He is wearing a grey tight suit and a black tie. I probably can’t really guess the original colors, as the whole image is drawn in a restricted series of shades from light black to dark grey. Very much room for imagination.
He is sitting on the street, with his knees half-open, the hands laying on them, and the head straight in the middle, staring at me, with a proud convincing look. His hair are so black, much more black than all the other elements of the picture. The eyes are the only element that can compete with them in blackness. On his right the wall finishes in a smooth marble corner and gives space to a small view of the street in the background. A few cars, many trees, a perfect portrait of Rome in its golden age.
I turn the small photograph to the other side, trying to get some more information. There is a small handwritten line in a corner: Antonio, 1960
It was the year of the Olympic games in Rome: the radio was broadcasting Il cielo in una stanza, sung by Mina, and La dolce vita by Federico Fellini had made its first appearance in Cinemas. My grandfather, Antonio, was laying on the ground somewhere between Via Cavour and Via Labicana, sweating under the summer sunshine in his new grey suite. His brother was taking a picture to commemorate such a significant moment.
There is the story of my family in that picture: my grandfather always told me that that afternoon, after crossing that street in the background, he would have met my grandmother, at a party at the third floor of some newly built residential building. A long number of events took place after that meeting, a long and complex concatenation of events that, slowly but irreversibly, took us here, where I am now; standing, with this picture and its lost colors in my right hand.
Every time I listen to a story like that, I am amazed by the incredible order that happenings have followed in order to merge in each other perfectly, gathered in a meaningful ensemble which, at the end, gives birth to such a crazy and complex thing as a family.
However, I can’t help asking myself: is it really like this? Is each cause related to an effect? Or is it possible that sometimes the outcomes are already present in their premises?
I have been staring at that picture for so long, that I am now pretty sure that the genealogy of me and my grandfather is not the only link between me and the picture. That picture must represent something more, more meaningful, more powerful than a simple relic from the past, a gift from a lost age. I feel there is some intimate relation that sticks me to that expression, that elegance, that atmosphere and those black hair so similar to mine.
There must be more than a root in that picture. I am looking for a symbol.
There is something in that dark look that tells me more than what I already know. Somehow it tells me who I will be in the next instants of my life. When I look at those faded shapes I see not only the shade of the past, the ghost of an existence that is remarkable to explain who I am. I think there is the power of determining my future, hidden there. That picture won’t be only my explanation, it will be sometimes my motivation and my aspiration.
Once Goethe wrote: Symbolism transforms the appearance into an idea, the idea into an image in such a way that the idea remains always infinitely effective and unreachable in the image and remains ineffable even if uttered in all languages.
I think we should sometimes consider how much the world is connected by symbols, and I don’t mean any transcendent or philosophical concept, but I think that, sometimes, there are particulars that are so powerful to become universal. One single element of a system (it could be a picture, a movie, the life of a man or a football game) acquires so much meaning to escape from the limits of time, to impact directly the soul of its witnesses and leave a sign on it. It is like that song I mentioned before, Il cielo in una stanza, where the singer tells about a room whose walls turn into infinite trees that carry his imagination in a land of unknown beauty and extraordinary sensations.
As many economists would say, sometimes the analysis of the micro can reveal something of the macro; the relations between the two perspectives are so deep and many that there can’t be one single explanation: this does not concern with the scientific proof or the juridical testimony of something, but rather with the way in which we can intuitively link the extremely small to the extremely big. It is something that gives you an idea of comprehension, of completeness and, at least for a small amount of time, of meaning.
Symbols are something we should take into consideration, as they regard our deepest comprehension of things.
I don’t really know what the picture is the symbol of, and maybe this is the ultimate proof it is really a symbol. What I know is that the only fact of seeing my grandfather there, at almost my age, makes me tremble and think that there are still streets I have to cross and meetings I have to have.
I still can’t understand what’s there in that look that makes it so magical, but I am sure it’s looking at me.