Or maybe, I don’t know, it’s the very absence of mountains; this unending horizon wherever you look. The physical geography of Amsterdam is so different from my own interior landscape. Do the spaces we inhabited as children determine the contours of our soul?
I grew up in a seaside town ringed by mountains. When I was five, I was convinced I’d understood how the world worked: I could see Monte Cuccio silhouetted against the sky from our balcony, with a little house on top – years later I discovered it was a power relay station, not a house, but fortunately adult realities were of no interest to me at that age.
My personal scientific theory was that the sun rose from Monte Cuccio and came to warm the town; when it got tired it went to sleep behind the mountain, entrusting night with the task of watching over us. When I grow up I’ll live in that little house on the slopes of the mountain, I’d promise myself. It will be my realm and my refuge. When I wanted to play I would go to the sun-kissed slope, and when I felt sleepy, I’d lie down on the grass on the other side, together with the sun. I knew the rules of reality, and nothing could hurt me. I’d buy a fast yellow car for Papa and a beautiful thornless flower for Mamma, and I’d give my little brother Giuseppe a leather soccer ball. If only I could go and live there, all my desires would come true. I’d be king of the world.
But the days went by and Monte Cuccio remained distant; I never climbed it, and the doors of the little house stayed closed, and I never went to live there. I think that was when the mountain became an integral part of my inner geography. That was how I – the son of a seaside town – began to visualise my problems: as mountains, hard and solid. My anxieties, my fears and my worries were mountains; summits to be conquered so I could overcome and leave them behind.
Here in Amsterdam there are no mountains, and sunlight must dilute itself over an endless open distance. So what is the symbol that has forged their vision of things? It is easily found, for it is even more a part of me than the mountains: the sea, dominating the scene at the port; and water, everywhere, in the canals running through the city’s anatomy like veins. I just have to close my eyes to hear the sound of water flowing. The sound of home. The vast expanse of the sea entices us to travel; it sparks our curiosity, feeds our imagination. Here, in this country of sailors and traders, it was the sea that forced people to confront reality. To set sail to discover where the sun goes to sleep, beyond the horizon.
Enia’s blogs are translated from Italian by Lakshmi Ramakrishnan Iyer.
My anxieties, my fears and my worries were mountains; summits to be conquered so I could overcome and leave them behind.