Renato is the owner of the villa where we stayed near Bettona, Umbria, and he also teaches at the University of Perugia in the Environmental Sciences department. I wrote to him after we returned to say than you, and asked about a painting at the villa (with signature initials the same as his). He emailed back that he did make the painting, but that he didn’t paint much lately because he was writing the text for a book of photographs about Bettona. Softening his email with a smiley face, he inquired whether I might “correct his English.”
I said sure – it was July and I was avoiding the undone book arts project. He offered to send a disc with the photo layout and a file with the Italian and English text. I didn’t know what to expect. It seems brave to write a book at all, and daunting to write in two languages. It intrigued me that he would tackle this labor of love (proceeds, if there are any, go to UNICEF).
Renato photographed Bettona from his terrace across a valley, over and over as the weather and the seasons changed. He shot at dawn and sunset, as the sky colored with lightening storms or festival fireworks. In some photos fog blankets Bettona unmooring it from its hilltop. In the text he introduces a little history and culture and, surprisingly to me, the science behind weather phenomena.
My task seemed like a really fascinating puzzle – a puzzle that mattered to somebody. Sometimes fixes were easy like making words consistent throughout – choosing British or American spellings of words like color. Other passages seemed at first impenetrable – complicated by my unfamiliarity with scientific terms and the difference between literally translated words and the way we really write and speak.
I enjoyed it when his text wandered away from science, and described the experience of making the book – “between an idea and its realization, between saying and doing, there is a distance that seems insurmountable ” or spoke of fog, “by hiding reality, fog plays the role of muse and leaves space for the imagination.”
And I loved learning more about Bettona – it was just a sleepy, shuttered walled town on the weekend we walked into it. Now I know it has preserved medieval walls on top of an ancient Etruscan foundation, a patron saint who settled there in the early days of Christianity, and a contemporary Goose Festival.
A favorite phrase came in an email when we’d finished most everything. Renato wrote that to get a photo of Bettona in snow, he needed to wait for winter because snow didn’t fall in Bettona last year. He said, this year “I need a little bit of lucky!”
That’s wrong for proper English – but a keeper!