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Comunità intenzionali

In a game between friends, we imagined giving each other an alternative name to the real one. When it was my turn, I received them all religious and peaceful, with a large prevalence of Christian: for my friends, someone with my face, my physique and my mannerisms should be called Christian. A surprising name for me, given my anti-clerical attitudes, which have perhaps become less conspicuous than when I was young: but perhaps it is always difficult to accept for the second time a dome given by others, after the one your parents – and without even having seen your face yet – gave you a priori.

Moreover, as far as Christian is concerned, knowing that I transmit this image of goodness to the outside world has put me a little worried, because I fear that I am not up to it. On the other hand, it amuses me to think of the possibility of looking in the mirror and saying “what the fuck are you doing, Christian!”.

In the Christiansavn district of Copenhagen, there is a place called Freetown Christiania where about a thousand people live today. It is an anarchist commune born in 1971, on the wave of the utopias of the time, and more precisely it can be defined as an intentional community: an environment created with the aim of maintaining a high social cohesion among its members.

These intentional communities (although they are not called that) are also mentioned in a book I am currently reading: The Ikigai method, by Héctor Garcìa and Francesc Miralles: The secrets of Japanese philosophy for a long and happy life.

The authors (who cite other research by Dan Buetter, in Lessons of Long Life) have identified five areas in the world with cases of exceptional longevity. Three of them are islands, which is understandable because being on an island encourages cohesion among the inhabitants. The first is in the north of Okinawa, Japan, where, among other things, the so-called “village of centenarians” is located.

Life expectancy is positively influenced by the concept of the moai: the group of close friends who share the same interests and help each other out.

Moai members have to pay a monthly fee. The money collected is used for group activities, in which all members can participate: for example, assemblies, dinners, the Japanese game of chess (shogi) and the ancient Chinese game of go.

If money is left over, it is distributed to a member in rotation. And if a member of the group is in financial difficulty, this payment can be advanced to help them. It is a primitive form of managed savings, which promotes financial and therefore emotional stability.

An extreme and disturbing example of intentional community is the film A Family Affair by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, Palme d’Or at Cannes 2018. As the title suggests, it tells the story of a family, and up to this point there is nothing strange: but we gradually discover that this “family” is a family in fact but not in name, as its elements have met in various situations without having blood ties between them. In short, they have chosen each other and more or less consciously accepted to be part of a non-existent family. It too is in a certain sense an intentional community.

Linked to the concept of intentional community is the transition town movement, which aims to make the impact of the next phase of our planet less catastrophic: the phase in which most traditional cities are likely to be devastated by the impact of global warming and the depletion of oil resources. The transition town movement was founded by permaculture expert Rob Hopkins in Kinsale (Ireland) and Totnes (England) between 2005 and 2006. In his essay Energy Descent Action Plan, the founder expresses his resilient proposals on the topics of energy, health, education, economy and agriculture. The first aim of a transition city is to achieve energy independence. In Italy, one of the first towns recognised by the Transition Town network was Monteveglio in the province of Bologna.

But back to Christiania. Christiania is named after Christian IV of Denmark. Born in 1577 and died in 1648, he was the longest reigning Scandinavian monarch (59 years). The lineage was that of the Oldenburgs. At the time there was a single kingdom of Denmark-Norway, and it was an elective monarchy. At the age of 3 Christian had already been chosen as successor by his father Frederick II. When his father died in 1588, Christian was 11 years old and still too young to rule. The state was therefore governed by a council of regents until the prince came of age and was crowned on 29 August 1596 at the age of 19. A few days earlier he had signed the document called haandfaesting, the Scandinavian equivalent of the Magna Charta, which every sovereign had to sign.

In 1606 he visited his brother-in-law James Sextus of Scotland, King of England. Both were good drinkers and could drink large quantities of alcohol without getting drunk. The same could not be said for the other members of the court: the spectacle held for the occasion (a masked ball, a form of entertainment then in vogue) was described as a resounding failure because the participants fell to the ground so drunk.

Today there are many reasons why Christian IV is remembered and still admired by the Danish people. It was he, for example, who sent a group of explorers to conquer Greenland, and from there to America. The aim was to find the infamous Northwest Passage, which would provide navigable access to the Pacific Ocean.

The expedition led by Jens Munk arrived in 1619 with two ships in the area that would later be called Churchill, in Hudson Bay (Canada). The mission ended with the death of almost the entire crew of 64 during the winter. Only three survivors were able to return to Denmark.

Many centuries before this expedition (and long before Christopher Columbus), Viking warriors had crossed the Atlantic from Scandinavia, reaching Canada and establishing a settlement in Newfoundland. In 2010, researchers reproduced one of their ships to replicate this legendary journey.

A Netflix series entitled The Vikings is also dedicated to this people. It’s certainly interesting, although I’m a bit fed up with these medieval stories where the men are all warriors and the women are just rape meat. Sometimes I think I would like to see a series dedicated to the boring and peaceful life of a peasant family.

“What does a man do?” the Viking dad asks the child the night before the initiation ceremony. “He fights,” replies the child. “And then what?” asks the man again. “He protects his family,” replies the would-be man. A pattern of behaviour that no longer works today, although for many it is reassuring.

Back to Christian IV, he was very attached to Norway, where he spent more time than any other Danish ruler. After the three-day fire that destroyed Oslo in August 1624, he decided that the city should not be rebuilt in the same area, but moved to another one, at the Akershus fortress. This totally new city was called Christiania, a name it kept until 1925 when it took over the original name of Oslo.

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