Two Steps from Heaven
by Paolo Aramini
«The mountains are silent masters that make silent disciples», wrote Goethe. Inflexible masters who evoke the mysteries and torments of silence in the soul of those who listen to them. Ancestral places where earth and sky unite, where verticality merges with mass, with the heaviness of the earth. Stone cathedrals and memories where the caducity of the land enlenìvens in contact with heaven.
The Altopiano di Chiavano is nothing more than the rock bridge that still preserves the relationship between earth and sky, the stage of an ancient amphitheater whose audiences are lost among the mosaics of clouds.
It is as if a painter’s brush had lingered on this part of the Valnerina by drawing the skyline of countries and countryside in which the human being promptly crept in. But never nature has lent itself docile to the intervention of man: small funds taken from the mountain, improvised pastures and uneven tracts that, losing themselves in the heart of the plateau, seem to remind those who observe them that here Nature always manifests itself according to Leopardi’s ideal: mother and stepmother, double face of the same coin. Modeled by the human labors to assume an almost human profile, the countryside appears composed, almost asleep, in a vortex of pastel colors and shadow games, in a chromatic progress much more similar to the landscapes of ancient Scotland than to the typical hilly environment of Umbria.
In times of ruinous loss of cultural identity, the Chiavano Plateau jealously preserves dusty reminiscences of a still alive folk tradition, which resists stoically with the disappearance of its earliest treasurers. A popular tradition considered as the summary of many lives, capable of mysteriously interpenetrating the meaning of things, even the most common. Near the junction point of the ancient Roman road system rises Coronella, a town that owes its name to the marble column used by the Romans as a reference in the construction of any road system. A ghost town, which appears and disappears behind trees grown in abandoned gardens; a country that lives only on the 15th of August, the day when the church shutters are reopened, on a feast that is as simple as it is felt. The mystery of faith that lives again in improvised processions, in sacred kiosks that indicate the path to follow to the shepherd and the flock by the mountain route, in those climbs that are above all life experiences.
On the scenic backdrop of these peaks, the shadows of the empty and silent dwellings, unarmed in front of the inexorable passing of time, are projected. But it is precisely this silence that leaves space for introspection, a silence that is empty of words, but not emotions. Yet there are plenty of silences and catching the differences is not easy. Some are atrocious: silences of death and chilling loneliness, while others are desired, long awaited or surprisingly unexpected. Eloquent silences in which the principle of non-contradiction also fails. Silences in which fear and courage converge, tears and smiles, questions and answers, coincidentia oppositorum.
The relationship between man and earth
Stormy peaks, but for what they evoke in the soul of those who scrutinize them. And then, the best attitude to be implemented is the one of attention, the one of stopping to contemplate. Because we are not always able to immediately understand the hidden message behind the silence of nature. Ancient figures, almost sinister, inhabit this silent plateau. Gnarled hands and faces dug by sweat, a bitter sweat that finds its reason in the generous fruits of the earth. People used to the tiring mountain life, which rejects the easy idols of so-called progress. And it is in those gnarled hands that the most intimate meaning of this morbid attachment to the earth is to be sought, of this strong devotion to fatigue and work, which is ennobled, but which makes man similar to the beasts. Yet it seems that between the peasants and nature there is an almost mystical relationship, able to break the link with the sacred and mix with the profane to merge as a single stream in the vast ocean of popular tradition. A complex territory that not even its oldest inhabitant knows deep down, a cauldron of traditions, culture and stories whose origins seem to be lost in the mists of time.
A land that exudes popular wisdom, in which the ghosts and memories of a distant past are superimposed, but never forgotten. A glorious past, which has its roots in the splendor of ancient Rome and in the countryside surrounding the small village of Villa San Silvestro, a village of just twenty souls became famous for the presence of a Roman temple probably dedicated to Hercules. The genesis of the hero to whom the temple is dedicated, the result of the carnal union between the terrestrial Alcmena and Jupiter, seems to further strengthen the relationship between this earth and the sky, between matter and the celestial, between what is human and the divine. On the podium of the Roman temple stands the church of the village, in the point where, in a not too distant past, votive choirs were raised aimed at the deities of the Roman pantheon, in a place where a deep fear of the divine dwells.
And it is precisely from Chiavano that begins our journey, from the terrace overlooking this wild land whose children, both in the great deeds and in those daily, have managed to express a value and a passion in some cases almost heroic, that only those who live one step from heaven he manages to show off in the hardest battles, in those superhuman silences that make noise.