Keane and The Fire in Barga
The Black Hole on Facebook
About a week ago, on April Fool’s Day, access (via facebook) to a vast and powerful source of cultural wealth was "mysteriously" unplugged as one user’s profile became invisible without any warning whatsoever from the social utility website. This event, like most losses, is ultimately an invite for the surge of something or many things greater. However, at the moment the decreased access through this one portal is felt among many who connect to the daily vibe of Barga, Tuscany and its majestic surroundings via Keane's online journal www.barganews.com.
In more recent times Keane's presence had grown in the Facebook arena, where many of us tend to retreat. Thus the withdrawal symptoms and consequent call for detox. Facebook is such a fast and easy fix for news of any sort. But how deep can it really go? What lasting good is forthcoming? And who is the fool here? Am I so severely limiting my relationships and my work to the confines of a blue frame that the resounding of my voice lies in the hands of another unreachable power? Agh.
On a brighter note, this Keane man, who I unfailingly stumble to find words for when an introduction is at hand, started barganews in 1996, a year before I arrived in Italy for the first time. The thought blows my mind when I reminisce on the difficulty of accessing email and the web just less than 20 years ago, in Italy.
When I first got to Siena, a well-populated university town and tourist destination, there was one, maybe two, internet cafes in the historic center. A few people may have had internet access at home but I knew none of them. I remember lugging modems and random equipment (I don't recall what exactly) from the U.S. with a plan to connect via mobile phones or something. I might as well have plugged my finger into one of the many pints of Guinness I was drinking at the at the time. Let's just say there was more time spent trying to connect than being connected. And a hell of a lot of interference noise to accompany the victory of getting online.
The Fire in Barga
All of this background I offer to shed light on the vision and work of one human whose work beams immense light upon his adoptive community of Barga, La Valle del Serchio, and La Garfagnana. He basically lit a fire on a low-lying plateau in a sort of dark age with very limited resources. This plateau that is the seat of Barga lacks nothing in the way of charm, beauty and illumination, don’t misunderstand me. It is a place where the light has its way with the shadows and at any given change in cloud pattern, views will take the breath right from your chest, repeatedly. It could not however have been a place for innovative internet technology and online news in the 1990s had it not been for this guy, Keane.
Who knows what he was dreaming of at the time but today the torch burns steady and attracts already-intrigued visitors, musicians, and artists in search of Barga’s warmth and wisdom. I only know Keane and the barganews story so well but I imagine that he aspired to reflect the bright lights around him; the grainy yet profound and poetic character of the individuals, the seductive terrain, the pulsing archives (yet uncovered, yet glowing), the light itself, and the legends of the valley that he found himself at home in after traveling some distance in time and miles from his native, British Isles.
The Humble Work of an Artist
Maybe I am projecting the mission of Traveling Native onto this well-established guru who has activated a global pulse in a small Tuscan hamlet, but I know there is common thread. Mine is ego-driven and wrapped up with my traveler identity. Keane’s work is different. His is the work of an artist who has a vision and then manifests it out of pure passion. Mine wants to reciprocate the love that enveloped me years ago as I struggled to be at home with myself. To be blunt, my drive is similar to that of a patriot (I am not in love with the word or the idea but it happens) who yearns to give back to the greater good; the views, the smells, the living vibrations that held me as I transformed my homelessness into a tool that I now call Traveling Native. Yes, the valley of fairies and goblins and people of the earth gave me field for my airborne roots and allowed me to keep them loosely planted, to come and go, to feel at home, and be myself.
The Art of Enjoyment
Years ago, when I lived in the historic center of Barga, called Barga Vecchia, my path never crossed Keane’s. He was well into his project of putting Barga on the map, a town that hosts a diverse scene of natives. Not like all towns, this is one where travelers may quickly find themselves at home. Newcomers feel the strange novelties of the place as they warm themselves beside it. This duality, that Barga so naturally offers, is the essential ingredient of a Traveling Native experience: exposure to foreignness while linking up with local life at points that transcend culture. The fruit of this brew is live, organic, cultural exchange and diversion. It is the underlying fabric of what I love to call the Italian Art of Enjoyment. You can follow this as it happens on barganews.com or join me sometime in Italy for a taste of it.
I don’t know what Keane has cooking, if anything at all, in response to the forced removal of his work from the F’n B. He is not the reactive type and his work goes far deeper than the superficial tides of a single social media channel. As I sit here mulling this over like an addict, he goes about his business of “busily putting Barga on the map”, honoring his environment and harvesting his visions as frequently as they surface. The more I get to know the man and his work, the more I look for chances to brag about him. So, thank you facebook (or whatever hacker did this) for opening the door to this blundering of praise and wonderment. In the spirit of Keane’s diversified approach, I intend to launch with more integrity by touching down here more often and considering my own eclectic experiences ever more the asset to the pursuit of a passionate life.
Thanks to Keane there is a bounty of uncovered jewels to share and a model for how to drive from the heart. According to some recent science there is a wealth of wellness in expanding our heart’s connections. So, I am taking this example and folding it inward. I am certain a regrowth is already in our midst. One sign of it is this blurb I am about to post. As soon as the news of Keane’s disappearance from Facebook surfaced, I was quick to react and ready to post what is now the first paragraph of this blogpost to facebook when I realized the point: Why would I skip past travelingnative.com or barganews.com and miss the chance to strengthen these platforms from the core outward. Maybe that is the lesson here: to circle back home to what is truly at the heart of this authentically artful and enjoyable life that we are working to sustain.
Thanks for listening, a prestissimo…