Preface by Folco Quilici to the Book "IT WAS BLUE"
Roma, november 19 2004
IT WAS BLUE
This is probably the first time that I've had the opportunity to read a book written by a diver about his adventures under the waves without getting bored. Texts like this one are usually all the same: tediously rhetorical, often badly written, and predictably boastful.
This is why I said "no" to the umpteenth request to write "a couple of lines" as a preface to a book, the book that you're reading at the moment. However, the author's insistence was charming rather than suffocating, and so I said that I'd read a few pages.
When the final version of the text, which I'd received as an e-mail, was printed on paper (I hate reading from the V.D.U), I waited for a calm day and a quiet evening and I threw myself into re-reading all of it. It didn't take long for me to get over the initial "obligation to read", and move quickly on to reading for pleasure.
As a taster of the pleasure to come, I felt amazed as a reader to find such unusual words as 'bailer' in front of me. These words were especially surprising given the type of book that I found them in. You can't help but admire paragraphs like this, "The final result is as fleeting and cunning as the chub on sunny July afternoons. As soon as you can see its unmistakable form under the clear mirror of the still water, it has already seen you and so you're stuffed."
Or, " 'How's it going today?', 'The usual', answered my father, 'the fish weren't hungry and so we ate instead'. A good fisherman never admits to having caught something. Even if his nets are full, he always answers with the same words, with jokes, or with sentences that seem like an answer but are actually anything but!"
By Jove! This is someone who isn't just a good writer, but someone who's got a real feel for firing up the reader, adding a good dose of humour to specifics of his field. Beyond this charming example, I was also really drawn in by the more specifically underwater pages. These adventures are similar, if not identical to ones which we of the big tribe have all lived, but the writing has a different rhythm, a new style. For example, he notes that, "Each island had its own personal little barrier reef, a private preserve of life and colour: in the pass, a natural canal which cut the ocean in two, connecting the sea outside to the sea inside, swimming in twenty or twenty-five vertiginous blue meters, were the bigger fish." How many texts have I read (including most of my own!) that just can't compete with the expressive force of this one?
He goes on to recount that, "…beyond, where the water from the pass was sinking down a marked shelf towards the Indian Ocean's thousands of metres of depth, was where the great owners of the deep blue were born, lived, fought and died: sharks, tuna, carangids, barracuda, king-fish, sailfish and marlin. They followed calls and instincts unknown to us, incessantly swimming towards unknown borders: in the corners and on the thresholds of the open sea, where the sea bed became the dark blue of descent, the violent current gave nourishment and life, treating us with a vision of an absolutely unimaginable quantity of fish, a colossal apotheosis of darting tails."
However, it wasn't just these brush strokes of truth, these descriptions reflected in new words that conquered me. No, it was also brief, striking thoughts: "Memory plays with our destiny.", or, "Life is an old lady who drinks her tea and waits". And other more elaborate thoughts: "The sea has cut out a piece of my life, taking it and planting it like a growing fixation in the most inaccessible part of my mind.
Then, all of a sudden, like a swordsman who patiently waits to deal out the better blow when his adversary is distracted, it made me pay.
The bill wasn't in proportion to that which I had received, the sea kept a healthy profit for itself, perhaps so as not to deceive me, or maybe to warn me that around the corner there was another debt to settle."
Words that forewarn moments of fear and anxiety: "… I continued to think of the great blue and white mother that welcomed me and each time told me a different story, but the rhythmic rolling of the waves and the path that my life was following had by now taken different directions. I thought that the sea would no longer have put me to the test, but I was wrong".
Reflections such as these follow each other right up to the moment of maximum fear. A whole page subtly and skilfully leads up to the drama, "The dive can be frenetic and emotional, but coming back up is mysterious and unnerving. Every time it ends, it removes one piece of life from the chessboard and adds a different one. The thin thread which supports us and reunites us to our habitat is invisible, it has dissolved in the water and it conceals itself like a snake which darts across the desert track, but the thread is always there, it isn't like the snake which always makes the off-the-road vehicle stop in a cloud of white sand. It invites us to exhaust ourselves searching the sands and the bushes, but nobody knows where it's gone."
Yes, you've got it! With the words you've just read the author is introducing us to the biggest of every diver's fears, the terror of embolism. I've written and read a lot about the subject. Some stories are chilling, others cocky. Many are written quite badly, others are unbearably rhetorical. That's not the case here. Here we read that, "One, maybe two minute bubbles of nitrogen, which had stayed for whatever reason hidden for all these hours, set off towards the spinal cord, interrupting the flow of fuel and the impetuous river of data which hastily runs through these invisible, unknown, fragile streets, irremediably unable to repair the damage.
The snake takes his first bite.
My legs, I haven't got my legs anymore. Then the beast rises in blazes of colour and unnatural, unsynchronised shakes, just like the ¾ syncopated rhythm of a black percussionist.
I can't feel my backside anymore, how is it possible that my buttocks have disappeared?
Only ten minutes ago I moved in my bed and my backside felt that minuscule and imperceptible crease in the freshly ironed sheet.
The snake continues to bite. Now I can't feel anything below my waist, I'm missing half of my body, but the other half is lucid and active.
I'm desperate and alone."
I've quoted a long passage, but I'm not satisfied. I'll just add a few more lines from where Bignami, after the accident, says, "I love the sea so much.
I can't even hate it now, because for better or for worse it's always been my interlocutor and it's never given me anything banal, no, always violent unrepeatable emotions.
Is it over?"
I wouldn't deserve the emotions that I've felt from reading this book if I didn't extend Bignami's thoughts of his recount of his most terrible day. Not amongst sharks in the deep ocean, or voracious killer whales in arctic waters, but in the shallows along the shore of a little tourist town: Rena Maiore. Here, "Two children, two little brothers, eight or nine years old went to the beach that morning with their uncle. They disappeared."
Bignami writes that only a miracle could save the brothers. But, "…that day miracles were far, very far from Rena Maiore. God was distracted that day, he was looking the other way."
The final sentence gives us an idea of the measure of the soul of the person who is writing after such an experience, "Finally I brought the first body to the surface. It was like liberation. There was nothing left that could be done. There never had been anything that could be done. That day was the most useless and inhumane of my life."
But I don't want to end on such a highly dramatic note. No, I'd rather conclude with the extraordinary freshness of this note, one of the author's thoughts, the very words from which the title of this book was conceived: "It was really blue, the sea that surrounded me. It was beautiful writing a story to look at, and it was thrilling to once again find images to read."