La Selva is a forested bird park in Paliano, about 30 kilometers south of Rome, that has an amazing story which suddenly came back alive a few days ago during the opening of a ‘holy door’ in nature.
The opportunity to celebrate a Holy Year in a green environment had attracted a lot of public and civic institutions and more than 4,000 people had gathered to hear a Mass celebrated by the bishop in a clearing in the trees. I found many friends but my attention was drawn to an elegant gentleman dressed in white staring at the stage with trepidation.
It was Mr. Manfred Massimi Berucci, the best friend of Prince Ruffo with whom for many years he had shared the dream to develop the agricultural area in a park intended for tourist and business accommodation. For some years I had shared this dream with them and gave me great pleasure to go and pay homage to Mr. Berucci.
As I approached, however, I felt a particular tension and after welcoming me with a traditional Italian kiss, he excused himself, saying “I have to go and say something, I cannot miss this moment, I have to be focused.” And he returned to stare at the stage and the movements of many priests intent on the celebration.
After the Mass, the bishop gave the floor to the mayor and the regional councilors for their greetings. A priest was putting the microphone back when Mr. Berucci elegantly but determinedly moved onto the stage and took the microphone for his greeting. All remained a little puzzled, but understanding that the intent was not violent, he was given time to say something.
He could have said many things, tell millions of anecdotes but his choice was to bring the greetings of the aged prince, who no longer lives in Paliano, and remember with misty eyes, rosemary seedlings, lavender and mimosa planted by citizens of Paliano following the landscape architectural lines desired by the prince. Million seedlings that are now part of the landscape but which then were only small twigs on a lawn with no particular natural order were planted by citizens involved in the dream.
I could not say goodbye to Mr Berucci to thank him for his words. He dissolved into the crowd after performing his duty to bear witness to passing the baton from the Prince to the new owners, from his generation to the current young people who sought to open this season in the park with an important moment.
This moment of poetry brought to mind my years of relationship with La Selva which has never been forgotten. From the windows of my house I have the view of the park every day, and every day I feel new emotions and I always had the hope to see it reborn.
It was about thirty years ago when I had just graduated and I had left my mother’s house ‘abruptly’ and a gentleman of noble bearing, with a look that passed quickly from the slightly crazy to rational, offered me a job and a house in the park. He was Prince Antonello Ruffo di Calabria and I had no idea how he would change my life.
The job was to support his family in an urban transformation plan, working between designers and local administration, and to support an Israeli company that was working on the marketing plan and the development plan of the district.
But how was the park La Selva born?
I had not assisted in the formation of ponds that Prince had made many years before damning a tributary of the river Sacco, and I had not taken part in the arrival of the birds that were the result of an agreement with Fidel Castro. I had not taken part in the involvement of artists to create original structures where the birds could find food or shelter. I had not taken part in the planting of the vineyard or mimosas.
But some days I could see Don Antonello in an open jeep that went around the estate following a tractor that was to move a hill or create a scene from some new perspective. I have assisted the shifting of many small oaks to be able to enlarge a wood on one side and create a space for play activities on the other side. I saw planting kilometers of bamboo to follow the paths that the prince had marked with chalk on the countryside. I had tickets to the park when the exit of Colleferro was the most clogged in Italy on Easter Monday and May Day.
Creating La Selva was not a cost effective operation for the prince. And whenever he found himself close to solving his economic problems he escaped from the solution for fear of losing his ‘toy’, or that someone could ruin him. His was not an easy life with this dream that hung in front of his face like a carrot in a race of rabbits that can never catch up.
He was afraid all his life that speculation prevailed over beauty. Art and Nature were combined in his head and he never bowed to the lure of money, even demanding sacrifices from his family.
The words of Manfred Berucci Massimi have had a profound significance for me. A blessing on what you are doing and a wish for continuing on the path of La Selva begun with the love of a visionary prince.