–As you can see it is a piece of art worthy of a renaissance master. Today the Church would like to restore it to its original form. Which means removing the drape.
I examine the contrasting stone cover, which seems well attached at the hips and to the naked skin. I tell him that in removing it the nature will inevitably be damaged.
–The nature, the genitalia, that’s what we call male or female nakedness where I come from.***
Erri De Luca’s short book read in French as La Nature exposée or in English as Nature Revealed*** is the story of a man who values people and shared experiences. The main protagonist lives in a mountain village in the north of Italy, this mountain village has always been situated on a crossroads, a route between the north and the south, as he describes the women of his village:
–Our village isn’t a village for women. They have all left for the towns, married or not. Traditionally they possess a beauty that comes from the passage of migrant populations. They have caravans in their blood.***
So in this isolated village where he has lived all of his long life and where everyone knows the business of everyone else, he carries on the age old business of guiding migrating populations across the Alps. He feels however a certain solidarity with these people forced from war afflicted countries to search a new life far from home and who are exploited at each step of their way. He quietly takes their money and then once over the mountains he returns it, until, after a grateful migrant mentions this act in a book, changing his village life totally as the other mountain guides learn of this treachery:
–The blacksmith and the Baker no longer greet me, the worst snub in the country village expelled from the list of living.
Forced to leave his mountain village he leaves for Genoa and takes up residence in a boarding house which serves meals each evening, once again a point of passage where he meets hard working migrant workers from Northern Africa who either work on the boats or in the marble quarry and feels comfortable with these people, one of whom gifts him the marble needed for the ‘Nature’. As he looks for work he is chosen, because of his humility, to carry out the work of sculpture hinted at in the opening quote, where he must sculpt a penis for Jesus. I’ll leave you here with this story only to say that in empathy with the subject he goes to extremes:
–As if, to be able to interpret a Muslim or a Jewish character, an actor asked to be circumcised in order to blend into the role: taking the Stanislavsky method to its extreme limit.
First Published in Italian as “La Natura Esposta” in 2016 by Feltrinelli.
Translated into French by Danièle Valin as ‘La Nature Exposée’ and published by Gallimard in 2017
*** My translation