Discover Italy through six narratives told by
senior authors from the Holden School, the creative writing academy founded in Turin by world-renowned
author Alessandro Baricco.
These stories are an exploration of the warmth and diversity that have long defined Italians, and the great innovators who have left a lasting legacy, a trail that illuminates the way forward to this day.
What would you like to do?
“What do you mean?”
“In life, what would you like to do?”
“I don't know.”
“Let's try it this way: what is it that you could do for hours, for days, for your whole life without ever stopping or feeling tired?”
I thought about it for a while that day because it was quite a difficult question. I was a child but old enough to understand its importance. The person speaking to me was wise, experienced and, I realised even then, led a happy life. In other words, one could say he exuded happiness, contentment with the way his life had been and the way it still was.
For an Italian, creativity is the law. It has nothing to do with inventing or improving a system: it is literally a way of being. Italians, wanderers by genome and definition, have built their culture on correcting the course, on taking alternative roads - a propulsive element that, first of all, saved them and then made them identifiable in the world. It is a harsh winter of 1946, meat and coal are still rationed, no one has a car, and yet, never before has there been so much hope and freedom in Italy. Primo, however, lives in poverty: the things he had seen and suffered in the concentration camp burned a hole inside him, he feels closer to the dead than to the living, he almost feels guilty for being human. He writes short, bloody poems and works as a chemist in a large paint factory a few kilometres from Turin.
Italy is a country of heritage. Cultural, artistic and architectural heritage: impossible to avoid when the centre of the world for several centuries was the Mediterranean, and your land (a receptacle of peoples and traditions) is in the midst of it. There's one heritage, however, that Italians carry with particularly great pride: that of Leonardo Da Vinci.
On the first floor of a recently renovated late-nineteenth-century building with frescoed ceilings and a marvellous inner courtyard, there is not a moment of silence. The music stops, then resumes playing. A voice shouts: “Ora da capo”, then says the same in English. Another, more nervous voice says something about the lights. Models walk down a horseshoe-shaped catwalk. They stop, then resume walking - they’re rehearsing. The chairs placed all around, will soon be sat on. Other girls chat in front of mirrors, exposed to the make-up, their hair done up.
Everything that now exists was once imagination. It’s a beautiful phrase and a true one. Perhaps it’s beautiful precisely because it’s true. Before developing any technology, one should imagine the kind of change that this technology will bring about. The wheel and later the engine increased our strength, aerostats and later planes and satellites gave us a bird's eye view to conceive new perspectives and maps, the clock sharpened our sense of time, the book and new forms of communication gave our minds a new shape.
Perhaps it’s the kilometres of coastline, a boundary of dry land that overlooks the sea and delimits Italy on three sides - 7194 kilometres of rivieras and shores in a country that extends to its maximum length of about 1200 kilometres from north to south and its maximum width of about 530 from west to east. Perhaps it’s the fourth edge of the boundary, the Alps, that in 300 B.C. didn’t prevent the elephants of the legendary Hannibal from descending into the plain and surprising the ancient Romans as they were having breakfast.