When I finished my residency and immunology training at Stanford, I started looking for my first faculty position but my mentor and advisor told me:

“Not yet my son! You have to go to the National Institutes of Health! There you will taste the rigor of Science” Can you believe it? What was Stanford then?

But he was totally right. The NIH is a unique place, where everybody, not only clinical and laboratory scientists, but nurses, analysts, managers and administrators are trained to appreciate and support the highest level of science. Nobody is there because they need a job, each could find a better paid one out of there. But they are there for the pursuit of excellence.

I tried to reproduce this here, based on a directly funded institute model, which mitigates internal competition for resources and with enough discretionary funding allotted to the leaders to incentivize common goals yet allowing individual freedom.

The final goal was to create an integrated institute where the whole is grater than the sum of its part to quote Aristotle. With cores that can support high quality output providing across the board consistent and comparable data that could be shared by different investigators. Therefore, enhancing the depth of individuals’ output.

This was because, contrary to other established institutions, Sidra has not built its own international credibility yet although its going in the right direction.

So no matter how successful you will be individually, you will still be a big fish in a very small pond. You will need to build together the reputation of the institution to achieve international recognition.

At the same time, do not be distracted by buzzwords: have no fear of competing with illustrious institutions: Harvard, Hopkins, NIH, you name them. You are just as legitimate …and you are already working with some of them. Those institutions are your allies if you can demonstrate enough credibility to nurture individual collaborations.

And do not fear redundancy, another buzzword! The more overlapping the projects, the deeper will be the final outcome. I never met two scientists that think the same …even when they work just exactly on the same subject. But if they work together, just seeing things from different angles increases tremendously the depth of investigation.

This is what I used to call: “Cafeteria Science”. The best work that came out of my lab was consistently inspired by chats at the NIH cafeteria with friends who were working on subjects overlapping mine.

I want to make another point.

It is said that Israel among many shortcomings sports a rowing Olympic team that is second-to-last to none consistently performing among the worst in the world. So their coach once invited the American coach for advice. After a day of observation, the American coach was asked to provide a briefing of his first impressions:

“Honestly, there are several things that can be done to improve the performance, but to start with there is a concept that needs to be rectified to obtain immediate results: you should not have eight people yelling and one rowing but the other way around!”

This reminds me of Sidra Research and its practical challenges. We suffer an organizational imbalance. When we started, we built according to different assumptions. We were supposed to build a Branch comprising 420 people. Things have changed but that has left us in the middle of the road: … while we were building a spaceship to go to Mars, we were suddenly asked to go to the Moon to save money.

Unfortunately, it is not the way it works! The physics and engineering are different! Since recruitment was done to allow seniors to select their own team, now we are left with too many generals and not enough soldiers. Of course with the leadership, we are trying to correct this and I am very thankful to all of you who endured with patience this and other growing pains.

I want to leave you with a few more nuggets of wisdom that I accumulated during my tenure here:

  • Do not be afraid of doing what’s right – So many times I observed leaders hesitate based on political considerations. This is not how decisions should be made and the Qatari leadership will appreciate your integrity.
  • And I want to conclude paraphrasing John Kennedy’s famous quote:

“Worry not about what others can do for you but rather what you can do for others”. This will be the key to Sidra’s success.

Finally, I want to thank the EMT leaders, especially

Peter Morris for bearing with the grumpy old man

Mary Boyd, Tim Carmack, Clint Hermes, Mike LeRoy and their teams with whom we shared some dramatic experiences to say the least!

My clinical scientist friends, Rusung Tan, Justin Konjie, and Ziyad Hijazi and all others

And the administrative team:

Rif Charaferine who is Sidra # 1 employ …and he is still here! And Trudy Samuels and Elaine Mitchell of course

Thank Hisham AbuNaaba, Mark Bloom, Max Renault, El Mostafa Zarroud and their teams and so many others for the incredible amount of overtime spent behind the scenes to make the impossible happen.

Thank Nelly El Mistekaway: my bossy “Jiminy Cricket”: …as they say: “with friends like her who needs a mother in law?

And thanks to Ena Wang, for her loyalty and hard work; the one who will follow my steps. She is just exactly what Sidra needs in this transition because of her integrity and dedication if not other qualities. As her NIH Chief once said: “Ena’s voice is so clear than can be heard even by the deaf and her soul so shiny that can be seen even by the blind.

Once again, thank you all for coming and please reach out to me whenever you need, my door will always be open at fmarincola@gmail.com

Thank you and thank you