On a cute little square in the heart of the picturesque Bassano del Grappa we came across a carousel which was one hundred years old.
Its horses – painted red, white and brown and with headdresses made of real feathers – ran in a perfect circle following the rhythm of an old-fashioned tune. Among them nestled lavish sleighs with tall curved backs and elegant arm-rests, all beautifully painted with flowers and landscapes. Wooden panels covered the central body of the carousel and they were in turn adorned with little cherubs and litten light bulbs.
It was all so charming and quaint that we had to have a go. I perched my little daughter on one of the horses, realising in the process how far our preoccupation with health and safety has come in the last century or so. For the horses were tall, really tall, high above the wooden floor of the carousel. You had to raise your leg, support your foot on a little step sticking on the side of the horse’s metal perch and then push yourself upwards in order to saddle up. That’s it, if you were an adult or, at least, a proper grown-up child. Otherwise, you had to rely on your parent to toss you up there on the back of the horse while breathlessly shouting instructions to you to hold on tight, really really tight and, for the love of God, please, to not let go.
Whoosh! And the carousel started to turn. Slowly at first and then quicker and quicker carrying around our windswept hair and our delighted squeals.
The horses, carved of wood, felt so nice to the touch. Their expressive faces were perfectly shaped. They were nothing like the crude plastic horses and other whimsical figures on modern day carousels. Spray painted in garish colours and remaining cold to the touch no matter how many times you circle round on them.
Around us the old houses of Bassano del Grappa – the lovely town in the foothills of the Venetian Pre-Alps – spun, too.
Next to them, the hundred years old carousel was definitely the young one. For the outside walls with faded frescoes and triple Venetian windows had seen many centuries and events pass them by. Looking up the narrow curving paths which would disappear between buildings so close together that they almost touched, walking up and down the town’s cobbled squares and streets, I couldn’t help but think about how modern life has had to adapt itself to fit the size and frame of these abodes – so irregular in their shapes, so surprising with their tiny marbled balconies and captivating wrought-iron ornaments, so unexpectedly curved alongside the tiny pavements.
From the size of the vehicles (small and tiny being the operative words) used by companies to deliver the mail, to transport people and goods, and to clean up the streets to the special methods developed by the Italian fire service to combat fires threatening to destroy priceless heritage and artifacts, everything that happens in Italy seems to be subject to this staggering notion of time perfectly expressed by the centuries-old buildings, castles, town centres and even carousels around us.
Looking up at them, at the stones that had been laid there by a human hand so many hundreds of years ago, all of a sudden you realise that they still stand. In spite of all the things that have happened in the world since. Despite the never-ending stream of changes, people dying and people being born. Despite all our little dramas which take over our daily lives.
And while they show signs of the passage of time – chipped here and there, crooked a bit, with faded colours and even missing details and whole parts – such historical towns, buildings and even a hundred years old carousel are the best example of hope. A hope that what has been will be again, that, no matter what, people will continue to live and to create. That we will persevere in building up on the foundations of the past.
A hope, but also a realisation that sometimes we need to stop, look back, and come to see that in spite of the terrible speed the modern world loves to impose on us, in spite of the awful stress that we put ourselves under about money, possessions and living-it-up, what really matters in our lives is to make something small, something well-crafted and beautiful which can withstand the changes of fashion, the pressures of society and the expectations of those around us. Something with a soul. Something which even after 100 years of daily spins will still be here giving joy to the people who will come after us.
A couple of days after our experience on the 100 years old carousel in Bassano del Grappa, a little memory popped in my mind. I remembered that when I went ceramics shopping in Nove, I was told that the tradition of hand-making and -painting ceramics there dates back to the 14th century. Just stop for a minute and consider this. In a world where new types of jobs with newfangled names spring every year, there is a place in Europe, in Italy in fact where people, whole families, a whole community even have been partaking in the same craft for over 600 years.
The mind almost boggles trying to imagine such consistency, such dedication and such acceptance of one’s path in life as continuation of the local tradition.
The good thing is that Nove is only one of many such places in Italy where the present has a solid foundation in the old, and yet it brings it to the future through the scaling of the ancestral craft and the modernising of certain aspects of the production process.
And when I feel like the world is going mad, when everything moves too fast and too chaotically around me and in our lives, I realise now that I should take comfort in the thought that there are still places out there, here, close to me in Italy in fact, where time doesn’t equal a breathless succession of stressful uninspired days, a constant race in the name of a short-lived career or a sure burn-out top post.
I take comfort in the notion of time as glimpsed from that old carousel – as a steady, circular-driven motion which sweeps you off your feet, fills you up with the thrill of being alive, and yet every now and then it also gives you a chance to stop, get off and relax, even walk away without feeling guilty and then find a different point of view from which to enjoy the carousel, the people currently riding it and the surrounding reality.
And a year after year, a decade after decade and then a century after century time moves on, yet what we have created with dedication and love, with the beauty found in our hearts remains to remind the people of tomorrow that stopping to breathe and to look around, and to assess how you feel inside is all that matters in fact.
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