From the jetty, Forte dei Marmi looks you straight in the face and weighs you down. He loved going there and lingering, leaving the sights and scents of the Apuan Alps behind him, taking in the boutiques, the local painters. He’d arrive at the small square in the middle of the beach where the asphalt strip ended with a vaguely peaceful finality to it. But going back, seeing the beach again, the scattered pine trees and the long rows of palms at right and left always took his breath away. He could feel above him the gazes of the quarries, up there on high, packed with fearless men, as well as the whole scope of 20th century history that passed right through this area—Montale and before that, Ardengo Soffici or Henry Moore, Giorgio Armani. He thought of his mother, who pointed to Mina from far away, whispering. And of his father, who once took him by the arm just to force him to greet the lawyer Agnelli.
He remembered how the lawyer stood with his feet planted firmly in piazza Marconi, where he would watch the buggies pulled along by those piebald ponies. “We’ll switch these out for some Fiat 600’s!” he’d declare, and everyone would start laughing, his father included. He walked the two hundred meters from the jetty and there they were with their heads bowed, just waiting. To him it seemed like a grave injustice that they were restricted to that same ring, summer after summer. There were no children around, and the owner pretended not to think he was crazy as he paid for a half hour’s ride and took the reins on his own. During the first few rounds he could tell the man was worried, then he calmed down a bit and by the end he had fallen asleep in his chair.
Then the buggy, rather than making its way back to the starting point, deviated in a trot toward via Matteotti, taking in the Liberty-style villas and the beautiful bougainvillea that surrounded them. When that stretch of the jaunt ended, they moved toward via Mazzini and up to Vittoria Apuana they’d come across a couple of cars. The pony panted, but he refused to back down until they reached that splendid plethora of pine trees along viale Canova, and so onward they went, to the left, toward the sea.
Forte dei Marmi doesn’t really trust you all that much. He was convinced that somewhere around here there was another side to all this, a “backstage” portion of the set. At one point he thought it was winter from how empty the city was. He’d returned in November, running like a madman on the highway, just to surprise her. But Forte dei Marmi never lets loose. And so he’d tried in the town apartments, along the highway, in the remaining small houses in the old town. But even there he’d only found nice, laid-back people, sailors on dry land, ready to chat, charmingly surly and yet cheerful.
And even now, as he entered the beach triumphantly, with the pony that pulled and tossed about desperately, sinking its hooves into the sand, he was sure he’d find it here, along the semi-deserted water’s edge. He expected to find someone who’d say: “Okay, here you are, you’ve discovered all there is to know about us.” If he’d had to, he would have continued trotting all the way to Sardinia. But the pony, with its feet stubbornly in the water, wouldn’t move another inch. He watched the waves consume the empty, flat, fine beach. The white buggy seemed to him almost at the point of puncturing it, like an icy lake.
He smiled. This time, once again, we were safe with our secret.