Monday, 27 May 2013

Rambling à-la-hollandaise

When I tell people I just met I used to live in the Netherlands, the most common reaction is "how cool is that!"
Then, when I tell them I found it cold rather than cool, the reaction is a mix of "I think you just sprouted a second head right in front of my eyes" and "you sounds quite a loser."

I got used to it by now. I know that not everybody is, luckily or not, meant to call a place home just cause he/she laid a hat on it. I am of this kind of people, I discovered: I know that I don't fit well for a long period of time in all the places.
And I also realize that the shock caused by my dislike of living in the Netherlands is greater in people that never left Italy or has just visited Amsterdam in a smokey trip. Or both.
We do seem to be all inclined to think everything is better somewhere else but in Italy and me telling people that actually outside is pretty shitty too is not an easy way to start a causal conversation.

However I also feel a bit guilty when I talk about my time in the Netherlands, as if I have to justify myself and what others perceive as a defeat.
The looks of people seem to ask: "What's wrong with you?"
Well honestly, many things are wrong with me and even more were wrong, not only with me, when I used to live in Haarlem.

Everything of my life in the Netherlands feels just so relatively-something.
Relatively foreign to me, relatively forgotten, relatively detached. That's probably why I feel strangely awkward and somehow detached when I go back to the Netherlands. Which is precisely what I did last week.

It was something I felt one year ago already but recently, with Flavia and Rob visiting me in Torino and me going back to the Lowlands, it just become a very tangible, unavoidable feeling.
My memory is selectively failing when it comes to this country and my life there: just as if I wasn't really living there and I'm just watching somebody else's holiday movie or a predictable tv series, I look back and can't fully recognize my past. 
Flavia was talking about some of my past colleague and more than one I struggled with associating the names to the faces, not because I was confused but because I completely forgot about this person. Next to the names there was nothing, not a face, not a shape, sometimes maybe just a shadow.
I used to work with this people, spend 5 days a week with them and now they're just a foggy notion. This brought me to another "revelation": I remember things but not in a linear way. I got a sharp memory of the day I landed there and the day I left, but everything in the middle doesn't follow a linear timeline. Could it be I zapped through those months on board of the Tardis?
I've learnt not to regret and even my move there is something I don't regret, but, only recently I came to admit to myself that the reason for it is not that I'm grateful for the experience and the growth it provided me.
I don't regret it because I don't care. Funny, when I'm there I feel somewhat irritated: by the rudeness of people, by the awful weather and even more awful food, by the fact I couldn't fit in there. But ultimately I don't care and it makes me a little sad, because I wish I could care and because I'm not so stupid not to realize the ups of living there: it's a practical country with little emotions and, in a twisted way, the best place I could spend some months recovering from a severe burst of depression.
Ironic, isn't it? Battling depression by living in a country I find depressing: I'm pretty sure you won't find such a treatment in any medicine essay.

I don't think about all of this a lot normally, but yes, last week I had to, because I was back there for 4 days. I left on Saturday quite tired and confused, unsure of my feelings and of my own very self. I feel I'm once again walking on eggshells and annoyingly enough I got no clue why.

On Saturday I was walking towards the Openbare Bibliotheek and Amsterdam was basking under the sun. I stopped at the traffic lights, closed my eyes and enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face.
Oh, such a beautiful day! Even though, if you really want to be accurate, it's the end of March and I'm wearing a winter coat with a wool scarf and 3 layers of clothing underneath it.
Well, I commented to Flavia, that's Einstein's relativity theory à-la-hollandaise: a peculiar application of the theory by which one can sit nicely on the balcony on the last floor of Amsterdam library, enjoy the small little pleasure in life like sipping a mint tea and finding herself at peace. Relatively so, at least.

So where does all this free form rambling leave me? Nowhere precisely. Misplaced somewhere in the universe, I know that I can't make sense of the world, because I can barely make sense of myself. Yet, I know that no matter all the things that pissed me off in the Netherlands, they still got a hell of a mint tee.
I'd even define it "lekker", if only I didn't find this word as one of the most annoying and misused word of Dutch (or any other language)...


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

liberi tutti

Venerdì scorso, mentre aspettavo nell'antro d'attesa del dentista, leggevo un articolo dedicato a Milena Gabanelli, su come fosse stata candidata dal movimento cinque stelle alla presidenza della Repubblica.
Poco più di 48 ore dopo leggevo di come le stesse persone che la volevano al Quirinale, adesso le scaricavano addosso insulti di varia natura. Da possibile garante della nostra Costituzione a venduta il passo è breve in questo paese.

A volte spero che sia tutta una candid camera alla Nanni Loy, mi immagino Telespalla Bob che fa zuppetta con la brioche nel cappuccino di Bersani.
Poi mi rendo dolorosamente conto che è la realtà che ha superato l'assurdo e la fantasia.

Longanesi viene sempre citato per quel suo pensiero: "Non è la libertà che manca; mancano gli uomini liberi".
Uomini o donne, continuo a sperare ce ne siano tante di persone libere come Milena Gabanelli.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Of MOOCs and other ramblings

MOOCs make me laugh.
Not because I find them a laughable matter. Quite the contrary. It's just that the sounds of the word when I pronounce it: the double "o" extends longer than it should probably do and it sounds like the "moo" of a cow.
Most of the time I say "mooc", but I think "mooooc!!!"
Every time I say the word I feel like one of those moo cow toy been turned over and back again. Given my ever expanding size it's a fitting image, but again, I don't laugh for the notion of it.

I'm actually enrolled in my 3rd class at Coursera and I've read quite a lot of articles about the subject in the past months.
Overall it's very hard to find something that is not "fanboy" driven. In a word made of shades, you can rely on journalism to provide you a black or white analysis on any given subject:
MOOCs are bad. MOOCs are good.
MOOCs are the end of University education as we know it. MOOCs are the 2.0 version of University by post and they're doomed to fail it.
So where do I stand on the topic?
Well, first of all I am not taking any class to improve my University curricula, nor I am doing it in order to get something out for my work. It's more of a way to learn new stuff while enjoying myself at the same time.

So far my favorite class has been "The Language of Hollywood": it was all about sounds and color, how they play in the creation of movies before and after the era of sound movies. The best part was not watching the movies, even though I discovered some brilliant masterpieces on the line. The best part were the video lessons by professor Higgins: he gave me a new set of eyes and ears I can now use to look at and listen to a movie.

Objectively there's very little in this class a SW tester could use in everyday office task, but as a movie lover I can say that the way I looked at the silver screen has changed from what it was some week ago.

Second class was a bit tougher, "Introduction to Philosophy". Course wrapped up some weeks ago, but I'm not convinced yet I enjoyed it. Yet it gave me loads of food for thoughts, which I think it's good. It made me think, which I think it was the primary idea of me taking the class, even though I always believed that time travel would be confined to Doctor Who's Saturday slot on telly, rather than a steampunk inspired philosophy lecture.

The third class, "Rhetorical writing" started about two weeks ago and I don't have that many opinion about it right now as it's just at the beginning.
However, because of my small experience, I came to some conclusion about them.

A lot of the work around MOOC seems to happen around the discussion forums of the class. And that's what I'm not very good at: as my day is still made of the standard 24 hours, I don't have the time to work, clean the house, study, do the assignments for the class and also spend time on the forums. So from this point of view, I think MOOCs would be better  for people still studying or for people with better time management skills. Even if I had more time, I'd probably still struggle with forums: people look quite assertive and this put me off a big deal. The key point of the whole thing is something called connectivism, which is a thesis that bases knowledge on social and cultural context and on the idea that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections. Now the idea in itself is appealing, but it leaves me wondering a lot: in a world where neighbours don't even greet you at your building entrance,  how can knowledge really circulate in network of connections amongst strangers?

There's a lot of focus about one of the 2 Os, the one standing for "open", because it obviously brings in a lot of different factors: new companies set up for the coursers, founding and financial sponsors. Accessibility to knowledge sources is very important and a new channel to get it is something that obviously causes interest, but I don't really seem able to focus too much on this, because topic is so broad and complicated that doesn't fit very well with my late nights musings: at the end of it, the only thing remaining short of midnight is the laughing notion of a tin turning upside down... mooooc!