Stefano Testa – Memories of a forgotten river

618

While I peacefully flow down the green valley through gentle bends and sparkling bounces,
beeches with their grey trunks where lichens live and, further down, old Monte Cavallo chestnut trees with their twisted branches are my pleasant and silent companions.
My course never changes, but, for me, this is neither a reason to get bored either when the winter storm slightly dulls my thoughts nor when the pressing summer heat drains them.
I always have many secret things to pick up and carry with me, like childish memories: a roundish maple leaf, a chestnut bitten by a squirrel, an ash branch shaped in such a curious way as to frighten the shy bud and make it hide under the musky stone. These are welcome diversions for a forgotten river, I know.
These days I rarely meet the sentimental fisherman’s boots, among my rocks and my pools, they hardly ever come up here to look, like ancient warriors, for the black trout, the only one that with its sudden wriggles is still able to give satisfaction deriving from the timeless-competition between strength and cunning.
Otherwise, I flow solitarily and calmly: I faithfully reflect my valley’s blue couloured sky and the buzzard’s flight; sparkling and restless, I flow past old falls now ruined, I lazily lie down for a short moment along the small Fonti’s plain where the shadowy alders branches and the prickly locust-trees greet me, before I finally go down Porretta’s roofs that still like to be reflected in my ripply waters.
I’m enraptured by the smell of freshly baked bread under the bridge of sighs, I kindly peep at domestic misteries throught the windows behind the square and, afterwards, I softly pass among dumb ducks and curious geese and I flow into my older brother Reno and embrace it. That’s where a completely different journey starts.
Nevertheless, things have not always been this way. Once I was an outgoing river and, everynow and then, let me say it, I was almost fashionable.
As soon as the obstinate month of June sun began to heat my smooth and round stones, during the long days when the curved wall of the fifth fall enjoyed burning the pale winter feet, when the tadpoles had finally seen their toad legs come out and they proudly left the sheltered puddles and melted into the wild world, many of your ancestors came and visited me. I was so happy!
They used to wear a country-style headgear made of burdock leaves and, most frequently, modest underpants instead of decorous bathing suits.
At the beginning, they worked hard: groups of kids who followed the wise orders of the elder and more experienced ones, took care of cleaning puddles from branches, bumbe bees, sharp glasses so that they would be deeper and more secure to tread upon.
They would build walkways and small dams with alders and poplar branches and the shadowy and unwelcome leaves were cut off with a knife.
At the end, everything was in such order that it looked like a garden.
And then, when the summer was at its top, everybody finally arrived: noisy families with the crescenza cheese and the sour wine in their picnic baskets covered with red-and-white checked napkins; the grumpy old people who sat on their straw-bottom chairs while shaking, from time to time, their white-haired head; besotted lovers who went down to the river, holding hands, after engraving their oath on the smooth ash trunk; children, snotty and brave sailors riding the black truck tyres.
I witnessed summer loves being born at the sound of portable record-players, marriages and betrayls; I saw the bigheaded diver from Livorno with its white cap trying a swan dive where there was hardly any water and the mocking laughs of the mountain bathers; I saw the water snake being captured and skinned by wicked teenagers.
In those days, I could even bear seeing my ususally perfectly emerald green water, becoming brown and muddy because of all that twirling and drunk shuffle of thousands of feet on my sandy bottom.
Gosh! That was real fun!
But if somebody asked me to remember only one thing of that innocent golden age, if I had to carry with me a single memory of my past happiness, during my usual travel to Bellocchio Tower as far as to the sea, I would have no doubts: my memory would certainely go to the night of July 63.
It was a clear new moon night.
Stars were shining on my silver waters in absolute darkness, so silently and forcefully that they would fill one with fear.
On the walkway, the thoughtful barn owl was on alert while measuring the universe coordinates; meanwhile, the field mouse quickly hid under the trunk of the old poplar that had fallen down.
Every single being was sleeping: the golden roaches in their secret holes, the small black-birds in their nests on the hawthorn, the vain pheasant in the brambles bush.
I suddenly heard kids’ voices, excited and frightened.
They climbed up to the high massive wall of the fifth fall and one of them lightened the corner of the wall with an electric torch.
Underneath, the water was deep and dark.
Laughing and screaming with fright, one after the other they ran and jumped down into the darkness lit by millions of fireflies.
That was the happiest moment in their entire lives, I’m sure.
For that matter, the same was in mine, in the poor life of Rio Maggiore.

Translation by Paola Roveda (edited by Sabrina Macchi)