Suddenly, anticipated only by a crescendo of silence, Grandpa Amedeo materialized from the back door of the kitchen. He came from his stanzino (his little shop in the basement in Montopoli, Tuscany.) He swiftly crossed the kitchen, a quick and quiet appearance in the dining room, totally ignoring every human being different from himself, jumped out of the door, slid away, disappeared… He went to fare una passeggiata. (To take a stroll.) Nobody knows where he goes, but we know for certain that his mind is already miles and miles away, before he leaves the house.
Grandma, with a loving yet skeptical flair: “Non vi preoccupate, tra un po ritorna con qualche pazza idea…” (Do not worry everybody; he’ll be back soon with one of his new crazy ideas…”)
In Italy one is seldom alone. Italians are extremely social and want to share everything with everybody. At times, one seeks some solitude because the human being needs some time with only him- or herself. Wait a minute! I said “solitude.” I didn’t say “loneliness.” “Language has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain and fear of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” (Paul Tillich). Often, one goes for a stroll because of the need to reflect on something. It is a re-creation of oneself. The meaning of taking a stroll and the word solitude and the word creativity are strictly associated. I wouldn’t say that in Italy everyone is an artist, no! But there is a horde of individuals that, on a daily basis, comes up with something new. In comparison with other people, Italians are not buyers, Italians are makers; they have a penchant for making, they just can’t help it. They make a shelf, a new door for the cabinet and they create a new, more comfortable bicycle seat. They make pasta or pizza at home, they make homemade jam, they bake their own Sunday cake, they make their wine, they grow vegetables, they make a new pair of pants, and so forth… All together, they come up with something that, on a daily basis, little by little, widens their spectrum of knowledge. It’s a giant human wave that proceeds forward on the path of knowledge. And, believe it or not, this incessant process has a lot to do with being in the company of just him- or herself. It has a lot to do with walking the path of solitude.
The need for creativity mirrors the Italian economic tapestry. Italy’s economy is underpinned by a plethora of medium-small businesses. Commonly, each business employs just a handful of workers. Single family owned businesses are innumerable. None of those companies makes a huge difference individually. It’s rather the “all things considered” that makes the difference; it’s “the whole [that] is different from the sum of its parts” (Aristotle) that creates the big shift; it is the whole that is bigger than the sum of its addends: A collective action of growth… It’s a collective unconscious that prompts a collective surge of creativity. Meanwhile, everyone walks… walks… walks… The sum of countless steps, mile after mile, determines the far-reaching, global growth… a giant stroll that all the Italians walk on a daily basis.
The apparent sluggishness of one who walks around is quite different than any embodiment of pointless indolence. As a matter of fact “doing nothing” plays a paramount role in the creative process. “Il dolce far niente” is an Italian expression. It means “The sweetness of doing nothing.” Sometimes, yes, Italians do nothing. It’s a sweet pleasure. The pleasure of doing nothing is actually doing something. It’s waiting. Part of the creative process is “waiting,” indeed. Lingering around is a form of constructive persistence, to be confused neither with laziness nor with passivity. It’s an active relaxation, aimed at hearing the answer when the answer flashes up into one’s mind; it’s the alacrity to see whatever can be caught within a sort of immaterial visual field along one’s unconscious paths. It’s the predisposition, the availability to discern new forms. It is… sensibility. It’s not that the creation doesn’t exist before it sees the light. It does; but nobody knows it. The artist doesn’t know it either, but he knows about it. He feels that something is going on. The artist perceives the creation first; then he conceives it. In those moments, the creation is just waiting to be unveiled; it’s just about to be discovered. The artist feels something; but, guess what, he is afraid. That’s why he lets the creation hide behind his fears and doubts. The artist knows that those steps towards a higher level of knowledge are going to alter the status quo. The unknown is sinister and it needs to be approached prudently. Waiting, hesitating are crucial steps in preparing the mood to the move that will determine a substantial change. In those crucial moments, the artist personifies the relationship between fear and escape from fear.
“I was afraid, now I know; I feel relieved. I got it out! I extracted it from the secrecy of my unconscious,” the artist says. “The unknown… now I know the unknown! Now I get to know the creation that I held in for so long.” It’s the embrace of the artist with the product of his unconscious. It’s like the love that one knew that existed and just needed to be confessed. At this point in time during the genesis of the creation some solitude is condition sine qua non to experience the crucial moments of fragile and vulnerable sensibility. Walking in solitude is a cozy nest for that sensibility… “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
By the way, Grandpa is back from his walk. I’m here, in his stanzino. He always goes straight to the stanzino before going anywhere else, before talking to anybody, when he returns home after a walk. He needs to “nail down” the result of his solitude.
I will never forget the afternoon when my grandpa sold his house (and his stanzino) to the neighboring Puccioni family, owner of the adjacent Quattro Gigli Restaurant-Hotel. Grandpa was sick with cancer and he knew he would pass away any moment. He wanted to sell his home only to that family because “If I sell it to the Puccioni’s I will own my home forever, I know that they won’t change anything, they will respect what I have done; my family members can come to see me here, in the restaurant, any time they want.” Today the stanzino is not his shop anymore. Today it is the wine cellar where Luigi and Fulvia Puccioni store thousands of bottles of wine, and it has become part of the restaurant. Yet, every family member and several close friends who saw this room before wouldn’t hesitate to admit that: “This is Amedeo’s workshop.” If you ask Luigi where he keeps the wine, he would say in response “We keep the wine in the stanzino of Amedeo.” Grandpa Amedeo will always be here with his creations: Shelves made of bricks, door handles, metal locks, his desk, his tools, his barrels… Everything, not only is Amedeo’s; indeed, it is Amedeo.
“Where are you going?”
“I am going to Amedeo!”
It’s him, his thoughts; his creativity… The stanzino is the result of his passeggiate and of his solitude. That little, darkish room is him. He harnessed his solitude, here. He explored himself being with himself, here.
I know where I can find you, any time I want to talk to you, grandpa! I just need to come here, have a wonderful dinner, right on the spot where I used to play with my toys and “disturb” you while you were working, when I was a little child: I always wanted to be around you, remember? Tonight, the very same spot is my table, there is candlelight, there are stars, music comes and goes, and there is the night. And I’m here with someone very special, Jenna, talking to her about you; I can still hear your voice, in your creations, while we’re having dinner. Maybe you were not an artist like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. But thank God you had many crazy ideas, by virtue of which you are not dead yet, you are still here, with us, to inspire me more and more. Thank you Nonno, for being such a great man. I love you!
Click on this link to see the slide show of the Stanzino, the way it looks today, the way it looked thirty and more years ago. The man in the picture is Luigi with his son. Use the button Prev and Next to see slide show: