Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Alta Valle Pesio, Italy (August 6, 2014)

I have never been the patriotic type. I don't care about soccer, which for somebody born on Italian soil is borderline treasonous. As a kid, during the World Cups I used to hang the Soviet Union flag at my balcony, instead of the "tricolore", just to piss off the conservative bigots that lived in the same condo (they were not amused). I have always considered myself an atypical Italian. Yet...

Piazza San Carlo, Torino
We just came back from a trip to Italy. Mayli had a meeting in Torino, the city where I was born, and I tagged along for a few days taking advantage of the Labour Day weekend. A very short visit. Two days of travel to get there, thanks to the most inconvenient connections. Two days in the Alps where my sister live. Two days in Torino, and finally one day to get back, in time to resume teaching my class. My last visit one summer ago was also very brief, and only touched the mountain valley where my family live. It has been now many years since I last spent any real amount of time in the city where I lived for the first quarter century of my life.

Chiusa di Pesio, CN
Yet, despite all I said above, there is something epigenetic in how the place where you grow up interfaces with the little nooks and crannies of your cerebral cortex. It is the sentences not said. The soles of your feet that just bounce right on the stones carrying your footprints even before you step on them. The familiarity of acts and reactions that 20 years living abroad do not manage to erase. And I do have changed. And Italy has changed too. I do remember the country as a bastion of uniformity, offering such little diversity that when my parents first came to visit us in Cambridge, they could not avoid commenting over and over about the multitude of ethnicities roaming the streets around Harvard Square. After decades of intense immigration, Italy has finally become the home of people with many different shades and cultures, as it had been two millennia ago when the citizens of Rome were born from all corners of the known world. An ethnically diverse society has finally become the new normal, even in the small villages of the Alps like the one where my sister live, where a significant fraction of my nieces' schoolmates have names betraying their parent's far away origin. It is a good sign, of a country that after all may find a way of renewal, solidly anchored to its past, but also projected towards the future of an integrated world.

Alta Valle Pesio, Italy (August 6, 2014)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Art of Stealing Souls

Jennifer at Crane Beach (April 14, 2007)

It is said that ancient Maya cultures revered mirrors as magical objects, capable of opening portals between this world and the plane of their ancestors. As such they kept mirrors hanging in front of their sacred statues, to reflect back their images and allow the spirit of gods and saints to return. The dark art of photography, now capable of trapping the living souls in the one-way mirror of the camera obscura, is still strictly forbidden in the churches of some traditional areas in the highlands of Chiapas.

Martin Harwit
At Juan Antonio restaurant
I rarely do steal souls, however, these days. Mostly for lack of willing subjects, I would say, if you don't count the furry companion of my morning walks (also unwilling to pose still for more than a few seconds, regarding the abundant rabbit more interesting that my "stay"). In the end the portraits I steal belong to the occasional friend, like Jennifer in the photo above, that shared with me many photowalks on the sandy expanse of Crane beach. Or sometimes a colleague or two, in the sparse occasions when I am asked to document the speakers in a symposium, temporarily shedding the astronomer's hat for my camera bag. The photo on the left portraits Martin Harwit talking at the 2009 Symposium in honor of my mentor Giovanni Fazio. Harwit is a Cornell University astronomer that from 1987 to 1995 was also director of the National Air and Space museum, and promoted a famous exhibit on the Enola Gay (the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima) including for the first time testimony and photographs of the Japanese victims (the controversy that ensued led to his resignation). And then of course there is family, like the photo on the right showing our cousin Juan Antonio and the wonderful cook that was working with him in 2004 at his restaurant, in the Andes in Venezuela.

A final note: the title of this post belongs to the name of the website of Kaya Fesci, a fine art photographer that definitely deserves your visit.