20 luglio 2023
by Stefano Rissetto 

The most beautiful ship in the world


That's why Fellini. From the flight deck of the logistic support ship Vulcano, remodeled to a privileged grandstand arranged north off the port of Genoa, watching from the heights of the Righi district as the aerobatic team appears, at first a distant blur, then getting closer and closer until there they were, almost on the vertical climb of the salute, I thought back to the mid-morning, when on arrival at the Magazzini del Cotone, in front of the VIP stand, the Navy band ensemble, a compact and absorbed group in navy blue frock coats, had played the march from Nino Rota's 8 and 1/2 Theme followed by two pieces by Piero Piccioni, classics from Alberto Sordi's movies: Rugido do Leao and the La Marcia di Esculapio. It seemed like a lighthearted way of alleviating the solemnity of the occasion; instead, they were the free vocalizations of an orchestra called to officiate at a farewell ceremony.

In fact, among the family members of the cadets, some had tears in their eyes. Then, on the screen, we saw the director of the ensemble playing the piano on the sailing ship: naturally, Morricone’s theme for The Legend of 1900. Little great masters, counterfeiters accustomed to telling tremendous truths, about us, precisely about us, with modest language and sometimes a hint of a sneer.

This time, the departure of the training ship, the Amerigo Vespucci, so close it didn't seem real, was different from a training voyage: it was the start of a two-year, 40,000 nautical mile, 31-port round-the-world voyage in 28 nations. To tell the world the story of Italy, past, present and future. Perhaps precisely nostalgia for the future. And so that’s where I went, press card around my neck, for my local broadcaster Telenord, almost a whole day at sea, aboard a naval ship without the courage to wear the Navy cap I had been given as a gift, hours and hours to report on a single instant under the searing heat of the July sun.

And that instant was precisely when the Frecce Tricolori ripped through the bright blue sky, between the city amphitheater and the upper Tyrrhenian Sea, a cut like the work of Lucio Fontana, swooping like the passing swallows we will see at the end of the summer, miles and miles of the Italian flag waved in the air, destined to fade into memory like everything else, caressing the ironwork and masts of that wonderful ship, an enchanted castle built on the water, less than a hundred years old but seeming so much older. Just a few seconds but defying the laws of gravity, the perfection of such a light yet grueling feat, the small blue Aermacs with their tricolor stripes arranged geometrically, like Esxher's symmetrical birds in the woodcut Day and Night, a trusted martial salute to the sailors.

The Vespucci and the Frecce are a summary of a story about all of us, which therefore affects us

That's why Fellini. Because the Vespucci and the Frecce are the epitome of a story about all of us, which therefore concerns us. Perhaps those orchestral vocals, written by a maestro from Milan who would have liked to be an established symphony composer, as a counterpoint to the work of a self-doubting genius, were a clue, a trace, an abracadabra. And I wish I could have stopped that instant of pure beauty, but then the Frecce yielded the stage to another stunt act, this time by full-fledged military aircraft, gray as sharks and with just as many teeth, intimidating with their heavy roar, light in movement. It was indeed a flying circus, and it doesn't seem diminishing or outrageous: that's how Daniele Del Giudice, reworking Martino Aichner's recollections in his short story Pauci sed semper immites, defined the Buscaglia Unit: the “four cats” capable of going beyond the limits of the available technology to put the Royal Air Force in check.

The Vespucci seemed to be waiting for the tricolor streaks in the sky to fade away before embarking on her journey. And looking back over the event, I saw down there in front of me Piazza Raffaele Rossetti, designed with angles and corners by the genius Daneri, dedicated to the man who more than a century ago in Pula mined and sank the Austro-Hungarian flagship Viribus Unitis, the final whistle of the Great War after the Szent Istvan had already been sent to the depths at Premuda the previous February. And farther on, behind Vernazzola beach, the home of the other raider who, astride a torpedo with a propeller, had blown up the Valiant in Alexandria - Louis Durand de la Penne, decorated after the war by the British - there is the quay named after him where, after the ceremony was over, we had boarded the pilot boats to reach the Vulcano.

That's why Fellini. Because it was an instant: in his imagination, the passage of the Rex, parent of the Andrea Doria and the Conte Rosso and Conte Verde, and the Michelangelo and Raffaello, now the single-seaters tracing imperceptible trajectories, existential geometrical codes in the vast blue sky, over the masts of the most beautiful ship in the world.

The Vespucci seemed to be waiting for the tricolor tracks to finish fading, to embark on her sailing

The show was over. But the curtain remained open on the horizon, toward which the Vespucci was now heading, a receding speck in the distance. Headed to the distant seas of the five continents, even to Argentina, where there are thirty million Italians, including the descendants of my great-grandfather's brothers; I don't know how many there were, but I learned from my parents that he was the only one who stayed here in Italy, for the love of a girl, and so I have only Italian nationality.

And evening was still a long way off; instead, the Vulcano left the flight deck open to the blue sky, looking out towards the route of the Vespucci now lost to view, as distant as the time when she had a twin, the Cristoforo Colombo, given to the Soviets as war reparations, repainted gray in keeping with the long Russian hell, left to age in Odessa and finally demolished. We also go to sea in search of ourselves, even if we will never find ourselves, like the two ships divided by history.

It was still mid-afternoon when we were taken to the landing boats. From a porthole, rocked by the rolling of the fiberglass hull, I looked back at the Vulcano, also growing smaller and smaller, ready to depart for Civitavecchia. And I got the feeling that I had not experienced what I had really experienced. Because when Beauty passes you by, there is always the notion that behind it, there is a magic spell, a mishap of the possible.


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