I got mail from el Puente de Puerto Rico

You got mail, Antonio. I was told this morning, as soon as I arrived at the big hall we’re using as a common space (a “Commons”?) for faculty to work, recharge devices and fill reports after hurricane Maria.

First letter of Puente de Puerto Rico

As soon I saw in my hands a big white envelope I knew it had to be Parisa’s letter from Japan. Parisa (@ParisaMehran) is a friend, a networked friend whom I didn’t even know before Alan Levine devised his genius plan called Puente de Puerto Rico (A bridge of Postcards) #care4sagrado, after the name of my university del Sagrado Corazón.

A puente of postcards from the four corners of the world for people to say #wecare. And the first corner just responded. Well, Alan thought his postcard would get here before the others, but little did he know Parisa would be using Express-mail.

Long story short, today I got the very first postcard of the series, and it was hers. Actually, it was a delicious little letter. From Japan, which I’d love to visit, but haven’t yet.

This is her tweet when she mailed it:

And this is my tweet this morning after i got it. Read the letter.

Double read the last sentence. It resounds in my head non stop since her tweet.

A woman who has to prove her humanity every single day.

This is powerful. And beautiful. And I’ll ask her to express it over a podcast Alan and I will begin soon, if she likes to join.

Did I say she is Iranian? Well, two coincidences are too many. Iran is in my five-spot bucket list for countries I want to visit, and I have been planning to take the famed train from Istanbul to Tehran for some years, believe it or not.

You made my day, dear Parisa! And that of my students. Thank you. Thank you networks. And thank you Alan for being the trigger to all this.

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Words of care for us after the (ugly) storm

I found a quote of a haiku from poet Mario Benedetti:

Los apagones
permiten que uno trate
con uno mismo.

Which in English would be something like this (lousy translation is mine):

Black-outs
afford one to deal
with oneself.

This is somehow what happens when the light goes down and after a while you don’t even count on it, and make space in a day for stuff more related to your self, or–you get less distracted by the light and go after (as a friend would say) shadows.

I am not tired to repeat it, we are the lucky ones. We (meaning myself and immediate family and friends) do not need anything besides the obvious (light, more money, less mosquitoes, etc.)

There are however situations in the Island that are very worrisome and people who have been put in extreme misery. No food, no water. Besides having no power. Now, this is a territory of the US, no third world. But take a look:

  1. Communications disrupted, perhaps working at 30-40% of capacity. Meaning cell towers are down, or without power, without diesel to operate the generators—when generators haven’t been stolen.
  2. Transportation to the center of the Island and many southeastern towns is difficult and requires long times. Some students told me they cannot afford a three-hour trip each way from their town to get to Sagrado. In Utuado, some people have to cross (on foot) a river to get to supplies, since a bridge has collapsed. Many roads are *still* blocked by fallen trees, debris and light poles.
  3. And third, electrical grid is down to perhaps only 15%. Fifteen percent of Puerto Rico households has electricity after 4 weeks.

So, the infrastructure is shown to be completely down. No logistics, no investments from the Power Authority or the communication companies, for years, perhaps decades, have brought us here.

Ok, let me stop here.

Fortunately, we began classes anew, and students’ stories and smiles and positive attitudes showed us where we belong: in the column of the luckiest.

I am lucky to be forced to rethink my classes through the absence of power. And I am lucky to be able to do my classes without major extra worries. So I loved this first week.

I loved my students’ faces and smiles; and our sweat. So much good will. It is difficult, yet here they are.

I loved Alan Levine’s initiative El Puente de Puerto Rico, a bridge of postcards which I hope to receive en masse and to digitize and publish here soon. Well, the postal service hasn’t been its usual self, lately; but I hope to get them soon.

I loved my friends calling from wherever they are and offering to help. I polled students and I still don’t have an answer. It may be they are proud, that I was doing a lousy job, or both. Still, the postcards are being waited for. Still, another idea of Alan, which is to send us media and thoughts of hope and empathy through ds106’s Daily Create, is still flourishing in my mind.

My students and I are overwhelmed and we want to thank each one of a great group of people who decided they wanted to show support. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

Now, I am pasting hare a few of the great tweets of wisdom and care under the hashtag “care4sagrado”, “inf103” or “inf115” which were shared in the past couple of days. It has been a hell of a journey, up to here, in all the good senses.

Look for yourself the #care4sagrado hashtag on Twitter!

These are some of my students, under a tent. Look at the smiles.

I loved my students’ and everybody’’s attitude: when we say “hello, how are you?”, each answers “Well, given the circumstances”.

So, Maria has brought something very good out of us.

[Featured image by Andy Rush? @rushaw]

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Hurricanes Maria & Irma: A long story, short, in images.

A brief history of my involvement with Hurricane Irma. Remember Irma la douce? Well, for us Irma was douce, sweet.

Thus on September 16 I began writing about hurricane Irma’s passing by Puerto Rico, quite caressing our shores but without any actual touchdown. I thought at the moment that our involvement with hurricanes, for this season, was over. But I was so mistaken. So, I’m doing this: I will begin with Maria, and after I’ll continue with Irma. I am writing this after over four weeks without electricity, and a few days with no water either. We recharge devices at communal places like restaurants and at our University, where we have one big room with WiFi and power (through generators).

The hurricane’s aftermath was terrible, and it left us with the usual lack of electrical power and water. This time, though, communications were lost and almost inaccessible for over ten days, from my home. When we got gasoline we moved to spots with decent coverage and there I finally could tell friends we were OK. My mother and sister were reached by telephone by a friend who moved back to Italy and who miraculously got a line to call us. When Alan, Giulia, Jim, GNA, Gardner et al. reached out I was pretty moved. I am still checking out the best way to help our students, by the way. Again, we are well and do not need anything beyond, well, a return to “normalcy”. But, normalcy will in all likelihood shift to a new normal, during these next months. We’ll see and improvise as needed.

Now, the situation with students is sometimes terrible. Some have already fled to Florida or New York, with parents losing jobs and sometimes even losing a home. I have polled my students but haven’t got real needs information from them, so we’ll wait, and I’ll report the class situation soon.

Life has changed a bit. Days are shorter, since by 6:30 the sun sets down and light fades away. We got lamps and candles to get by, so we can do some reading and, with our camping stove, some cooking. The first days it was pretty difficult to buy food, but we used supplies. Then we began with supermarket lines, cash-only. Now it’s back to normal, but without a fridge, we have to buy food daily. My wife has an arrangement with friends who give her a few iced-water bottles every morning, so we can maintain perishables for a couple if days, and, most importantly, a cold beer for the dinner. I have read a lot, both printed and e-books.

Hurricane Maria

Here, it’s the morning after. This is my street, but I have seen it this way many times before. A little water and so be it.

And this is the patio of my wife’s mother’s house. A gigantic, high tree fallen. Which we had to spend almost two weeks to cut and take out. I learned to use a machete and my hands prove it!!

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria

And this is the **stupidest** and most senseless things I ever did. A 10-hour line (yes, ten hours) under a ferocious sun, getting dehydrated because the only cash I had with me (no ATM working for over a week!) was needed for gasoline.

Hurricane Maria

Of course, I shared the experience with wonderful, patient and very well-behaving people.

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria


Now, I’ll just continue with the prep work and other images from Irma. In all, for Maria we had two full prep days and boy, two weeks + of afterwork, just to clean things up.

After all the prep work, the tempest, and then nine days of consequences for Irma, the main of which was a total absence of electric power. Water we had but for half a day. Damages, none, except to my back, for moving around furniture and plants. We placed two big bookcases to protect huge windows, which were not to be affected since the winds came from another direction :).

So, in total, we have had power in September for just 2 days.

Hurricane Irma

But we enjoyed doing so, since we had the help of a friend of our daughter’s. We shut another window, while the winds were already swinging furiously and opened and closed rhythmically it. We did so by placing a big yoga brick of my wife’s between the window’s external iron bars and the glass frame, and it shut hermetically. Eureka!! But we weren’t  successful in securing the other half, which was then tied with rope from the operator to a sturdy table. In fact, said windows cannot be repaired and this is why we had to improvise: we’ll have to substitute them completely, and that’s a big expense.

A shot a photo of a few books I wanted to remember, in case that bookshelf got swept away by the storm. Which didn’t happen.

Hurricane Irma

  1. *** Yesterday, by Agota Kristof https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agota_Kristof
  2. *** Carlota Fainberg, by Antonio Muñoz Molina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Mu%C3%B1oz_Molina
  3. **** The Love Letter, by Kathleen Schine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathleen_Schine
  4. *** Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles, and the Frailty of Knowledge, by William Poundstone.

The storm began around 4-5pm and the light went out around 5, after lunch. Then it reached its max at around 7pm. Afterward it was all calm. At night we prepared dinner with a camping gas stove and enjoyed it candlelit.

Hurricane Irma

Night was great, fresh and windy, plus we were so tired we all caught sleep with no further ado.

Hurricane Irma

[Morning coffee, old style].

This was the book I begun reading just after the storm. The legacy of the bones, a noir set in the Baztán valley of Navarra (Spain), in proximity of the Basque Country. A wonderful detective personality, inspector Amalia Salazar.

Hurricane Irma

This is a little of the effects of Irma in the neighborhood:

Hurricane Irma

Last, hope shines in a gorgeous passionfruit and passionflower. Little we knew at this time we had to wait over nine days for the reestablishment of power. Which we got for two days before it was cut again by María.

Hurricane Irma

[All photos (CC-licensed, BY-SA-NC) shot by me (Antonio Vantaggiato] available on Flickr.]

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First day of class–again

Yesterday, October 16 we had our first class post-Maria. All the University was under a big rain, plus it rained all night. It was fresh—not the awful heat of the past days, which compounds with the virtual absence of fans.

So, after a nice night’s sleep I began my classes this morning. My second class, #inf115 (New Media) was under a tent. Just close to another class hosting a huge tv screen. But we managed without. In fact, my students reflected over the fact that absence of power meant and means more contacts among neighbors and family, and less usage of smartphones, which tend to convert to basic useless bricks, these days at this latitude.

Photo by Joselyn Reyes

inf115 class photo by Joselyn Reyes

It was a very nice class, with all students but one being present. We had a good time scrolling from our shoulders the experiences—bad and good— of these three weeks, and especially of the first nights during and after the hurricane.

Photo by Jocelyn Reyes

Photo by Joselyn Reyes

Basically students have no easy Internet connection to use, and they will improvise either at Sagrado (with our limited WiFi) or at other places. They will be using smartphones but most have no access to laptops or tablets. There are however a few places at Sagrado with a limited number of computers they can use.

I told them about Sagrado’s commitment to their completing the semester with the least possible havoc to their routines, given each has had their pretty good load of havoc already. They were all very sensitive to this. I asked them to come next Wednesday, since Alan Levine has a Daily Create for us to share and we’ll be discussing the class plans for the rest of this semester.

We all agreed we’d finish the sound project we had begun pre-Maria and then dedicate ourselves to the video-with-podcast project, which will be the main final project for the class. More details soon. We want to shoot interviews on the state of the country after the hurricane, supplemented with other media. One student suggested we do this as a class project, meaning all students would work together on the same project, each specializing in some components of their specialty.
Then we talked about Alan’s Puente de Puerto Rico, and we’re already anxious to receive the postcards which are beginning to be mailed from far away places.

We all loved one student’s comment when she said she wouldn’t want to be part of a bubble while many places in the country are so devastated and she preferred working as volunteer to comping down to Sagrado and be part of said bubble. True and all, and very sensible the comment: However, I counterargued that each of us we have a commitment with ourselves to pursue inner dreams and passions, so it is good to have a safehouse to come to and rest, study and share with fellow humans.

That’s all folks. See you Wednesday.

[Photos by Joselyn Reyes, student of #inf115]

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Lenin and Beethoven’s Appassionata, all in Fargo.

There is a scene on Fargo season 3 episode 6 (God of No Mercy) where the wicked character named V.M. Vargas and played by HP’s David Thewlis quotes Lenin’s appreciation of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Nr. 23. Yes, the Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Lenin.

A little research on Google is all it takes to find the quote. But also, even more intriguing is the chat generated on Reddit around all this. Because the scene seems like a nice quote of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, where Walter, a character played by John Goodman, shouts

“Shut the fuck up, Donny. VI Lenin. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov!”

So, the quote from V.I. Lenin as reported on Reddit–I have checked it–is:

I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps with a childish naiveté, to think that people can work such miracles! … But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things, and pat the little heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. These days, one can’t pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. Hence, you have to beat people’s little heads, beat mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hm — what a devillishly difficult job!

[See here]

Which had me thinking for a while. A cynical view, certainly! How much does Lenin hate the bourgeois attitudes!

Hence, you have to beat people’s little heads, beat mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people.

[Photo of VM Varga, from Fargo Wikia]

This is proof there is a strong popular culture that forms around pop media, and in this case the Reddit community and this Wikia prove it. Viva Internet!

Anyhow, talking about Fargo 3, let me just add what great, devilish set of actors it displays! From the amazing Ewan McGregor (who plays two parts!) to David Thewlis (VM Varga himself), to the cop played by Carrie Coon–a celebrity after The Leftovers. I enjoyed the show quite much.

Let me end this post with a bit on VI Lenin himself, given this is the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution of Russia. There’s a book I wish to read about the trip he took from Zurich (where he was leading a nice life at the Odeon Café) to Petrograd’s Finlandia station, after crossing Germany–which payed for the trip, Sweden and Finland. BTW, the Odeon Café is the same where people like Einstein, Joyce, Mussolini (when he was a socialist) liked to go. It is still open today.

Odeon Café, Zurich

Odeon Café, Zurich

The book is Lenin on the Train, by Catherine Merridale.

In the featured image, a painting from a Soviet artist, Lenin is accompanied by Stalin, at his back. This is a falsehood, since Stalin was just not there.

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