Wednesday, 01 May 2024 18:51

Vulvae and other silent revolutions

Yesterday I met up with Maria Tamboukou, a professor in Feminist Studies at the University of East London, to visit a museum together in Turin, Italy.

We picked the MAO Museum of Oriental Art, showing a surprising collection and a beautiful temporary exhibition.

We had a very enjoyable time in the museum and eating pizza afterwards – which she kindly offered to me. During our conversation, she asked me questions about my work both academic and not as well as about my family and life.

Ph 1 Monogatari

Ph Gaia Del Negro, Kazuko Miyamoto (Tokyo, 1942) installation in the ‘Contemporary Monogatari: new Japanese narratives’ exhibition, MAO, 30 April 2024.


She told me about her research with a Foucauldian approach to writing unspoken genealogies (stories about how they came to something) of women in the social space, that means women workers, artisans, artists, musicians, mathematicians. She says women have always occupied social spaces, but their stories are often untold. What happens to them?

Maria uses both historical archives - in London, and also in Bologna, in Milan, in Turin - and narrative interviews, and finally checks her interpretations of the materials she finds wih her mixed approach, by sharing her work with networks of expert women in their fields across the globe. She herself comes originally from Athens, Greece.

I had not realized before that we both came from a patriarchal Mediterranean country and share the (privileged) educational migrant experience of doing a PhD in the UK.

I was reminded of my own desire to research women’s lives and right now, to work with women.

Ph 5 Vulvae Rose

Ph Gaia Del Negro, the rose on my balcony, that I brought on a train from Liguria where Grandma Dorotea used to live until 2018,  reminds me of the sensuality of a vulva, 1st May 2024.


She seemed amused to discover I funded an informal intergenerational group of socially recognized women colleagues called the Subterranean Vulvae, with whom we work on consultancy projects, and talk, and share dinners and wine - conspiring to 'subvert the system'. I am among the older ones, for once! Am I getting older and how do I position myself?

A few brave colleague consultants are in their 20s.

As I told and listened, I realised I deeply appreciate connecting personal and professional. The small and the big picture. And creating and attending to network that are relational and experimental. I can only offer a point of view, a temporal perspective, an emotion. I grow in relation to others, like shades of light and darkness moving reciprocally, revealing and changing patterns.

The auto/biographical, duo-ethnographic, collective and relational art-based work and writing, during my free time over the years, as independent researcher, was incredibly helpful to open myself.

I was scared and stiff for a long time – and for sure I still often am. I had toxic intimate relationships. I looked to change my partners and be elevated in their eyes, in a sort of competition for visibility and power, maybe…

Ph 2 Quayyum Agha

Ph Maria Tamboukou, Gaia inside Shimmering Mirage (Black), 2016, by Anila Quayyum Agha (Lahore, Pakistan, 1965), 30 April 2024.


Maria’s daughter is a lawyer working in advocacy for human rights. Her mother suggested to her not to enter Academia as it was already becoming marketized – they actually call the students ‘customers’ during university meetings. Like her, I try to work for promoting social justice, as a freelance consultant for community building in collaborative networks. I am also studying to become a systemic relational counsellor. Many scholars are moving outside the university in the UK, Maria says.

On my train back from Turin, I received an email from the University of Milano Bicocca that recognised my PhD title at Canterbury Christ Church University, as equivalent to the same title in Italy. I was very happy. I applied only in Spring 2024, after graduating in 2017 and coming back to Milan in 2019. Why did it take me so long to want to be recognised in Italy for my hard work abroad?

Coming back to Milan was a personal choice (I wanted to take care of my genealogy).  

Il was also a cultural shock. The bus drivers at the Bergamo airport made sexist jokes – what a coincidence.

Feminism is still often a scary word in Italy, as I wrote about with two colleagues in education at Milano Bicocca, Laura a full professor and Silvia a freelance researcher.

Another Silvia, one of the Vulvae consultants, told me the other day that being a feminist (by which I think she means wanting to negotiate her freedom) is challenging her relationship with her partner. Amelia, a dear friend is right now negotiating gender roles with her husband, as she is finishing a Masters and may pursue a new career after giving birth to two babies. Other younger colleagues challenge gender identities and norms, with their limited sexual and affective frameworks for meaning making and living.

Ph 3 restorative circle

Ph Gaia Del Negro, restorative circle during a transnational partners meeting, conducted by my colleague Greta, winner of the LGBTQIA+! Erasmus+ project, Wroclaw (Poland), 23 April 2024.


In the meantime, pro-life organisations will be introduced in women health centres in Italy where the right to abortion is already not respected – doctors in women health centres can use conscience clause. The 'natality' law was passed by... the first woman prime minister in Italian history! – also the main opposition party has a young woman leader, and for the first time 3 women academics lead all three public universities in Milan in 2024. And yet, the 1950s nuclear family model is still a reference, which does not correspond to the variety of family assemblages that subjects create along lived lives.

And many more contradictions, creativity, joy, violence, wars, in the unfolding of feminist social change!

The Vulvae and other informal groups and connections are my resource of hope, to keep on keeping on, starting from my own emancipation, through a lot of humour, and trust.


Ph 4 Assemblage Lahiri

Ph Gaia Del Negro, personal assemblage reflecting on my intimate relationships, through objects in my apartment in Milan, 13 March 2024.

Sunday, 23 April 2023 11:11

Is your hair natural?

A Saturday of April. Fragments of work and life. A patchwork that flows, I flow from one aim, intention, memory, sensation, feeling, commitment, community, geography, to the next one. 

As I bicycle to the industrial neighbourhood of Bovisa I think of last night, a dinner with five women in a tiny family restaurant hotel in another periphery near the hospital of Niguarda. Two professors, two PhDs, and one lectures soon without a job but with a promising interview in her local library. Three Italian and two Norwegian on a visiting scholarship. All working for and with communities and writing together apart, in different configurations depending on the text, the topic, and the occasion.

In the afternoon three of us shared a walking performance of carrying and caring, carrying raw earth for building houses, livelihoods, villages, hopes, and relationships.


Is it natural 1 Women Carrying Earth Walk artist Maddalena Ferraresi Milan 21 april 2023

Ph Gaia Del Negro, Women Carrying Earth performance walk, artist-architect Maddalena Ferraresi (at the centre), Milan, 21st april 2023.


I get off my bike and talk to Enzo who gives me back my old computer we still try to keep going. He is moving house over the weekend, moving back with his wife after 20 years living together apart, he in Milan and she on the Como lake. Now she asked him to move back together for what remains to live of their lives, and what could I say, he says, I said yes, we move together, this will be our last home on the lake in Como. Milan is not good for living, only for work.

I cycle back home, park the bike in my kitchen since it is not safe to leave your bike outside and I have no more accessible space for it. Plus I like to see her, a stable life companion I can invest various feelings on, she won’t mind. The tube takes me to the city centre south, where I buy a cheap mobile phone for an unrecognised association I work for, a network of universities, a bunch of passionate people doing research and sharing knowledge about adults learning in the university (migrants, unqualified, people changing careers, women), an uncommon imaginary of adult learning in Italy. You study, you work, you make a family, you retire. Linear learning lives is the traditional understanding that is hard to change. 

On the tube a young woman talks loudly on her phone. “You write 5 things that make you happy, and if that does not work, you write another 5 things that make you relaxed. What things?".  She pauses and adds: "I do not know, Mum. Your 5 things. I wrote something like... classical music... seeing and talking to the people I love.... writing my thoughts in my diary.... walking, walking really slows me down yes Mum, it makes my day.”


Is it natural 2 And the woman said to the wolf Milan 22 april 2023

Ph Gaia Del Negro And the young woman said to the wolf, "What a big heart you have".  "It is juts my anger". So she said: "What a bi anger you have". "It is to hide my heart from you", Erin Doom. Milan, 22nd april 2023


I get back with the new cheap phone and set it up. I cook and eat and go to my computer for finishing an article on women emancipation and technologies in the women’s movement in Iran. I translate it with a free online tool and share it with Chiara my co-author, it will be our first article together, collaborating in difference, together and apart, my second article in Italian after many in English, myself together and apart, and I change clothes and go for a walk on the canal nearby. 

In the courtyard I come across two neighbours chatting. The man living with three dogs and with two daughters now living on their own asks me if my hair looks blue, he cannot see very well, he cannot he says, he is not pulling my lag he assures me. The woman intervenes maybe trying to help and asks me if my hair is natural and says I am young, implying the question has implications connecting my hair and my age. I am not young, I am almost 40 and yes, my white hair is natural, I do not colour it, it is white not blue. I say I like it as it is, it is Ok nowadays to have your hair as you like it. Coloured or while as you like it. I think about all the colours I have had, red, pink, violet, brown, orange. I remember when I had to take away a piece of violet hair for an internship in a multinational company in 2011. But I do not say this, I am bored to say the same things in 2023. I do not need to justify myself.

Do you know me?

Really know me?

You have opinions about my opinions

About music about my clothes

About my body some poeple hate what I wear

Some people praise it Some poeple use it to shame others

Some people use it to shame me But I feel you watching...

Do my shoulders provoke you? Does my chest? Am I my stomach? My hips?

The body I was born with Is it not what you wanted?...

Or is your opinion of me 

Not my responsibility?

(Not my responsibility, Billie Eilish, 2021)


He says his daughter does not like her white hair, and I say it is Ok, as she likes it. The man asks if I am going to the mountains, I do not know what he means, I say I will go to the 25th April Anniversary of the Liberation from nazifascism march on Tuesday, be careful it is dangerous he says, somehow I know he is puzzled by me but is not against me. I say no, I have been going for many years, I meet friends there, you can come, with the dogs he says, one for me and two for you he says, I say why not come all are welcome. 

After walking I sit in a public garden reading a book, My Father’s Notebook by exiled Iranian-Dutch writer Kader Abdolah, that a friend Spanish language teacher in the Women Choir suggested to me. Around me groups of young men migrants talking and enjoying the sun, further downhill Pakistani and Indian men playing cricket, a mixed group playing mini soccer, some families picnicking, and the music of Bolivian dance in the community hall underneath the hill I am sitting on. I walk back thinking writing is a way to have a conversation with fragments from your many days, years, and belongings. 


 Is it natural 3 My favourite season is the FALL of the Islamic Republic 22 april 2023

Ph Gaia Del Negro My favourite season is the FALL of the Islamic Republic #Masha Amini #Free Iran, Alessandra Attiasese,  Italian Women Photographers Association, Martesana canal, Milan, 22nd april 2023.


Chiara agreed for me to send our article to the Iranian woman and academic colleague in Canada who answered by writing two questions on her experience of women protests and social media in Iran. So I send her our article to check that she is happy with what we made of her story. I change back into city clothes and get back on my bike and I am off to the cinema for Il sol dell’avvenire the last movie by Nanni Moretti, a beloved director with wonderful irony making political films with an intimate reflection on our lives, loves, dreams, fears, landscapes, movements, educations, cultural market, and historical imaginaries. Outside the movie I meet Maria Grazia Gambardella, a lecturer in sociology and feminist studies with a friend. The film is great. Moretti at his best, light and deep, light and deep. This movie is a fellinian dreamy multilayered narration composing an autobiographical viewpoint of the director making a film on the italian communist party at the URSS invasion of Hungary in 1956, the deranged film industry of Netflix in 2023, and his fragile yet lively family dynamics and psychoanalysis, with another possible musical story of the negotiations and poetics of love discourse of a young couple learning to invent new gender roles in the 1970s. What is love, what is politics?

I laugh and hope and feel connected with a shared destiny and with myselves, our couscous cooking and looking for new ways to be. We say goodbye with Maria Grazia and her friend and I go to take the bike for the last ride.

As I am unlocking the bike, an old man standing there asks me, did you like it? Yes I say, very much, and he says no, he did not like it, and he adds with a worried face, Nanni seems to make a caricature of himself, well... yes I say, it is self-irony, and he says he was a kid in 1956 and it is not good how this films communicates about that time in history and the communist party to foreign people, the film, it goes everywhere. And I say yes, it is not a documentary, if one wants to know more they can look for information. 

The bike takes me home light and deep in the spring night. 


Is it natural 4 Social Protests 8th march temporary exhibition of the Association of Women Italian Photographers tunnel Sammartini Spoleto Milan 22 april 2023

Ph Gaia Del Negro Social Protests 8th march 2023 temporary exhibition, Association of Women Italian Photographers + FAS Aps, 240 photographs, by 14 authors, taken in different Italian cities in 2022, testimonies of the squares and movements on climate, peace, labour and women's freedom of choice issues, tunnel Sammartini-Spoleto, Milan 22nd april 2023. 

Tuesday, 03 January 2023 14:38

Milan 1st January 2023

This morning I wanted to go hiking with a friend on the mount Bronzone near Bergamo. I got back fairly early on New Year’s Eve and got up after 7 hours sleep ready to drive to Bergamo. All dressed up for hiking I called my friend who confirmed the weather was humid and foggy and the lake could not be seen at all, so we had better postpone.  

Still dressed with warm transpirant trousers and shirt, I reached the sofa. On the way to the sofa my hand picked a book I had just had a conversation about with a man in Tuscany: The Soul’s Code by James Hillman. According to Google books:

A journey into the essential mystery at the center of every life--the search for calling--The Soul's Code takes a new look at age-old themes, providing a radical, frequently amusing, and highly accessible path to realization through an extensive array of examples. Hillman encourages readers to discover the "blueprints" particular to their individual lives, certain that there is more to life than can be explained by genetics or environment. 

For the first day of the year, the "acorn theory" — the idea that our lives are formed by a particular image, just as the oak's destiny is contained in the tiny acorn - would now replace my ritual walk. I lazily slipped through the pages, reading only the passages I had already underlined years ago. Some of the lines attracted me: I transcribed them on a Word file, in the order in which they appeared in the book. A few spaces on the page added, and a poem emerged. An extracted poem with a title, all in Hillman’s own words. A tiny acorn.

In the end, to place the acorn in my worlds, I added two photos: one from a walk I just had in Tuscany, one I now took from my kitchen window - where I had called my friend to go hiking.

(this creative writing practice is inspired by works such as those by Lea Melandri, Laurel Richardson, Leonora Cupane, and Jane Speedy and from engaging in creative literature review with Laura Formenti and Silvia Luraschi*)


How do I find the basic plot of my story?


A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed

The daimon does not go away

The Romans, like Keats, said the call came from the heart

For some it is Lady Luck or Fortuna

In Egypt, it might have been ka, or the ba with whom you could converse


We are parented by everything around us – 

if “parenting” means watching, instructing, encouraging, and admonishing

Ecological disaster – 

the belief that what’s out there is less of a factor than my close family


Extended family

Imagining demands absolute attention

A counterlife (Philip Roth’s term) –

the creation of a fantasy biography


Nature loves to hide

Eat first, talk later

I would rather keep accident as an authentic category of existence.


(Extracted poem from J. Hillman 1996, The soul’s code: in search of character and calling)


Asciano Le Biancane 20221227

Ph Gaia Del Negro, on a walk in Le Biancane di Leonina, Deserto di Accona (Siena), 27th December 2022.


Milan 20230101

 Ph Gaia Del Negro, modified view from my window, Milan, 1st January 2023.


* Formenti, L., Luraschi, S., Del Negro, G. (2022). Relationship, power, and care in feminist pedagogy: our theory under construction. In Proceedings CASAE/ACÉÉA 2022 Annual Conference/conférence annuelle 2022. Hosted by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Organisé par la Fédération des sciences humaines et sociales (pp.137-
147). Ottawa: Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE),

Tuesday, 08 November 2022 09:53

Il mio immaginario femminista: il cous cous!

Sono giorni strani… mi sembra di camminare nella nebbia… una sensazione di attesa e di spostamento di equilibri… come sono arrivata qui?

Il mio terapeuta dice che faccio tante cose, metto tante pietanze nel piatto, ma sono tutti contorni e non è chiaro qual è il piatto principale. Alla fine, per ora ho capito che posso scegliere contorni che stanno bene insieme… e un po’ alla volta diventano un cous cous!

Nel mio cous cous a giugno ho aggiunto qualche giorno in montagna a Bosco Chiesanuova, il paese dove è nata mia nonna materna. Ci sono andata con mia madre. Sta scrivendo un romanzo sulla bisnonna, che faceva la lavandaia e ha cresciuto 7 figli (5 femmine e 2 maschi). Volevo tornare a Bosco da tanto tempo. Questo è un contorno che riguarda la storia della mia famiglia, una storia di migrazione dalla campagna verso le grandi città, e di frammentazione delle reti familiari… ma la storia sta cambiando. Negli ultimi anni ho ritrovato due cugini e anche mia mamma ha ritrovato due cugine. A giugno ho intervistato mia mamma davanti alla vecchia casa della bisnonna. Ieri le ho inviato la trascrizione e l’audio dell’intervista e oggi mi ha risposto: accetta di condividere il testo con un gruppo di donne ricercatrici con le quali conduco una ricerca di scrittura collettiva sulle nostre storie di Dignità Attraverso il Tocco (Dignity through touch). 

Sono giorni strani 1 Bosco chiesanuova 9 giugno 2022

Foto 1: Foto scattata da mia mamma in Vicolo dei Ciengetti, Bosco chiesanuova, 9 giugno 2022.


La dimensione collaborativa è diventata molto importante per me. Da sola, non ho la forza di prendermi cura di tutte le cose che stanno dentro al cous cous.

Un altro ingrediente nel piatto è la pratica artistica e somatica. Da tre anni canto in un coro di donne. Da cinque anni seguo una formazione che si chiama Rhizoma: Le Pratiche Somatiche dell’Ascolto. Ci siamo trovati a Lucca due settimane fa per un weekend di pratica sul tocco e sul movimento. Sono esercizi apparentemente semplici che in realtà fanno un grosso lavoro sulla relazione con sé stessi e con gli altri. Al ritorno, ho letto Yoga di Emmanuel Carrère. Mi ha molto divertito quando fa ironia su come meditare non serve a molto se poi non vivi la vita tutti i giorni! Sono d’accordo. Noi cerchiamo di imparare meglio a vivere la vita di tutti i giorni, dedicando alcuni momenti a praticare l’ascolto di noi con gli altri. Avere fiducia è difficile!

Sono giorni strani 2 Ritiro gruppo Rhizoma condotto da Cinzia Delorenzi presso Associazione Arcobaleno Lucca 21 23 ottobre 2022

Foto 2:  Ritiro gruppo Rhizoma condotto da Cinzia Delorenzi, presso Associazione Arcobaleno, Lucca, 21-23 ottobre 2022.

Sono giorni strani 3 Ritiro gruppo Rhizoma condotto da Cinzia Delorenzi presso Associazione Arcobaleno Lucca 21 23 ottobre 2022 

Foto 3 Partenza dal ritiro gruppo Rhizoma condotto da Cinzia Delorenzi, presso Associazione Arcobaleno, Lucca, 21-23 ottobre 2022.


Considero queste attività parte della mia formazione permanente (lifelong learning). Quest’anno ho cambiato il focus del mio lavoro e ho preso la direzione di portare alcune pratiche di ricerca partecipativa art-based (feminist hack, co-operative inquiry, writing as inquiry, intersemiotic translation, social dreaming) dentro ai contesti dove opero come professionista freelance, nello sviluppo di comunità e nel monitoraggio e valutazione di progetti sociali e educativi. Sono strumenti raffinati, che non si imparano da un giorno all’altro, ma che richiedono una pratica e una riflessività costanti. Spesso sono strumenti poco conosciuti (qui sotto alcuni riferimenti). 

Feminist hack (vedi il Capitolo 1 del libro Feminist Guide più sotto)

Co-operative inquiry: John Heron (1996) Co-operative inquiry: research into the human condition. London: Sage.

Writing as inquiry: Laurel Richardson (1997) Fields of play. Constructing an academic life. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Intersemiotic translation: vedi il sito

Social dreaming: Long, S., & Manley, J. (Eds.). (2019). Social dreaming: Philosophy, research, theory and practice. Routledge.

Sono giorni strani 4 Video Ospitare Hosting others di Filippo M. Ceredi Convegno Experiential Translation Kings College University Londra 14 luglio 2022

Foto 4: Video Ospitare/Hosting others di Filippo M. Ceredi, progetto di Gaia Del Negro, Silvia Luraschi e Cinzia Delorenzi, Convegno Performative & Experiential Translation, Kings' College University, Londra, 14 luglio 2022.

 Sono giorni strani 5 Valutazione annuale del progetto Fabbrica del Quartiere Borgo Roma Verona 7 luglio 2022

Foto 5: Valutazione annuale per l'Istituto italiano di Valutazione del progetto La Fabbrica del Quartiere finanziato dalla Fondazione Cariverona, Borgo Roma, Verona, 7 luglio 2022.

Sono giorni strani 6 Laboratorio Sogni Manidoo Comunità minori Fratelli San Francesco Chiaravalle 29 giugno 2022

Foto 6: Laboratorio Sogni Manidoo, a cura di Corps Citoyen/Francesca Cogni, Rabii Brahim e Anna Serlenga, Gaia Del Negro e Sergio Di Giorgi, per Terzo Paesaggio, presso la Comunità minori Fratelli San Francesco, Chiaravalle, 29 giugno 2022

Sono giorni strani 7 Feminist hack della mostra Scatti di benessere progetto interreg City for Care Oratorio di Acquate Lecco 5 novembre 2022

Foto 7: Feminist Hack della mostra Scatti di benessere a cura di Metodi - Welfare di Comunità, progetto interreg Italia-Svizzera City for Care, presso l'Oratorio di Acquate, Lecco, 5 novembre 2022


Tra una settimana andrò con una cara amica e collega, Silvia, in visita alla Victoria University, in Canada, con una borsa della Ambasciata del Canada. La Prof.ssa Darlene Clover che ci ospiterà ha organizzato per noi una serie di laboratori che terremo con studenti e docenti all’università, a partire dalle nostre ricerche di questi anni sul femminismo e sugli approcci dell’arte e del corpo nella ricerca e formazione con professionisti dell’educazione e del sociale. Siamo emozionate! 

Libro gratuito scaricabile sulle metodologie di ricerca creativa nei musei dove c'è il capitolo sul Feminist Hack e un capitolo scritto insieme a Laura Formenti e Silvia Luraschi: Clover, D. E., Dzulkifli, S., Gelderman, H., & Sanford, K. (2020). Feminist Adult Educators’ Guide to Aesthetic, Creative and Disruptive Strategies in Museums and Community.

Sono giorni strani 8 Convegno AtGender Università degli Studi Milano Bicocca 17 giugno 2022 

Foto 8: Una famiglia gioca con i fili di lana che ho portato per l'intervento con Silvia Luraschi, Laura Formenti e Davide Cino sul rapporto con gli oggetti nella ricerca di traduzione esperienziale Ospitare/Hosting Others, al Convegno AtGender, Università degli Studi Milano Bicocca, 15-18 giugno 2022.


Nel "cucinare il cous cous", ho imparato a fare delle cose senza sapere bene perché. Dopo Lucca, ho preso dalla libreria e messo in cucina il libro di Rebecca Solnit (2005), A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Lo apro ora e leggo una frase che avevo sottolineato: 

Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t know – and it suprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown. Perhaps fantasy is what you fill up maps with rather than saying that they too contain the unknown (p. 165). 

La preoccupazione è un modo per fingere di avere conoscenza o controllo su ciò che non si conosce - e mi sorprende, anche in me stessa, quanto preferiamo i brutti scenari all'ignoto puro. Forse la fantasia è ciò con cui si riempiono le mappe piuttosto che dire che anch'esse contengono l'ignoto (p. 165, mia traduzione).

Il lavoro di Darlene Clover, nella tradizione degli studi sociali di C. Wright Mills e della filosofa Maxine Greene, ha a che fare con l’immaginazione e in particolare con l’immaginare altri scenari possibili per uscire dagli schemi di cui siamo parte. Se la fantasia rientra nella realtà, è immaginazione? Questo movimento di esplorazione di mondi possibili, come li chiama Marianella Sclavi, è una strategia conoscitiva e di cambiamento simile a quella che ispira il counselling sistemico… un altro ingrediente che sto studiando per metterlo nel mio cous cous!!!


A volte cucinare tutti questi ingredienti mi disorienta: a quale elemento dare la priorità? Quanto tempo servirà perché una parte della preparazione sia pronta? Come tradurre agli altri quello che cucino e cosa mi serve imparare per integrare meglio tutti gli ingredienti perché siano ben amalgamati? Come evitare la confusione? Come verrà alla fine questo cous cous? Strano? Buono? Chi lo mangerà?

Chissà… provare per credere!

Sono gorni strani 9 Ritorno dal ritiro Rhizoma a Lucca in viaggio verso Milano con Sarah Silvia e la cana Duna 23 ottobre 2022

Foto 9: Ritorno dal ritiro Rhizoma a Lucca, in viaggio verso Milano con Sarah, Silvia e la cana Duna, 23 ottobre 2022.

Sunday, 15 May 2022 13:39

I never really know where I belong

At the beginning of April, two months ago, I spent a week in Canterbury. I went to visit old friends and mentors from the time of my PhD and following work at Canterbury Christ Church University in 2013-2018. It was a very important visit for me. I was almost scared to go. In fact, I tend to have unresolved feelings about past and present and where and what is ‘home’.
I booked a room in a B&B on the same street where I had lived for two years. It was just two houses past the Maynard Cottage and as I reached my temporary home, I noticed the curtains had changed, and wondered how my room upstairs might look now. 

The Maynard Cottage and the BB blue building Canterbury 4 april 2022 copia
Photo 1: the Maynard Cottage and the B&B (blue building), Canterbury, 4th April 2022.
During my stay I worked with Milan for my current jobs: I taught Italian to a class of medicine students, did interviews with the Bethlehem municipality to evaluate a project of international cooperation, and replied to emails for an academic conference in September I realized I could have taken a bit more time off. Still, I managed to see people and have some wonderful moments: lunch in beloved pubs, country walks with friends, and even see to some of my friends performing – one academic lecture and one Free Range Festival event of collective poetry improvisation.

Walking from Canterbury to a country pub 8 april 2022
Photo 2: Walking from Canterbury to a country pub in Fordwich, 8th April 2022.

Mark Windsor Seminar on aesthetic experience University of Kent 6 april 2022
Photo 3: Mark Windsor, giving a seminar on aesthetic experience, University of Kent, 6th April 2022.

Kat Peddie Free Range performance Fond coffee Canterbury 7 april 2022
Photo 4: Kat Peddie, Free Range festival performance, Meanders in a line Walt Witman / Kat Paddie, Canterbury, 7th April 2022.
One evening, while coming back from a country walk with my old flatmates Mark and Katy with her partner and baby, Katy asked if I would like to see St Augustine’s Abbey She as resident had a permit to access for free after 5pm and regularly took her dog and her baby to play there. I wondered why I had not done that during the time I lived there and said yes.
The place at dawn looked mystical. A large lawn with ruins of the Abbey – the abbey was founded in 598, after St Augustine arrived in Kent on a mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, see website – and on the peripheries two educational institutions, the private King’s School on the left, and CCCU university on the right. The big new building for the faculty of Medicine was clearly visible. 
We had just started to walk around the site when we met Katy’s partner colleague, an Italian woman, with her dog. We were introduced and a conversation started along these lines:
I: Ciao. I am from Milan, and you?
She: Ciao. Oh nice! The rich north. My family was originally from the southern region of Basilicata, a very poor place.
I: My family also migrated from poor places in the north. I am 50% from Friuli region and my Dad at 10 years helped his father build the house where they lived in the suburbs, which they sold a half of to pay the cost of building materials – and his sister never went beyond primary school. I visited Matera last august, I had wished to visit for a long time… the poor people there lived in cages and the rich classes lived in beautiful apartments on another level of town. A doctor and intellectual, Carlo Levi, was exiled there during fascism and wrote about the living conditions of these people in a book, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945) which was known only much later thanks to a film by Francesco Rosi (1979). 
She: My Grandma lived in a similar village nearby. I remember the house. It was excavated in the stone. Her bed and the kitchen were in the same space and in another room, she kept the animals. We slept on an elevated bed.
I: It is incredible that we talk about this now. I usually don’t tell the story of my father.
She: My children have their lives here and so do I. I speak very bad Italian now. I never really know where I belong.

We enjoyed the rest of our visit of the Abbey – the Abbey is not only free for residents in specific hours but also organizes small events and festivals - and walked home. We said goodbye at my new friend’s door where a big red cat waited for her. Katy then told she was happy I talked about my family with this woman, and she saw we could tell important stories to each other. And so was I. We reached Katy's home where we all had a lovely meal and watched an old film her partner likes watching for her birthday, which was on that day. 
After midnight I walked back to my room as I was teaching online the next morning.

Matera view from Parco della Murgia 21 august 2021
Photo 5: Matera, view from Parco della Murgia, 21st August 2021.
I was tiny overwhelmed. With gratitude, for a sense of possibility to stay in an area of ‘betweenness’. A sense of response-ability and agency. I thought about the academic work of my mentor Linden West, his stories about leaving working class friends behind to go to a grammar school and become a brilliant researcher in Education – Linden retired in April as Emeritus Professor. (He also has a brilliant and generous woman at his side). I thought of my feelings of shame, inadequacy, and fragility in the UK and in Milan, respectively a rich and powerful country and city that easily make you feel ‘less’. I thought about the difficulty to put a mind to read when you feel anxious, and that most friends and colleagues I met in my UK years were better off than me economically and had better cultural capital – their families read the books and travelled (but not all: my colleague Paula Stone at CCCU founded a group called We Need To Talk About Class


I also thought about issues of money and houses and property and having to protect family and my own small securities – my cave. And finally, about the slow journey to leave the cave not by a heroic act of emancipation producing self- fragmentation, but by a holistic process of integration of experience and voicing discrimination from the margins of society – not last as a woman.

The Street Whitstable 7 april 2022
Photo 6: (I was sitting with Dr Alan Bainbridge and watching) The Street, Whitstable, 7th April 2022.
From this visit to Canterbury, I have started new dialogues and plans to do things together, with performing artists/friends and performing/academics, to explore together where we belong.

Sunday, 20 February 2022 15:22

Food from home

It has arrived. Or better, they have arrived. Not the usual Amazon expedition, but four heavy boxes from the farm of Camporbiano (Tuscany) were waiting for me at the janitor’s. He, a young dad from Egypt, looked amused and sympathetic. Another resident asked if I could give him the isolating polystyrene box, so he could use it for sending some medicines protected from the change of temperature. We agreed I would leave the box to the janitor the next day and I brought everything home. First, I opened the polystyrene box: cheese!!!

The other three boxes contained fresh vegetables, potatoes, spelt flakes, barley, lentils, chickpeas, whole pasta, and a lot of jars: tomato sauce, aubergine sauce, zucchini cream, peperoni cream, olives cream, marinated vegetables. I was happy with that treasure, even a bit overwhelmed.
 boxes food home

The boxes from Poggio di Camporbiano in my kitchen, February 2022, Milan.

The boxes waited two days in a corner of the kitchen before I managed to make space by taking a box of old empty jars to the cellar downstairs, together with one box of the new jars. So, this year 2022 started with food in the cellar, to me a sign of rootedness. Should I stock wine too, to give more solidity to the roots?
As I was opening the fresh ricotta (which had to be eaten quicly), I thought of a student from the South of Italy that participated in my PhD research in 2014. He had written about going home by train for holidays, and on the journey back to Milan, meeting mothers bringing cheese and salami to their children studying ‘up North’. This ‘North’ extends beyond the country, I thought, as my Italian friend in London told me that she, her husband, and the kids received olive oil from her parents in Palermo, Sicily.
I felt emotional. What was food from home? What is food for home making?

Practical help, but also care, love, and connection to the roots through engagement with the senses. A touchable sign of your existence somewhere else, for someone else. A witness of multiplicity, creativity, courage, and capacity to adapt. A gentle request to nurture memory. 

During a lesson of Italian as a second language, my Indian student, a wise, witty young man and mechanical engineer in an Italian company, told me he had experienced nostalgia for the first time after 6 years in Italy. He said he would like to grow his vegetables, like his parents in Tamil Nadu.
Sometimes I think I would like that too. I currently live in the flat where I grew up in the city of Milan, so I am home. However, my home extends to other places where I feel home, often not in big cities, sometimes abroad, that I bringhome also through food. 
‘You don’t have to worry about food now! Invite your friends home! We always did that, and grandpa too! I did not go out for three weeks during Covid with the food I had stocked!” said my Mum who had sent me the gift from Camporbiano. 
Food from home intertwines with food stock. And new food habits in a new home. Food is often a favourite topic with my foreign students.

Thursday, 23 September 2021 10:13

I meli della Cravaglia

Quando ero piccola i miei nonni materni abitavano in un piccolo borgo in Piemonte, a Borghetto Borbera.

La casa nel cuore del paese era grande e antica. C’era un cortile con ciottoli di fiume, un pergolato di uva bianca e dalla mia finestra si vedevano le stelle.

Il nonno aveva un terreno nella campagna in una zona che si chiamava Cravaglia. In Cravaglia c’erano dei meli, mi sembra tre o quattro, altri alberi da frutta e in fondo al campo dei cespugli di ribes. Ogni anno mio nonno curava gli alberi dando il verderame e selezionando le mele e poi in autunno raccoglievamo le mele con tutta la famiglia. Si usava un bastone di legno diviso in tre parti alla fine, o con un anello con denti e un sacchetto, per circondare la mela e poi staccarla dal ramo ruotando il bastone per rompere il picciolo. Portavamo a casa le ceste di mele e le mettevamo in cantina e se erano tante, le regalavamo agli amici. Le mele della Cravaglia duravano tutto l’inverno, ma dovevi controllare le mele marce per non fare andare a male tutta la cassetta. Era una grande soddisfazione mangiare le nostre mele portate in città dalla campagna, così profumate.

Un giorno dopo alcuni anni che la casa era stata venduta, ho ripensato a quei meli. Ci saranno ancora o li avranno tagliati come dice l’amico del nonno, Franco?

Sono tornata a vedere la casa e Franco, non ancora i meli.

meli cravaglia

Mia nonna Dorotea Pezzo in Cravaglia (autore e data, sconosciute).