A family day with the idea of taking a trip out-of-town. But if you open the windows in the morning and are faced with a grey sky and trees shaking in the wind… what do you do? If you’re lucky enough to be in Liguria you can always play the ‘trip to a hamlet’ card. It isn’t a picnic on the grass with eggs and salami but it’ll do all the same!
And it is with this spirit that I put my hesitant husband, two slightly unenthusiastic kids and the camera in the car and set off towards the fascinating Bussana Vecchia which, I’m sure, will help me to convince everyone that it can still be a lovely day, even without a warm sun and blue skies. A few kilometres of uphill road and already the view from the gulf of Sanremo shows me I’m right.
It is the fantasy of people left free to let off steam, to create beauty out of things which, for many, are ugly, old and useless.
As soon as the children realise they are free to frolic up and down fields, little streets and stone courtyards, free from the usual phrases such as “give me your hand” or “be careful of the cars”, they break out in smiles and disappear: let the exploration commence!
A few steps and I dive into the past. I remember stories from my parents, tales from that day long gone, the 23rd February 1887, when the earth quaked and the medieval hamlet of Bussana was destroyed; of how nature took over the abandoned village, covering it in dense vegetation and softening the ruins; of the group of slightly crazy artists who, in the ‘60s, brought back life, colour and art at the top of this hill which had for some time been forgotten.
I also remember my grandfather Attilo (the artist of the family) who, after visiting Bussana many years ago, was so taken aback that he painted it on one, two, ten, twenty canvases. I must remember to go and look for them in the attic.
Meanwhile the climb to the top of the hill continues, the children call out to me “Come and see Mummy, hurry!”
“What is it?”. It is the fantasy of people left free to let off steam, to create beauty out of things which, for many, are ugly, old and useless. And so, thanks to this fantastic gift, an old van becomes a character worthy of a Lyman Frank Baum novel, a coffee maker becomes a vase of flowers and an old earthquake-stricken village becomes the meeting place for people from all over the world who want to free their creativity, to be together without needing to conform and to colour the lives of those who want to enter their fantastic world for a few minutes.
I have visited Bussana Vecchia many times and have learnt one thing: you never know exactly what you’ll find awaiting you. In fact, even on this occasion, I have found many different, pleasant surprises. The first is an improvised party, an old record player, some bottles of wine and a grill which lets off a delicious aroma, two benches and a table, a goat, two geese and a courtyard full of colours. What more could you need?
The second surprise is a bar, right in front of the parish church which majestically dominates the square: a jazz club, without doors or shutters but with a rope which closes the entrance, attached to the wall with two coloured corks, which helps you understand what life means in this place: no chains, no walls, just respect. From inside come happy notes and I get the impression that soon the place will be full of people at tables, waiters with trays of wine and appetisers, a jazz trio and a singer with and deep, strong voice. But meanwhile I’ve already been taken away by a small hand which pulls me towards an uphill climb – “Run Mum run! Look who it is!” – and we meet her, a white chicken which displays the same movements and affection of a puppy! It doesn’t only greet us, but takes us to see her house, a courtyard with a coloured gate and a chicken coop made out of an old doll’s house. What can I say? I’m ecstatic!
After goodbyes to our feathered friend, we go down the hill via the narrow alleyways between the houses and artists workshops, until the most amazing of today’s surprises! Three rooms in a restored house have become a miniature city and house one of the longest model railways in Italy. Tunnels, bridges, stations, transporters and passenger trains, cars, houses and schools, trees and waterfalls, all perfectly finished in the tiniest detail, and when I hear the clatter of the locomotive I’m so surprised I shriek “The train is coming, the train is coming!” like a child who has just seen one for the first time in her life! I can’t do anything else but applaud the volunteers who have created everything, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for their passion which, for a moment, also became mine.
And with smiles stamped on our faces all four of us return to the car, not before having tasted an aperitivo at the bar in the square and having bought a few mementos from local artists, satisfied for having succeeded in enlivening a day which seemed grey, with the glee of the Artists’ Village.