top of page

SHORT STORIES SET

A reconciling walk

Platano secolare

Text e photographs by Cristina Archinto

She went out and the door slammed, more due to the draught from the stairs than to any specific will of her own, but that act certainly reflected her state of mind. Suddenly she found herself outside the house with no clear plan or purpose; she was furious. She looked around, upset and undecided as to what to do; she was certainly not in the mood for a museum and lacked the ability to concentrate on learning something.


She crossed the street almost without realizing it, avoiding being run over by mopeds, scooters and bicycles, unbearable in that city. She had already entered through that gate a few days earlier only to stop almost immediately and lighten up in front of works such as Bernini's Rape of Proserpine or Caravaggio's Cut of Lights at the Villa Borghese Museum, but this time she went straight ahead and entered the park.


She walked along a boundary wall where low boxwood hedges and autumn flowers could be seen between steps. As she reached the end, she was attracted to the left by strong autumnal tones of majestic trees. As she approached, she immediately realised that she had arrived in the Platani Valley, a wonderful valley of ancient trees.


Once rural, it was tamed into a garden in 1603 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the favourite nephew of Pope Paul V. At that time it was a forest of more than forty oriental plane trees with a central basin and two small islands intended for the resting place of ducks and fine birds, including swans that the Cardinal had specially brought in from Brussels. Now there were only nine beautiful specimens left, which had survived for more than four hundred years and seemed to look sternly and wisely at you through their twisted branches and trunks.  


He continued along the valley with his gaze upwards, admiring these wonders but also keeping an eye out for the dogs that were running wild in this part of the garden. She approached a particularly curved specimen with a large slit in its trunk and looking at its gnarled branches reminded her of that 'Sensei' who a few years earlier had given a special Aikido lesson at his dojo. Two hours immersed in silence with only the rustle of the hakama, his words light, breathing wisdom.  
Of course now she was a little sorry that Jan was not there that day, they would have reminisced together. The anger was already fading as always, but this time she was more determined to hold on, she would not give in so easily that day.

 

She continued along the valley looking up admiring those wonders but also keeping an eye out for the dogs that were running wild in this part of the garden. She approached a particularly curved specimen with a large slit in its trunk and looking at its gnarled branches reminded her of that 'Sensei' who a few years earlier had given a special Aikido lesson at his dojo. Two hours immersed in silence with only the rustle of the hakama, his words light, breathing wisdom.  
Of course now she was a little sorry that Jan was not there that day, they would have reminisced together. The anger was already fading as always, but this time she was more determined to hold on, she would not give in so easily that day.


She continued along the valley, where she also passed some black walnut trees and horse chestnuts with a certain lift, only to be astonished again by a majestic specimen of hackberry tree with its fluttering leaves that were gradually leaving the branches and its broad, almost perfectly round crown. He, too, reminded her of someone. The art teacher at her high school, round and always smiling, who had taken her under his wing and had not only taught her how to draw but also some philosophies of life that she still used in difficult times. Beautiful person, who knows what had happened to her.


She climbed the small hill to reach the small lake of Villa Borghese. A small pool of water embraced by a variety of remarkable trees. It was in 1766 when Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese, a descendant of Scipione, decided to expand the family park by creating the Giardino del Lago with a temple dedicated to the god of medicine Aesculapius. Like all the Borghesi, he too devoted himself, thanks to his huge family fortune and, it must be said in this case, especially that of his wife Princess Anna Maria Salviati, to the pleasures of the Roman aristocratic life, patronising new artists and works, thus enriching the family collection previously squandered by his father. It was he who had a poster put up in the park that read 'Whoever you are, O stranger, provided you are a free man, fear not here the fetters of laws. Walk where you will, seize what you desire, retire when it pleases you. Everything here is arranged for the enjoyment of the foreigner before the owner'. Indeed, the park, although private, had always been the scene of festivities and balls and was often open to citizens from all walks of life. He began the work of embellishing the park of the villa and his son Camillo, known perhaps more for his marriage to Pauline Bonaparte, finished the work.


Of course, who knows what the pond must have been like in those days; gossiping ladies strolling under clear parasols, poets extolling their prose, lovers in the throes of love gushing their hot tears into the lake, or artists in the shade of oak trees portraying the beautiful panorama of the 'Villa delle Delizie'. In the meantime, she was enjoying that beautiful autumn landscape of tall pines, some bald cypresses already in warm tones, and that majestic cedar of Lebanon, all making themselves beautiful by reflecting in the lake. Even the little temple had that something. On one side there was also a centuries-old Quecia ilex that stood out for its height and broad foliage. She had never liked holm oaks, she found them sad and gloomy, like Christoffer, her lifelong melancholic and gloomy classmate, who had unnerved her with his grey aura for years. But certainly this was a spectacular specimen that perhaps made her reconsider.  
She also noticed an elderly lady giving bread to the ducks. She could never get over the unquestioning fascination of feeding animals, nor could she understand how Jan had not been able to remind his boss this morning that he was on holiday. It had taken them months to organise this Roman period, she was going to take a sabbatical, he was going to take his back leave and they were going to go to Rome for the autumn to discover the Eternal City, a dream in both their drawers, but in the end, he had left her alone again today, pass the other days, but not today!

She wandered around the lake area again until he reached Piazza di Siena, a huge oval lawn surrounded by cypress trees as straight as spindles. The area was once occupied by a large 17th-century ragnaia, a grove of tall trees where nets were spread to catch small birds. Beautiful cypresses, he thought, they are linear! He smiled to himself at the stupid joke. The anger was definitely waning, surely the credit also went to this somewhat magical place, intrinsic in history made of stones and trees. He continued with his game, Björn no, Erik neither, Astrid? Yes of course, she is a cypress! Obviously tall but with that strange look, silent, because cypresses are certainly silent trees, but happy even if they don't show it. When I get back I'll tell her, who knows how her new project is progressing. Maybe I'll write to her later.
After resting a little on the steps at the side of the square, she headed south and found herself in an amazing pine forest. Very tall trees, up to 20 metres tall, with bushy, umbrella-shaped crowns. The high sun intruded between the pine needles, making them almost transparent and silky, and the shadows of the straight trunks created abstract paintings on the green lawn. What a vision!


Here, domestic pines were certainly trees that he valued highly, as did the ancient Romans, who spread them throughout the empire! Even today, the pine is considered a symbol of Italy, not least because the English call it Italian stone pine and the French call it Pin d'Italie, and it has even won the prestigious Royal Horicultural Society award.

She wandered among the trees enraptured by such beauty. Who did the pines remind him of? Beautiful, tall, majestic but not arrogant, with beautiful bearing, also nice and generous with their pine nuts, and certainly honest, determined and robust. Who knows. She thought for a few minutes. Several names floated through her mind until Jan. Wow, that's really him. Moved and without even realising it, with a big smile on her face, she headed home, having already forgiven the love of her life; her beloved Pinus pinea

GALLERY