Today is a special day. As I get out of the taxi, this thought takes my breath away, just like the scalding air welcoming me to Forte dei Marmi in this sun-drenched August. Forty years have passed. I’ve been detached from my town and my childhood for so long. Now I’ve returned, ready to take back them both.
From memory, I arrive at the Fortino. Under its shadow, I ate focaccine from the famous Valè bakery. I look around now as a grown man, who knows the whole history here. The Fortino was commissioned by the illustrious Grand Duke, Pietro Leopoldo I of Habsburg-Lorraine, on the same road as the warehouse, which held marbles dragged by oxen all the way to the sea. It was designed to protect the small fisherman’s village and ended up changing its name as well: from Magazzino to Forte dei Marmi (literally translated as “Marble fort.”)
I continue, arriving in Piazza Marconi, the pony square. Viewed from on high, it looks like an asphalt ring with a green heart, soft and undulated by the fronds of pine trees. But if you arrive there on foot, it’s small, dense, a rounded pine forest where the trees stand tall and dauntless. I suddenly remember my own tears as a child, the time I used up all my turns on the buggy of my favorite pony. I think back to my imploring eyes, in front of my parents’ unmoved faces, the time when “no” meant no for good. Time has left its mark. The games were moved elsewhere and the ponies aren’t yet here: it’s too hot. They’ll arrive once the air is a bit more tepid. Nostalgia kicks in and the memories start flooding my mind, one right after the other, like stones coming down from a gorge. Did I do the right thing by coming back? The answer comes to me with the sound of the ponies’ hooves. Seeing them, rediscovering the sensations of that time only takes an instant. Yes, I did the right thing.
The next destination on this jaunt back in time is the sea. First, I find the jetty. It’s a stripe in the water. Beyond it, infinity; but if you turn around, you’ll see the mountains. Majestic and proud, the jetty stands out among the waves, which beat against the poles of the structure, the second soul of the town. Mussels have always congregated here—called “muscoli” in Forte dei Marmi—like those used by the men who built it in 1877. Long wooden beams cut through by tracks, used by wagons loaded with marble sculptures carved out of the mountains. It was a slow, tiring journey, fraught with sweat and blood. This is no longer the case today. Summer after summer, the pier has watched love blossom, children grow, and adults age. The beach has remained the same: long and golden. In the early twentieth century, it charmed various artists and poets, who consecrated it for future generations.
I close out my nostalgic tour with an enormous cup of gelato in a bar downtown. To tell the truth, everything seemed better when I was little, but the custard with a dense, dark chocolate, stuffed with specks of nuts, isn’t half bad. Maybe next year, I’ll skip the low cost trips and come back, almost like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable.