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Erri De Luca interview. Observing the mountains #1

14.03.2014 by Marco Ferrario

Interview with Erri De Luca about his particular way of observing the mountains, from climbing to alpinism. By Marco Ferrario.

Eyes, means, places, different degrees of sensitivity when looking at the mountains. Everyone who has been taken in by the world of the mountains has a personal way of describing what they belong to, of explaining their devotion. The mountains represent escapism, fun, philosophy, multiple and individual answers to personal needs. They are part of a far wider world, in constant evolution. But are the mountains changing? Those who take to them certainly change, as do the styles and reasons for which men seek them. We have tried to summarise these thoughts in a simple question: how do you observe the mountains? The first to answer this question is Erri De Luca, the Italian writer, poet, but also keen climber and mountaineer.

Mr. De Luca, your books are often set in the mountains or talk about important ascents. Tell us about your relationship with the mountains?
I've written a few stories about the mountains because I know them since I was a climber myself. My writing depends on the physical experience. I go to the mountains to get away from a given point and to reach the summit far away. I know that many alpinists go climbing to get closer to some rarefied presence, to be closer to heaven. My goal is the opposite, I ascend to distance myself. For me the sky remains something unapproachable and empty.

Is there something that fascinates you and something that frightens you about living in the mountains?
I don't live in the mountains, I reach them as an intruder, like an uninvited guest. I like its desert-like aspect, reaching a point where human presence is practically null. It is there that I can see the world as it was without us, and how it will be again one day. I'm afraid of lightning in the mountains, because I know them.

How did you get into sport climbing and other mountain sports?
One summer, when I was thirty years old, I got the urge to reach some summits. I started up some via ferrata, my hands grasped the rocks. On my return I took some rock climbing lessons and since then I've never stopped.

Viaggio uguale infinito at Grotta dellā€™Areonauta. Does this remind you of anything?
Yes, I remember the discovery of the Arenauta crag located between Gaeta and Sperlonga very well indeed. It's there that I climbed the big overhangs and improved to climb the large roof and the route you mentioned. After a 7c start there's a 15 meter roof through natural holds. The route ends outside the cave after having climbed through it all the way from its deepest depth. At the time it was graded 8b+. I was 52 years old.

Can you tell us about the relationship between holding a crimp and holding a pen?
Holds are there, all you need to do is climb past them. On my pages it is I who places the holds and trace a route for those who read my writings.

The mountain and others. Do you prefer to go into the mountains alone? What relationship is created between the men in the mountains? There are elements that are unique to this world?
I like to go by myself, but even when you climb with a partner, much of the time is spent alone. The mountains are an isolating material. On a climb, just like on a stage, what counts is the friendship between like-minded people. Without this premise I'm certainly not going to go for a walk into the void.

"The weight of the butterfly," the intimate relationship between man and animals, the environment in which we live.
A world of enormous rocks, large mountains, immense rock faces and men who continue to get stronger and more willing to climb them, seasoned hunters, just like animals in developing their hunt. In a world in which power, athleticism and mental strength count for more and more, what is the role of the weight of a butterfly ? The weight of the butterfly: for me it represents the decline of forces. The old chamois knows he's reached his end, the poacher notices the warning signs but is not ready to die just yet. There is a dignity within the death of animals which is simple and great, that we can only admire and never reach. The weight of the butterfly is the last straw that completes the load, not the one that breaks the back. The weight of the butterfly is the moment of truth.

Do you continually feel the need to write about the mountains?
No, it's one of my four cantons around which my writing rotates. The last time I wrote about them was when I was asked to do so by a newspaper that published something about the Dolomites. I'm not a maniac when it comes to climbing and with my partner we don't talk about holds, grades and gear.

Do you feel the need to go to the mountains?
It's a pleasure and for me a pleasure isn't a need, it's a playful moment.

Do you feel like encouraging the "new generations" to take to the mountains, to go climbing, do mountaineering, to try sports that provide a fundamental relationship with the mountain environment? If so, why?
The mountains are a meeting point and one can not prescribe or recommend encounters, they either happen or they don't. To those who go into the mountains I ask that they take with them plenty of fortune, because it's not a playground up there and it's not there, lying in wait to welcome us with open arms. No experience whatsoever, no equipment guarantees total safety.

Do you climb indoors? Have you ever been to a climbing gym?
I used to go an indoor climbing wall to get stronger for the overhangs.

What do you think about the increasing popularity of these gyms?
I don't think they help bring people closer to the mountains, I don't feel as if the number of those climbing big rock faces has increased. But they're a good physical exercise, in climbing you use all your muscles and improve the body's symmetry. It also has a therapeutical for various behavioral deficits, it encourages the shy and shames the bullies.


17/10/2011 - Erri De Luca, the mountains, alpinism and life in general
11/11/2002 - Erri De Luca climbs "Viaggio = infinito", 8b+

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