Unity championed at Mediterranean Culture awards

The prize winners on stage alongside the judges and President of Carical Mario Bozzo

COSENZA – The Mediterranean Sea has the capacity to be a divisive force, a body of water that separates cultures. And so, we have gradually lost “the desire and the curiosity to understand what lies on the other side,” teacher stroke writer Enrico Galiano commented at the ‘Premio per la Cultura Mediterranea’. The implied invocation to rediscover the Sea’s unifying abilities was taken on throughout the 12th edition of the awards ceremony, as the power of cultural collaboration was asserted by prize winners and artistic presentations alike.

 The Alfonso Rendano theatre played host for the evening on Friday, welcoming invited guests, the press corps, and members of the public to witness a celebration and promotion of Mediterranean culture. Calabria was a fitting setting for such an awards ceremony, the region described as “a window to the sea” by Mario Bozzo, the President of the Fondazione Carical, supporters of the competition.

 This was Bozzo’s last appearance at the ceremony as President, as he has stepped down from his role. “The event will live on,” he said in an emotional speech to bring the show to a close, confident that the work he has overseen will continue and develop under a new president.

 A huge variety of contributions towards the work Bozzo has championed as President were showcased at the ceremony, thanks to the format of the Premio, which gives awards for seven different categories. Throughout the event, the panel of judges were on stage, joined one-by-one by the 2018 prize winners, who presented and discussed their contribution in a conversation with host Lorena Bianchetti.

 Interspersed among these presentations were on-stage performances, each showcasing aspects of the Mediterranean identity. There is such a variety of cultures to be witnessed at different points along the sea, as was demonstrated by a collection of musicians from a selection of these cultures. The intriguing combination of Italian-style guitar playing and African drumming, alongside a Latin dance, sounded wonderfully unique and really encapsulated the cultural diversity the Mediterranean has on offer.

 Going back to the classical tradition, a prominent figure in experiencing this diversity was, of course, Odysseus. He was described by Bianchetti as “an advocate of the multicultural Mediterranean”, as she introduced a presentation showing exactly this. As scenes from films based on the warrior played on the screen, an interpretive dance was performed, accompanied by a monologue from Odysseus’ perspective, recounting the numerous encounters he experienced on his journey back to his homeland Ithaca. It served as a powerful reminder that the heritage of Mediterranean culture is entrenched in history, dating back thousands of years.

 The award winners themselves, while promoting this unique culture, were also keen to promulgate ideas of collaboration and cohesion, whether cross-culturally or within Italy. The ‘Sezione Narrativa’ prize was awarded to Spaniard Fernando Aramburu for his novel ‘Patria’, which, as he said in the on-stage conversation about the work, focuses “on humanity, on the intrinsic things that bring humans together”. The ability of narrative to “reach many people” was noted by Mario Casari, winner of the translation prize, whose work in producing an Italian edition of an Arabic text ‘Le mille e una notte’, was praised by the judging panel for the absence of “his own culture," instead allowing an Italian audience to appreciate a novel from the Arab culture.

 Journalist Paolo Rumiz, awarded the ‘Sezione cultura dell’informazione’ prize, extended the cohesive nature of narrative beyond fiction, as he commented on his varied reporting work. He described experiencing the basic human instinct of life while covering the Bosnian conflict, fascinated that “people were able to go on with normal life, despite the war,” implying a certain common humanity that we should all appreciate. In his view, Italy have erred from this, and “should be seeking unity”, though rhetoric is currently going in the wrong direction. A veiled political comment that was surpassed by academic Sergio Luzzatto, who criticised the Italian government for their anti-immigration rhetoric, instead advocating that collaboration and progress come from mixing cultures. In his eyes, the Mediterranean is an extremely “powerful” tool in working towards this goal.

 Politically charged or not, the contributions from each of the prize winners made it very clear that sharing culture was hugely important, not just for the Mediterranean, but for the wider landscape. Galiano based the premise of his novel ‘Eppure cadiamo felici’, awarded the ‘Sezione narrative giovane’ prize, on this notion. His female protagonist has a love of language but is teased for always wanting to learn untranslatable words and phrases from different languages across the world. The happiness she feels, though, having found someone who understands her world is indescribable. The novel celebrates learning and understanding different cultures, portraying language as a fundamental means of doing this.

 Galiano is also passionate about the younger generation, hoping to inspire them to pursue this open-minded approach to culture. On stage, he mentioned that he maintains complete honesty with his students, and in an interview after the show I asked him why he does this. “Students can tell within 10 seconds that you’ve put up a barrier,” he said. “It then creates an unhelpful hierarchy between students and teachers, where the teacher’s role is cemented.” The implication is that teachers are also able to learn from students, and the aforementioned premise of his novel speaks to this idea. He described the language learning of the protagonist as “a metaphor for adolescence. It is intrinsic to each young person, and needs to be learned, just like a language does.” So just as students need to learn from their teachers, so can teachers take steps to understand the mindset of their students. This open dialogue between teacher and student is beneficial on a larger scale, Galiano maintained, stating that the cross-cultural abilities of language are significant: “they open up new avenues of understanding in the mind.”

 The Premio did an excellent job of promoting the variety found within Mediterranean culture, as was its aim, but also provided a forum for its prize winners to promote important ideas of unity, cohesion and cross-cultural dialogue, that stretch far beyond just one section of the world.