Traveling alone and without a clear destination, I arrived at the Monastery of S. Viviana, once a peaceful place, now a crude battleground where Pisans and Lucchesi faced off. The fight for authority went on for years; those hills first saw Pisa triumph, and then watched it get defeated by Lucca. Today the monastery is known as the “Castellaccio” and the Aquila Tower is colloquially called the “torre segata,” or “failed tower”….they stand there, almost derisive witnesses to varied periods of history in these places. As I move along, I come upon the sanctuary of S. Maria in Castello - tall but lacking in arrogance, dominating Vecchiana amid wild orchids and perched on a spur of rock. Here, the winds tell stories of travelers and a cave—the “bua dello Scrocci.” Going down the slope, I see a vertical crevice in the stone; you can walk through a long stretch of it, noting bat colonies above, creatures that view the world only upward, indifferent to those passing through below. Then the height decreases and you have to continue on all fours. It’s from this point that they say the place’s population never returned.
Forced to pause, I stopped and taught in a school for some time. “Good morning kids.” “Good morning.” “Who’s missing this morning at roll call?" "Oh, Tabucchi’s absent again.” Better known as Antonino della Riesa, the town’s midwife and of Adamo, the barista of the “grubbe,” at the corner of Piazza Garibaldi. How does he spend his days, this boy? He’s been confined to his bed for a long time due to an accident. Antonio, passionate about art and reading, upholds virtues and reads for pleasure. His mind and imagination travel to never-before-seen places, which will later push him to leave behind his Vecchiano to explore Europe. In Paris he discovers Pessoa and his Portugal completely by chance, on a bench – he falls in love with this Portugal and will go on to spend much of his life there. In Vecchiano, then, one of the great literary scholars of the century was born: his style and civic commitments distinguished him. He retold the past as a warning for the present and became a “man of the world”, beloved around the world and by everyone who moves through the places he explored.
I took off again from here, moving forward toward the green, led by the scent of pine trees and the sounds of the sea. I walked along quickly, as if trying to escape my own shadow, the only witness to my shifts in mood, forcing it to run or to slow down based on my state of being. It wasn’t fear, but a curious courage that anticipated my steps. At the opening of a particular space, immersed in the yellow of sunflowers, I understood that my own “elsewhere” was there, at the end. Nimble and quick, with the salty air on my face, the wind knotted up my hair and dissolved all my thoughts. The calming effect of this place touched me deep in my soul. Choosing between land, water, air and fire wasn’t necessary; a gust of the northwest wind took away all my heavy memories, a burden set aside and never forgotten. I had reached the end of my brief but intense journey, only to return to the place that I’d left lovingly: the sea!