When you grow up in the kind of family, where certain references are compulsory, you have two options, either to reject them, or to take them as part of your childhood memories. As the third and youngest child, growing up in a house full of people and life, I went for the second. I grew-up gender-less, as unbelievable as it sounds, they allowed me back in the 80s to choose my own gender (I don’t think I was the only one back then, somehow we think we’re moving forwards, but I doubt it). They used to dress me as a boy and my hair was an afro, until I decided I wanted to be a girl and changed my name from a neutral “Maro” to “Maria” which seemed more feminine. I was their toy, everyone’s little experiment. They told me things too advanced for my age and watched how I would react to them. They always smiled, whatever I said. That kind of upbringing always makes one feel they will forever be meant to be a grown-up one day… one day.
So I was somewhat directed to watch a number of films, among which was La Strada, by Fellini. As my references became intertwined with childhood memories, I was not interested in remembering any titles or names. I never remember, because I never care. Sometimes I envy those people who discover things, such as Fellini, all on their own, but for me, Guilietta Masina is just a person I knew during my childhood.
I watched La Strada again today and realised I knew every little scene, every little dialogue, it was all somewhere in my brain. It was a funny, a really random and ridiculous meme that my parents had hidden there. Why on earth would they consider it wise to do such a thing, beats me, but I could tell you that I had even probably reenacted certain scenes or some of Guilietta’s expressions during my lifetime, without even knowing why.
And then again, art is such a magically aimless thing to give to your child, it’s like telling them you will love them no matter what or like telling them that the only reason you ever had them was because you wanted their company and free expression, nothing less, nothing more. Just another cool person to hang out with and since there was none, they thought they’d make one.
It was probably the same time that I had been sat down to watch La Strada by my parents, that I had been sat down by my older brother to listen to the Talking Heads and it just hit me tonight that all these years I was actually considering Gelsomina and Tina Weymouth to be the same person… it’s funny, but Tina used to be my hero and for a reason no one knew I used to call her Heltina.
Thirty years later the mystery is solved and I’m smiling all by myself. Art is almost a language and the way a child perceives it resembles bilingualism. Everyone I ever took interest in, each one of my facial expressions anyone had identified with was dictated by those memes and my perception of them.