Fuori Luogo in Asti: 24th March
It’s a beautiful, light-filled morning when I arrive in Asti. I’ve been a guest of the Fuori Luogo Festival once before, when it was held in the tranquil surroundings of San Damiano.
This time, though, the Festival has relocated to a newly-renovated building in the city of Asti itself, very close to the Palace of Justice.
It is a wonderful space: one that can accommodate more than a hundred people seated and that also offers opportunities for ‘co-working’ on the spacious floor upstairs. Individuals from disparate worlds of work come together to share the very pleasant surroundings – a perfect meeting place for the social and the professional.
More than an arts centre, Fuori Luogo is, in fact, a vibrant working community. People drop in for coffee or lunch during the day and there is a sense of a building that is completely sure of its place and its own identity.
At the invitation of Marco Ferrero, I took part in an event on Saturday evening 24th March to discuss my latest novel in translation, Come cade la luce. It was lovely to have such a full house and once again, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Noemi Cuffia.
We were in the very capable hands of Barbara Zanotti, who translated our conversation with such ease and professionalism that the audience congratulated her afterwards.
My warmest thanks to both – it was a most enjoyable evening – made even more enjoyable by the opportunity to connect once again with old friends!
As always, I took the opportunity to walk around the city – this time on Saturday morning, before the event at Fuori Luogo. The weather reminded me of home: the rain was relentless. Nonetheless, Asti worked its charm.
It’s a compact city, with some 76,000 people living there. Dating from medieval times, the streets are narrow and cluster around several squares.
Every year, the Palio Astese takes place in Piazza Alfieri, named to commemmorate Vittorio Alfieri, one of Italy’s foremost dramatists and poets of the eighteenth century. His motto was ‘Volli, sempre volli fortissimamente volli’ – which I understand to mean the fierceness of his passion for and his dedication to his writing: and his longing for solitude in order to pursue it.
Most writers can still identify with that today…
The Palio takes place every September just as it has done since the thirteenth century. The festival culminates in horses galloping at breakneck speed around the piazza, their riders wearing the colours of the different city wards, as in its neighbouring Siena.
Asti – its name derived from the Ligurian ‘Ast’, meaning ‘hill’ – was enormously wealthy and influential during the Middle Ages. The banking and commerce that went on there made it one of the most important towns in the region, with financial networks that spread throughout France, Flanders and England.
Wealthy families built towers alongside their palazzo, and the city was once known as the ‘City of One Hundred Towers’ – in the 17th century there were an estimated 125 of them, though today only a few survive.
An advertisement for an exhibition caught my eye and I visited the Fondazione Palazzo Mazzetti in Corso Alfieri.
Domenico Quirico, an Italian journalist, has documented the devastation visited upon the city of Aleppo and his exhibition is a very moving experience.
From a sophisticated, historically-rich city, his photographs show the destruction – not just of the physical fabric of that city, but of an entire way of life.
As you enter the exhibition space, there is the sound of the constant bombardment that the citizens of Aleppo endure on a daily basis. There is a collection of shoes at one point – a sad acknowledgement of the lives of mostly women and children that were taken as they queued for bread.
A particularly poignant black and white photograph shows an old woman struggling home through the wreckage of the streets, clutching what food she has been able to find in a white plastic bag.
Children collect firewood. Quirico’s ‘before and after’ photographs show a glossy shopping precinct in Aleppo, now a wasteland. The mosque, the plaza with the fountain, the once-orderly, busy city streets: all gone.
One Syrian man, asked why he doesn’t just leave, replies: ‘There is no suitcase big enough to contain my soul, my friendships, the marvellous heart of my native city. How can I take those with me?’
The exhibition runs until the 20th May. Even if you can’t go, visit the website.
To ‘photograph’ is to ‘write with light’.
Domenico Quirico has written an extraordinary narrative, one that illuminates the darkness.