Friday, July 18, 2008

Yet Another Blast from the Past

About six years ago, Sara and I were living in Bergamo, Italy, working hard on our dissertation research. On Sundays, either as a brief respite from our work or as part of our ethnographic experience (take your pick), we would engage in the Italian ritual of la passeggiata (the walk). I have written elsewhere how this is more than just exercise or walking off nonna's big Sunday meal, rather an important part of the construction of community (if you are interested in the academic take, email me and I can send you the text).

During these walks, you encounter every aspect of Italian life: families showering attention on the only child sitting in his designer stroller clad in the latest fashion, elederly being left on the sidewalk outside the gelateria as though they were the family dog, marginalized immigrants trying to push books, trinkets, or counterfit wears on passers by. In the squares of the city, you could find activists advocating for their cause or roaming musicians playing and selling their homemade CDs. In Bergamo, common sights were the wandering Incas playing Andean music on pan flutes and guitars and the tough biker playing new age music on his electric guitar amplified on the amp towed by his chopper.

Another entertaining sight was the capuchin friar who sang and crooned on a portable amplifier. He was a memorable fellow, rotund in his humble brown hooded habit, a long white breard flowing from his ginning face. His songs were not overtly relgious nor memorable. He didn't seem to be selling CDs, either. It just seemed like he liked to sing and share it with the world.

The yesterday, while half-heartedly watching Keith Olberman's Countdown while reading the paper I saw this:

It was him! No doubt about it. It seems like he has gotten a little edgier since we last saw him. It also appears that he has gotten more popular as well. You can see the Italian news coverage of one of the concerts (worth watching even if you don't understand Italian):

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Nostalgia Karma

Global nomads, that is what people who grow up moving from one place to another sometimes call themselves. They bounce around from culture to culture, never truly setting down any roots, but picking up local customs. I probably don't fit into that category because my bouncing around has happened later in life, but I grew up in an environment where a lot of the people I knew fit into that category. I definitely thought of myself as an outsider or at least different, even though part of my family was local. As such, I gravitated towards those who were also foreign - or at least different.

One of the struggles of global nomads, or whatever you may want to call them, is that your friends end up far away. Back in the day, the only way to keep in touch involved a pen, some paper, an envelope, and a stamp. I did write a lot of letters and got many in return. Some times you bonded more with people who were casual friends once you moved away, while some of your closest friends seemed not to have much to share through writing. Ultimately, the distance won and you had fewer and fewer people from your past in your life.

I am not sure what kind of nostalgic karma tsunami has rippled through the universe, but over the past couple of weeks it seems like many of the people who were part of my formative years in Mexico have all come together in a virtual collision in cyberspace. People who I have not communicated in 20 or more years are popping up on my screen. There are old neighbors and schoolmates who have all dispersed across the globe, each with their own adventure.

Most of the encounters have occurred on or have been facilitated by Facebook. It seems like there has been a flood of people from this period in my life joining the social site. The result has been a snowballing of contacts and reconnections. I've reached people who aren't on there through their siblings or other friends.

The researcher and anthropologist in me is fascinated by the process. But another part of me doesn't want to analyze it. It is such an adventure in curiosity learning about the paths people have taken and where they have led them: Australia, the Philippines, Israel, Canada, or all around the world just to end up back in Mexico. There is gross inquisitiveness to see how people look after all these years. Of course there is often less hair, more rotundness, the extra lines. But people generally look the same - and at times there are points of comparison (I probably look quite different now - I certainly am glad that my mother stopped dressing me. In all fairness, that was a school uniform). However, you can read the experience of life in people's faces. Experiences of having families, triumphs and disappointments, struggles and joys. I also reflect on how people may see me and my experiences - and even how I present myself to them, both through the Facebook page itself and through the words I share with them. Finally, it is curious what emotions that emerge when getting in touch with these people. The afinities, rivalries, respect, and other feelings that existed seem to reawaken to some degree, even after so many years.

So there have been brief messages bouncing all over the world, telling stories and giving updates. I do wonder if there will be a reconnecting and the possible recreation of a community that existed so long ago. Or will these messages bounce around for a while only to begin to fade once again once the curiosity factor wanes. I will be curious to see...

For now, it has been entertaining.