September is upon us, my students are slowly reassembling into class with the enthusiasm of potential firing squad victims.
Harvest has begun unusually late this year, which makes for an unpredictable outcome, since it can go either way. good weather, will result in an exceptionally good vintage (the cold spring caused a small number of flowers, which lead to smallish grape clusters with a higher sugar level ). Bad weather (especially hail storms that are typical for this season) – at this late stage will crush the already small amount of grapes and end in disaster. So far, I’m happy to report, based on personal research (mainly observing the mood of my neighbors and watching the smiling faces of the tractor drivers carrying cart loads of grapes to the local wineries), that we’re in for a great tasty cheerful winter.
What does the harvest have to do with English lessons? Everything!
In this part of Italy ‘Soave wine country’ (as in most rural areas of the boot) , this is the biggest, most important event of the year. We live and die with the harvest outcome. Even people who weren’t fortunate enough to be married to a winemaker like me, have some stake in the harvest’s outcome- family, friends, touristic, financial… there isn’t one person in this area who will not be somehow affected by a good or bad vintage.
This was a great summer until the 24th of August. At 03.36 the ground shook. Our dog woke us up barking animatedly at nothing at all, which we first attributed to her neurotic character and tiny brain, but soon the tragic news streamed in. Horrifying images of the beautiful mountain villages in ruins and the heart breaking words of the Mayer of Amatrice: “ The town no longer exists “, took over every media channel .
Wasn’t it only yesterday we were crying over L’Aquila and its victims?
For as long as I live I won’t be able to shake the image of 11 year old Giulia, ever so carefully, being pulled out alive out of the rubble in Pescara del Tronto, by the aid workers. It wasn’t so much the image, that will stay with me, as the sound of the aid’s voice saying repeatedly “dai Giulia”, “dai, dai” ( “come on Giulia”, “come on, come on”), his voice encompassing all the hope and frustration ,that failure after failure of the past 17 hours of digging bodies out of the deafening silent rubble, has brought, and even though he’s already aware of the immense magnitude of this tragedy, this little girl with the long blond pony tail is going to make it and life will make sense, if only for a brief moment.
Not two weeks passed by and we got hit again, this time by Charlie.
On September 2nd, the two Charlie Hebdo caricatures came out and sent everyone in Italy into a blind rage. We still remember the support demonstrations we held for them, the youth groups vigils in the piazza’s, the schools’ “freedom of speech” drawing competitions – ‘je sui Charlie’ – in 2015 we were all Charlie.
This had become one of the most interesting issues of freedom of expression (once you get over the gag reflex). Do cities have rights? Does defamation of character apply to dead people? Can (very) bad taste be sanctioned by law? , how low should you go, how tactless do you really need to be, in order to drive home a point?
This has proven to be the perfect topic to shake my dormant students out of their post summer holiday cobwebs and get them to argue the basics about art and the freedom of expression.
While asking for publication permission for this lesson I had the honor of corresponding with the magical Andy Davey – (one of the greatest caricaturist of all times and, as it turns out, a great guy as well) and getting his thoughts about the issue.
Maybe the saddest part of this story, is that once the anger died down, the caricatures actually brought on the oh so necessary debate about mafia’s part in the seismic proof buildings disaster.
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