An umbrella in a cave

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“I thought about it for days and days, to find a way. The tube of the pen was not good, the shape was not good and the stones did not come as I wanted. Then, one day, I turned around and saw this broken umbrella, and the idea came to me like a flash in the head!”

The sun beats, the heatwave of eleven o’clock in the morning does not forgive, and the light dazzles overbearingly with white slamming on the stones of Matera. In the middle of the sidewalk there’s a small pedestal with a strange sculpture, its silhouette almost blinds in contrast with the narrow and dark entrance of the cave. It is the sculpture, despite the darkness, that seems to push you into it.

Vincenzo stands there at the back of the room, giving his back to the visitors, bending over his dusty work table. As soon as the eyes get used to the drastic change in light, white prevails in his workshop as well: in addition to the immaculate shirt, the tuff sculptures, which is actually calcarenite “but we call it that way because it is simpler”, fill each wall, placed on shelves and shelves, hung, leaning against each other, all on display. Ashtrays, vases, heart-shaped pendants, animals, frames. And cribs. Vincenzo gets whole blocks of tuff and sculpts them in the smallest details until they become glimpses of Matera, of its oldest and most enchanted part, and stages the nativity, populating it with tiny clay statuettes that bakes in an oven and paints by hand with tempera colors. “The comet star is very important, it must never be missing”, he underlines.

It’s fun for a world, Vincenzo, to make those who enter guess which are the tools he uses to sculpt this or that particular. Because no one guesses. He created the “chianche”, the slabs that pave the streets and neighborhoods of Matera’s stones, breaking the handle of an umbrella bag, using the two tubes obtained as a stamp on the stone. “And the window? You can open it, you see?”. A hidden switch, and all the cribs light up. In the cave, a miniature viewpoint of Matera’s stones landscape in the evening. He also makes the cribs inside the bread, or with papier-mâché. In his blue eyes, a leap of satisfaction, the joy to show his creations, like a child who has just finished his most beautiful drawing. His strong hands gesticulate, indicate, rub into a cloud of white powder left by the limestone. On display on a notice board, the photos of all the actors, directors, journalists and celebrities who have passed through Matera and honored him with a visit.

He remembers when he lived in one of those caves when he was a child: the chicken coop was under his bed and the donkey was part of his family; the last of four brothers used the worn-out clothes of the elders; the witch was carrying a toy gun that the next day disappeared mysteriously to reappear the following year, passed off as a new gift. “We didn’t even have money for soap,” he says. He began working as a coach builder at the age of 9 for 300 lire a month, then around Italy, blacksmith, carpenter, upholsterer, policeman, then official of the prefecture for 30 years. “I couldn’t stand still in the same place, after a while I always got tired! He met his wife in Rome and took her with him to Matera; now, at 61 and with grey hair, he has two daughters and four grandchildren of whom he is proud. He has always cultivated a passion for sculpture: since he was 11, he spent his free time working with white rock, the passion that after years has closed the circle and brought him back home, in the rocks of the underground city, where he continues to sculpt and create, “WITH HEART AND LOVE”, he wants to tell it, because that’s what counts.

Vincenzo gave me a heart as a present. A white heart from Matera ♡

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