by Lodovico Alessandri
Aliano is a small village in the province of Matera, walking the line between clay ridges and badlands molded by the wind. The scents and plain misery of this land were crucial ingredients to the grueling backdrop of “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, Carlo Levi’s 1944 memoir about his long exile in the area.
Walking along the ridges of breathtaking cliffs, a surreal feeling of antiquity takes over. In the silence of the badlands, you’ll hear nothing but the sound of your own footsteps, perhaps in synch with a donkey’s hooves on the ground.
Walk around the small city center, and open any one of the rickety doors you’ll find on your way – you will immediately, and magically, find yourself between the pages of Carlo Levi’s masterpiece.
Everything is frozen and crystalized, covered in the dust of old time. Cast iron beds are set against the walls; grottoes are full of oak barrels; cardboard suitcases and felt hats have been abandoned in a rush, under the threat of a menacing ravine.
But the most striking surprise in Aliano is the houses’ mysterious look. They have faces that seem curious, questioning, and sinister, with eyes that reflect a remote, magical symbolism. When you dive into the alleys to eagerly discover old abandoned dwellings, every angle reveals an exoteric message, conveyed by an animistic architecture that watches over the village with careful eye and devilish gaze. From every corner, you feel spied and forewarned. You feel as though you’re entering someone’s hiding place, spying their deepest, darkest secrets.
The great stone arch of a now-collapsed “house with eyes” used to create a gloomy wing, beyond which the gash due to the roof’s falling down allowed the sun to enter – with unparalleled strength – in an alcove that had been preserved for centuries in its sad humbleness.
Two small windows at the sides of the fireplace suddenly appear to be the lazy pupils of a bat’s eyes, looking for shelter under a pair of delicate, somber wings.
To this day, the careful visitor will discover small windows that look like evil little eyes under frowning eyebrows, great open arches like devilish sneers, staircases gnashing broken teeth – making these houses so perfectly grotesque they are bound to fight off any malicious spirit.
This is Aliano, a Parco Letterario® (Literary Landscape) dedicated to Carlo Levi. Like every Parco Letterario®, Aliano is a wonderful creature born out of the insight of Stanislao Nievo.
There are so many unknown places, outside of the major touristic routes, where great authors, poets and writers were born, lived or simply were inspired. Places of which we have moving, vivid descriptions; live stages of heart-rending stories we have read, page after page. These unique, natural theaters are like gems set atop mountains or hidden in forests’ shadows. Most readers will only ever imagine them, engaging in the verses of a lyric or diving in the plot of a novel.
They are places that have been a source of literary inspiration at some point – and where a dormant local identity could be brought back to life by fostering a sense of pride, and by allowing the tourist market to come into the equation.
With enthusiasm and stubbornness, Stanislao de Marsanich has carried on Nievo’s idea by including Parchi Letterari® into Società Dante Alighieri’s network. This has given the project an international quality that allows it to promote precious elements of excellence, tradition and authenticity through a capillary and intense presence throughout the territory.
Rushing through life, in the boredom of daily activities, can make us numb to sounds, colors, perfumes – facets of the world in which we move, work and live, whether we are aware of it or not.
When the old stones of our cities – worn out by time, cracked by ice, corroded by water – will have crumbled to the ground and rolled down to the valleys, it will be too late to complain or cry scandal. Every piece of the puzzle will be gone by then, every memory will have been erased.
It is only by adopting a delicate and respectful attitude – as the Parchi Letterari® project strives to do – that we can find ourselves proud, surprised, and astonished in places where nothing has changed and every object has remained frozen in place, just as it was described in a literary work we’ve appreciated, covered in the authentic dust of time.
Ana at last… certain special houses will have the chance to spy on us again, from the dark fissures of their grim pupils.