Learn­ing from plants

Domus - - RASSEGNA - Edited by Gi­u­lia Guzzini

Faremo foresta (“We’ll make a for­est”) is a hymn to life. Re­leased this year and await­ing to be­come a film and a book for chil­dren, Ilaria Bernar­dini’s novel nar­rates be­ing dead, then com­ing back to life through a metaphor­i­cal par­al­lel be­tween botany and the in­ner space of feel­ings

The novel Faremo foresta dis­cusses Anna and Maria. Anna is at the end of her mar­riage and ev­ery­thing for her seems like a to­tal dis­as­ter. Maria is a girl she knows and who, at 29 years old, has a brain aneurism right in front of her. Both be­gin a hard sum­mer as they re­build their lives, and to­gether they cre­ate a sort of ur­ban for­est which is their come­back to life, their un­der­stand­ing of how to be happy and how to sur­vive the desert.

“This is a true story, as far as I re­mem­ber it,” she states at the be­gin­ning of the book, but the book im­me­di­ately be­comes re­lat­able to ev­ery­one, where it’s easy to iden­tify.

The book starts with me, to then to­tally lose my­self. Through writ­ing I al­ways try to start with my­self and then elab­o­rate on a topic I’m in­ter­ested in. In this case, the theme is how long a love lasts, how long a re­la­tion­ship lasts, how long we can sur­vive with­out be­ing looked at, taken care of. From the small story of Anna and her son Nico we move to the big­ger pic­ture, we en­ter the homes of oth­ers and, in new projects, in other cities. We look at the en­tire world.

Your book opens in a desert: the end of a re­la­tion­ship and the bar­ren ter­race of a new home. The par­al­lel be­tween the world of plants and that of feel­ings re­curs through­out the book and al­lows the read­ers to in­tuit that we can learn from na­ture.

The start­ing point is a very empty day that’s re­ally hot, and noth­ing seems to make sense, with no roots and no wa­ter. Anna and her child Nico are like gal­ax­ies: they mark tra­jec­to­ries and map out with their feel­ings and their feet all of the Earth, which at the start is full of hard­ship, ug­li­ness, drought, abysses, work­sites. But grad­u­ally, even in the abysses, in the holes they can de­tect in­va­sive plants [weeds], the half-dead plants of their neigh­bours who aban­don them, grandma’s plants be­cause she doesn’t have time to look af­ter them, the new plants which are their present. All this is part of an­other metaphor, and prac­tice, of univer­sal ir­ri­ga­tion: we re­alise the roots un­der­ground that, con­nected and pow­er­ful, pass below the whole planet and reach ev­ery per­son. And this univer­sal ir­ri­ga­tion, in which metaphor­i­cally one can re­sist sep­a­ra­tion, where sep­a­ra­tion ac­tu­ally al­most doesn’t ex­ist and where the feel­ing of loss and dis­as­ter can change. Just like the feel­ing of time and the search for hap­pi­ness. Anna, Nico and Maria, to­gether, through botany, through the For­est that in­vades the desert, dis­cover how to feel bet­ter, how to make oth­ers feel bet­ter.

How do the pro­tag­o­nists re­sist the desert, pain, loss in or­der to feel alive again?

The les­son, which comes from na­ture but, all in all, even from chil­dren and our­selves, is the de­sire to be con­stantly men­tioned, looked at, touched. To open with ques­tions in­stead of clos­ing with the­o­ries. Be­ing seen in the win­ter, too, when things be­come more in­vis­i­ble. In fact, the novel is full of ques­tions and phrases like “touch as many things as pos­si­ble”, “say my name”, “make me ex­ist”, “put your hand on my head”, “I’ll just die if you don’t kiss me” re­cur and are a way to de­fine our­selves, to feel alive and feel like we ex­ist, not to feel in­vis­i­ble or dis­ap­pear. We’ll never dis­ap­pear, thanks also to the at­ten­tive gaze of oth­ers that we our­selves, with great dis­trac­tion, for­get. I wrote the book when, at a cer­tain point in my life, I told my­self “I’ve com­pletely for­got­ten how to take care and look. Now I try to see, and call by name!”

Right: Ilaria Ber­na­dini pho­tographed on her ter­race in Mi­lan. With a de­gree in Phi­los­o­phy of Sci­ence, Ber­na­dini is a writer and au­thor of TV and re­al­ity shows. Her pub­lished works include Domenica (2012), Corpo libero (2011), I su­pereroi, (2009) and Non è niente (2005)

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