If you want to dig right into the interview, click above. I’ll give you a heads-up that it’s all in Italian. Otherwise, if you only speak English, read on!
A couple weeks ago, I ran across a video that made me smile, showing people dancing in the streets of Rome to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.” Little did I know (as I am completely devoid of most pop culture references post-2008) that this was a sort of trend that had started after the original music video was released. Here in Rome, the video was made by Gabriele Camelo, who in fact also made a similar video in Palermo that went viral.
I got so intrigued by someone who tried to show a positive side to Rome, a city that takes quite a beating on a daily basis by people who complain about all the endless problems around here, that I absolutely had to find out more about who this person was.
Luckily I found a Facebook page (you can find it here and “Like” it right now… go ahead, click! LIKE! … I’ll wait!) and was able to get in touch directly with Gabriele and ask him if he was up for an interview. He was game, and so this morning we had a Skype video chat that I recorded. Only thing, folks: it’s in Italian. (For those of you who don’t speak Italian, cue epic fail horn, and I’m sorry, truly I am. But my life the way it is absolutely doesn’t permit me the budget of time or money for subtitling or transcripting in English. Find me minions, then we’ll talk. Stephen Faris has first dibs on the minions though because he already asked on Twitter a while back.)
What I will say is that I was pleased and delighted to have found a kindred spirit, someone who tries to find the beauty in all things and in all people, even those who are marginalized by society. Let me tell y’all, it warmed my little social worker’s heart, yes it did.
Gabriele is 32, Roman, and as you’ll see on his Facebook page (which I know you’ve already Liked by now), he is a man who wears many hats: videographer, television producer, documentary filmmaker, entertainer, street artist, tour leader, psychologist, elementary school teacher, and might I add: hello, Renaissance man!
During our interview, Gabriele explained how he sees Rome with a quote: “Rome is like a beautiful woman, sensual, seductive — but with a shitty personality.” Well. Yes. I can see that. The “personality” could be worked on a bit. So he said that the “Happy” Rome video was his way of trying to challenge himself to find the positive side of this city.
Gabriele is now living in Palermo. He had been working at RAI, the state television network (in fact on one of the few programs I actually like on Italian TV, Report) but recently his contract wasn’t renewed. So, as we chat about in the interview, he’s moved down to Palermo to live at his mom’s house (where he Skyped from) and is trying to find a foothold financially. [Aside: This is just one example of why we can't generalize about that old tired stereotype of "Italian men who live with their moms until they're 40, 50." If I have to explain one more time about the highly motivated and very non-lazy Italian men I know who live at home or have had to move back home because of financial difficulties that are often part of a profoundly broken system...Anyhoo. That's a story for another day.]
He told me the story that recently his entire video equipment collection was stolen, a value of over €2,000, and now he is without a camera and can’t even do what he loves to do as a passion, without his equipment. At a certain point in the interview he shows us a box with a camera painted on it, and money inside. He explains that in response to the theft, he decided that he’d try the “crowdfunding” model to get back the money he needs to buy his equipment again, but in addition to an online site like Kickstarter (an Italian site called Kapipal), he is also taking to the street, giving himself a deadline of one month in which to get the money to buy the equipment. He goes around Palermo with a friend who films him, approaches people with the box, explaining what happened to him, and in this way he hopes to get the money back to buy his equipment again. And then in the future there will also be the video to document his challenge.
[If you'd like to support his crowdfunding initiative, please click here to learn more and contribute. Just click "Contribuisci" and then "Invia Denaro" and it will take you to a Paypal payment page where you can pay securely with Paypal.]
He showed me the Palermo sun from his window, and told me that he works right now as a teacher in what I think would be the equivalent in English of a group home (they’re called casa famiglia here in Italy) and his students are boys between the ages of 16-18, and that yesterday instead of doing their work indoors, he told them, grab chairs, we’re going to do our work on the beach. Wow. Can’t say I ever had that experience. God bless him and his positive spirit.
Gabriele for me is really an inspiration, because he’s taking what the average person sits around here and complains endlessly about, and he makes an effort not only to put a positive spin on it, a bit of “leggerezza” which if you know me you know is a concept near and dear to my heart, but also, he’s out there connecting with people. It’s that human connection that seems so lost nowadays. I love that he has the courage to go out, approach people, provoke people to discourse, involvement, and as he said in the interview as one of his key concepts in life: “condivisione,” sharing. Awesome. I love this and I think there are so many people in this country like this, that deserve to be highlighted and supported, especially when the majority of the news coming out is just more of the same old Italy-bashing. He says one of his favorite quotes is Dostoyevsky [via Prince Myshkin in The Idiot]: “Beauty will save the world.”
Speaking of his other video initiatives along these lines, he also did a “free hugs” video both in Palermo and Rome, which I found rather fascinating to watch, especially from a social sciences perspective. Takes a lot of guts and a certain kind of person to go out and approach people holding up a sign that says “Free Hugs.” Granted he admits this wasn’t his original idea as it was an idea that has been done in other cities, but still, I think he’s the only one doing these types of things here in Italy, at least that I know of at the moment.
I always say about Rome: we know this city has problems, but complaining about it is for amateurs. Rome is a cheap shot, so easy to knock because there’s so much here that truly and fundamentally doesn’t work and is possibly irreparably broken. In my opinion the above-average approach is the one that tries to find the hope in the despair, or tries to make a positive contribution using whatever means they have at their disposal. For Gabriele, (and I’d like to think for myself as well), this mode of creative expression comes through video, through writing, through communication. For others it might be a different vehicle. But in the end, what matters is that we can show our shared humanity and take pride in knowing that, as Gabriele says in the interview, “Life is to be enjoyed.”
Amen to that!
(Oh and PS, ladies? Um, yeah, don’t think I wasn’t swooning. It’s super obvious. I mean, hello, major hubba hubba, right? Doesn’t he have like a Robert Downey Jr. sort of thing going? Jaysus. Looks like I need to find me a man with Palermitano blood, eh? *fans self*)
To subscribe to Gabriele’s Youtube channel, click here
To “Like” his Facebook page, click here