Sunday, May 03, 2020

Life on the Island - The World As It Is

For Marco Moltinomi

Lately, I’ve been watching Italian movies by Cristina Comincini, notably “Follow Your Heart” and “Latin Lover.” We’re back in an Italy that once was, the scenery, the subjects, the people sitting together at a table, eating, drinking and talking, sometimes arguing, crying and laughing. It’s a scene many of us have witnessed or experienced numerous times, all around the world. And for the time, that world has stopped.

In college, one of my teachers taught a class in a very unorthodox way. So much that I remember him and his teachings over all the other professors. He was a visual person, and relied upon seeing, maybe even more than hearing the words people were saying. One semester he taught a class in which seeing and stopping the world were the main syllabus of the class. It was the 1970’s in Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay area, and this kind of class was not uncommon in those times.

What struck me then was that so many of us want the world to be the way we want it. And often the world is as it is.

One of my neighbors is lamenting that he couldn’t go out to eat for the last month. It’s a complaint we hear often these days. “I just want to go down and sit in the booth of my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant and get my plate of cheese enchiladas, is that so friggin’ difficult?”

Another person I read said something similar, “I want to go to the steakhouse and have someone cook a steak for me. I’m tired of cooking for myself. I want someone to wait on me. I’m bored to death. I’ve been waiting on this damn virus since March 15. I’m sick and tired of waiting.”

But our world has stopped, or at the very least, it has altered its arrangement with the humans on board, and we humans are stymied.

Some other challenging times to note:
• The Siege of Leningrad lasted from September 1941 to January 1944.
• The Warsaw Ghetto lasted from October 1940 to May 1943.
• The Blitzkrieg of London went from September 1940 to May 1941.
• The Black Death raged from 1342 to 1353.

And we’re "bored" with cooking our T-bone steak in the backyard for the last month?

When I view Italian films lately like the  ones I mentioned, it is much like looking at the many pictures I have taken in Italy in the last 49 years.

I remember my first day, landing in Rome. I was 20, it was August 15, 1971. What a day. The Vietnam war was still taking lives and creating havoc around the world. The economy was tanking. In fact, on the day I arrived, Richard Nixon, devalued the dollar. So, I was thrust into a world I was unfamiliar with, and with new conditions. There weren’t ATM machines. I couldn’t WhatsApp home and get them to wire me money. And I was jet-lagged.

Fortunately, the pensione I was staying at, the people were kind and understanding. It was like a family situation. I had a room, they had a kitchen, would occasionally offer me something to eat, and were patient about collecting money from me. “Don’t worry, it will all work out. Sit down, have some pasta.”

I look back at that world with wonderful nostalgia, but I don’t mourn its loss. Time takes everything and changes it, with or without a pandemic. We are in extraordinary times, no doubt. But adaptation to change is a key survival attribute in this moment. Which by the way, this moment is all we have ever had. So, for me, adaptation is essential.

It could get worse. But moaning about a world that no longer exists is probably not a good survival strategy.

I think about the neighbor and his craving for Tex-Mex. And the other one and his yearning for a steak cooked by someone other than himself. And the young woman who just wants to go back to Neiman Marcus and buy that Yuzefi shoulder bag. And the group of friends who just want to go to a Happy Hour at their favorite bar. I’m sure the people of Leningrad, London and Warsaw had their desires for normalcy too.

My question, more for myself than anything else, is this: So, you get what you wanted, the meal out, the personal indulgence of a chic and stylish objet du d├ęsir, the facetime with your old gang. And then you go home, and later in the night, let’s say around 1:30 AM you wake up in bed. And you have a big pain from the hole in your heart that all these things could not fill. They could not “make” you happy. What then? Where do you turn if your world has stopped turning?

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