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Sorgente Termale di Nitrodi

Vittoria called. She asked me what I’d been up to. I described my visit to the thermal spring at Nitrodi, eating a lemon from a tree near a vineyard, and my encounter with an old man and his dog.
“It’s incredible,” she said.
“You found our vineyard! That old man was Roberto. He works for my father. You ate one of our lemons.”
“You’re kidding.”
“Why would I lie?”
“You never told me where your vineyard was.”
“True. But I knew you’d find it, sooner or later.”
I thought for a moment. Then I said, “You realize, of course, that I can't put this in the book.”
“Why not?”
“A coincidence doesn’t belong in a work of fiction. Nobody will believe it.”
“Put it in anyway,” she said, “because it’s the truth.”

* * *

Steep, wet steps led down to a stone landing bordered by a wood railing, and then three steps below was another stone terrace that wasn't more than a couple metres square. A young girl in a bathing suit emerged from a dark cavern carved into the dark rockface. Her black hair was plastered down on her head; her face dripped shining beads of water. She pressed her palms against her cheeks. Her boyfriend stood above, leaning on the fence, watching.

In the cavern a solid crystal stream of water gushed out of a 15 cm pipe and spattered on the stone floor. Water also poured from another pipe, a smaller one, that extended from the outside wall. Two thousand years ago the Romans soaked here to cure their physical—and mental—disorders.

When the boy and girl left, I bent down, cupped my hand, and drank deeply. The water of Sorgente Termale di Nitrodi was warm, about 20 C.

At the fence I looked down. Stone steps led to a wet, muddy path alongside a stream. No sign indicated where this path led. It was slippery, steep, and obviously dangerous. But I went down anyway, and began to walk. I don’t know why. You might say I was drawn to it.

Soon I entered an overgrowth of trees and a dense thicket of 15-foot-high cane stalks topped by elongated tan tassles. Thorny vines, wild berries, and orange flowers covered a high slope to my right.

Several times I slipped and stumbled in the wet, gray, volcanic mud. The stream gurgled loudly. Further along the trail, at a small rocky waterfall, sunlight penetrated the overgrowth and illuminated soft clouds of steam that rose from the pool.

The path leveled, and led to a vast sunlit open space, an arresting panorama of mountains and the sea. To my left, several massive promontories sloped downward, forming a large canyon. I could make out a filigree of pale bare tree limbs and sunlit tassles of tall grasses on the farthest wall.

To my right another descending series of promontories led to a more level portion of land, on which were curved rows of rustic trellises. At the dead center of the right- and left-converging land masses was the top portion of the black rock that marks the village of San Angelo, on the southernmost coast, several kilometers distant.

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The sea was the palest of blue, softened by a subtle haze. The air sweet with the scent of wildflowers. A dragonfly buzzed. I continued walking down the narrow path until I came to a vineyard. Reddish, dry, twisted vines were supported by weathered white-gray tree limbs and yellow cane stalks.

Beyond the rows of vines I came to an orchard. From a low branch I pulled off a weighty lemon almost twice as large as my clenched fist. I bit into the bright yellow skin, spat it out. Took off another chunk of skin, exposing the pale fleshy fruit. It was tart, but not unpleasantly so, and I smiled. This was likely the freshest lemon I had ever eaten!

The path ended at the edge of a cliff. I leaned over cautiously, dropped a bit of the lemon rind. It floated downward silently, disappeared. I turned around, headed back up the trail.

After a long climb I sat down on a grassy slope. The sun warmed my face. After a while a strange sensation enveloped me, as if I were experiencing a recurring boyhood dream. An extraordinarily pleasant one. That I’m in a beautiful sunny place like this, and I am safe, and I will live forever.

I lay back on the soft grass, closed my eyes. I dozed.

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When I awakened I felt someone’s eyes upon me. I sat up. On the path was a dog. Its eyes were curious, friendly. I extended my hand. It came to me cautiously, tentatively. Sniffed my fingers. I patted his head, stroked his fur. I heard footsteps, a whispering shuffle.

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A man trudged by. He wore a red knit cap, dark green sweat shirt, dirty brown pants with its cuffs rolled up at the bottom, and scuffed boots. A rope circled low on his waist, and from it dangled a taccariello, a knife. On his shoulder he carried a plastic jug and a dented, paint-stained caldarella.

I said, “Buon giorno!”
He did not reply.
I rose, pointed to my camera. Again, he didn't respond, but he did not turn away. I took his picture. Then he resumed shuffling down the trail. I took several more pictures as he approached the distant vineyard.

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I feel like asking you whether I can learn to do what you do.

It depends entirely upon how much you need to do this kind of thing. But in Art it's not doing, it's being.

Have you ever had an apprentice or pupil?

From time to time I've tried to share what I've learned, but I always get the feeling that either it can't be taught or I'm a lousy teacher--or both!

I would be interested in learning your art - whether you call it photojournalism or photography. Not right now, you know, but perhaps in the future.

I don't think being a great teacher has anything to do with training someone to do what you do.

But if you'd consider me, I would be most grateful.

I'm going to amend that statement...

I don't think you need to be a greater teacher in order to train someone to your art.

You may have a point. If one has a great desire to learn, then it doesn't much matter how skillful his/her teacher is.

Here’s what you can do right now, if you haven’t already done it. When you go out, always carry three essentials: a small camera, a pen, and a notebook. Emphasis on the word ALWAYS, no exceptions.

What kind of camera? One that uses film, not digital. Why? Because with film you have the greatest number of options. If you’re a beginner, then use that one camera and stick with just one film, so that eventually you will be able to “previsualize” the results you will get as you look in the viewfinder and press the shutter button.

When you’re out and about, keep your eyes open and learn to overcome inertia and reluctance in pulling out the camera and taking a shot of whatever or whoever appears visually interesting. This must become an automatic practice. In this Art if you have to think about it, then it’s doing, not being.

Begin a print and negative file and some sort of indexing system. Never throw out a negative, ever.

Develop a deep regard and respect for both the materials and the process of your Art. Gather information, technical and aesthetic. Ponder the work of the photographers you admire.

End of Lesson # 1.


I'll keep you posted on anything I do. I'm hoping to get a camera with me, soon, in the next few days. I'm going to glue the camera to the palm of my hand.

You mention a notebook and a pen. What do you have in mind?

The best kind of small notebook you can get. As for the pen, a Mont Blanc, of course. Fountain, not ball point. Black ink, not blue.

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