Danish divagations II (the smile)

After some time here in Denmark, I came to realize a certain Danish cultural trace (at least this is what I’m able to catch as a foreign). Walking down on the street, it is not uncommon to be surprised by someone smiling at you. Yes, people that are completely unfamiliar to you can look at you and … smile to you! It has happened to me at the supermarket, at the park, and at the street. Typically, it is a glance of a smile, but even so a smile.

First, of course, I thought that it was something addressed to me. Then I started to check out which kind of person used to do that more frequently. The result of this rough “survey” was that older woman used to smile more often that the younger ones. Well, but eventually I was also gifted by some young girl smile.

In a self-centered culture, where the face is a proxy to, obviously, the self, I think my first reaction was entirely understandable. The person somehow only exists to the other when she is seen by the other. More specifically, when their eyes meet. Social encounters – like at public spaces – are ruled out by an impersonal code according to which, if my eyes turn out to meet your eyes, immediately I’m supposed to shift them away – for instance, to the sky or the other’s shoes.

But what should I think when in addition to eyes contact, the experience comes with a smile? Both as quick as lightning? When my eyes glance off someone’s eyes as we walk past on the street, a sort of “relationship” is immediately settled. What kind of relationship? Well, you feel like beeing recognized, but not as Pedro, a particular self (even if I’d prefer the opposite), but as a person like the other. Second, you may feel some kind of reciprocity. Levinas, in a book about the Face, said that the face (not necessarily the physical or even psychological one) is a way to “face” the alterity – but, in Levinas’ account, I recognize the other’s suffering face. Here what I’m looking at is a smiling face, something quite different from a suffering face.

Over time, I finally came across with a hypothesis, an explanation for this (I guess) typical Danish behavior. Smiling is as much impersonal as swift eyes away. Here’s my guess: it is the way that the local culture found to regulate the social behavior, the borders between the intimacy/strangeness. In the social encounters, I unconsciously tell you: “Don’t be afraid, I’m a kind person, and I’ll not hurt you.” But, in return, “I hope you do the same to me.”

My question is: what happens when someone wants to demonstrate some particular “interest” in someone else, as when you are trying to get on with someone? There will be a different nuance in the way they smile, or look at one another? Could be the opposite, I mean, if I’m interested in you as a singular person, should I “ignore” you, or maybe could I have any trouble in staring at you?

El roto

Nature

What do you feel by watching the short video below, extracted from the documentary Life, produced by BBC? It features the exact moment when some gosling is struggling to take the first steps toward its survival in a new world.

 

1. I feel baffled

By following which logic, the gosling parents have decided to settle their nest in such a harsh environment? Why at this edge? The speaker gives us a reason quite reasonable: he said that the parents are trying to avoid their broods of being caught by predators on the ground. Yes, I can perfectly understand that. But, while there is now a price to pay, nature seems to show its cards: if by chance, at least one gosling survive, there had been a positive balance. Besides, nature counts on a large number of individuals. Even if this couple hasn’t managed to get through this particular challenge, no problem: another couple could be doing its job at the same moment, or this same couple could be luckier next time it tries to generate offsprings. No having not to eat and getting hungry, they have not choice but get down there.

2. I feel inspired

This one is probably the most human reaction, based on our tendency to romanticize nature, to think that it is ‘doing’ that because only the strongest individual must survive. Considering that there are two full-ground individuals now able to reproduce in this documentary, this could be good evidence that nature ‘is’ right. Drawing on this line of reasoning, many ‘social evolutionists’ believes that, similarly to what occurs in the wild nature, where only the individuals more able to fit the changing conditions of the environment can have a chance of surviving, the same will also happen with humans. As a result, only the ‘best’ individual can ‘survive’ in a high competitive organization, for instance (leaving out culture-driven factors as political maneuvers, although an ‘evolutionist’ certainly will think this ‘political ability’ is a further evidence signaling a best-fitted individual).

3. I feel helpless

However, what this short survival scene demonstrates is: firstly, a strong connection between behavior and previous experiences, probably something enclosed in the gene of these animals (another individual in the past had done the same thing and passed the experience on). Secondly, the action of natural forces. It seems that these little birds have an adapted body – for instance, they need manage to jump in a frontal position – if I have understood the speaker’s explanation correctly. Otherwise, if they fall backward, as it turned to happen with the fourth gosling, who slipped and plummeted down headfirst, then their chances of surviving are smaller. If the collision is belly-first, they should survive the fall – despite the astonishing hits against the rock they must suffer while falling. Even if they succeed in reaching the ground in the proper way, there is still the risk of getting lost in the crevices. Unfortunately, the parents can’t spend time looking for each lost goling. And that is the amazing thing, and the helpless one as well: each of these little animals has no second chance: one simply slip is enough to lead the individual to death. It can’t turn back and jump again. As human beings, we usually learn with your mistakes, but this is not possible to this creatures. Nature seems not care about the question: How worthy is a single life? And life is possible only if they overcome all the odds. Life is accuracy, notably at the species level.

What do you pray for?

I prefer listening to speaking (#50)

The young pope

I’m following the new TV show by Paolo Sorrentino, The Young Pope, with J. Law. It has been a long time since I have seen a show like this. Maybe the Vatican aesthetic, the rituals (of which I was relatively aware in my past, since I used to live in a Seminary – yes, I thought in becoming a priest!), the long silences of the characters, or even the contradictory personality of this pope (who even cites Spinoza in one of his dialogues)…all of this is fascinating me.  In particular, the final scene of episode 4, that I’ve tried to reproduce below. The music is wonderful (Senza Un Perché Nada, Peppina di Capri). I’ll return to my full impressions later on in this blog.

 

Plastic

Plastic is, probably, one of the most ingenious discoveries of our advanced, scientific and industrial era. We depend heavily on plastic to the well-functioning of our daily life – a toothpaste tube, a medicine bottle, all the pieces that compound the computer I’m now using to type this post, plastic bags we use to pack our stuff – there are so many applications to plastic-made objects that would be hard to sum up here. In a word: I can’t imagine our life without plastic.

But is well-known that plastic can be, at the same time, one of the worst enemies of nature. Plastic is difficult to degrade. And if we add to this characteristic the fact people are sometimes irresponsible in the way they throw out their no more useful plastic objects, then we can imagine the problem. Indeed, each year, tons of plastic debris are simply dumped into the ocean – the natural habitat of many species of seabirds.

One of these birds is the Laysan albatrosses. What a gracious creature!

Laysan albatross,Phoebastria immutabilis, in flight, Sand Island, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Northwest Hawaiian Islands. This species is listed as near threatened and decreasing.

These birds have a long wingspan, and they fly vast distances without flapping their wings. They can also spend years without touching land, living for more than half century. As if were not enough all the threats we human beings are causing to their environment (breaking the balance of their habitats), now they face a new menace: tons and tons of plastic that are dropped into the ocean every year. The problem? A recent study shows that this plastic is confused as their natural prey. This happens due to a chemical process that misleads these birds – the plastic debris generates a dimethyl sulfide signature that is the same trace these birds use to identify their ‘food.’ The result: they swallow this debris and then…. they die as a consequence. The photographer Chris Jordan has captured this tragic outcome in images like the next one.

chrisjordan1

 

I know. I know. While this is happening, you are concerned with your life. What is the value of the Albatrosses’ life? Your son is infinitely more important. The paper I’m struggling to publish right now is more important. Even what I’m going to eat next is more important. Who, in the so-called “First World” is concerned with the destiny of the plastic waste they produce? Most of the people have a shit for that. And so we in the “developing countries”.

Snow

A snowing day here. I heard this year the winter will be the worse in 100 years in Europe. Well, I have no idea about this time last year, but I think it’s a little unusual snowing just in the beginning of the fall. Maybe this is expected or normal, but, to me at least, it’s a sign of what lies ahead…

img_5216