Mambo Italiano

It is difficult to describe the sensation of leaving a life tucked away in Perth after nine years, but a metaphor which just came to mind as I deliriously write on the plane after a tour de force of packing and sad goodbyes is that of setting sail into the unknown from a desert island which you have called home. It’s like having lived in a whole separate eco-system, beautiful and unique yet full of toxic aromas with numbing properties. You can’t help but enjoy the tranquility of such a state but all the same feel that, mostly owing to artistic necessities, you must break free and throw yourself back into the stormy waters even for the sole purpose of reawakening your senses.

First stop: Brisbane. In many ways I’ve always felt Brisbane shares similarities with Perth: great weather, laid back, growing wealth…mining state. One thing that strikes me though is the difference between the two in the recent growth in arts and culture. Brisbane now has a cultural precinct by the river which had obviously been planned in foresight of the growing city a number of years in advance. The theatres and art galleries on the foreshore now house large exhibitions and theatre productions which aren’t a possibility in Perth.

When I arrived in Perth nine years ago after living in Europe for 8 years I had no idea of the amount of wealth in WA and thought I was going to live in a smaller, quieter version of how I left Brisbane in 1997. Seeing that everything seemed to cost double I soon realised that Australia was no longer the simple place where I grew up. At the same time, I thought it was an exciting time to be in Perth as I was convinced the cultural aspect of the city was bound to grow in proportion with its economical wealth. Although in some ways it has (I don’t want to be too harsh), I unfortunately leave Perth with all my affection intact but with a considerable amount of concern and a little disappointment owing to the negative vibe regarding the cultural and artistic progress in the city. I didn’t really see much take off on a grand level, with initiatives falling through like the MOMA exhibitions at AGWA, as well as an awful lot of commercial galleries continuing to close. I hope that when the iron-ore is all gone there will be something of substance and cultural value which will remain with the city throughout time.

After a quick overnight stay in Sydney, next stop is Tokyo. From the very moment we left the gate where we were all ordered around by an aggressive airport worker, we were greeted by kind and polite air hostesses and saluted by the ground staff of Japan Airlines who we could see outside the window bowing and waving. This gesture of respect and well wishes for the journey (even if some may argue it may be just a cultural formality) was nevertheless refreshing and this was just the start of what was to be an eye-opening experience of what I found to be a very dignified and developed culture. The care and respect shown towards every task, from communication through body language and expression to the preparation and presentation of food, is impressive. You can really see how the Japanese people are ingrained from young age with a sense of self-control and obligation towards others than themselves which is quite foreign to our relaxed demeanour and sense of self in Western culture. It was testimony to the reality of an ancient and sophisticated culture developing into modern society without completely loosing their identity and qualities.

I left with the feeling I had just a tiny taste of what Japan has to offer and longed to return before even leaving. When speaking to a Japanese choreographer during my stay about the fact that I’d noticed many Italian restaurants and shops in Tokyo he confirmed that the Japanese have a great respect for Italian culture. “There are similarities between us as both cultures go very deep. There are many layers to discover and the deeper you go the more you find there is to learn.”

Next stop: Italy. The first thing I can say is that Italy is much more appreciated by the Japanese than the Italians themselves who bathe in self- criticism and love to lament (complaining is definitely one of the difference between Italians and the Japanese who recently recovered from a catastrophic Tsunami and nuclear disaster and you will hardly hear about it from them). Having said this, Italy is effectively going through a hard time and much hope lies with the young new president Matteo Renzi who is working to fix Italy’s many problems.

The first thing that strikes me every time I arrive in Italy is that you are instantly immersed in history and culture which dates back thousands of years. This contrasts greatly with Australia being such a young nation, and it is for this reason one imagines it to be the place of free thinking which invites individualism and artistic growth free from the weight of surpassed mentalities and cultural baggage. For certain aspects I’m sure most would argue it is. Bizarrely the Australian art world instead seems to carry the chains brought down from its penal colony history. From what I witnessed if you don’t enter into the ‘system’ then you have no real chance for your art to become known or to have any official recognition. With Australia’s recent economical growth one would imagine Sydney or Melbourne becoming the next New York, open to incoming talents and developing home-bred artists which lead the way to innovative thinking and expression. Maybe there is hope yet for the Australian cultural scene to really take off on an international level as it has all the potential to develop into a vibrant and significant arts centre worthy of its many other qualities.

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