Aspen Institute Spain granted me the opportunity to be as near as it is surely possible to get to Plato’s Forms (Ideas) for three days. Aspen Institute is an institution devoted to fostering leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. They invited me to join a group of people gathered to tackle the topic: “Transatlantic Values at a Cross Roads”.

On Thursday October 25th, we met in Ronda, a nice Andalusian city in the province of Malaga. Ronda is known for being an old dwelling of bandits and smugglers, for its “Corridas Goyescas” –a sophisticated kind of bullfight which takes place once a year; and for its famous “Tajo de Ronda”, the deep canyon carved by the river Guadalevin into the tall rock on which the city is based.

Ronda became popular thanks to several famous artists who liked to spend long spells in the city. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles spent many summers there as part-time residents of the old town, and Welles’s ashes were taken to Ronda to be scattered into an old well. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke kept a permanent room for years at the Hotel Reina Victoria, built in 1906. The room remained untouched until 2012 when the hotel was completely renovated.

I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda. There is nothing that is more startling than this wild and mountainous city

The spectacle of this city, sitting on the bulk of two rocks rent asunder by a pickaxe and separated by the narrow, deep gorge of the river, corresponds very well to the image of that city revealed in dreams (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Early In the morning, when the mist surrounds the cliffs of  Ronda, one would say that the city is suspended in the air, and the view of the milky blanket of clouds stretching toward Sierra de Grazalema, reminded me of another fictional city: Castroforte del Baralla, the city that dreams itself created by Torrente Ballester in his novel La Saga/Fuga de JB.

Aspen philosophy encourages the open debate of ideas by making sure in particular that, so to speak, what happens in Aspen stays in Aspen. And I must say that creating the appropriate conditions for a frank, educated, elevated dialogue seems a not so far-fetched endeavour: a beautiful room in the Real Maestranza de Caballería, a classic library furnished with shelves laden with old books that looked like the remains of an ancient culture; a round table (in fact, square) dressed with a classic velvet tablecloth, and more than 20 fragments of classical texts in  law, politics, economics, literature and philosophy; written by renowned authors as diverse as Plato, Cervantes, Bolivar or Soros, to name but a few. Only that was apparently necessary to ignite the flame of enlightment, a flame able to draw a subtle connection among the participants.

Sometimes simplicity is the best way to straightforwardly address a complex issue. Maybe it is always the case. Maybe complexity is only the mist that surrounds the high cliffs of uncertainty over which our rationality cautiously peeps to inspect the unreachable horizon; or maybe the magic of Ronda and the magic of all those texts had something to do with it; together with a secret recipe to knot ideas with the beauty of an exotic place.


Featured Image: Jacek Yerka, Landing city” 2002

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