From Finale Ligure, I take the road for the town of Calice and follow the hairpin turns among the vineyards and olive groves.
The road now becomes tight and winding to the end of a small valley, a secret valley between walls of white limestone which jut out dizzyingly for hundreds of metres towards the azure, almost blue, sky.
I leave the car and welcome the familiar embrace of my backpack on my shoulders.
I cross a group of stone houses. They are silent, immersed in the intense perfume of the aromatic plants. The path, steep and shaded, twists and turns into a dense evergreen oaks wood; the trees have rough bark and leaves which are leathery from the sun and sea wind.
I open the backpack and put on my headlamp.
I remember those days many years ago, when I was fifteen years old, when this place taught me that adventure doesn’t only exist in books. To enter the grotto, that time, I was lowered in on a rope, hanging like a spider on a web. Today, however, I’ll go in from another entrance, from below, from another grotto which, like the giant mouth of a whale, opens wide from the side of the mountain.
I turn on the light and enter the darkness, then I climb an easy part of rock, walk along a short path suspend in the nothingness and squeeze myself into a pipe which, similar to the drain of a huge sink, points upwards, towards the light which, from up there, like a blade, cuts into the darkness.
The Grotta dell’Edera is a truly different cave. I need to take off my backpack to pass. I slide in, find a handhold, wriggle along the tunnel a bit and come out. Out into the cave above.
I stretch out my hand and lightly touch the Finale stone.
The story of this stone started 20 million years ago, when there was an explosion of life in the sea. Molluscs, echinoderms, madrepores, coral and sharks. Their shells and skeletons together with sand formed strong layers.
Then my hand stops, it has found something sharp, I look and smile. A shark’s tooth. I raise my head and look up. I smile again, I was fifteen, but the memory is still clear.
Sometimes it happens, I tell myself, that thrill of vertigo, sediments in the memory like this stone, moments in life. Sometimes it happens, I tell myself.
Text and images by Eugenio Gardella for the Officina Letteraria, Genoa