September 25, 2008

universal governance

I just saw a special on CNN regarding YouTube in connection with the videos posted by the young Finnish man who then entered into his school and shot 8 classmates. YouTube is a global phenomenon interacting with people around the world with virtually no filters or controls from above. A representative from YouTube explained that given its global nature, no one legal system would be in a position to set controls, so whatever oversight exists comes from the viewers who are invited to contact YouTube in the case they view a video that is not appropriate, one that disturbs or insults. The video in question is then removed by YouTube management. In an extreme case, like the video uploaded by the young Finnish man, contacting the police would also be advised.

This system of governance requires proactive action on the part of individual viewers and, as we have seen, this involves a "doing" vs "being" characteristic that has cultural roots. There are cultures that encourage the individual to stand out and take individual action, with the belief that the individual can and should make a difference. Other cultures, less oriented toward the individual, encourage waiting, defering to authorities and leaving the question to fate.

How do these cultural differences influence the process of filtering out inappropriate YouTube videos? Can we assume that the system, it its global extension, will properly govern itself?

a domani,

September 24, 2008

efficient and chaos

My son spent the afternoon reading newspapers on the couch as I worked on his computer (and skyped with in a new coaching client from Sweden and living in Thailand) so when we finally got out for such exciting tasks as returning a film to Blockbuster and buying bread, he was full of news analysis. He explained that Finland has the highest per capita gun ownership together with the highest suicide rate -- which may somehow explain the recent school shooting -- even though it is a county with the best school system in Europe (according to various studies), highest literacy rates, library use, math and science knowledge and very efficient social and political systems.

Then he noted that actually Trentino has the highest suicide rate in Italy and also is well considered for its educational, health, social systems, but with few guns. The US has lots of guns, a high suicide rate and things generally work. "Cancelling out the gun factor, what do these three places have in common," he asked. His conclusion was that there are more suicides where things work because if everything around you works -- people go about their studies and work in an efficient fashion, systems work and you can realize what you want to do -- those who feel like they basically don't "work" feel cast out of the system much more so than in a non-functioning place (take Naples), leading to more suicides.

I guess that means that a balance between efficiency and chaos creates happier better adjusted people.

It takes a 20 year old to get you confused. Even when he says intelligent things.

a domani,

September 22, 2008

to your health

I have read quite a few newspapers since Friday between the train to Trento and a couple of days hanging around a hospital bed where my son has been recuperating from an appendicitis operation.

Between the never-ending Alitalia drama, the fall of Wall Street icons, glue in Chinese milk and the Islamabad Marriott tragedy, this little corner of beauty and efficiency seems almost surreal.

As the effectiveness of pure market vs. Keynesian economics is debated, I look around at the experiment of Trentino where the public sector works, including the health system. Maybe the disaster of un-regulated de-regulation in the financial sector will lead to some clearer and pragmatic thinking about the public/private balance in the US health system too. How about sending over a US delegation for a study?

a domani (from Trento for a few days),

September 17, 2008

feel the fear

Back to my Cairo trip and Islamic moments.

I got to thinking last night that it must be the fear factor that brings on many a moment -- like mine last weekend. Not fear of the "other" or fear of differences, but fear of losing ones sense of self once we cross the line and acknowledge that other people -- very happily and with great conviction -- just do it their way, not ours.

Fear of betraying our own cultural beliefs, values and ways of perceiving and being in the world.

Fear of becoming suddenly incompetent in a world where you have no idea how to act and react in a given situation.

Fear of not knowing how to figure it all out, how to access information, choose the information that is relevant, build on it, apply it, develop strategies to become competent in the new environment.

Fear especially of losing your sense of self -- "Who am I" outside of my cultural context.

In connection with my coaching studies, I picked up a book while in the US last March called, "Failing Forward" by John C. Maxwell. The chapter on fear of failure is the one that stuck with me. He says that fear is normal, even a good thing in certain situations, but to go ahead, you need to feel the fear, acknowledge it, accept it and then move through it.

"To conquer fear, you have to feel the fear and take action anyway". I found that quite a liberating idea and can see how it applies to the task of crossing cultures.

Feel the fear and take steps anyway, even small ones, to move forward towards understanding and mastering alternative cultural perspectives.

Wow, I woke up with profound thoughts today.

a domani,

September 16, 2008

With the heart

I had a few cross-cultural moments this weekend.

Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, my husband and I found ourselves in Cairo for a long weekend -- under Ramadan.

We had been there before, both alone and together, so we did not need to rush about from one site to another. Instead we had a camel ride in the Sahara overlooking the pyramids as the sun set and the moon rose (ok, yes it was romantic), wandered from mosque to mosque and market to market in the Islamic and then Coptic Christian sections of town and visited an oasis about 100 km to the southwest.

Cairo was hot, dusty, noisy, dirty, chaotic and crowded -- overwhelming to the senses while inebriating and captivating. For the two days, we didn't actually fast until 6:00 pm, but we didn't sit down to lunch either. Although shops were open, most restaurants were closed and it seemed in bad taste to eat in public, so we furtively drank lots of water and discretely had a mango juice at a stand to the young boy's dismay!

As the day dwindled, we happened to be in the large piazza in front of the Khan al Khalili market while hundreds of people gathered on the sidewalks with their meal spread out before them. Families and friends were just sitting there in small groups waiting for the 6:00 pm call. We waited and watched expecting a free for all, I mean they hadn't touched food or water all day, but they very calmly began with drinks -- water, a cold tamarind tea or fruit juice -- before chatting and sharing their meal, smiling and waving to us as we walked by and continued on our way. We then wandered into a side alley that had been closed off by families sitting down to a communal meal. The organizer standing over a large copper kettle told us that it was Ramadan and the meal was free before insisting that we sit and join them for some Kushari (a rice, noodle, lentils and onion dish). I was carefully examined by all as I ate, the children smiling, the women nodding and the men staring. I was dressed in long pants and a high cut t-shirt, but my head was not covered like all the other women and my lower arms were free.

I got to thinking about what it would be like to live here as a foreigner. Besides the pollution and the noise, the idea of having to cover up all the time would be tiring. Even over a few days, I wished I could wear a cool, sleeveless top or a sundress. Even walk about without my husband.

I was surprised at the overwhelming number of women in full length garb and so many in black -- I remember many more women in Western dress the last time I was Cairo. Even at the international area of the airport there were really no Egyptian women in Western dress, head uncovered, that I could see and one in ten was with a full burqa.

Airports are good people-watching venues and I watched the women talk among themselves, stroll with stylish designer handbags against gold stitched black burqas, discuss logistics with husbands through veiled mouths, reprimand children, and laugh with friends. I wonder how well you can hear with your ears covered.

While entering one mosque, I was firmly invited by a guide to cover myself with a long flowing robe and headpiece. After ten minutes of walking about, I had to get out -- it was so hot in there, and oppressive. I needed to move freely and feel air on my neck and hands and walk swiftly.

I had a moment. It would take a lot of shifting perspectives to get myself to a place where I felt comfortable enshrouded in cloth. I understand intellectually the pride many Muslim women feel when covered, the principle of female modesty and the protection (and power) they feel, not to menion the respect they earn. Yet I still have a hard time understanding with my heart. I come from a different place.

Guess I would need to work on that one.

a domani,

September 11, 2008

illuminating parables

While on an island off the coast of Sicily this summer, I took advantage of the hot midday after-lunch time to read a book that had been on my shelf for awhile, "My Name is Red" by the Turkish Nobel prize winning author, Orhan Pamuk. It is a sort of murder mystery set in the late 1590s in Istanbul among a group of miniaturists of the Sultan, but it is much more than a page turner "who done it" and adds to our cross-cultural discussion. I love his writing and am intrigued by the little glimpses I get of another mindset and way of thinking, reasoning, intuiting. His book, "Snow" was amazing for these insights.

Anyway, one observation I wanted to share.

The main character (a sort of detective figure in the plot named Black) visits the Master miniaturist to learn more about the three remaining miniaturists in his studio in connection with their fourth colleague who had been found dead. He suggested that the younger man ask each miniaturist three questions to determine "how genuine the young painter is". These questions were around the subjects of style vs signature, time and blindness.

Black followed his instructions and asked each miniaturist one of the questions. They all responded by telling three separate stories or parables. Black would then interprete the parables, connecting how each one built on the other to determine the miniaturist's beliefs and philosophy on the subject, and thereby illuminating his soul.

Not exactly a linear, clear, direct way of going about an interrogation, but quite effective.

Let's say a different communication style, in which context plays an important role, almost as much as what is left unsaid.

a domani (actually Tuesday),

September 10, 2008

eggplants unite

Now that the rabbit has been taken care of, I turn to all those eggplants lined up in rows in my refrigerator. With the cost of vegetables going up and up, I certainly can't let them go to waste. So I open my "Ricettario della cucina regionale italiana" prepared by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina -- always an interesting place to start.

I discover what I already knew -- eggplants have their heritage in the South. The recipes all come from Sicily, Basilicata, Campania, Puglia and the Marche and they are rich, very rich with lots of frying in lots of oil. The recipes are listed in their Italian names, with subtitles in dialect and an indication of the area within the region which is home to the original recipe -- talk about "campanalismo".

Here they are:
Melanzane a barchetta from Puglia,
Melanzane a beccafico (Mirlinciano a beccaficu) from Sicily (Enna),
Melanzane a funghetto (Mulignane a fungetiello) from Campania (Naples),
Melanzane al forno from Basilicata,
Melanzane alla finetese (Milangiane a ra finitisi), Melanzane alla menta (Milangiane a menta). and Melanzane dai cento sapori (Milangiane a ri cientu sapori) all from Calabria,
Melanzane ripiene (Lumengiaine chiaine) from Puglia (Brindisi),
Melanzane sotto'aceto (Mulinciani a scapici) also from Calabria, and finally Melanzane sott'olio from the Marche.

And you thought there was only melanzane alla parmigiana! Instead, to each region, its eggplant. All joined in hot oil.

I may have to try the Melanzane a beccafico: melanzane, pecorino fresco, acciughe salate, uova, basilico e sale, fried of course....followed by a long run.

a domani,

September 9, 2008

just a hop away

hello all,

It was a long break, but I promise I am back.

After a lot of moving about in August, from Sicily to Trentino, we spent the weekend just south of Rome at Sabaudia. On Saturday evening our son had a volleyball match in nearby Latina and my husband, true to form, managed to meet a local client after the match. The result: a case of vegetables (eggplant, peppers and tomatoes) and a rabbit in a plastic bag.

I raced home on my bike on Sunday afternoon to cook the beast for an early supper before heading back to Rome, but to my surprise (although I really should have thought this one through) the rabbit came out of the bag WHOLE, head and feet and all. It reminded me of another beast story.

I couldn't run to my local butcher on a Sunday afternoon and my knives were not cut out for the task at hand, so I just placed the whole thing in a pan.

I had asked my Neapolitan friend Marina and her sister-in-law how they would prepare rabbit as we chatted over coffee at the beach and, after intensely conferring, I had their detailed and thoughtful instructions to follow, so I proceeded and hoped for the best.

In the end, I pulled it apart once cooked and it was quite tasty with eggplant and peppers on the side.

Shhhh. Don't tell Lenny.

a presto,