Thursday, 30 September 2010

Cultural world

When I was a kid, Walt Disney had developed a sanitize theme for the world with a little song which became sort of the theme song of his amusement park. It's a small world after all, was the song that was supposed to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy and happy and bring world peace and understanding to all. I disliked the idea and its presentation and the sugar sweet way in which it was presented, somewhat like those nauseating Christmas TV specials when it was proclaimed that it was Xmas all over the world and everyone wished for roasting chestnut, roasted turkey and snow.

Even though I was just a kid, I knew this could not be and it made no sense to me in the same way the song by Disney was plain dumb. Sure it made some people see the world as less of a threat if everyone is the same and wear funny costume like at a masked ball. I was lucky enough to start traveling at the age of 12 and soon realized that the Irish in Ireland had nothing to do with the North American stereotype or the French or the British for that matter.

When I joined the work force, I was and have been fortunate to travel the world and see that people are not all the same and do not wear colorful costumes unless it's a show for silly tourists longing for something safe. This is what makes the world interesting; we are all different and not necessarily dangerous, just different.

Different languages, different eating habits, different philosophy of life, different beliefs, different colour, just different. On the whole humans are not violent, everyone just wants to get along and be respected.

This is why most conflicts today come down to a fundamental lack of respect for the other party and wanting to reform them, to bring things to them, be it democracy, fundamentalist Christian values, globalization aka North American values, standardized norms and practices or our understanding of what is important. But I also noticed that in Asia, China loves to push its neighbors around under the idea that they represent all of Asia, being so big. Same in Africa or in Latin America, in Europe, France and Germany dominate the EU. So it is a fairly common trait amongst humans, always trying to tell the other guy what to do.

A few years ago, a colleague from that great Republic asked me why Canada did not ditch the Monarchy and have a Republican system instead. Canada being a Constitutional Monarchy, the great Dominion. My colleague obviously did not know his own history and how the history of our two countries was so vastly different. To this day we maintain very different attitudes on many topics, like gun control, same-sex marriage, gays in the military and strong banking control, to name a few topics his country is still struggling with.

But he was all ready to tell me the errors of our ways and how we could just be like his country. I pointed out to him that me and my fellow countrymen had no wish to be like him and his countrymen.

Then today I got a phone call out of the blue, from someone I met in Egypt 21 years ago. I had lost track of him and his family in the last 7 years and it was quite a surprise to hear him on the phone from Abu Dhabi. It reminded me how his family and he had been so very kind to me while I lived in Egypt. His parents were teachers, very decent and kind people. His mother was a great cook and she always prepared meals to feed an army whenever I visited them in the Fayoum south of Cairo. He and his brother were just nice and fun to be with, through them I learned a lot about Egypt and its people and my view of the country was shaped in many ways by what I learned talking with them. In the same way, when I lived in Jordan I met many Palestinians and Bedouins and was amazed how different they were as two people despite the fact that they lived in the same small kingdom in a mix of Christians and Muslims.

My time in Asia and Africa also taught me the same thing, people are different and they may even think very differently than I do as a Westerner but in the end their ideas are just as important and valuable as any western idea or value.

This is why I am often distressed when I hear politicians saying things along the lines of; we are bringing them democracy and rule of law, as if other people in other countries had lived until now in a state of lawlessness.

By reading about other civilization, one can see the wealth of human experience. But I wonder why we prefer to see only our point and not the other fellow's. Maybe if we reflect on it quietly we can come to a better understanding.

Friday, 17 September 2010


A funny month, the summer is coming to a close and schools are re-opening, life returns to its usual routine. The weather is changing and a new social season is opening. Have been very busy with my Club here in Rome organizing the first event of the new Season, a million details to think about. Members who do not appear to be able to read bulletins or give correct information.
Having to deal with the media, caterers, security and bringing people from Canada for the party. Hoping the weather is good that day.
New colleagues at work are getting use to life in Rome, want things to be like in Canada, do not quite understand that you cannot have lunch in Rome in 25 minutes, minimum here is 90 minutes. Coffee is not that American stuff served in a bucket called a mug, but rather a well prepared drink in a china cup not a styrofoam or plastic one.

They are still running around when everyone else around them are walking. They will learn, it will take 6 months or like so many others will start hating this place and long to return to bleak suburban Northern climes. Rome is a difficult place to live, compact city, high density, noisy, dirty, poor infrastructures, no big shopping malls, lots of small shops open at odd hours for North Americans.

You either love Rome or you hate it, in fact this city is an excellent place to test if you are a flexible person, if you are adaptable. Can you rise above pre-conceptions, can you change your way of thinking in such a way as to adapt to your new surroundings, some can, others cannot, so stuck in their back home mentality. Can you stop thinking about how much things cost, this constant conversion of currency for every transaction. Wanting to take the bus instead of a taxi to save a few dollars when in the end taking the bus is a huge inconvenience and no savings at all. Being intimidated by a person or a place because of a title or because of what this place represent.

Not understanding where you are because you have not made the effort to inform yourself beforehand. Making silly assumptions, why do they not speak English here, could it be because it is not their language. They must be very devout Catholics because of the Pope being here in Rome. No, Romans have always had a difficult relationship with the Papacy and being close to a religious leader does not make people more religious. In fact in Rome the papacy is discredited because of its long association with the city and the many scandals through the ages.

They will learn eventually, or they will leave disillusioned, so is life in Rome. Like the movie la Dolce Vita which speaks of the disillusionment of so many people at the failed social and political promises in the aftermath of the Second World War between 1950-1960, a lost generation. People come to Rome with illusions, but it is all smoke and mirrors and in the end you find your place or you don't. We will see how this new group of colleagues will fare.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The debate over a cultural centre in NYC

As often as is the case today in our Western society, North America and Europe, there is much talk in public of inclusiveness where everyone has supposedly a chance to voice an opinion in the great debates on society. For weeks now a fierce debate over the Islamic Cultural Centre in Manhattan has been raging on in newsprint and on the internet.

What is taking place is not a reasoned debate of ideas but mostly opinions, often personal and political over the site of this centre and if it should be built at all. The pundits have used extreme language to attract attention and create a controversy that should not even exist in the first place.

The opinions and articles in the media, editorials or articles in various newspapers, controlled by wealthy individuals reflect their ideology on society. Politicians and prominent activists also spout about this cultural centre and about their own ever changing positions on the topic of Islam and Muslims in American society, prompting many American citizens who are Muslims to wonder if they will ever belong in their own country America. The common man who is the basis of our democracy is left behind to try to understand what is going on and try to form an opinion IF he or she cares to do so. As is the case in most debates today, ordinary people have no time or inclination to get involved because they are just trying to get by economically. So the democratic debate has become a sham.

The media brings it down to simple statements: Islam= terror, Brown people = poverty and crime, authors of the attack on World trade centre = all Muslims are bad people, Mosque = terror centre, Islam = violence, immigration = undesirables. Cultural centres = elitist ideology. All of this = America under siege. Very sad commentary all around when one comes to think of it on what was once a great society.

America is not under siege, any intelligent, educated and informed person knows this. The actions of a few do not equate to the way of thinking of many. But many mediocre people know they can make hay and exploit fear of the unknown for personal gain, like the Sarah Palin of this world and so many others.

Culture does not equate elitism or something foreign to the goals and aspiration of the common person in society. Unfortunately we hear too many extreme voices who advocate for the rejection of anything that is not, in other words, meat and potatoes, white and Christian, at the exclusion of all others. All the others represent a large percentage of American society today, according to recent census about 34% of the total population.

What is being proposed for the Islamic Cultural centre in lower Manhattan is a day care centre for kids, a conference hall for cultural purposes, a health club with swimming pool and a prayer room or mosque. Do not see how this can be in any way shape or form offensive or dangerous to anyone.

With the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the demise of Communism in Europe, the USA had no known enemy, so a new one had to be invented, Islam now seem to be that new enemy, simple really, ignorance breeds intolerance and fear, bingo new enemy. Sounds like an Orwell novel really, tell the masses what they should fear and who the new enemy is today.

While this debate goes on, important matters, like health and education and the betterment of society, go largely ignored, because solutions of those real issues are more difficult to come by and the Christian politicos have no ideas or solutions to present.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

minus 3 Kg and 3 cm

So my dietitian tells me that I am doing quite well with my program to lose weight. It all started in June when someone at the office spoke of this great doctor who helped a lot of people with their diet. I was around 83 Kg then and was not happy, I did not overeat but simply leading a sedentary life does it to you.

So she explained that it is all mathematical and a question of approach, she's a German doctor. The diet she gave me was and remains quite reasonable and it is all foods I eat anyway, so there was no abrupt changes. It helps also in Italy that we have little to no pre-prepared or processed foods and frozen foods remains limited on the market, can goods are also fairly limited.
When I first met her I was around 80 kg, and now I am at 76.5 Kg and have lost 3 cm on my waist, I need to loose another 4 Kg and if I can loose also another 4 cm on my waist that would be great according to the Dr. Lattermann.

One kilo = 2.2 Lbs. So I lost 3kg or 6.6 lbs.
In centimeters 3 cm = 1.18 inches

So I need to loose another 4 kg or 8.8 lbs and 4 cm or 1.57 inches. I really think I can do it and do not see that goal as impossible. In fact I am quite motivated.