A few extra letters in a word change a lot. Like, I’ve recently discovered that a hundred lipa make one kuna, which is the currency of Croatia and not a punch line from the 50 Shades of Grey.
In the case of my subject matter, the therapy, to be done once a year, has nothing to do with colon therapy, of which anyone with an e-mail account is made aware by relentless spammers. If your mind is lucky to have escaped this knowledge, here it is. This therapy involves visiting a clinic for an expensive procedure that promises you the kind of effect you can have free if you sit down on the Geneva Lake fountain a moment before it is switched on (That’s not my idea, I actually overheard two Russian men mulling it over. I hope they are fine: Geneva fountain is a vertical column of water over a hundred meters high, switched on at around 8 am).
My therapy involves travelling to Italy, all the way to the place which has been the source of fine marble for the last two thousand years, Carrara, and then up one of the mountains to a small village which used to be home to quarry workers. Colonnata.
Michelangelo was getting his marbles from there. Modigliani used to come there a few times to find out marble dust was not good for his lungs. A lot of kitchen islands in European and American homes began their stained life of servicing food and drinks from Carrara quarries.
A quarried mountain is a thing to behold. If water can whittle rock to sand like a wife whetting her husband’s idea about a vintage motorbike to the concept of a new lawnmower, Man can nibble at a mountain until it becomes a Froidish tower of Babel.
As you climb up, you see powerful machines resting among the rocks.
The moment you stop to take a leak a photo, a dusty man emerges from one of the tunnels in the mountain to offer you a quick tour of the mine. The dusty man’s problem is that he speaks Italian only, so if you are deprived of knowing this beautiful language, you are most likely to get more frightened than interested. I assume that has a negative impact on the mine-tour business profit margins, so please someone who speaks Italian tell those men to have a few English-language posters explaining their services to accidental visitors.
The road is strewn with souvenir shops selling – yes, you guessed right – marble souvenirs. Pens, ashtrays, plates, bowls, bathroom accessories, figurines of animals, men’s torsos and nudes. And heads locked in a kiss, of course. Bathroom accessories are good, but luggage handling at airports is not. So, unless you’re flying business class and can carry it on board, you will have a rather nice flight back home caring more about the safety of your purchase than turbulence. Though it is a great way of coping with flight jitters, many still think vodka on board is cheaper method.
As you keep driving up, you begin suspecting indigenous people are all descendants of Michelangelo who must have charmed and buonarotted a lot of local girls while searching for marble worthy of being used to entomb Pope Julius II.
For what else can explain the epidemic of abandoned sculptures on the slopes?
Some of them are poor. Some are good. Some are excellent. I don’t want to impose my point of view on you (just this once) so let’s roam this slope together.
Finally, having avoided a head-on encounter with a bus on a 1.5 lane mountain road, you come to Colonnata, park your car and climb its streets (consisting entirely of stone steps) to the summit of the village. There, on a tiny square, squeezed between pinkish and yellowish bulidings, you see a monument to the fallen miners.
The steles show the history of marble extraction: they are covered by reliefs on both sides and it is impossible to stop looking at all the micro stories they tell.
Ancient Rome and slave labour:
Manual labour before machines:
Lunching at the pit:
Different epochs meet up on these steles:
And as you raise your eyes towards the mountain beyond, you can see tiny trucks rolling at impossible angles, being watched by the miner caught in marble – and you:
Regular bus connection, trucks, mining machines and industrial safety regulations made Colonnata a shadow of what it used to be. There are no dusty miners roaming its streets today, and only the monument reminds rare visitors of the village’s historical glory. Yet, there is one thing for which the village is still famous: you may actually have seen its name on the menus of many great European restaurants. In something like, “Mediterranean shrimps wrapped in Colonnata lard”.
Yes, the village is famous for the lard it produces, and you can find a dozen of specialized shops selling lard in and around it. They have a funny name, Larderia. But there’s nothing funny about the product. It is made in marble tubs (the size of your regular bathtub) under marble weights. I’ve heard they use only some special sort of marble for it, but that special marble thing is probably a myth.
And this is when the Colonnatatherapy reaches its climax. Lard is exceptional. It is melting in the mouth, tasty beyond words’ ability to express it, and – strangely enough – lightweight.
Lard, bread, wine. The holy trinity of Colonnata diet. Having feasted on it, strange thoughts happen to start knocking on the door of the right side of your brain. You think of taking a sharp metal wedge, and a hammer, and going to the nearest abandoned block of rock with the vague intention of leaving your mark upon its face.
Remember to protect your hands, if you want to keep giving “high fives” after the experience.