Prometheus (out of the cage)

Torche-Promethee-peinture

 

“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.”

– D. H. Lawrence.

Since the beginning of September, I’ve been officially storytelling in two very different primary schools in Paris, and despite the first moments of black despair for my little voice (sometimes, the louder you scream, the more they respect you, but I don’t like to rise my voice, so let’s change the rules of the game!), the children and I both enjoy ourselves telling the adventures of greek gods and heroes.

Sometimes, their remarks can be truly thought-provoking.

Speaking about the myth of Prometheus, who robbed Athena’s fire and a sparkle of her divine intelligence too, trying in that way to help poor humanity, left naked and defenseless by his not-so-smart brother Epimetheus – not to tell about Pandora! – one of the children asked : “But why did the gods enable humanity to reproduce itself, if men were so weak and fragile?” – “Does the woman make the man stronger?” – “Why man has to suffer in life”

It is not easy to answer to children, looking at you with demanding and curious eyes. Not easy, too, because they don’t like the idea of man being vulnerable, exposed to illness and suffering.

“Because even if humanity is naked and fragile and must struggle and suffer in life, to live is still a beautiful gift, and we have to do it the best we can, with our intelligence, warmth, hope, respect and generosity. Isn’t it great to achieve so much, starting with so little?”

Their eyes began to sparkle, as if the Pleiads were dancing in them : “Can we become gods, then?”

Let’s ask to Orpheus, Achilleus, Odysseus, Heraklès, let’s their voice travel through time to lull our hopes, soot our longing and make us shiver and laugh. Man and Life, challenge accepted!

Erika

This is SPARTA – among other things.

A few weeks ago, while I was watching Thor, something hit me – and no, it was not Thor’s shiny armor or his bleached eyebrows. I know the movie is adapted from a comic loosely based on the Nordic mythology, which I am certainly no expert in. Watching this movie (in all its inconsistency), I was saying, gave me the desire to do a Hollywood-movies-based-on-ancient-mythology marathon. So, I called a few friends, prepared a list of amazing movies and a good meal, and there we went. That was fun, that’s for sure, but not really accurate on the mythology part, and let’s face it, for most movies, very poor in regards of the storyline. Before I say more, I want you to know that when I watch a movie, I generally like it, I am not a huge critic or anything. I actually enjoyed some really bad movies, even though I could see the big plot holes and easy way-out (like, Thor: I had a good time watching it, even more the second time with my friends… Ok, that was maybe not entirely due to the movie). However, that day (well, night), I decided I would watch these movies the way I would study stories, and here are a few thoughts on Immortals, Troy (oh, Troy, our middle-school years, we, these stupid kids at the theater …), Clash of the Titans and 300. I couldn’t get myself to watch Wrath of the Titans, the first one was bad enough, and I know 300 is not about mythology, but I haven’t seen it before, and I really wanted to. It was, um, enlightening. So here are some points I’d like to discuss.

Continue reading

Studying Literature : A Call for Diversity

Some days ago, Janyce and I were talking about over-specialization in studies, and agreed in the fact that it was not such a good thing.

Here in France, young people have to choose very early, as soon as they begin high school, what direction they want to give to their life : if they undertake the scientific path, they’ll do maths, physics and biology till they die, while they’ll stop studying French Literature or Story and Geography before they finish the whole cycle of high school. Otherwise, if they choose to explore literature, they’ll have a huge amount of french and philosophy lessons, while the maths are relegated to three miserable hours per week and consist essentially in resolving problems for the challenging sales’ season. My twin sister, who attended mostly the literature class because she hated maths with all her heart, had to taste different yoghurts for her Biology lesson… while I was being overwhelmed by integrals and statistics, but had almost no philosophic courses. Our teacher of French Literature never explained to us how to write the famous french “dissertation”, saying that it was of no use for us who devoted themselves to pure science, and I was excluded from the class of History of Art, because I was in the scientific section!

This fracture between literature and sciences is becoming wider and wider, as the perpetual reforms of the “Éducation Nationale” go on. It is true that, nowadays, it is not possible to have a universal culture as the men of the Rinascimento aspired to, since knowledge has become so vast and apparently easily accessible, thanks to Internet, that there’s no need to study and memorize everything : google it and you’ll have an answer in a few seconds (If Plato lived today, he would have  probably started a new literary war against Internet and virtual books that cause, in his system of Ideas, the death of memory and therefore culture) . The ideal of humanism is dying suffocated by a mosaic of sectors and specializations that requires a collaboration between different specialists and often a team-work, which is now the most valuable exercise for developing amazing social skills.

Is it wise to divide and enclose human knowledge in such tiny boxes? And then we blame the younger generations, for not doing the connections between the subjects studied at school? Some people define culture as what survive in the mind after the great labor of studies and graduation, a sort of gaudily-painted cloth that covers us against the wind of oblivion and misunderstanding. Do we have still a common culture to share with strangers, a blanket to offer in those cold nights around the fire?

Well, personally, I don’t want to be enclosed in one drawer of the great research closet (yeah, I know, the analogy may be a little claustrophobic) : I desire to explore as much as I can, to step into different worlds, cultures, systems of thought, techniques and crafts.

This experience around the world will teach us to master the multi-task side of the Force, since we’ll have to plan the journeys, to draw and tell the myths, to hold properly the camera and to do the video editing, not forgetting to keep wisely the accounts and to manage to communicate in the countries for which we do not know the language (China my love)… What an adventure!

Yesterday, we had a big party at Janyce’s to celebrate our future globe-trotting for a whole year : Janyce and Lucie prepared different and delicious traditional dishes from all around the world, and we had to hit a paper-earth full of candies to free and eat them, dancing on the “around the world” playlist arranged by Lucie.

These amazing girls baked fortune-cookies too, and the little proverbs they hid in them were very funny. Some of them were almost the voice of Destiny, like the one found by Janyce : “Better to get lost than to never go”, while mine was revelatory, a pearl of Indian philosophy : “If you close your eyes, the world seems so dark.”

I want to keep my eyes wide open to see diversity and enlighten my mind. Surely, I need to learn how to read a map and not lose myself behind the corner, instead of looking at butterflies and crickets jumping from one flower to another in this incoming summer.

Enjoy diversity!

Session 1: reactions

Still waiting to see if we can publish the videos we took in the classroom… But here are two interviews: if you click here, you will hear what Mrs Isabelle Clavaron, the children’s teacher, thought of the experience, and if you click there, you will discover Chloé’s opinion, a M.A. student in Education who was present during our presentation.

And as I am very nice (no, kidding), I put English subtitles for you! 😉

Session 1: conclusions

During this intervention, questions were raised in my mind, so here are some thoughts on this experience.

First, before the session, I began doubting the choice of the myth we decided to tell. It’s a beautiful story, it’s true, but so sad. And more and more, I was thinking this was not a story to be told to ten-year-olds. I felt like the moral behind it was not so clear… But then, I thought about it and I realized that we had chosen this story for good reasons, and that yes, children would understand and appreciate it. I ended up telling the moral explicitly: it didn’t feel very warm to end the story with “and then she died, again”!

Continue reading

Studying Linguistics: a call for silence.

First of all, please excuse this confused, lenghty post: I had what I thought to be a great idea, and then it got all blurry… It’s late and I’m tired, but anyway, here are a few thoughts on language and writing.

I don’t know if this is because this year comes to an end, because I just handed over my Master’s thesis, or just because I am really tired, but I really feel like making a vow of silence. Well, maybe not… Let’s say not having to talk for a while – or think, if that’s possible! Anyway, now is not the time, as I still have to help all my students finish their school year successfully, to take my last exam and present my year-long work, and to keep on working on the project. And finally, let’s enunciate the biggest paradox here: I am actually writing about not talking… Still a long way before this happens!

Continue reading

What about teleportation?

For some reason – and it’s been the case for a while now – I can’t spend more than 6 months with no trip planned ahead. I guess this urge to travel, to go away, to run head first in the unknown comes from my family: half of my family is Italian, my mom grew up in Africa, my aunt lives in a city stuck between a desert and a sea, my brother lived in the USA while I was in London … And ever since I was a kid, the four of us would always travel somewhere new and exciting for the holidays, Norway and its never ending (and way too cold – I was crazy at 8) fjords, gorgeous Italy, Greece and its ancient wonders, or mind-blowing Egypt! I am blessed I got to see all these amazing countries and discover these wonderful cultures thanks to my parents. And very quickly I started traveling alone, with my brother, with my friends. And the list’s been growing longer and longer: Dubai, Scotland, Shanghai, USA, … So much more, and yet, still not enough. I don’t really know why, but I want to see it all. Pictures are not enough, I want to be there, watch it with my own eyes, scrutinize what’s around the Taj Mahal, the Machu Picchu, or the Sydney Opera House. I want to meet people from the other side of the world – to see if it makes any difference to walk with my head down. I want to live multiple lives.

I am not running away from anything or anyone. At least, I don’t feel like I do. I love my family, my friends – even though I haven’t seen some of them for a while – and I will miss them so much during this adventure. Sometimes, even, I’m sure we will feel like we’ve been insane to have ever left them. I hope we won’t feel that way too much though! I enjoy my life here, and I love what I’m studying too: examining languages and discovering the oldest literary texts are in themselves a great adventure (this was my Indiana Jones moment). But this didn’t seem enough. That’s why next week, we are buying our plane tickets! There might be some slight changes in our journey, we will let you know more once this is done.

The funny thing is that although I love traveling, I simply can’t stand the idea of having to take any kind of transportation. Mostly trains and planes. I am not afraid of an accident or a crash, no. About that, I’m more like, Well, if it has to happen (not saying I don’t care, but what can you do in that kind of situation? It’s enough to freak out when it’s happening)… What’s really panicking me is the idea of missing my flight or my train for any stupid reason (subway incident, passport forgotten, any kind of trouble at customs… anything, really). I always get to the airport or the station way too early, just in case – but I don’t mind, I enjoy sitting down and just watching people (I know you do the same!). At the airport, I check my gate on every single screen, every 5 minutes. When I get in my train, I check 72 times I got into the right one (I ask to someone, I look at my neighbor’s ticket, I ask again …). I think I will have to work on that, because I know our trip is going to be full of surprises!

So, yeah, all this just to say I’m a little bit freaked out by the fact that we don’t have our plane tickets yet. And that explains (for most part) why I’ve been kind of absent-minded lately, and stressed out, and not really present with you, my friends! But hey, this step is nearly over: Thursday, I will be free to worry about something else!

What about teleportation?

For some reason – and it’s been the case for a while now – I can’t spend more than 6 months with no trip planned ahead. I guess this urge to travel, to go away, to run head first in the unknown comes from my family: half of my family is Italian, my mom grew up in Africa, my aunt lives in a city stuck between a desert and a sea, my brother lived in the USA while I was in London … And ever since I was a kid, the four of us would always travel somewhere new and exciting for the holidays, Norway and its never ending (and way too cold – I was crazy at 8) fjords, gorgeous Italy, Greece and its ancient wonders, or mind-blowing Egypt! I am blessed I got to see all these amazing countries and discover these wonderful cultures thanks to my parents. And very quickly I started traveling alone, with my brother, with my friends. And the list’s been growing longer and longer: Dubai, Scotland, Shanghai, USA, … So much more, and yet, still not enough. I don’t really know why, but I want to see it all. Pictures are not enough, I want to be there, watch it with my own eyes, scrutinize what’s around the Taj Mahal, the Machu Picchu, or the Sydney Opera House. I want to meet people from the other side of the world – to see if it makes any difference to walk with my head down. I want to live multiple lives.

I am not running away from anything or anyone. At least, I don’t feel like I do. I love my family, my friends – even though I haven’t seen some of them for a while – and I will miss them so much during this adventure. Sometimes, even, I’m sure we will feel like we’ve been insane to have ever left them. I hope we won’t feel that way too much though! I enjoy my life here, and I love what I’m studying too: examining languages and discovering the oldest literary texts are in themselves a great adventure (this was my Indiana Jones moment). But this didn’t seem enough. That’s why next week, we are buying our plane tickets! There might be some slight changes in our journey, we will let you know more once this is done.

The funny thing is that although I love traveling, I simply can’t stand the idea of having to take any kind of transportation. Mostly trains and planes. I am not afraid of an accident or a crash, no. About that, I’m more like, Well, if it has to happen (not saying I don’t care, but what can you do in that kind of situation? It’s enough to freak out when it’s happening)… What’s really panicking me is the idea of missing my flight or my train for any stupid reason (subway incident, passport forgotten, any kind of trouble at customs… anything, really). I always get to the airport or the station way too early, just in case – but I don’t mind, I enjoy sitting down and just watching people (I know you do the same!). At the airport, I check my gate on every single screen, every 5 minutes. When I get in my train, I check 72 times I got into the right one (I ask to someone, I look at my neighbor’s ticket, I ask again …). I think I will have to work on that, because I know our trip is going to be full of surprises!

So, yeah, all this just to say I’m a little bit freaked out by the fact that we don’t have our plane tickets yet. And that explains (for most part) why I’ve been kind of absent-minded lately, and stressed out, and not really present with you, my friends! But hey, this step is nearly over: Thursday, I will be free to worry about something else!

Let me play with the stars

A few years ago, I was travelling through Italy in train. I passed the foggy and busy Milan, then twisted and turned in the mounts of Liguria, all covered with blossoming rose bougainvilles, and marveled at the sea glittering in the sun. Outside the window, soon, appeared the slender silhouettes of the hills of Tuscany, their dark cypresses cutting the sky like arrowheads. From a distance, I could see the red roofs of Florence, the beautiful and superb city of Dante, Petrarca, Michelangelo, Machiavel, and de’ Medicis…

The night was falling over the fields of sunflowers, “maddened by the sun”, as Montale said, and some snoring sounds began to interfere with the rocking song of the rails. The train had slowed down, yet It had still a long way to go before reaching Rome. A creaking voice suddenly croaked from the top of the corridor, announcing to the passengers that, for a technical complication, the train had to stop for an hour or two. However, we could get off for a while, if we wanted. Just make sure that you don’t go too far. When the train would be ready to start again, we would hear the sharp cry of the whistle. Some groaned, some didn’t even listened to it, some were already sound asleep, and four men from Naples began to play cards, laughing dimly, chatting and eating large slices of homemade, delicious pies.

I decided to stretch my legs outside and walk a bit in the surrounding fields. The strong scent of grass hit me first, then it was the song of the crickets. There were no lights, but the red ones of the train doors, and just the thin ghost of the moon. I glanced at the black velvet of night and was merged in ocean of stars. Breathtaking.

Living in a big city, I do not see many stars, if not the belt of Orion, sometimes, or a pale planet, maybe Venus or Mars, suspended in a violet and hollow sky, lost among the gray roofs and TV aerials.

Now, there were thousands and thousands of them, an endless flock of shining dots, and I thought of the poor manager in the Little Prince, who endlessly counted the stars to feel rich. Some of them are older than our Earth, and the light that I could see at that time was spread years and years ago into the universe. It was a spectacular vision of the past, somehow, or even of eternity. Do they ever get tired to shine, as Pessoa asked in one of his poems?

I wondered if I could recognize the constellations and suddenly understood the sense of awe that ancient men must have felt in front of the night. For the Greeks, the night sky was full of divine loves, adventures, bravery and legends. Almost each human passion had left a trace above and received its stellar transfiguration.

Here was Orion, the beautiful hunter loved by the proud Artemis, and tragically killed by her in a contest with Apollo, his brother, who wanted to revenge the death of his nephew, Aktaeion. There is the Great Bear, once the lovely nymph Kallisto, and his son Arkadios, the Little Bear, both changed into stars to avoid the fatal and mistaken matricide. My three-years old nephew calls it the Big Frying-pan… and yeah, he’s quite right. It almost looks like a frying-pan ready to make fly some pancakes.

Eyes squinted, I found, almost at the horizon, Aldebaran, the brightest star of the Taurus, and up on his tail, the Pleiads. Once upon a time, Zeus, to seduce Europe, a priestess of Hera, transformed himself in a bull and eloped with her through the sea… Then appeared a dawning Virgo, once the faithfull Erigone, collateral victim of the first human drunkards. Next to her, the inventive Boote, first man to build a chariot and labour the soil… And the three-starred Aries, the divine sheep with golden fleece that saved Frixos and Helle from the murderous intentions of their awful mother-in-law : They were flying on his back towards the mysterious and savage Colchid, when Helle looked under her shoulder and, taken by a sudden vertigo, sadly fell and drowned in the sea, that received therefore her name, Hellespont. Centuries after, twelve adventurous men leaded by Jason would come to Colchid on their great ship Argo, seeking for the golden fleece…

In his Theogony, grandiose epopee of the advent of the Gods, Hesiod tells the tale of Pandora, the curious woman that opens the jars of diseases and morbid thoughts kept by his thoughtless husband, Epimetheus (“the one that thinks afterwards”). As she accomplishes that dire deed, the golden age of men ends for ever. Man, from this day on, will be vulnerable to death, pain, illness, sadness, illusion. Only Hope still clings with its tiny fingers on the mouth of the jar, in the olympic heights. I never really understood this passage : if Hope is not on earth, then there would be no salvation for us? Or Hope, by saving its divine nature and smiling from above, can elevate men beyond their mortal being? Mh, I may prefer this less pessimistic interpretation.

Like the ambiguous poem of Emily Dickinson :

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

A whistle sounds its barbaric shriek over the roofs of the world. I guess it’s time to stop wondering and getting on the train, before it leaves without me.

I am the passenger, la la la la la… the sky is made for us tonight