Amazing life as a heritage enthusiast

sunglasses-kid

In the amazing years of my job as a travel journalist, I’ve attended dozens of organized trips and all of them included both a cultural and a natural visit. History, art and nature can tell about the essence of a place as nothing else. Maybe only food. And of course, when you organize a trip or a travel, you try to see all the best of that area and fit as much experiences as possible in a few days.

The bike tour and the picnic in the enormous Hagaparken in Stockholm. The guided visit of the National Museum of Ireland, the Trinity College and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The astonishing exploration of the idyllic Akama peninsula in Cyprus. The sight of the historic centre and the history of the procession in Trapani, Sicily. Even when I was going among Alpine Huts in the very north of Italy, I ended up in a fascinating castle surrounded by mountains with a lovely Christmas market in it. In Slovenia, I visited places that I bet very few locals have seen.

In fact, as a local, I haven’t visited so many places in Liguria, my hometown, in Milan, my adoptive city, in London, my favorite, and in  Florence, my current home. A good friend of mine, art historian and passionate to life, always tells me “let’s hire a car and go visit the wanders in the nearby”. It’s true. You don’t have to be in another country or in another region to be a tourist and to make interesting discoveries. You can be a tourist in your city.

Imagine how it would be if people would regularly visit cultural and natural spots in their nearby with the thrilling emotion of the discovery. If we look at our natural and cultural heritage with the same respect and wonder of a tourist (a good one), we would be more likely to preserve it. Heritage is the beauty, enthusiasm is the key. My key.

Now I’m moving to Sydney (Australia) and I’ll be a sort of tourist that tries to become local around there. I’ll do my best, stay tuned.

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Surfing on cultural waves

ocean-waves

Everyone can publish online. You can post your photos on Facebook and Instagram, you can throw stones on Twitter, write a blog, upload a video on Youtube. However, informative publishing is different. Take some interesting piece of knowledge, analyze it, find the story in it and tell it in an attractive and insightful way is much better in terms of cultural growth, but also much more complicated. And the new media technologies let us do all this in such fabulous ways.

There’s an ocean of possibilities. Cultural institutions like museums, galleries, archives and libraries are an incredible source of knowledge that is there, ready to be turned on, remixed and shared.

Institutions like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam decided to surf the wave and communicate more effectively through new resources and innovative strategic plans. With a new website, specific web-based initiatives and revolutionary ideas like making the entire collection available online, including a nice tool to create and download a personalized wallpaper, the Rijksmuseum substantially increased its attendance and became one of the most visited museums in the world, “a world class institution of Art and History”. As the Chairman of the museum’s Board wrote after the departure of the protagonist of this revolution Wim Pijbes in 2016, “Following the April 2013 reopening the visitor numbers doubled to 2.4 million in 2015. Youth attendance more than doubled, reaching 325,000 in the last year. The special attention given to innovative forms of education has become one of the corner stones of attracting future generations.” This means not only more audience engagement and the speed of culture, but also more tickets and more money for the museum and the economy.

Imagine what would happen if every cultural institution in the world, from the smallest to the largest, would do the same thing, or even better. Providing insights and attractive content like this beautiful digital exhibition from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt on Monet and Impressionism or the one from the MOMA in New York on Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and this engaging web-based project for kids #metkids by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Hopefully we will get there.

Also, I invite you to visit the digital exhibition that I created for the APICE archive of the University of Milan, titled “John Alcorn Graphic and Illustrator“: click here and enjoy.

Giving serendipity a chance

strolling-around

How beautiful it is when you find something perfectly in harmony with your mood, your interests and your needs, by chance. You are lost in your thoughts and… there it is. A light appears in your road, changing your perspective and making your day happier. It can be the wind slightly moving the leaves of a tree. It can be the smile of a stranger passing by. It can be the sound of a piano playing in an indefinite apartment nearby. It can be the unexpected smell of fresh bread in the street behind a bakery. Those moments are little presents that remind us to appreciate every detail of life.

Too often we are absorbed in the digital stream and we don’t even notice the stimulus coming from the world around. Even when we are wearing the tourists‘ shoes, we can’t expect the trip to be smooth and interesting in every minute. We need to give our inner compass some help. Move the head from the map or phone, look around, walk beyond traditional routes, read residents’ tips, smell the atmosphere, talk with people, ask suggestions.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference where Gianpaolo Nuvolati, Professor of Sociology at the Bicocca University in Milan, presented a project based on the concept of Flanerie. Just as Charles Beaudelaire and other 19th century French poets, a group of students went idling about in a specific area of the city with the sole purpose to live the best of that space. With the help of a guide and a dossier, they learned how to discover the city following a personal narrative, in a way that recalls a flânerie metropolitaine.

Flâneur (pronounced: [flɑnœʁ]), from the French noun flâneur, means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”. Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations.

With no schedule, no expectations, no prejudice, the flâneur looks around, notices the details, smells the air, feels the essence of a district. Not without reason it has become the archetypal symbol of the modern urban experience. However, strolling around is not enough to give serendipity a real chance. What really matters is being mindful, living the present moment, having an active and child-like approach, interacting with the surroundings and behaving spontaneously.

“What people call serendipity sometimes is just having your eyes open.” Jose Manuel Barroso

The wanderer approach to culture

florence-citycentre

Why are we so happy and engaged with cultural heritage when we are traveling and we are so unresponsive when we are at home?

Concentrated in our everyday buzz, we live floating in a timeless and placeless bubble. Have you ever seen a tourist staring in front of a building that you walk through every day without even noticing its uniqueness? As they wander with exploring eyes, they make discoveries and appreciate every detail. Instead, when we are familiar with things, we don’t value them. Especially in Italy, we are so used to see statues and pieces of art, that we don’t care. But what if we change this approach?

We need to wear the wanderer’s glasses. In every travel guide, the top tourist attractions are museums, statues, buildings, squares, parks. Beyond being an extraordinary opportunity to experience beauty and diversity, seeing those items creates emotional responses that would leave the person with a memory – and hopefully some knowledge about the past and culture of the place – that will last over time. Moreover, such feelings aroused will facilitate emotional purchases and, ultimately, will bring money. It’s easy to understand why cultural policies of museums and municipalities mostly concentrate their actions on touristic offer. Nevertheless, we need to do something to prevent the worrying disneyization of historic city centers (see “The Disneyization of society” by sociologist Alan Bryman – maybe I’ll write another post on this). And we don’t really want to end up with the most beautiful urban areas in the world transformed in luna parks for tourists, right? Look at Florence, for example. People living in the historic city center hate tourists and avoid the most crowded areas, meaning a very large part of the old city and, of course, museums.

tourists-florence

Statistics say, museums are mostly attended by tourists and one of the challenges of every cultural institution today is to attract residents, people who don’t even think of those institutions as places to go. What if we design inclusive cultural offers that change this perspective? What if we rethink the way knowledge is seen outside schools? What if we shape intriguing experiences that would invite people to actively participate?

We need a multidisciplinary approach and new professionals to make museums and cultural institutions a real service for the community. A place where everyone can share culture, learn something new, make friends, feed his brain, feel amazement and, therefore, come back to.

Amazement will make us wanderers in our cities.

Dealing with perfectionism

Practice makes perfect. But what exactly is “perfect”? Talking about obscure things, like the foggy ideas that swim in our minds, this is the best example I found in my everyday life. Trying to do your best is what I’ve been taught to do and what I’ve always considered the strongest skill. Besides being an abstract and subjective concept, setting high standards can move mountains and people with the sole power of self control and determination.

Certainly, striving for excellence is a very powerful way to get things done and motivate yourself. You visualize the destination of your journey, you keep coaching yourself and your chances to give up are as low as you can imagine. See for examples athletes, that undergo very long trainings to meet their expectations, but also scientists and artists. Pictured like this, the ride towards “perfect” seems the ultimate trick to success, but being a perfectionist can be very hard. Nothing is never ok until you’ve checked it enough. And “enough” always means a lot. If you don’t put a limit to this attitude, you might end up paralyzed in a broken mechanism, repeating the same things millions of times and never going any further. And we don’t really want to stay still and waste our energies, right?

Michelangelo Buonarroti, one of the best artists of all times, used to destroy the artworks that he didn’t consider flawless. Imagine how much beauty the world would be filled of if people was less severe. Moreover, psychologists say that perfectionism is a self-defeating behavior and in its pathological form makes us vulnerable and can drive to unipolar depression, anorexia and suicide. As always in life, the key is balance. Yes, but how do you understand when is the moment to turn the page and switch to the next step? Here are a few hints on how to limit your perfectionism:

  • face it

Do you set yourself always higher and sometimes unachievable standards? Have you ever stopped before you even started? Do you feel anxious because you could possibly make mistakes? Are you so critical that you’d rather do things yourself, because you are the only person you can trust? Do you check and re-check what you are doing millions of times? Do you get nervous if nobody sees your commitment and achievements? Are your friends and colleagues under pressure when you are around?

If you answered YES to at least one of these questions, then read forward. Don’t pretend, face the problem, notice your attitude and try to make sure you don’t lie to yourself. Being conscious is your first step.

  • be realistic

Perfect doesn’t exist. You know it, just tell your hellish self that the world is beautiful because it’s not perfect. There’s no right way to be, there is your way, my way and so on. Everyone deserves the chance to express himself, and you need to give your creativity this opportunity. Don’t try to appear at your best and to please others. People won’t judge you by what you are doing: there is nobody outside looking at you with the same critical mind that you imagine. Really, they have other things to do.

  • stop talking, do it

Now that you understood that you can try, then stop procrastinating and do it. You have plans, dreams, ideas and so many wonderful interests that you don’t know where to start? Just pick one and go for it. What if you fail? Failure is a risk, but also an opportunity to learn. It’s not a tragedy. Remember, the best ideas come from failures.

  • meditate

Take some time for yourself to set your goals, talk to your inner self and make peace with it. Love yourself, love your body, love your mind, embrace your fears, recognize your achievements. See every step that you are taking, be in the present moment and be aware of what you feel every day. Only by listening to yourself you can grow, overcome fears and get better. Not perfect, just better.

“Perfect is enemy of good” Voltaire