Friday, May 17, 2013

Cow's head

Today I brought up the subject of May, explorers' month, to S. who was buying Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca's account of his years in the newly discovered Americas: The shipwrecked Men, also my last volume of the adorable Penguin editions, the Great Journeys.
The conversation spiraled into the unknown and intriguing territories of the brain and I am going now to trace it back to where Cabeza de Vaca meets the brain because the link is not as stretched as it sounds.
It all started when, talking about traveling and exploring in a very general and broad way, we observed how strong of an impact the encounter of different cultures has on our mind (brain), in fact so strong that we constantly need to keep going back to our own point of reference in order not to lose our mind, especially if exposed to those differences for a prolonged amount of time.
S. pointed out how some cases of schizophrenia were diagnosed in several immigrants coming to the United States in modern times from very far away places; basically they came they staid  they went nuts. The brain just could not process the massive amount of incomprehensible information and lost its ability to operate normally altogether. A bit like a long stay on Mars, where Mars were inhabited by aliens who not only spoke to you in their alien language but expected you to walk hopping on a tail you don't have and using those extra pair of legs to keep up the pace; after a while you just want to get the hell out of there.
Our friend Cabeza de Vaca was the only survivor of a shipwreck, the last one of four men, after having started a journey to the Americas from his mother land, Spain, with more than 200 men. And once he survived fate's tricks eating his horses and burning their shoes to make tools, he was captured by the Natives and that is where his real journey began and his brain had to change.
From a prisoner and a slave he became a trader for the Natives and from a trader a traveler trader who met many tribes and finally he even became a Shaman. His brain must have found a way to adapt and cope with life on Mars holding on to his strongest point of reference: religion. He convinced himself and consequently everyone else that his survival was part of God's intention for him to be a healer, so from slave they elected him a Shaman. He built an identity for himself among the Natives and therefore found a way to create a recognizable system that helped him survive.
Identity and lack of...a whole new chapter.
To make the story short, he ended up back in Spain where he died in poverty, so I guess if you go up to Mars and manage not to go crazy, don't come back down to Earth cause you will then.
Travel on...

1 comment:

  1. Alvar Nunez ( Cabeza de Vaca è un soprannome che gli venne dato per via di un antenato che usava teschi di mucca come paline stradali ) fu molto più che un esploratore al servizio della corona di Spagna.
    Durante il viaggio dalla Florida al Messico, durato otto anni, e dopo una successiva spedizione in Paraguay la sua visione del mondo prese a cambiare e anche il modo di rapportarsi con le popolazioni indigene.
    Smise di vedersi come conquistatore di terre e asservitore di popoli, guardò senza pregiudizi agli usi e costumi dei nativi, da colonialista divenne pacificatore e intermediario fra differenti culture.
    I resoconti di viaggio e le conoscenze tratte trovano espressione in un testo che va sotto il titolo “Naufragi”.
    Troppo avanti per quei tempi, siamo intorno alla metà del 1500, l’ostilità verso la corona di Spagna gli costerà un lungo esilio.
    Cabeza de Vaca, agli occhi dei suoi contemporanei, era diventato un marziano che era stato su Marte ed era tornato irrimediabilmente contaminato.
    Oggi forse gli darebbero il Nobel per la pace e questo prova che l’identità, o la mancanza della stessa, sono correlate al cammino dell’uomo e alla volontà di elevarsi oltre i limitati recinti di una… cabeza de vaca.