A Da Vinci Welcome, A Concrete Jungle Awaits – Essay – Eurasia Review
I had just come out of a ten day conference-dialogue with a university in Mexico, engaging with students from India, Mexico and Peru. Bolivia, Poland and the United States, on the theme of managing cultural differences and applying the concepts and skills to leadership and learning. It was my 4th. year as an international summer teacher in a US-Mexico faculty collaboration. I was able to speak a few sentences in Tamil and Spanish as well as a sprinkle of Russian and Polish which I learned over the years through self-study. Such a beautiful experience language is.
In the following paragraphs I share the second part of the notes of my historical-literary trip during the summer in Italy and Switzerland, to also give an example of how a history teacher looks at places, connects them to personal history and uses a memory method. to find meaning in the method of teaching and learning ‘historical facts’ otherwise dead on the past. An ethnographic-phenomenological-historical approach, as I coin it in a more sophisticated term.
Don Corleone in front of Roma
Rome, or Roma as the Italians call the city, was my first destination and a literary and historical trip after the ten-day teaching session on “cultural management”. I took Delta Airlines from New York to Rome. I do not watch TV on any flight. Because I don’t watch TV, having been in a tele-detox session for 37 years. On this flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Rome, I couldn’t resist watching The Godfather Part II. Out of nostalgia for my high school years, and because I was leaving for Italy. A poignant feeling came over me at the end of the film.
When I was sixteen, I wanted to be Don Michael Corleone. (Who wouldn’t?) I had the gangster look and spirit in me, I thought. Hilarious! But that’s what you see in things at such and such an age. Now, over 40 years later, I have seen the film differently. It’s a philosophical play, about human madness and what to do in such and such a circumstance. The Machiavellian instinct in us is perfectly put forward as the basis of the film The Godfather which comes from a novel by Mario Puzo. I read it five times that year in high school!
This in-flight film led me to imagine Palermo, Sicily and New York’s Little Italy. Image of Michael Corleone was exiled to Sicily after killing Police Chief McCloskey. Image of Michael’s new wife, Apollonia, who died in a car explosion. The image of a man’s transformation from a peace-loving American naval officer to the most powerful and feared boss of the New York and Las Vegas mob families.
The plane has landed.
Roma greeted me at the airport with an interesting Vitruvian Man structure by the great Italian Renaissance artist-inventor Leonardo Da Vinci. Italian words and the cultural semiotics of the nation-state await my immersion.
Essentially, history and memory can be alive in all of these examples of my experience of sensory perception interacting with the elements of linear and non-linear narratives presented to me. I had the gift of life and the blessings of letting my neural connections do their thing via machine learning, scanning my brain, sending messages, reaching the deepest dungeons and chests in my data bank. memory and offering me what to live, like how these should be meaningful. The phenomenological inquiry at work in my inner sensibility.
From New York to the film The Godfather via the memory of adolescence, Leonardo da Vinci, Rome and its monumental history. It is the trajectory of my thought as a single cell connection established in the brain to be stored in a compartment of my long-term memory.
Imagine Christians being fed to lions
In Rome and the Colosseum, I asked the question of how and why as I stood in awe and agony and the thought of Christians thrown into the arena in Roman times. What was it about the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth that made him not only ideologically despicable, but also threatening to the idea that threatened Roman belief in many gods?
The power of the empire made it a spectacle and a great sport to throw human beings to be ravaged by lions. I found this ancient practice fascinating as a historical-sociological analysis of what power means and what “spiritual truth” entails. The practice of human sacrifice, whether it’s the Aztecs on top of the Mayan temple or how Abraham/Ibrahim was challenged by God to sacrifice Isaac/Ishmael in biblical and Quranic history fascinates me, in looking at them from a perspective of cultural analysis. What is the cultural logic behind all this, I asked.
In the case of the Romans, was it simply a clash of ideas between a nascent monotheism as in Christianity and the polytheism of the monumentalist civilization of the Romans? Did Jesus really exist, in the annals of the Roman Empire? Yes, Nazareth in the province of Judea was part of the empire in which Pontius Pilate was its fifth governor under Emperor Tiberius, according to history.
In the central part of the Roman Colosseum, animals were kept to be released for sacrifice and social spectacle. Sacrificial animals, gladiators and humans were also housed in the lower part of the Colosseum. The Colosseum is used for such sacrifices, staging plays based on Roman mythology, gladiatorial contests, and many other events from the history of the Roman Empire.
Stones also have to tell stories
I wrote this poem a few years ago, for a collection of 300 poems, Wall Street Rubaiyat: Worms at the Speed of My Memory to be published in 2023.
ODE TO A PAST
i could just walk in the woods
in a hundred years
structures around me I push back
they will collapse
as quiet as the clanking of working tools
blood and sweat
brick after brick
layer after layer
out of the eons of what man has built
in the woods
from the beauty of the darkness of your eyes I will enter
of the smile sculpted like a writing of predicted truth
in the bewitching sadness of your gaze I will greet you
like arjuna i will keep you
and my poetry
will be your fortress
although a hundred years ago your heart rests
like the forest I’m entering now
in an island
in an ocean
— azly rahman
Concrete jungle as a classroom
I have come to believe that the concrete jungle is also our own Jataka forest where Prince Rama was banished (if you know the Hindu epic Ramayana) and that if you pay attention to what each building, structure, monument, and facility, you might hear the stories they want to tell.
Whether I am in Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa or Bern, Zurich, or New York or Paris, or even Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru in Malaysia, I feel that the streets I have walked are the alleys of storytellers embalmed in concrete, steel, marble, wood, bamboo or even graphite.