The fascination of this place
is not about what there is
but about what is missing.

This is not a cliché.

August 2017

01 August 2017

Fire Fire ...

I know what the destructive force of fire means. I have seen it close-up. It can destroy all in an instant. Not for this however should we give in and lie down.
From north to south our Belpaese is a never-ending fire which has devastating consequences: as well as the woods we ourselves risk going up in flames.
To see Italy burning in the month of July brought back terrrible memories to me. I can never forget those flames which one day on April 1st many years ago destroyed our hotel. I cannot ever forget the face of my mother as she opened our bedroom door and shouted: ‘Fire, Fire’. Neither will I ever forget the voice of my father who gave me a small set of drawers and said: ‘Keep hold of this, it is the only thing which we will have left’. And it was our Dad, Ernesto, who told my brothers and I to jump from the terrace. Fortunately there was a lot of snow beneath and we survived the fall from just a few metres high. I remember too the firemen desperately searching for the hydrants under the snow. Then there were the ambulances passing back and forth. Siren blasts penetrated the cold air around. And it is still crystal clear in my mind and in my eyes the images of people jumping from the higher floors. My mind also turns to the two girls who, up on the fourth floor, decided to look for a way down inside the hotel and did not make it out alive. May they rest in peace and God be with them.
Thousands hectares have been burnt in Italy in the recent devastating fires. Thoughts of those high raging flames create an unease in me which goes beyond the rational. I recall that some days after our own terrible misfortune I accompanied Dad back to the hotel. It was completely burned out and all had been destroyed – that is except for her! Yes, in the middle of the hotel hall was a statue of the Virgin Mary, charred but still intact, still standing. My parents have kept it in a dispay case at their home. It was the statue which protected us and gave the strength to my folks to start again. They started from scratch, without a penny to their name because the insurance company never paid out. It was an infernal fire which struck with brute force, just as has happened in parts of Italy in this last period. As if earthquakes and flash floods were not enough, we now have to do without so many trees and vegetation, and without the robustness of the trees to save us from greater evils of landslides and the like we risk going under, of collapsing totally. From north to south our ‘Belpaese’ seems to be a constatly burning fire and the extent of harm and damage is incalcuable. Not only do the fires rage but we seem helpless when faced with such. We may have the most beatiful country in the world, the most wonderful of art collections, but we also have the largest fleet of Canadair fire planes in the world, flying our skies in a vain attempt to limit the damage that we as experts in self-harm manage to inflict ourselves. The bushfires make life difficult, eat away at our sense of shared and common good, burn our sense of civic pride in a country which has become uncivilised. Arsonist not only in the sense of setting fire to things but devils of destruction wherever one looks – mafia, breeders, hunters, farmers, forestry workers: hundreds and hundreds those reported in all of the country, but only 18 those finished in jail. It is with a great sense of sadnes that I write these words, for as each hectare is burned, as more and more blocks of undignified cement is added to our coastline, as speculative and corrupt business ventures are manipulated in villages, towns and cities across Italy, as more and more indifference grows, any hope not only for a better country, but for a hope to live in a country where legality has something to do with normality, is diminished day by day.  How sad indifference is. Van Gogh commented on the passers-by who continued on their way even when seeing smoke rising from the roof. However bleak the picture is I paint let us show show some courage, courage in the form my parents showed when struck by disaster. I also remember well what happened in June 2000. Our father called we 3 sons to his house. He took a bottle of wine he had set aside, opened it forcefully and with great intent, poured the wine in the assembled glasses and, not without emotion in his voice, declared: “today we have paid the final instalment on the damage caused back in 1975”. They had built things up from nothing and with an amazing and surprising vitality had managed to achieve their goal. I wonder how many persons will have to start again in these days after the hellish days of fire. Yet, despite the despair of tragedy it is worth dragging oneself up and looking forward for life can be good and it is not the case to give in and give up a future. Life at times can seem hard, tiring, and full of despair, but life needs to be shared, to be fuelled with enthusiasm, with love and with shared joy. Let us hope that much needed rain comes soon as the land is suffering and the olive trees in Tuscany are not happy at all.
N.B. They were difficult years after the fire but thanks to a strong family spirit and really outstanding colleagues around us we have been able to do good things. And we have no intention to stop the forward momentum. Our new initiative with gastronomic specialities has just been opened in Bagno Vignoni. Our father Ernesto, a fan of good wine, has not seen it yet. We look forward to greeting him with a bottle of wine ready to open – just as he did for us 18 years ago.

michil costa