A journey with David Foster Wallace

Jesús Pérez Saiz, our colleague from Escuela de Escritores (Madrid), has compiled in this clever and sensitive chronicle a first hand account of his recent teaching experience at Scuola Holden (Turin), thanks to the EACWP Teachers’ Interchange Program and the Eramus+ support

jesus-turin

Scuola Holden is a story and Turin as well. I will talk about it, but before, the eyes. I will not mention all of them. Not even her eyes as she has not arrived yet, but the Turin Eye, a hot air balloon rising hundred and fifty meters above the city. And also Leonardo’s. Those eyes from his self-portrait.

The Eye is a tourist attraction at the gates of Holden —you know the school founded by Alessandro Baricco, which is wonderful, and also …— and I’ve seen it coming, twenty-five meters from the front door. I had to identify myself because there was a security guard. I said my name and also that I was coming to give a workshop on DFW. Then, while waiting, I turned towards the globe and I saw it seeing me from up there, as if I could unfold myself and think at the same time what would my double tourist think while looking at my double teacher contemplating the Eye from the center of Holden’s bailey. And even I have come to think of what would think a third “I”, who would think that thinking…

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I spent four days at Scuola Holden, at its headquarters in Piazza Borgo Dora, a former military arsenal, and I had the feeling of being on an island, where there was an invisible giant. A seemingly quiet island, on the other hand, beyond occasional rush, but with much life. A lot of creativity beneath the surface. Lot of talent.

Martino, Lucia and company.

Mattia.

Bright students: Lou, Patricia, Santiago, Tatiana, Juan Pablo.

Fede.

I read English words —Transmedia , Crossmedia, New Media—, some in Italian —Racconto, Romanzo— and I’ve missed one saying BAR. Like this, in capital letters. What kind of harm could a beer do after four hours of Wittgenstein or Norman Bombardini, that character in Infinite Jest, who plans to grow to infinite size?

Norman, “no one can grow to infinite size .”

“Has anyone tried it?”

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globoAt the beginning of the course, I had to intuit the presence of my students behind their laptops and I’ve seen on the cover of one of them this sticker: Polizei ♥ Nazis. I’ve thought once what do I do here and then I’ve thought it again three more times. Always with vertigo. As if you would slip from a very high place.

What should I do, Dave?

Do what you have to do —Emphatic Imperative—. Take notes and write. And make some improvement. They will thank you for that.

In the end, I think so. They thanked me. I saw their faces.

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I danced —with hat, boots and charro belt— the Electric Slide in front of my students to make them stop watching whatever they were watching on their computers. It is a cool dance, I recommend it, it does not take long to learn it if you follow the instructions, practice a little and let the sense of the ridiculous stuck in a potato, but the important thing is not that I danced, but  that I wondered myself, before sleep, if someday I will have to undress myself in order to catch their attention.  I also wondered if I would do it —getting naked—, and yes, of course, I would. And I would make a mortal jump from atop the armoire with underpants on my head. [ … ] I would even eat peas. Twice. Because the problem for me is to find something that I would not do for my students under any circumstances. I don’t know, I don’t know.

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I’ve heard of Experienze, a program of Scuola Holden for students to discover other worlds and I liked it. I imagined my class on a submarine, a madhouse —do they still exist?— and a slaughterhouse. Excuse me, guys.

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scuola-holdenI went to the Royal Library without knowing that you cannot see Leonardo’s portrait. Which is in a vault. Isolated from natural light and at constant temperature and humidity. It has five hundred years, a gentleman said, a plain paper drawing with red ink. It is a miracle that it still exists, he said, and I thought his existence is a miracle.

Can I enter, anyway?

Yes, of course.

I’ve done it and I’ve seen a beautiful library. Wagon train shaped. Domed. Ceilings for giants. Windows to the garden. I’ve seen four or five students. I have traveled to snoop the space and have returned to the entry. There is a screen where you can view the two books by Leonardo that the Library treasures: the Codice and Disegni sul volo degli uccelli. You can turn the pages of those books on the screen with your finger, as if it were paper. I have, thus, seen a ritratto di fanciula reminiscent of others, Florence, perhaps, and a virile testa di studio based on Cesare Borgia, maybe. Maybe not. And, then, the self-portrait, of course. An old person. Red lines. Long hair. Beard. Wrinkles on the forehead and eyes. Those eyebrows burrying his look.

Somewhere I have written that Leonardo’s is a look of wasps and I do not know now why. Although, its depth covers me. The look. It suggests me a tunnel. Also, the anatomy room in Bologna. A round room tiered down, where the coroner explains what the body is. What it is not. What it is known and what it is not known. Although, everyone wants to know. Because that ‘s in your eyes , isn’t it,  Leonardo?

I’ve been over an hour standing there, looking at Leonardo’s look, and I had the feeling that it is the look of an old man. Who appreciates life in its insignificance. Its small details. The beauty of its strokes. Its mechanisms. The mistery of things. Its secrets. That flame of Leonardo. That way of telling.

Thank you, Scuola Holden.