It is not easy to make a portrait of someone you love. My father always told me so every time he posed. He explained to me that my face was not simply a face for him, but a puzzle of memories and nostalgia.
Each line was an embrace, every shadow was the breath of time spent together. And I listened as a child, amazed, without fully grasping his words.
In an attempt to put into words a portrait of the Albanian community in Italy, my father's words come to mind. My thoughts have spread to me over the years, since we met Italy.
The real Italy, not the cathodic one, but the one made of flesh, of sun, of turned shoulders and welcoming smiles. An Albanian comedian used to say in the 80 years that if the borders of Albania had never been opened, he would have done nothing but climb a tree to avoid being trampled by the crowd.
This is exactly what happened. In tens of thousands they reached Italy with loaded ships of loss and wonder, of excitement and trepidation. Every dot of that dark crowd, every pixel of the photos that depicted it, had a dream: the Italian one.
If we took the photo of the Albanian community in Italy today we would see a mosaic composed of those dots, now colored and in motion. Seen from a distance it is a giant portrait.
Light hair in the wind, dark like the clothes of the grandmothers who every time, swallowing tears, accompany us to ports and airports after the summer holidays.
The high forehead, full of wrinkles and sweat, cooked by the sun of the Italian countryside where you work.
Deep eyes. Bottomless pain pits of exploited girls in the sidewalks, those kidnapped and annihilated for a fistful of money.
The eyes of children, children of those boys who arrived in the 1991 and who carry particular names, designed to be read in the same way both in Italian and in Albanian, so grandparents in Albania will call them without crippling their names. The look of my people, with a hint of challenge at the corners and an immense desire for revenge.
The high cheekbones of women that every day they take care of the elderly Italians, who treat them and pamper them making them want to live again. The aquiline curve of the nose touched by the light of the movie sets. The mouth that touches the notes of Verdi and Puccini in the glittering theaters of the opera.
The hoarse voice of a refugee who tells of his night crossing on a rubber boat. The long neck of the students bent over the books and notes taken quickly on the long university afternoons.
Broad shoulders of the men and boys who struggle as they never would have thought, those who see the sun being born while they are at work and who can never see it set down in bars before a beer. The long and treacherous arms of robbers, criminals and drug dealers.
The delicate hands of nurses and doctors who at every step in Italian hospitals think of those devastated in Albania. The palms destroyed by the lime of the masons, carpenters and tilers who wait every morning on the road with the hope of being loaded onto a bus that will take them to work.
Painters' fingers that caress the canvases with the nostalgia of home, of the violinists who play in Sanremo, of the scutarini artisans who make the most beautiful masks of the Venice Carnival. The turned muscles of the dancers, veiled by the pastel lights of the television studios and photo shoots.
Tired legs of those who spend their days in the queue at the police station waiting for a document. The strong feet of the soccer players who make every half of Albania jump.
Composing a portrait of the Albanians in Italy is like flying over an immense fresco, without boundary lines and studded with chiaroscuro.