The old town and church steeple of Vinci straddles a hillside on the slopes of Monte Albano, the brown ochre buildings clustered tightly, the southern approach protected by high ivy covered walls. The rest of town pours into the valley, spreading out fan-like among small shops, local eateries, small businesses galleries and artist workshops.
Ana and I, both artists by training and passion, are enthralled and silent, mostly, absorbing the sights and smells and essence of the place as if it was water over parched earth of our hearts. Without a doubt, this, this place for all of its history and namesake is religion for us. In it we are focused for some insight into the brilliance this very place inspired. Buildings have come and gone. It’s easy to imagine the countryside is little changed, but the landscape, the ebb and flow of the land, the rise and fall of the hills and valleys, the wind distant off the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the light above are unchanged. And to understand a man like Leonardo d’Vinci it is imperative to be here and to imagine how all of this must have informed his inspiration.
The approach to the
town is simple. It might be said, in an often used cliché that in these parts all roads do indeed lead to Vinci. Following the Via Ripalla, a soccer pitch hidden among a line of trees beside the road, we cross a shallow canal over a small bridge hardly wide enough for a single vehicle. There are tourist busses parked along the Via Guisseppe Rossi, beneath the high walls shielding a strengthening morning sun.
Turning a corner, a blue and white caribinieri patrol car slipped in behind us. Instantly Ana stiffened in her seat and announced in an alarmed whisper, “There’s police behind us.”
With equal anxiousness she pushed a bag of potato chips under her seat, as though she was hiding contraband. I couldn’t help but laugh, especially as she breathed a sigh of relief when the patrol car turned down a small street.
“Are you wanted by Interpol or something?” I teased. “Something you need to confess.”
“No,” she smiled, “I just get nervous sometimes.”
Finding a place to park beneath the old church, Ana and I got out to stretch. We were not discovering this place. If there is a road or a trail or path somewhere it has been discovered. No, we were coming to a place. We were coming to someone’s home, and not giving that place value, but rather finding value in being there, which is a fundamental difference. Any discovery on our part was surely in the way we came to each place we visited We had made Vinci a destination to enrich our souls, to re-affirm our good hearts, to deepen our knowledge of things that only previously existed for us in books and to make the world a small community. We’d come for our own humanity with the hopes that it might be reaffirmed and our natural hubris deflated just enough. That, I believe, is what the meaning of place is.