I have in my hands two tufts of braided spikes: lavender, that still has the faint fragrance of a distant day at Sacra di San Michele, and stiff hedgenettle, the witches’ herb; it comes from Triori, in the Alpes-Maritimes. It still smells of stone quarries and cliffs. It has a powerful scent, akin to sage and thyme, also rosemary. It smells of summer. It was a warm, rainy day, I was climbing up from Arma di Taggia, with the wind from the sea and the smell of brine, feeling the Middle Ages of the hinterland.
The nature of places is strange: the idols that inhabit them reawaken and take possession of us; they besiege us with questions that are always more creative than the answers.
Catiora is the “fear herb”, Stachys recta: it grows in the Ligurian mountains, surfaces like the joy and melancholy in our lives – the “Virgin’s plant”, a bizarre combination of extreme evil and what is most pure.
A remedy for white witches that tastes bitter, that tastes of nursery rhymes and litanies. Added to bathwater, it would help children wash away their fears.*
And so the author ventures away from the coast and deeper into the mountains of Piedmont, where he explores every inhabited and uninhabited place; where he listens to the local legends and lore; where he inhales the fragrance of herbs, plants and trees; where he pays tribute to the land and becomes the troubadour that sings of its glory. His mind’s companions are writers like Giono, Rousseau, Fenoglio and Pavese and he remembers their words on this journey.
Il giardino incantato is a love song to the author’s beloved Piedmont, the crossroads of different cultures and creeds; a region too often overlooked when we think of Italy. A land of legends, magic, rich history, fertile valleys and atmospheric mountains. In Carlo Grande’s poetic prose, this land comes alive and turns into a shapeshifting character that bewitches you. It is more than a travel log: it is a rich embroidery with threads of every colour, all interconnected. It is also a Slow book par excellence (let’s not forget that the Slow Movement was born in Piedmont). This is not a book for an impatient reader who wants to whizz to the final chapter. It is a contemplative book. As you accompany Carlo Grande on his travels, he helps you to connect with every place until you feel as though you’re walking beside him. As you savour every word and slowly turn the page, you can almost feel your breathing slow down, your feet get anchored in the soil, your heartbeat growing calmer. Everyone should keep a copy of Il giardino incantato handy and read a few pages to feel grounded in this increasingly unstable world.
* Translation in italics by Katherine Gregor
By Katherine Gregor
IL GIARDINO INCANTATO (The Enchanted Garden) Non-Fiction
by Carlo Grande (Edizioni Terra Santa, 2021)
With warm thanks to Roberta Russo, Edizioni Terra Santa, Milan.
Carlo Grande is a writer and journalist who works for the Italian daily La Stampa. He is the author of successful novels, like the award-winning La via dei lupi (2002).
Katherine Gregor grew up in Italy and France before going to university in England. She has been a theatrical agent, press agent, teacher and one or two other things before becoming a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian. She also writes original material and is currently working on a non-fiction book.
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