Ideas to create a global cultural society
Do you know the history of the person who gave her/his name to your street, or why your address has the name of that road or lane?
Delve into the history book and you will find that the names of many streets and roads are based upon the names of former rivers, places or historical events and figures. But how many people know the history of the event or figure who gave the name to the address where they live?
A trip into Google gives us quick answers as to how Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, New York City, got its name - the Dutch built a wall there in the seventeenth century when New York was called New Amsterdam. Fleet Street in London used to be a river, the River Fleot.
Lisbon's main thoroughfare, Avenida da Liberdade, has nothing to do with the April Revolution in 1974. It was built in the nineteenth century and was proposed by Mayor of the City Hall, José Rosa Araújo. When the project ran out of funds, José Rosa Araújo paid for the construction, indemnities and demolitions from his own pocket and died in poverty. Its name arises from the freedom (Liberdade) Portugal gained on reassuming its indepdence from Spain in 1640.
In Moscow, who has not heard of the famous Arbatskaya Ulitsa, or Arbat Street? And the origin of this name gives rise to a discussion which has been going on for centuries. Does it come from the Arabic arbad, meaning "outskirts" (when the Kremlin was regarded as the city center)? From the Tatar arba, meaning "cart" (lying on a trade route)? From the Farsi Arbat, a Persian place name? Or from the Russian derivative of gorbat, meaning "bumpy"?
Interesting, isn't it? Yet this is the easy part, gleanable from a quick Goo-wiki search and there you have it. Now the more interesting part is the name of the street where you live and the history of the name given to it. Some of these names in capital cities will be easier to find but then why keep it to yourself, and why not share with the community where you live? Or get the community involved, hold a party to celebrate the birthday or the anniversary of her/his death. If the figure was an artist, how about chipping into the kitty and having a panel made with an emblematic painting or work of art?
In involving the community in its identity, people get to know one another better (how many people in your block of flats do you know?) and people gain a sense of pride in their community. Self-pride is a good antidote to marginalization, marginalization is a door open to alternative societies, such as drug users and criminality.
It is my belief that in a world which seems to go around in circles, one in which we today witness another move towards sabre rattling, aggressiveness, confrontation, the greater the emphasis on teaching, culture and knowledge, the more respect we gain for ourselves and our communities and the less patience we have for those who insist on primary and idiotic approaches to political management.
It is also a world in which soccer has taken over as an instrument towards the massification of brutality and stupidity, the cherry on the cake being the theme music for the Champions League (UEFA) coming from Handel's Messiah, along with the close-ups of fans in tears (we are speaking about grown men) looking as if the world had come to an end because his team has conceded a goal, and the after-match punch-up outside the stadium, renacting medieval scenes of scaps between Upper and Lower ends of a village.
It is a world in which tabloid publications with stories about Spanking Sarah and the Minister garner more readers than a serious article about socio-economics (booooooring!!!) or geo-politics (you what?), in which reality TV sporting programs in which the girl chooses her partner by looking at his penis before she sees his face, complete with exclamations such as "Oooh! Look at the size of his pr*ck!" and TV movies about ghosts puking in people's faces. Whatever next? Johnny on the crapper, complete with sound effects and comments on smells?
If people do not do something about this, it will get worse, due to the human being's innate tendency to choose the easy option and switch off, slouch on the sofa with a plate of junk food, open-mouthed, dribbling and giggling at Barney belching on the Simpsons. Or worse still, adrenalin rushes fueled by snuff movies. They tell me they already exist.
Antidotes? Whatever happened to the family dinner, you know, with the family sitting up straight, properly, around the dinner table, teaching the kids table etiquette (something which appears to have disappeared today, with kids brandishing their knives and forks like weapons, heads down to the table level, shovelling the food into their mouths, if indeed they are not all stuck in front of a computer, each one with a different microwaved meal in different rooms of the house)?
Some families I know turn off the TV and have a gadget-free zone around the table. (Gasp!) No cell phones. No tablets. What a shock for those kids whose attention spans have vanished because they are watching TV, texting and playing games all at the same time. Others use this tech-free space to have language practise, for example at dinner English is spoken (rather than Portuguese), or in an English-speaking country, they practise their Spanish, or French, or whatever, once a day.
Others have a theme-based dinner (family dinner or say, once a month with friends) in which the topic of conversation will be a theme, on which people read up before the dinner and then discuss, for instance, Greek philosophers, instead of talking about soccer or work or even nothing at all.
And another idea is to have a nationality dinner, based on a national cuisine. Let's choose Greek for today and have two starters, two main courses and one or two desserts, such as a decadent Baklava, why not some Greek wine, Greek music in the background, post-it papers with Greek words and expressions around the table and after the meal, call up a Greek movie on cable TV drinking Metaxa.
As we get older (I am now sixty) we see how little time we have left and realize that we waste most of it on futilities. Then we leave this life practically as ignorant as we were when we arrived. Food for thought?
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru. He is an official translator, a coach, a consultant and a professor.