The Great Void

Words by Matteo Milaneschi
Photographs by Alice Schillaci

The boundless province with its contradictions was our playing field. No one quite knew what the goal was or which direction the routine of those long September afternoons should take. With no particular rhyme or reason, everyone had earned their place in the luckless team of dreamers. Some had the stuff of attackers, others preferred to stay in defence and stayed there their whole lives. Despite the subtle irony shared by all of us, none of those present stood out for any particular gift and if someone was keeping a talent hidden, we were a long way from scouring its worth.

What kept us together was imagination and a certain dose of recklessness, the only virtues that weren’t lacking among the desolate wastes of the Maremman province. We moved in packs, but the formation varied depending on where we were going. In some circumstances there were lots of us and it was hard to sit us all around the same table, but the core group members could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The rest of the circle came down to onlookers and reserves lacking any ambition.

Leo was without doubt the wing-back of the group. He stayed to one side for the whole time avoiding any direct clashes. With a self-effacing and troubled character, he hated talking about the past and only came forward from the back if there was something good to be snatched. Otherwise he was an idler like the rest of us, intent on getting on with his passions which in his case had the appearance of a second-hand Pearl Export drum kit.  

We were lucky to have Agostino who played centre-back and saved our skins on some missions. The delicate sound of his name was highly deceptive. Son of a boxer and the lessons he taught him, Ago’s presence by no means went unnoticed. With tattoos from head to foot and a bulky and unmoving frame, he looked like a pissed-off Maori warrior. His opinions were unmoving too, and it was best to agree with them to avoid running into his irascible and raging temper. He worshipped problems and was extremely apt at finding them. 

Luciano was without doubt the group’s tactician. Cultured, calculating and cynical to a tee. He suffered from a slight form of autism which in certain moments made him seem a genius. He had the tendency to accumulate all types of photos, better if out of focus, which he took with the Lomo Zenit-35FM that he’d inherited from a distant uncle. Luciano was a few years older than us and was the only one who could understand and speak English. It was usually him who latched onto the foreign girls on holiday during mating season and for us it was like having a key to access adulthood.

Lastly, there was me. Centre forward and playmaker, battering ram in a flock of tearaways who wandered the countryside in search of some emotion to plunder.

At sunset, the car drove through the rows of vines, between the gentle hills of that ne’er changing heaven on earth. Enormous oaks by the sides of the road marked the time as we looked out over the panorama, letting the golden evening light filter inside the car. The image of a saint was sticking out on the dashboard between the messy odds and ends, in all likelihood Saint Francis busy feeding some animals. Lost, we carried on for miles without coming across a soul: Scansano, Poggioferro, Murci. Then we turned northwards to the Monte Labro reserve. From that high point I could make out the sea, speckly and glistening weakly between the mainland and Corsica. I had heard legendary stories about those places since I was a little boy. Mystical characters who had retired to those highlands to lead a hermit’s life, preaching like the prophet Davide Lazzaretti and Saint Filippo Benizi, or stories of criminals such as the brigand Domenico Tiburzi who hid to escape the police in caves dug out by the Etruscans.

We arrived in Santa Fiora at seven o’clock. We found a girl there waiting for us at the entrance to a long avenue lined by enormous old cypress trees. Her ash blond hair was up at the sides, her lips small and her eyes little and bright. She was wearing a short-sleeved, flowery shirt and tatty jeans. From the layer of mud on her shoes, it was easy to see that she’d spent the afternoon walking along the ditches and paths. She was Marlene, a very pretty friend of Luciano who spent half the year here in the company of her family of German origins. Her parents weren’t at home and she casually invited us to come in.  

I was immediately taken aback by the furnishings. The outside of the house had the same rustic appearance as the farmhouses in the area, but an elegant picture opened up on the inside, with furniture of obvious value. In the apparent discord of the contrasts, the gaze ran over objects of all shapes and colours: brass and frosted glass chandeliers, late nineteenth-century oil portraits, Florentine pottery with heraldic and grotesque devices between primitive African statues. On the flesh-coloured walls and along the corridors, mountains of books were piled up. A Wunderkammer with colonial allure that oozed with ancestors’ memories.

Luciano went up to the record player and put something on at random. I knew that tune, it was the Sonata in D Minor Kk.9 by Scarlatti, my grandfather made us listen to it on Sunday mornings before going to church to save ourselves from our sins.

I wandered around the rooms of that temple, admiring the details. I remember the black-and-white portrait of a smiling woman in full display over a mahogany chest of drawers. She was there with her arms folded in the pose of a real emancipated diva. The shot will have been from the 1920s and I don’t know why but it reminded me of the face of Ava Gardner, even though the signature on the bottom put paid to certain ideas. I was staring at that timeless smile, when I saw Marlene enter the hall. She crossed the room bare foot, wearing a bikini the colour of zabaione. She burst with eroticism with every single step of that little, still girl-like body that looked as if it had leapt out of a picture by Balthus. Despite the flat chest and boyish gait, it was all too much for us who were used to nothing.

All of a sudden, I felt myself being grabbed by the arm. 
“Hey, come on you,” said Agostino. “Wake up! We have to go, the others are waiting for us in the car”.
“Where are we going?” I asked him. 
He looked me in the eyes with the air of someone who’d lost something important and replied, “I’ve no idea”.

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