The liberated lady-cat singer

Last year, we went to see a concert of a friend’s band in a beautiful place: Salon de IJzerstaven. In fact, this is the atelier of Dutch sculptor Egon Schrama, located in the charming Prinseneiland neighbourhood of Amsterdam. The artist shares the atelier – a majestic, 6 metre-high environment that still pulsates of metal and the heavy machinery used to forge it – with fellow artists and musicians, so there are often house concerts and other interesting events.

IMG_20160123_223647During that one concert, a 4-men jazz ensemble, I spotted an interesting sculpture hanging around at the edge of the stage. It was a cat – a lady cat, to be precise (there were pretty clear attributes). And not just any lady cat: she was a singer.

It’s a beautiful wooden sculpture, but in that context it made me sad. I was perhaps the only one to notice that lady-cat singer was the only female musician on the stage (sexism is everywhere, not only in science and academia, but also in the arts, and I’ve seen very few women musicians in the jazz scene). Moreover, the singer was in a cage.

The caged lady-cat singer on a stage of solely male musicians was a (totally unintended!) beautiful metaphor of the condition of the woman in the contemporary world. A very sad metaphor. Continue reading

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Musical evolution

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Stefano Battaglia (piano), Salvatore Maiore (double bass) and Roberto Dani (drums) at the Bimhuis.

This week I went to a concert in Amsterdam. I have been going to lots of concerts over the last three years. In fact, shortly after I set up this blog with the aim to review all the exciting theatre productions I’d get to see, I ended up going much less to the theatre and much more to music events. Of course, credit goes to the resident musician who happily decided to join my household.

It’s been an inspiring journey of learning and exploration. See, my musical education isn’t the finest in town. With two grandmothers who played the piano, it was natural that I should learn that instrument, too, but that somehow didn’t work. Twice. I did happen to have a great music theory teacher for a couple of years in middle school, but that didn’t last long, and soon other things came up and took priority – high school, physics, astronomy, investigating the Universe. As for the music, I never became inquisitive myself. Not that I wasn’t open to experimentation, but let’s say I mainly followed my friends on their adventures, or at least was happy to have company on a few adventures of my own. Continue reading

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Of loss, lucidity and new beginnings

Today something really sad happened. One of the most brilliant thinkers in the world, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, passed away. I had a bad feeling about that a couple of months ago when he was supposed to give a public lecture here in Amsterdam. I found out late and of course the lecture was sold out (though I guess it was technically for free) but it was during working hours, so I couldn’t have gone anyway. I still followed the event, then nearer the day I received a notification that the lecture had to be cancelled.

I had discovered Bauman through a friend who once told me he was, in her opinion, the only sociologist to really have understood human condition. So I picked up his 1999 book, In Search of Politics (translated to the somewhat catchier Italian title, La solitudine del cittadino globale) and indeed his sharp reflections about precarious life in neo-liberal times, written over a decade earlier at the time, helped me understand the little I can about our condition in this epoch. I even wrote a short story/creative exercise inspired by his concept of ‘liquid modernity’.

After that, I read many of his articles at Social Europe. I especially looked for his analysis – always lucid, always to the point – whenever something dramatic or mystifying happened. Every time, reading his words helped me piece some things together and navigate through our dark times. So today I am very sad for the loss of his family, friends and people who were close to him, but I somehow also feel a little lost myself. The world has lost a great thinker, and I don’t see many new ones coming round.

On the other hand, something really happy also happened today: I found out that I am once again an aunt, as another one of my cousins just gave birth to a little boy. So life goes on, in a way, as it always has done since its appearance on the planet. I shall also find a way.

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More ancient inspiration

My latest post about visiting the British Museum last november, and finding inspiration for writing by the stolen marbles of the Parthenon, reminded me of my visit to Athens in 2014, and how I’d taken then a couple of photos with this blog in mind. Then, just didn’t really get around to post them. Well, better late then never…

The purpose of the trip was a friend reunion on the occasion of a Greek friend’s wedding, but we took the chance to visit the Acropolis and the stunning ruins of the classical period. To be honest, the one time I’d been to Athens and saw the Parthenon, at 16, I was somewhat disappointed. But the whole temple was wrapped up for restoration so it wasn’t as impressive as the temples I had grown up with, in the southern Italian Greek colony of Paestum, which is only a short drive from my hometown, Salerno.

True, the temples of Paestum (see photos above, lower centre and right) are derivative of those of the motherland (Athens Acropolis, left and centre top), and are much lesser in terms of both the artistic value and the quality of material. Yet, I’d seen them so often ever since I could walk – three full temples that you can walk around and ‘almost’ touch – that, when I saw the ‘original’ ones, back in 1998 – partly torn down, partly wrapped up, and altogether packaged in a product that smelled much more touristy than our own – I have to admit I was not as impressed as I was expecting to be.

This time, though, I went with high hopes to be re-appointed by Greek beauty. And I was. Continue reading

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Ancient inspiration

A few months ago, I spent a half day in London. Flew in to participate in an award ceremony (yes, it’s me in a couple of those photos – and blushing now!) and out the morning after. Still, I had an hour or two to spare in the afternoon before going to the ceremony, and I thought I’d pay a visit to a special place I hadn’t been to in a long while – the British Museum.

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Rosetta stone and paparazzi at the British Museum

Well, I mostly wanted to catch up with an old acquaintance: the Rosetta stone. For those who don’t know, it’s an Egyptian tablet with the same inscription in three different scripts: ancient Greek, demotic Egyptian and, most importantly, hieroglyphs. This tablet, together with an obelisk found on the island of Philae, was instrumental in the XIX century to decipher hieroglyphs.

I’ve been a long-time antiquities geek, but this time it was science that led me there, as the past two years kept me & my colleagues busy working on the communications of an incredible space mission: Rosetta, a spacecraft that chased and ‘caught’ a comet, and dropped a lander, Philae, on its surface. Continue reading

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Climate debt

Back to the blog. Later than I thought, but sooner than never. Seconding the urge to share some thoughts I’ve had for quite a while, and that are now becoming more and more an idee fixe, about climate change.

Far from a negationist point of view, I am rather concerned by the increasing concerns about global warming and its devastating consequences coming from unexpected sources. And by unexpected source I mean people who hold great social, political or economic power – corporations, large international organisations, at least on the old continent. [Added 29 Feb: American showbiz stars appear concerned, too.] And I wonder.

Are they really concerned they are going to die a horrible death themselves? Such strong concerns one has for one’s own life, not sure they extend even to one’s immediate offspring. And again: I do appreciate that it’s very well possible that the changes due to global warming are going to be so dramatic and so soon, within a generation or two… but is it really these changes that these folks are fearing?

Any chance this feeling of impending doom is caused by another, imminent catastrophe – the ever pressing decline of our old continent and of the role it (undeservedly) had – still has – on the globe? That’s how I came up with the idea of ‘climate protectionism’. Continue reading

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Music of the flat lands

Another reason why I haven’t blogged in a really long while is that I tried to get myself acquainted with yet another social medium, and lurking behind my return to the blogosphere is probably my failure to get the point of the above mentioned new medium.

Of course, I’m talking about twitter. It’s not that I didn’t try. I did. I got proof! You can view it too at @claudiascosmos. I still do. But the point eludes me. Much ashamed as I am to admit it – the professional science communicator – but seriously: how are you supposed to condense every thought of yours, every story, in the bloody

I failed. I need more space. My stories are looong. Painstakingly so at times. Not that I wouldn’t benefit a course in concision, I clearly do, but moving to twitter is like shock therapy. [Though honestly, I clearly do not want to become more concise. How else would you explain me still indulging in this completely unnecessary paragraph? But this is clearly another story…]

An example of one such long story. Continue reading

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Sons of a dark Universe

One of the reasons I haven’t fed this blog in the past year and a half is that I was so busy I also didn’t visit enough shows, exhibits or other events in the ‘cosmic backstage’… I did go to a lot of music gigs though, but that’s another story.

Another reason’s also that we started car-pooling with some colleagues and I didn’t spend lots of time alone during my daily couple of commuting hours as I did earlier on. In fact, time on the commute often provides inspirations for blog posts – then of course you need to go back, sit and write down the thoughts. Time to sit and write down thoughts is a rare commodity these days, but I got to the point I didn’t even have the thoughts in the first place. Which is what I’m trying to overcome these days.

For example, a few days ago I was driving alone to work and had a series of curious thoughts, so I figured I should write them down (and wow, I actually am!). Continue reading

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From writer’s block to writer’s back

I’m back. No reason to jubilate, though – who knows how long it’s going to last.

I have a pretty bad record with creative writing projects, and this blog’s nothing but an exception. I have to admit, I’ve been busy. Who hasn’t – I know. But in the past year, year and a half or so, I’ve been so busy that, while at first I still fantasised about possible posts to write on this blog (I even drafted a few), the enthusiasm slowly faded away. I did take some photos to accompany hypothetical blog posts with my then-newly acquired smart phone (yep, I did convert to the cult recently – didn’t I rant about that earlier on this blog? can’t remember, wow, it’s been that long!) but never really got to think about the content of the post. Then, eventually, I forgot about the blog entirely.

I’ll post a few stories I wrote (for work) just to give an idea of how busy these times were (and also to get some guilt off my shoulders… I did write in the past year… just, mainly about the Universe). And it’s not that I’m that much less busy at the moment – in fact, it’s still pretty hectic. But last night I went to an event at the public library in Amsterdam, where I saw for the first time ever my idol writer from my teen years, who was being interviewed about a new Dutch edition of one of Italy’s major writers of the past century that he curated. Continue reading

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Cosmic light at 50

A quick note to link to a couple of posts I recently wrote for another blog – the International Year of Light blog.

This year, 2015, was declared by UNESCO and many other institutions the International Year of Light & Light Technologies, celebrating a number of anniversaries about the study of light phenomena that recur this year.

One such anniversary is the discovery of the cosmic microwave background, the most ancient light in the history of the Universe, first detected in 1964 and recognised as such in 1965 – just 50 years ago. Since I mentioned this topic – one of your truly’s favourite stories about the cosmos – already on this blog (see here), but did not indulge in a lengthy explanation (due to lack of time, certainly not of enthusiasm!), I’d like to take the chance to highlight these two blog posts to anyone of this blog’s readers who wishes to learn more about this fascinating discovery and how it opened an entirely new field of research in astronomy. Continue reading

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