I tend to ramble in superlatives when I’m on stage, so more often than not, when I mention what happened to me the minute I graduated from my Masters in Biotechnology back in 2007, my non-Italian friends raise the interrogative eyebrow of disbelief.
I still wonder what part of this centuries long tradition is the most unbelievable one.
That your closest family is gleaming with pride while posing for pictures one second, and turning into a bunch of sadists the very next one?
Or is it being dragged down the staircase by your best friends, who make sure that your butt hits every single stair properly as it brings good luck?
Perhaps it is being stripped down to my underwear, right in front of an 800 years old University building that’s been a witness to centuries of academical shame - including the adventures of Galileo Galilei himself - and in whose classroom I have graduated, to be precise. Alas, the poor Galileo denying he ever supported heliocentrism to save the dear life from Catholic Church inquisition was not the highest of all the shames! (ah, the good old days when Catholic Church was in charge of science, death penalty and ultimate truths!)
Perhaps, it was my ex bass player, Mattia, screaming like a five-year-old girl after his underpants were loaded with live fishing worms. Perhaps it was my ex boyfriend Marco, eating a banana. A banana that was previously squeezed between his butt cheeks and held put there by a leopard g-string (needless to add, he kissed me afterwards). Or perhaps it was me, clad in an übertight cycling outfit with a crown of silver cocks on my head, yelling a poem - penned by my flatmates, my sister and my best friends - about yours truly spray-shitting a wall in a local library.
The before and after outfits. Some friends claimed the one on the right was more decent than the Minnie Mouse dress I discussed my thesis in.
Let’s introduce some order to the apparent mess here. Padova’s Lauree are a century-long tradition and there are a few rituals to be respected:
1. The moment you graduate, a laurel wreath is either placed on your head or hung around your neck. This is strictly followed by a professional foto-session with your closest family and your mentor - those are also your last decent moments - and photos - of the day.
2. As soon as the last shutter of decency has closed, it’s the dragging-down-the-staircase-for-good-fortune part.
3. Once you have reached the ground floor, it is time get rid of all those fancy clothes, all down to the underwear - the non-bra-wearing me has provided one for that occasion, though. It is your friends to undress you, you don’t have the privilege of doing it on your own.
4. Then, the tunnel of doom is formed: your most loved ones stand in two rows facing each other, how romantic. Then, they reach out to the person in front of them and hold their both hands - even more romantic. Then, all those holding hands are raised to form a tunnel for you to walk… or better, for you to run through. As you enter the tunnel of doom, the hands that have usually caressed you, hugged you, consoled you, fed you - now rain with an unprecedented force down on your naked back - slap slap slap! The rule is, the neolaureate must run through the tunnel THREE times. The goal is reached when their back is bloodshot red. This is what your loved ones are aiming for. If you are melanin-loaded like me, it takes longer to reach the desired red hue.
A visual corpus delicti of the tunnel being formed.
The entire slaughter ritual is accompanied by a never-ending tune: “Dottore, Dottore, Dottore del buso del cul! Vaffancul!! Vaffancul!!” which in veneto dialect means “Doctor doctor, doctor of buttholes! Fuck off / Go fuck yourself!”
5. Once you have survived the tunnel, it is time for you to wear your costume of shame. No choice here either. Everything that comes from this point on has been wistfully planned behind your back for months, by your closest people. I graduated in the pre-mass-facebook times (thank you Universe!), so the entire organisation was done by e-mail; however e-mails were enough for my Italian friends to reach my friends in Serbia and Croatia, as well as my family, so the international conspiracy in my case worked out pretty well. I have personally taken revenge on some of those beautiful people in the years to come. Who graduates first takes the last laugh.
My costume of shame included the ever-present crown of silver cocks, the cycling outfit that was picked out not because I was one with my bicycle but because a few days prior, a dude wearing a pink and yellow cycling shorts jerked off in a full train at 3 pm while staring at me (I unfortunately noticed just the final 2 pant jizzing seconds); and a lab-coat with a face mask, that came in for the later phase of the doom.
In my years spent in Padova, I have been greeted by all sorts of costumed-up fresh intellect: from a guy crawling on his knees while crucified on a huge wooden cross (hey, it’s Italy), to a human-sized penis with a pen and paper in his hands who also asked me if I was having vaginal or labial orgasms for the purpose of his research, to a hairy, overweight and partially waxed tinker bell who pleaded for another cold wax stripe to be removed from his shins AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.
6. Back to the rules. You are in your costume of shame. You are then placed on a marble bench or some other sort of unfortunate throne, i.e. like right in front of a large tree trunk getting ready to be the backdrop of your looming destruction.
7. A real royalty needs a scepter, in this case a large bottle of some strong alcoholic beverage or even better a mixture of a few of those will do. For practical reasons, such item is often duct-taped to your hand, just to make sure that it stays where it belongs. That is, in your royal hand. And blood. And brain. You are overqualified now, you will hardly ever get employed for that reason, exterminating some brain cells is a necessary help for your future career.
* a biohazard waste warning sign attached to my kiester
8. The Emperor is ready, so now bring in the PAPIRO. Papiro is the core point of the entire parade. It consists of an A1-sized paper featuring:
a) A HUGE caricature of yourself, loaded with cocks and tits and pussies and all sorts of obscenities. Cocks and oversized hairy balls are somehow a must. What you are doing with the cocks depends on your life, your favorite hobbies, your friend’s mercy…
b) A loooooong looooong poem, stating all the most embarrassing mishaps of your life, from the day you have been conceived. The first lines always include a very graphic description of your parents fucking. Your parents probably had their part in the making of the papiro, too.
c) Your full name and surname, as well as the Faculty you have graduated from, your Major and the final vote you have reached, too. All in huge capitals, just so that there is no chance to be mistaken about the person depicted on that thing.
9. The slayer of your human dignity and privacy - aka Papiro NOT FACEBOOK - is held in front of you by a couple of your friends. Your task, Your Royal Highness, is to READ everything that is written on there, AS LOUD AND AS CLEAR AS YOU CAN. If you skip something intentionally, you will be punished - and the punishment always includes a large, hearty sip from your spectrum bottle. If you make an accidental mistake, again, you shall drink. No censorship is allowed.
Other part of punishment includes random acts previously planned out by your friends (do you still wanna call them friends?); the traditional methods that shall never be skipped include being splattered with (rancid) tomato sauce, flour, oil (yeah it is Italy and every Italians dream is to turn you into a pizza before eating you alive), Nutella, sugar, rotten eggs, etc.
Other options include the aforementioned fishing worms or larvae, bananas, dead fish and so on and so on. Most of it goes onto your head - if you got a bunch of hair to keep the mess in - and into your underwear. Cold wax stripes are also very in - preferentially employed on hairy young men, a rather common feature in the apennine phenotype.
The royal future of European scientific research
10. Remember, you are doing this in front of your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, the entire family - your friends, random strangers passing by AND your professors, your tutors, your mentors. If you’ve ever got really paranoid on weed and kept blabbering about the ficus next to your window mind-controlling you to jump out of the balcony, well, mommy and daddy are now gonna know.
If you ended up checking out your best friend’s girlfriends tonsils while both sporting an enviable ethanol blood levels, well, they are gonna know as well. If you, as aforementioned, spray-shat a wall once upon a time, that shall, too, be described in minute details, and those people who up until that point deemed you a highly intelligent future of the scientific research are now gonna know they have been raising a demon.
11. If ANY of the details get lost in the mayhem, don’t worry - numerous amount of photocopies of your own Papiro will be glued all over the city walls, in strategic places like RIGHT in front of your university building where you most likely still have to show your shining face a couple of times, or your favourite cafe or your street. Moreover, every single participant of your party of shame will be handed their personal copy for proofreading-on-the-spot purposes.
12. After the reading is done, let the games begin. The games, together with Papiro - have all been engineered by your friends - and the rule says they must be pertinent to your field of study. After being trashed and wasted, you are now to prove you are a real expert in your field.
My master thesis was in bladder cancer research and chemotherapy development, so my own task was to wear a lab coat, approach the people on the street my executioners have picked out on the spot - and calculate the probability they had of encountering bladder cancer later in their life - by merely measuring the width, length and consistency of their asses - using my own hands as a measuring instrument. I even got to palpate a cop. My flatmate graduated in Molecular Biology and her research field was genetics; she got an unlabelled test tube filled with liquid soap, that she then needed to present to random dudes passing on the street and ask them if they recognise the specimen - as she was running some paternity tests and had no idea whose sperm that was. Another friend - a freshly-baked economist - was selling turd cakes to people. Rock hard turds.
A visual corpus delicti of diagnostic palpation mission involving forces of law and order as test subjects.
At some point, you will certainly end up spilling your gastric contents either from the front end or from both ends, depending on your overall level of intoxication. The question is only will it happen before or after the banquet you will attend with your torturers.
The best part is, though - once you’re done you’re done. And if you are smart enough and lucky enough to graduate in the early term, it means you can take your revenge on all of the people involved in your own misfortune in the upcoming months.
Therefore - take care, as some things you do on others may backlash at you - Filippo, a dear friend of mine and a master organiser of several Laureas ended up duct-taped to a tree (goodbye body hair). Five seconds and an electric razor later, he got the haircut of his dreams. His lovely, fluffy, perfect curls were sacrificed in their totality.
Another dear friend got his groin waxed with the aforementioned supermarket wax stripes. The girls had mercy on him and did a quick job - however, the boys decided that his red, pulsing skin needed some vinegar on it in order to heal better.
My Biotechnology Twin Brother: born on the same day, graduated both Bachelor and Masters on the same day, started PhDs in same field within the same month; we are both research scientists now. Just he does it in the lab, I do it on the stage.
Sounds rough? Oh well. You get to do it once in your life. Or twice, if you take a masters after a bachelor. However, you survive.
If this was enough to make you doubt the veridicality of my stories, feel free to contact my other whole aka my Steuerberater and my partner in life and crime, for he will confirm you all of this and more.
His incredulity died forever during his first visit to Padova. It was late November, the first winter term. We were merrily walking down the Piovego river nearby the Engineering and Biology departments. The riverside is flanked by a row of old, thick oaks. In front of every single tree, there was a poor soul getting introduced into the neo-laurate tradition.
We passed a few of the unfortunate beings and reached a jolly group of people with their victim sporting a traditional orthodox jewish hat and a long pair of curly whiskers, a torn concentration camp uniform and a number written on his arm. A rather large dead fish was hanging from his neck.
His friends and family - all of them Jewish, of course - were inflicting a punishment by whipping. As we passed them by, my horrified darling asked me if that was a KZ lager number and a dead fish on his neck, to which I replied yes, indeed he was seeing it right.
A few seconds later, the entire group started yelling: “E’ tedesco e’ tedesco!!! Portatelo qui che lo deve punire lui!!” - and we heard some hurried steps right behind us.
My stunned companion asked me what was up, to which I just told him: “Keep on walking and for the love of God do not turn around. They heard you speaking German (and you’re 1.93 cm tall and skinny and pale and blond and blue eyed in damn Italy) and now they want you to go there and punish the guy.” The expression of utter horror on his face was priceless. If only I could extract that image out of my minds eye and post it here for you.
Still in disbelief? My own pics and vids don’t render the idea? Dove che ghe vole fati, no basta le parole. Go there and see for yourself, then. Chi va per el mondo tuto vede, e chi sta a casa no lo crede.
(Find yourself a Veneto friend if you wanna understand these last few phrases. I have no intention of translating
ps. As you can see, I still own that unforgettable piece of my personal fashion history. The one on the right is from this morning in my kitchen. The gravitational force is directly proportional to mass, this is why there is no effect on my boobs (or ass for that matter) in over a decade. Thanks, mom.