Archives for category: self

February 25, 2013

She just turned sixty this winter. She used to earn 900 euros before the crisis, working as a nurse in difficult neighborhoods of a big city. Because of the crisis she now makes 400 euros per month. Yet she pays all of her taxes and welfare contributions. She has been working since she was 17. In the work place she has often been underpaid and underappreciated and once, even sexually harassed. She recently injured herself again and she is self-employed like a lot of Italians, so when she takes a day off she makes no money. She decided her day would be best spent resting at home rather than voting, like 25 percent of Italians today. She is my mother.

He is turning seventy this summer. He has been peaking outside the window trying to decide whether to go vote, waiting for the snow to stop. In the end, he goes out. He has always voted for the Right. He wishes he could vote for a better conservative candidate, but the leader is the only man that seems to be able to hold the Right-wing coalition together. His pension was cut because of austerity. He is angry with Monti’s government, or, as he calls him, the Professor. None voted for him. So he votes for Berlusconi instead, like a quarter of Italians. This man is my father.

He sent his ballot via mail two weeks ago. He votes from abroad, where he is about to graduate from a prestigious American university. He knows there are no jobs for him back home – he has not given up on looking, but he knows. He voted for the Left-wing party. He has always voted for the Left, but never for the larger Democratic Party. He finds their leader utterly uncharismatic and spineless, their agenda bland and largely irrelevant. He voted in the primary election too, even though he knows the party is a concoction of apparatchiks, anachronistic trade unionists and bipolar Catholics who throw a tantrum whenever immigration reform or gay marriage is brought up. His biggest dream one day is to be able to move back home if he wants, or at least to be able to avoid explaining why a sexopath is again Prime Minister to all of his foreign friends. Like twenty-five percent of Italians he voted for the Left. This person is me.

This Christmas he celebrated his new job contract. For the first time in a year, instead of a one-month renewal, his contract got renewed for four months. His family celebrated with a champagne bottle. With a youth unemployment rate above 30 percent, any job that pays slightly above minimum wage is like a status-item. I don’t know whom he voted for. Maybe he did vote for Grillo’s party, a party whose stated aim is to make the political system implode from the inside. All the exit polls underestimated Grillo’s results by a margin of 5 percent. Some people are too ashamed of the party they vote for, because they are voting out of anger. No one seems to know who these people are, but they are 25 percent of us. One of them might be my brother.

We have been sleepwalking as a family, as a nation. Over the past two decades, as we were searching for the reasons of our decline we have blamed the euro, the Muslim terrorists, jobs outsourced to China, earthquakes and global warming. We have searched for our enemy among the American investment bankers, the Brussels bureaucrats, the Vatican hypocrites and the Moroccan baby escorts. But on February 25, 2013 we woke up and realized that our enemy could be found within the walls of our houses and sitting across from us in our offices. Our enemy had been there all along. We were too busy yelling and watching TV and talking past each other. On February 25, 2013 we finally met the enemy. Our enemy is us.

I went to watch the movie “The Help” with some other people in my programme yesterday. The movie is very good, but one scene made my mind wander and would eventually result in this insomnia-induced blog post. The main character’s family (and domestic help) all gathered in the living room to watch the news of JFK’s death.

Being in the States on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 prompted a similar reaction in my head, as I tried to piece together the last ten years of my life in relation to the various events of History I have had the fortune to witnessed.

Italy, 11 September 2001

I am putting on my boy scout uniform (ha, now you know my dirty secret!). In my town the boy scouts are responsible for providing a human cordon for a religious procession that takes place every year. It’s a sticky late summer afternoon and at 3 pm I am watching Ally McBeal on TV. I am already indifferent to the Catholic Church and its obsolete rituals, but for the sake of tradition I just put that uniform on. It is around 15:45 pm and we are late. The Ally McBeal episode is interrupted by news footage of planes flying into the twin towers. I do not think much of it, it all seems distant and surreal to me so I just hurry up and leave the house.

London, 15 February 2003

I was studying in Wales and kids in my (very liberal, tree-hugging, fantastic) school organised buses to join the anti-Iraq war protest in London. The other students are all more politically aware than me and more outspoken against the Blair-Bush decision to invade Iraq. I am really puzzled and do not know what to think. Having grown up in a politically-conservative family, my political journey towards the left had been one of self-questioning a lot of what I had been taught and exercise critical thinking. I was jealous of my friends for their unshaken beliefs. On 15 February approximately one million people went down to protest in London, the biggest protest ever recorded in the history of the city. On that day, it is estimated that between six and ten million people around the world protested against the decision to invade Iraq. I was one of them.

Cairo, July 2007

I finally  managed to get an internship in an international organization. It is my first day and my supervisor is showing me the ropes. As I sit at my desk doing a press review of regional newspapers, I can see the waiting room where five/six families of Iraqi refugees are waiting for their resettlement interview to go to the United States. I suddenly feel like history is not something you just witness on TV. I remember all the doubts I had when I marched in London four years before. I was right, but I did not know it back then.

Benghazi, April 2011

I have always thought of myself as a pacifist. It seemed a pretty obvious thing to me. Whenever asked, I would just say that war is wrong in that it violates the sanctity of human life. It had all been a purely intellectual exercise, that pacifism of mine. I am working in a transit centre for displaced people in Libya. It’s Easter Sunday and we have a bit of a management crisis. The camp is full to over twice its capacity and people are getting edgy. I call my family to wish them a Happy Easter and to tell them that everything is ok. I ask them what they are having for lunch and I secretly wish I could be there. I feel bad my parents are worried about me. A few minutes later my colleague and I are sandwiched in between one hundred angry people and a security man armed to its teeth. We try to talk to the people to diffuse the tension and avoid that the security man starts shooting his machine gun into the air, just like he did a few minutes ago. I am standing right in between them and this man, his machine gun twenty cm away from my face. Unarmed people keep pushing me towards the machine gun. I finally know why I am a pacifist. You put a weapon in a person’s hand and he/she thinks they are God’s gift to the planet.

New Jersey, 11 September 2011

It is the ten-year anniversary of September 11. It’s all over the news. The day goes by in a haze because I have one of the worst hangovers of my life. I am barely able to process things. I quickly look at the walls of my Facebook friends, people I have met in the past ten years. For some of them 9/11 was the day America lost its innocence, they mostly leave in the West. For others it was the trigger of a spiral of death and hate, they mostly leave in the Middle East. My friend C says “Number of people killed on all sides during or as a consequence of 9/11: 131,000 (low estimate). If I had to go in front of God or a Galactic Council as a representative of humankind and justify this, I’d be ashamed“. For me, 9/11 marks the tenth anniversary of the day I became a pacifist.

My American friends in Cairo have been hard pressed to provide some New Jersey pre-departure orientation to better prepare me for my upcoming move to the US of A.

The first step requires a sociolinguistic full-immersion into Jersey vernacular. Therefore, I have started practicing twice per day by repeating the dialogue from this South Park episode in front of the mirror, so that I can call someone a ‘Twashy Whore‘ without people noticing my foreign-ness (click on the picture to see the video).

Step two involved the creation of a list of all things American to do/see/eat, which was developed in a moment of intoxication a few months ago. Here’s the result – a selection of items from the bucket list is included after the photo.

  • Olive Garden
  • In & Out
  • Costco
  • Taco Bell
  • Holidaying in Tijuana
  • Attend a Bar Mitzvah
  • Korean Karaoke
  • Eat at Denny’s at 2 am
  • Mariachi band at mexican restaurant
  • Vegas (eat buffet)
  • Mall of America in MN
  • Have a threesome
  • Get a manicure at a gay bar ( we were, after all, intoxicated)
  • Roller blading
  • Miami beach (with speedo)
  • Road trip across America
  • Bondage hotel
  • Grand Canyon
  • Football game
  • Mardi Gras
  • African-American Indians

Whenever people ask me what it is like to live in Cairo, I always say that Cairo is like an abusive lover: you have every reason to leave, yet you don’t.

On a personal level the four and a half years I have spent in Egypt coincided with a happy and exciting transition into adulthood. I always joked about my very bourgeois lifestyle in Cairo: brunch with friends on Friday morning, trips to Sinai at the end of each month of Ramadan, improvised karaoke sessions and various forms of drama exclusive to Cairo such as walking in on your cleaning lady having sex in your house to Delta airlines and Cairo airport misplacing and eventually “losing” your cat. I don’t think you can meet so many interesting people in such a stimulating (over stimulating perhaps?) environment and the people you meet are the main reason you survive Cairo’s relentless abuse.

I cannot explain where Cairo gets its charm from. But I will forever remember the buzz of racing in a cab over one of the bridges on a summer night and feeling like the city is a living being, cars moving in the streets like blood flowing through a person’s veins, the constant throbbing of life and chaos as you negotiate a pedestrian traffic jam. Looking at the motorboats on the Nile and the glittering lights of the buildings reflecting on the Nile, you have the impression that the city is making love to you. In a somewhat sloppy and abusive yet charming way.

It has been brought to my attention that the way I spend my days here is tipical of a wealthy HK Tai Tai (housewife). My routine consists of sightseeing or acupuncturist in the morning, meeting up with friend over her lunch break, shopping in malls in the afternoon, evening activities such as Chinese opera or fortune teller, dinner and/or drinks. Therefore I am meditating a career shift to become a professional HK trophy husband. I am fully convinced I have the stamina it takes to be a hardcore one. So I am going to place this ad in the personal section of local newspapers:

Hard working NGO professional seeks celibate HK resident with seizeable disposable income and yacht club membership for limited partnership venture. Fluent in 4 languages and with proven track record of charming potential Cantonese in-laws, will trade career for life of outings, eating, shopping and shmoozing. Can also manage philanthropic interests of said HK resident and blend in very well with interior design of duplex apartment overlooking the harbour. Willing to keep silent and look pretty during house receptions. If interested, please send CV, photo, notarised copy of bank accounts’ statements and writing sample (two pages max, single spaced).

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My friend and I went out for brunch this Sunday in Soho, a very trendy neighborhood in Hong Kong. We were sitting by the window, so in addition to enjoying some great eggs benedicts with salmon, we also got to do some great people watching.

What I realised thanks to this gastro-anthropological experiment is that (male) expats in Hong Kong tend to be of the fit, groomed and anglosaxon variety, walking about passionatly in love with their significant other or worn by their Hong Kongese girlfriends (or occasionally boyfriends) almost like a status quo accessory.

While my friend told me that the expats of the ‘sleezball I have drunk all of my free-lance money’ persuasion tend to hang out in the cheaper bars in a different part of town, she also agreed that the expats in HK tend to be of the `eye candy` sort and she confessed than when she was a child she thought all white people were beautiful (she has since then lived for long periods in Europe and America so she has been disabused quickly of this stereotype). I also thought about how I usually take care of my appearance in Cairo when going for brunch  (let’s say casual-not-so-chic).

All of the sudden I felt terribly under-dressed and made a mental note that once back in the West I need to step up my game, go to the gym, lose the anarchic hair cut end and the whole mumbo jumbo if I am ever to get a date again. Last time I felt like this was a year ago in a gay club in Beirut – and I thought none could outdo the gays and the Beirutis with their dress-to-impress psychosis. Well, I had forgotten about Asia I guess.

Also, on the subject of natural and man-made beauty: this is the view of Hong Kong’s eponimous fragrant harbour at night from the Peak.

I took advantage of a three-hour layover in Bangkok to get a nice shoulder massage. At the cost of 18$ for 50 minutes it is perhaps the best investment I have made during the fiscal year 2011.
I came to realise two things: first Thai masseuses, skinny and tiny as they may be, have more muscle power than a ukrainian weight-lifter or an Egyptian lion-tamer. Secondly, after 50 mins of gracious and uninterrupted chat, I realised that they have the small talk stamina of a New York professional socialite.

I know I should probably take the fact that I seem to have acquired a stalker as a sign of validation. Like buying your first house and learning how to shave (hopefully things you accomplish in reverse order). I always knew that beauty is in the eye of the repressed closeted man. But for the love of god, if I have to have a stalker, could I at least have a stalker with proper email etiquette? Call me a grammar fascist,  but decent writing skills matter to me. Because you know, once that sms or email is sent, it’s like diamonds. It’s forever.

So dear stalker, here’s the hitchhiker’s guide to email stalking correspondence, boiled down for you especially in three easy points:

  • If you want to make a point YOU DONT HAVE TO USE ALL CAPS BECAUSE THAT MAKES PEOPLE ANXIOUS AND THEY MIGHT END UP SWALLOWING A WHOLE BOTTLE OF XANEX. AND THAT’S KINDA LETHAL YOU KNOW? I like your vintage taste in terms of communication and how you would like your emails to look like good old-fashioned telegrams, but please unless a nuclear reactor is about to explode could you use normal low case letters just like us commoners?
  • If you really have to use all caps, CAN YOU AT LEAST USE PUNCTUATION BECAUSE WHEN YOU RAMBLE ON FOR A WHOLE PARAGRAPH TALKING NONSENSE ABOUT YOUR DAY AND HOW YOU LIKED OUR LATEST REPORT IT DRIVES ME CRAZY I KNOW IT IS A NICE DAY AND WE SHOULD GO FOR A DRINK WHAT DO YOU SAY I UNDERSTAND YOU ARE BUSY BUT FRIDAY WORKS FOR ME I WILL CALL YOU TUESDAY WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY JUST IN CASE YOU MIGHT FORGET AND IF YOU DO NOT HAVE TIME TO PICK UP MY CALLS I WILL KEEP CALLING YOU AND TEXTING YOU UNTIL YOUR PHONE MELTS.

  • Since you are not Virgina Wolf or James Joyce, I suggest you avoid flow of consciousness as your email narrative style. I would likewise avoid Proustians sentences of over 8 lines with no punctuation because you do not sound like a repressed literary genius of a Frenchman – you just sound like a crazy person. Syntax is not your thing habibi. Try woodwork or sudoku.

Finally, if you are running out of excuses to see me, please avoid inviting me for a celebratory drink on the occasion of the birth of your second child. Really. Even if my self-esteem was at historic minimum, I would never be able to date someone who is married with kids and cannot write proper emails.

Not yours – not even in a million years

R

Try growing up gay in small town Southern Italy in the late 1990s. When I came out to my parents almost 10 years ago I had never met a gay person in real life. The closest role model I had was this transgender woman who adopted the son of my neighbour because the biological father was in jail (yay!). The only gay themed movie ever to be shown on Italian public TV was Philadelphia. Do not get me wrong, it is always great to see Antonio Banderas, but it would have been even nicer if instead of one of the guys dying of AIDS the couple would have ended up buying a house in the suburbs, an SUV and maybe even have a dog. Although I guess it would have not made it one of the highest impact LGBT movies in history.

Now in my country and many others, teenagers see positive role models on TV, they can meet gay people in places other than public urinals (unless they want to), some work places mention in their vacancies that they are an equal opportunity employer etc… (I got a message from our legal department today about IDAHO, what a pleasant surprise!)

Still, if the quality of life for the average LGBT person has improved, we still have a long way to go:

  • Recently even the UN realised that since LGBT people are humans, LGBT rights are human rights (shock horror!). Yet, homosexuality is still illegal/punishable by death and/or imprisonement in a number of countries.
  • A lot of countries recognise some type of same-sex partnerships, mostly in Latin America, Canada, Australia, the US, South Africa and most of Western and Central Europe except the Vatican Republic of Italy. My personal resolution is that if by 2014 Italy has not passed any type of law on civil unions I will marry the first national of one of the civilised countries above (Brazilians encouraged to apply).
  • Violence and hate speech (especially against gay teenagers and transsexuals) is still prevalent in environment such as schools, prisons and religious establishments (not making any value judgement by putting these places in the same category!). Just to throw in some random stats “lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers

Personally, my gay coming of age has been, all in all, a lot of fun. The big step I took some 9 years ago coming out has paid off and I know of a lot of people who took very risky and bold steps to live their lives the way they wanted, lost some friends and in very few cases family members for some time or indefinitely, but at least managed to lead happy and fulfilling lives as people and not as half-dead walking lies (sorry if this offends you, Mr/Miss closeted reader). I have taken some shit by some people, but by far and large I have had the fortune to be surrounded by amazing people that just see me as a person and not as a gay man (and yes, for some of the Arabophobes out there, that includes people from all walks of life I have met while living in Egypt).

So – I will go out to enjoy International Day Against Homophobia (aka I ain’t taking shit from nobody day). If any of you is contemplating suicide (hopefully not as a result of reading this blog) please watch this cute little video:

etc…

So, I have been meaning to write something about this before but never quite got round it. I have been leaving abroad now for 7 of the past 10 years. Inevitably, I have gone out with a number of people who are not Italian like myself (I’ll leave it to you to guess how many. If you get it right, I’ll buy you a yearly subscription to the Reader’s Digest. Hint: It’s less than a 3 digit number).

I am always slightly irked by the reaction of some gay people I have met and/or have gone out on dates with. Because Italian men are usually associated with a number of (positive?) stereotypes, I am often under the impression that I am being placed somewhere on the spectrum of potential Italian gay man stereotypes which spans roughly as follows: suave latin man with hairy chest and golden cross meets elitist european meets queer fashionista meets mama’s boy.

Of course self-righteous me is quite horrified at the idea of my ‘self’ being compressed and pigeonholed into a cliché, although I guess it is normal that people try to decipher your identity through some cognitive shortcuts such as stereotypes. I have actually done that to others a number of times without noticing.

Anyways, I was a LGBT mixer (or, as I like to call it, a fruit salad event) in the US last week. I had to go through a bit of the usual Italian Gay Manometer business but in addition, thanks to having survived the Egyptian revolution, I get to add an extra layer of revolutionary je ne sais pas quoi to the equation. At one point I felt people looked at me as if I am some kind of war veteran, almost asking me to lift my shirt so that they could behold the scars and shrapnel wounds. Maybe it’s just me reading too much into it but still I tried my best to explain to people that I witnessed 99% of the revolution watching Al Jazeera in my living room and that I am no suave latin lover meets Che Guevara meets Elton John.

When I feel like people fail to see me as a person and that I am being repackaged into a stereotype, I comfort myself by thinking that this stuff happens all the time to so many people (a friend of mine complains about the frequent emasculation of the Asian male – and do not get me started on the not so positive stereotypes some of my Russian girlfriends complain about).  In fact, I think this poem by Palestinian-American artist Suheir Hammad sums up what usually goes through my mind in such circumstances: