The fluttering of the butterflies had never been so boisterous, fracturing a silence that seemed incorruptible. They rested over lavender flowers, seeming to battle the heavy, warm air that ran around the house that morning. July had struck Italy with one of its warmest summers; the heat slowed down the pace of the days, making bodies go numb – idyllic for a good dose of Italian dolce far niente.
Poolside at Villa La Chiocciola, just a drive in the country away from Florence, I sat against the garden facing the small chapel connected to the principal manor, trying to normalize that, despite my companion being allergic, bees grazed and buzzed freely in the lavender. Responding to a dry mouth, I reached to my right for a refresher: Hugos, a newly acquired pleasure, and while picking up the already watery beverage, two yellow lilies, still hesitant to dying to the July heat, peeked out from behind the glass to expose a beautiful realization.
Becoming aware of a taken-for-granted fact can be as striking as a brilliant idea, like a gentle whisper turned into a loud scream. It reconfigures the way you see your world, teaches you to observe, feel more cautiously. For a long time, I had been pursuing yellow in objects, people, nature, searching for that specific shade of the color that had caught my attention since my teenage years. More than an obsession, it had become a visual fixation, one that kept me fascinated every time I encountered it.
In front of the mustard-yellow villa, surrounded by lemon trees and the resilient lilies, I realized that since the day I stepped foot in Florence, this country had always surprised me with yellows -or more specifically- it had always been yellow. I witnessed how it mutated and took unimaginable forms. In wintertime, when all colors fade, waiting to bloom freshly in the longed spring, yellow Pasquali Riscio cars appear around the corners shining like new-found gold. Or yellow neon signs reading trattoria would guide you to celestial pasta experiences – as if the word wasn’t provocative enough.
Here colors parade the streets of Milano in Prada dress, or in sheets waving off a Venetian window on a Sunday, the day for food, religion, and laundry. Cities are summarized to their predominant shades, Paraggi Green, Rosso Pompeii, Modena Yellow! And national figures are remembered for the hue iconic to their work: Verde (Paolo) Varonese, Rosa Schiaparelli, Rosso Tiziano –or Valentino. Only here, floating yellow stripes contain the force of the sea for swimmers to dive in the blue waters of Portofino, while yellow mailboxes give hope of a safe arrival to your postcards from the Vatican.
Devotion is to Italy what yellow had become to my eyes, addictive. On a Sunday, practicing my own apparent faith, I understood that yellow wasn’t anymore a matter of chance, but intention. Italians and their dependence on beauty had meticulously thought out the proper placement of colors. Beyond romanticizing them, they gave them a reason – and an explanation to that feeling of immersion that I had encountered myself in.
Once I let myself be fascinated by what happened behind the yellow velvet curtains of the Chiesa dei Santi Michele e Gaetano –or Santi Hermès, as I had baptized it for its vicinity to the French brand’s boutique-, I understood how my favorite color acted as an experience. Those magnificent yellow curtains, nested in between sculptural columns, were there to greet you and subsequently introduce you to a choir singing Ave Maria in couture-like vestments, to let you experience the afternoon glow cutting through the stained-glass compositions, making light seem tangible, contributing to the idea of a religious experience.
By no coincidence, one of this country’s most cherished treasures carries such a splendid tone within it. Though subtle it can be, a pale yellow gives color to the edible gem that has once made us all want to stay here eternally. Ravioli, rigatoni, pappardelle – an infinity of options available to taste, to live. Perhaps it takes a romantic or a silent observer to notice such things, finding yellow in your food, and happily photographing it, but here, everything is at the service of photography and contemplation. Italy gave me the answer to why my eyes sought desperately for yellow: it was entirely mine, and that way, I could find myself in every place, or allow it to take me anywhere.
I hope that I, us, never lose the ability to see yellow.