Thinking About the Future While Pondering the Past

Aug 18, 2012 by

An overhead view of the hillside where my father was born in Calabria, Italy. The house at No. 1 is where my grandmother, Caterina Napoli, grew up. No. 2 is where my great-grandparents, Michele and Luis Napoli, lived. My dad was born further down the hill in another house. My grandparents apparently met on the hill and later married.

By Douglas Imbrogno | Aug. 18, 2012 |

I rise earlier than usual on a Saturday morning because, really, I have got to get myself back to meditating in the morning. And do. A full hour. Opening my eyes to find the lipstick-red numbers of the digital clock at 9:05 a.m., exactly 60 minutes to the minute from whence I first settled on my green buckwheat cushion, the kernels crinkling loud as cellophane as I arranged my posture. The extra-fuzzy black cat pads into the room, impatient for the attention denied her this past hour. Flops on her back and poses: Look at me, I am here.

Make myself a breakfast. A double cappuccino from my newly fixed powder-blue Francis Francis espresso machine, which was gone a month to the shop, but now is back. Plus a plate of two halves of a freshly-cut avocado. I’m trying to reform my diet with more whole, raw foods. I’ve got the starter bump of stomach that — on my father’s side — tends toward a Brobdignagian belly, among two of his three Italian brothers. You could rest my white porcelain cup of cappuccino atop those ponderous bellies and a rasher of bacon to boot. I am hoping avocados for breakfast will keep the uncle belly at bay, but what do I know.

Out the living room picture window, I see two young men in black trousers, white shirt and thin black ties pour into a white car next door. They are Mormon conscripts, heading out along with my next-door-neighbor Mormon to spread the good word of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. They are nice people, our Mormon neighbors. Their young daughter, Paolo (sired by her Latin mother and Slovak father) looked after the cats when we were gone last month. Their dog just broke his leash a few weeks ago and is apparently lost, gone, dead. Paolo, I am sure, was distracted from the loss with some positive cat time. We have three pleasant felines, who’ll let you pet them. And the black one, dog-like, will follow you room to room, posing adorably upside-down so you will admire her and pay her the attention she believes is her just due.

Yesterday, I was thinking about the future, while pondering the past. Yet another article on the Next New Thing in Web Publishing. Or, to give the specific title, “Why Web Publishing is Changing (Again).” I’ve been reading these articles since I began publishing on the web in the late 1990s. I’ve spent the last dozen years of my professional career trying to find a niche in this fast-evolving eco-system, always wondering if I’m one of those mammalian offshoots that won’t make the evolutionary cut. My recent trip to the Fishtrap writer’s conference was a refreshing dunk back into some normative standards for my oldest skills. Which is to say words against a white scrim, whether paper or computer screen.

This article says this web publishing vehicle I’m using and which brought you here — a WordPress blog — is already old-school, compared to the new collated, curated, ongoing stream-meme represented by the Latest Attempt to Be the Next New Thing — a.k.a., Medium, described as a sort of categorized Tumblr, and Branch, billed as “A new way to talk to each other.”

I guess. Whatever. It’s perhaps a function of my 55 years of age, the last dozen years of them spent sprinting to stay up to speed on the web, that I’m losing the thrill of the chase. Wondering, instead, about some rather meta-issues. Such as: whatever the technological delivery does the need for narrative and linear coherence in communication ever go away? And doesn’t a good story trump a thousand (failed) iterations of the Next New Thing in Web Publishing? I could be wrong. The fact that I’m not paid $1,000 a day to lecture across the land on web publishing would seem to indicate I’ve not achieved the web visionary status at which I was perhaps targeting the arrows of my digital ambitions.

On the other hand — and there is always another hand, if you lead an interesting life (and I do) — I’ve achieved a certain felicity and competence in tossing words, images and moving pictures into the world-o-sphere. Yet, I’m in the process of dialing back my attempt to gold medal in the tumultuous crowded footrace to be the Best Next New Thing.

Standing in the house of my great-grandfather, Michele Napoli, on a Calabrian hillside.

Which speaking of the Future, brings me to the Past. The Past is full of useful verities, things that have lasted, things that sprawl across centuries. These things are reassuring, because, like a good story, they survive the scouring flood waters of the next new thing that didn’t turn out to be the next new thing, but just one of 1,001 seemingly exciting and shiny new ideas that are now dead, rusting. Forgotten. Like AOL, say. Or Vanilla Ice.

Meanwhile, for instance, the hillside where my father was born in Padulla in Southern Italy is still there. So is the house where he was born, plus a second house where my Grandma Catherine was born. And the oldest house of all, in the middle of the hill, where my great grandfather and great grandmother, Michele and Luisa Napoli, lived.

I have been thinking about that hill again since I happened to come upon a photo my older brother David took of me inside Michele and Luisa’s tiny two-story stone home, when he and I visited Italy some years ago. It is a lovely photograph, light angling into the old stone house, which is a century and then-some old. We posed the wine bottle on the lip of the bin where the wine was pressed, but it was a bottle from inside that now abandoned house. We had to force our way through a thicket of multiflora roses to get into it. The story is told here by my brother in a powerful photo-essay-poem. I posted the photo to Facebook a few days ago and a slew of friends saw and liked it.

Then, an Italian relative, Leonardo, noticed it and posted an overhead shot of the property you see above, noting:

This is the first house the Napoli’s family built in that area more than 100 years ago; the second house they built is the one with the bunch of sheep around it. The two houses are close one to the other about one quarter of mile, maybe less than that. The wine was excellent; your grandmother Catherina used to drink it together with her brothers and sisters. I was fortunate to sip it too. Now is all abandoned and no one cultivate that land anymore.

Leonardo added — referring to the third house at the base of the hill where my father was born:

The other house is still there and we use to call it (casa di bruognu), in Calabrese dialect means the House of the Imbrogno.

The grave of my great-grandparents, located about five minutes from the house where my father was born in Calabria.

Which is where I will leave you this morning, with an ancient Southern Italian dialect ringing in your head and mine. Because I’ve violated one tenet of the Future of Web Publishing, by writing something so long as this post in The Age of 140 Characters, which is all you get on Twitter. If you have followed me this far, let us bump fists — metaphorically — and let me thank you for being a creature of the present, looking toward the future, but still well attuned to the verities of the past because you read all the way through to the end.

The avocados are gone. Now, I need to finish that cappuccino.

Hey, great-grandpa. NICE mustache!

Where a crew of my Italian relatives are buried, a few minutes from the hillside where my Dad was born.



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