A sea to navigate by sight

My passion for the seas and the islands has led me to love Umbria a lot. This is how I define that landscape: a sea that opens before the portico of the house where I live. This is what I told myself flying over the region by helicopter for a film. And this is how anyone can see it, by taking a secondary road to the top of a shady hill or the tower of one of its castles. From up there, you will have before you a green sea, with particular highlights that are always different in its gentle relaxation until it blends with the sky.

Its islands emerge, protruding bumps on the landscape (calling them mountains would be a bit much) and all together, there are so many that they form a large archipelago. That’s what they look like: very similar to one another and at the same time each with its own precise features, an identity that is unmistakable even when minimal.

“My” island faces others that are so close that you can hear the bell of one their churches when it tolls. It’s a different echo from the one that reaches me from the town on the opposite hill.

There are many different nuances. For example, when I go to the square to buy bread or a newspaper, I reach the square of that town rather than another and immediately I find the typical characteristic of an archipelago, identity-diversity. The square where I dock is not different from the one where I land every day (the same simple architecture, the same warm colour of terra cotta and brick), but here the space is perfectly square, while there it is oval. Here the balcony on the valley below is shaded by a row of age-old cypress trees; while, there, it is a portico covered with tiles. It may be that in this town, the olive oil is different from that produced in “mine”, perhaps because of the different experiences of the person operating the mill: this one works hot while that one works cold.

Certainly there are also many other, more important differences between one Umbrian island and another. Here, a fresco by Perugino is offered to those who admire him as a king of Italian painting. There, they carry a reliquary in procession made of silver, gold and translucent enamel, a work unique of form and colour. There, in that square the bands of Umbria Jazz play, and in the other, a great conductor directs a famous classical orchestra.

Anyone who is preparing to navigate in the sea of Umbria and islands can find exhaustive notes about these infinite, diverse, great and unpredictable cultural, culinary and meteorological offerings and the route for finding them by reading a good guide (sorry, I meant to say navigation chart).

I make just one suggestion: it’s better to navigate by sight. You have to have the courage to let go of the paved road and take a dirt road, even if, at times, it seems almost impassable and you’ll have to suffer the potholes and rocks. But you’ll have no regrets because you’ll finally get to that little group of houses buried among the olive trees and from up there you will suddenly realize that a gust of wind in the valley below has suddenly turned the green sea silver; as happens to those who sail the high seas when they come across a mistral wind and see the crests of the waves white with foam.

Or, from that high point on the landscape, you can see the octagonal shape of a tower or the fretwork top of a cathedral rising from the skyline.

Foto di Michele Tortoioli - www.regione.umbria.it

In this case, it could be Orvieto’s, beneath which my wife Anna and I often pause in awe. One day we found ourselves looking at it next to a very refined art critic friend, Cesare Brandi. He watched the cathedral, gilded by the last light of the day, for a long time without saying anything but then he wrote several moving lines for the film I’m making: “That facade is the most beautiful in Italy. Immense, as small as a sculpted miniature, like a page that you can’t turn, you watch endlessly and something melts inside you, in silence, like a communion”.

Folco Quilici

24 January 2019 Folco Quilici

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