“A light of frantic, indifferent quality, truncated or wide open or suddenly deserted horizons; and continuous swirls of fog: intrusive and salty, it tastes like the sea “, so Alberto Arbasino got his first gust of San Francisco, reached and described in America love after long tortuous U.S. pilgrimages. A few decades pass, the fog does not clear up, the sea port atmosphere remains more or less intact, the skyscrapers are still there to guard the Golden Gate. On the other hand, between the colorful villas and the Victorian arcades, or rather around them, that is, just outside the compact urban center of the city on the Pacific, in a little more than twenty years a dense undergrowth of digital companies, new urban centers, prosaic neighborhood in throbbing rise. It is the Valley: which is nothing more than the intentionally conversational way in which Michele Masneri he calls Silicon Valley, an ecosystem peculiar to California of our century, a great feverish novelty to tell, in which Masneri, journalist and writer, has immersed himself on several occasions in travels and strolls and outings, writing in newspapers and magazines. Now those stories, properly rewritten, are published by Adelphi in Steve Jobs no longer lives here. An address book of North Californian things (with short forays into Southern California) that avoids the banal, postcard views, and happily surrenders to the details, a thousand details, perhaps much more revealing as Masneri ventures into the fauna of the boarders hipsters who come to deposit their ambitions here, who fall gravitationally in California coming from the dark fields of the rest of the republic, all or almost armed with the books of Ayn Rand, polar star, with his individualistic and ruthless creed, of libertarians from all over the world.
Here is the first clutch, the first of many North Californian dyscrasias: what does Rand, the ferocious anti-communist Rand of the last century, have to do with these young figs and loyal democratic voters? He was not in the zone more liberal of America, between the Castro of homosexual emancipation and the Berkeley of the eternal student protests, between Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Kamala Harris and the sensational results of the 2016 presidential elections, in which California, in contrast with the rest of the States, attributed to the Democrats even more votes than he had generously cast on Obama four years ago? In short, were we not in a progressive stronghold, this one in which Masneri moves like an aquarium fish? Yes, but also no. As James Wilson wrote in the mythical neocon newspaper Commentary composing in the distant, archaeological 1967, a brief sociological profile of California, “the social structure has not in the least affected the totally individualistic orientation of the people. People here have no identity outside of their personal identity. ” It’s a nice problem, making ends meet eternally American spirit and in the end still heir to the far west, with the dem and progressive soul of the sparkling mecca of the digital revolution of these years.
Masneri starts right from the 2016 elections, or from the post-traumatic disorder that affects the inhabitants of San Francisco to their painful awakening, on November 9, in the Trumpian Right Nation. At that moment the author resides, as a sociological experiment, in a kind of municipality in the area of Civic Center of San Francisco: a co-living that he renames the “Casa del Grande Fratello Startupparo”, surrounded as it is by successful greedy millennials but poor in resources who have to resign themselves to camp in what are little more than niches. An almost universal experience here. Especially since in this part of America “the house is a nightmare and an obsession”, and in fact the Facebook group “Bay Area apartments and sharing” is very popular, while the legends of young urban professionals who sleep in cars chase each other, in the stairwell, in the garages (perverse effects of Prop. 13, the law of 1978 which established that home owners could not be taxed for more than 1 percent of the market value of their properties, value updated however only in the case of a possible sale: result, real estate market since then completely blocked, and advantages only for the very, very rich). At that moment Masneri is chasing Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, gay republican among the very few of Silicon Valley to have supported Trump; he will not find it, on the other hand he pokes himself at parties, parties, dinners, events (key verb of the book, imbucarsi, corresponding to a viscerally curious state of mind and an abandonment, in the encounters, to a kind of somewhat karmic destiny ). Masneri is inspired by the stray artifact of the great Arbasino, when he wrote, for example, in Italian portraits: “In winter, in Lisbon, a sumptuous and lively architect and designer invited me to lunch”, and no less the guest of honor of the dinner was a certain Umberto of Savoy. But thrown there like this, without emphasis. And without emphasis Masneri speaks with Bret Easton Ellis and with Jonathan Franzen, with the tech entrepreneur David Kelley and with Chris Lehane, head of AirBnb’s PR.
After all, that of Masneri is still the misty Coast of the Barbarians by Howard Hawks, that is, a place that holds multiple genres together, which turns in the wonderful contradiction of being at the same time a global avant-garde (how else to define the land of Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.?) and a chaotic and defiant place, cheerful and fierce, in who works in co-working cramped and damp and build large companies in the garage (Steve Jobs actually lived there, at the beginning of his career). A land where great things are done without great rhetoric, where minimal is the figure, “we want to create a new Apple campus, in short, something nice”, as Steve Jobs said in front of the municipal council of Cupertino in 2006, when he still iPhone didn’t exist and he didn’t have the boundless global popularity that came shortly thereafter. On the other hand, comments the Brescia-born Masneri, here “the ceilings are low, at the limits of usability, everything is tiny, and arouses serious reflections on what pushes these tycoons to make fantastillions and then live as in a suburb of Brianza”.
From Cupertino to the Mission District of San Francisco, where Masneri runs away with his legs coming from the town mentioned above, this time looking for a place more suitable for his comfort zone, and how to pity him: “I am no longer age, it was obvious, for this Erasmus forty years old – yet the idea was simple, to leave Rome and Italy decoction, the holes and the economic and moral depression for a year, and come to the place where they are all young, and happy, and they plan the future. But the commune is too much, plus the Trumpian nightmare. Upgrade and escape are urgent ”. He also lives in Mission Mark Zuckerberg, or rather Zuck2020 as the possible antitrumpian presidential race of the Facebook founder was to be called: before Cambridge Analytica case, before the liberal progressive neighbors realized the paradox of having a manipulative billionaire at the head of the Democrats and repudiated him with the cry of “get the techno-fascists away from Mission!”.
The stories follow one another, the title is Scorsesian: from the 1974 film Alice no longer lives here Masneri takes up the ironic gaze (think of the joke “How are we supposed to have a meaningful family relationship if he’s always on the verge of killing you?”). But also the sense of the American second chance, the idealism of the eternal restart and palingenesis, of moving physically as an illusion to change one’s soul, to renew and purify oneself. And the more disordered and even scrambled, this centrifugal anxiety, the more convincing and authentic it is. All the more, above all, it is tasty to read, to explore, to be seduced and rejected again. And still seduce.