La Pontremolese

La linea ferroviaria che percorre la Val Taro     The railway line that runs through the Taro Valley

Since I was a child, the train and the railway have exercised an inexplicable fascination on me, it is certainly a sort of "imprinting", in fact I remember that my grandfather used to come and pick me up on his bicycle every summer morning to take me to see the train, and I really liked sticking my head between the bars of the level crossing and letting my hair get messed up by this thunderous dark beast that was racing towards who knows what distant lands (at the time I didn't know that it simply led to La Spezia).

Val Taro is crossed by a railway that connects Parma with La Spezia, while from the town of Fornovo there is a branch that deviates towards Fidenza, its construction dates back to the years 1883/1889 and has an interesting route from a historical and landscape, a route which has remained unchanged since the time of its construction, but now a complete renovation is being planned and in some points a new double track route has already been built, certainly safer and more efficient than the original route, but equally certainly less suggestive: while the old railway in fact fits into the landscape almost as if it were naturally part of it, the modern railway instead cuts it with pylons and concrete walls that seem like a deep and incurable wound.

The latter, however, is only a consideration of a purely aesthetic nature, I don't want to come off as someone who is against progress, on the contrary: more efficient and safer railways are welcome, who knows, maybe one day we won't be able to decimate those hateful trucks that clog up and plague the roads. our streets!

At the time of its planning the railway was supposed to connect Parma with the city of Genoa, but the route would have had to cross a much more rugged and problematic mountainous landscape, therefore after many projects and hypotheses it was decided to follow the shorter and simpler route which descends towards La Spezia. A railway branch was also planned which from Fornovo was to go up along the Val Ceno to Bardi. However, many local committees were formed which, with their discussions and demands, prolonged the time required for the planning and study of the best route, until that, with the arrival of the Great War and the consequent change in economic and social needs, the project fell into oblivion and nothing more was done about it.

Starting from Parma, the train runs through pleasantly cultivated countryside up to Fornovo, from where the rails then begin to meander through the mountainous valley, running alongside and crossing the river in several places up to the town of Borgo Taro, here, immediately after the station, the convoy it dives into a very long and dark pass tunnel, then emerging into the valley of the Magra river, in Tuscany, following its course up to the gates of La Spezia.

You cross impervious mountains and the spectacle offered to the traveler ranges from apparently wild landscapes to interesting historical glimpses: a decidedly evocative route with a slightly ancient flavour, along which you can admire how man's tenacity has slowly shaped the landscape and nature adapting and adapting to coexist in a delicate balance that has held up for centuries: you can see mountains and rivers, castles and perched villages, medieval bridges and old stations whose architecture has remained unchanged since the end of nineteenth century.

The railway is then dotted with small and very small stations, many of which are now disused, but if we try to imagine them

as they were a hundred years ago, with their clean, well-kept and tidy appearance (as we can see them today in old and faded postcards), they remind us with nostalgia of the quiet and simple life of the countryside at the beginning of the century: today, unfortunately, these stations they have mostly become ghostly places, where nature and the wear of time are slowly reconquering the stolen spaces, and even if trains still stop in many of these stations.

almost no one gets on or off the train anymore and the stops seem to be just a nuisance for the modern traveller, whose mind has already arrived at his destination even before his body, thus missing out on the pleasure of enjoying the journey and thinking, while outside the landscape passes before our curious eyes. You can breathe a strange atmosphere when visiting these places, an atmosphere that smells of iron and nostalgia, an atmosphere of bygone eras but not so much in terms of time, but rather in terms of lifestyles, ideals and mentalities !

I remember that when I was a child the train also stopped in Gaiano, my town: there was a tiny station with its waiting room, the wooden bench, the small sign and the railway worker who opened and closed the bars by hand. rail crossing. But the small station was inconvenient, it was outside the centre, and so with the advent of road buses which stopped directly in the town and the spread of private cars, people no longer took the train and, after a few years during which the trains stopped empty, the stop was abolished, even though its name still appears today on some timetables on sale on newsstands!

In addition to the stations, the so-called "toll houses" survive along the line, now mostly reduced to skeletons, i.e. small houses arranged about a kilometer apart, which were inhabited by railway workers and their families, with the task, before the arrival of automation, of guarding the level crossings, but, more anciently, complete with rifle and lantern for the night, they also monitored the safety of the line.

Traveling by train is pleasant for me, the beauty of the train is that, while traveling without the worry of driving, you can look out the window, I love looking out, and enjoying the landscape that passes by, sometimes quickly, sometimes slow, sometimes stopped in remote places, and at the same time you can think, read, relax, converse and make acquaintances, see strange people and imagine their stories... all things that are difficult to do when you are busy driving a car; it is a different way of travelling, perhaps a little anachronistic, but precisely for this reason it has its own particular charm, because with the right spirit it can be a journey that takes place not only in space, but also in time and in a different dimension of oneself.... forgetting for a few hours the frenetic pace of traffic and the alienating landscapes of motorways and service stations, as well as the anxieties of speed cameras, restricted traffic zones, parking and so on.

Thinking about my various interests, it comes naturally to me to exclaim: "dear Sigmund, you were absolutely right".. yes, in fact, trains have always exercised a fascination on me, and I think this can be traced back to the fact that trains have often been present in pleasant moments of my childhood, thanks to my grandfather Stefano, and as Sigmund taught, childhood experiences indelibly shape our psyche: in fact as a child, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone, I often went to play near the railway and it also happened, while walking and peering carefully among the stones of the roadbed, to find beautiful white stones set with small but glittering golden crystals which, in the eyes of a child, seemed very precious! (they were Pyrite crystals, some of which I still have). I liked looking at the bluish mountains on the horizon, from which those glittering stones probably came, and I let myself be carried away by my imagination, trying to imagine who knows what exotic destinations and what treasures could be hidden down there, right there where those silver tracks were pointing straight.

In elementary school I was certainly not a model student, and I remember that sometimes during lessons I lost myself drawing pages and pages of tracks and switches in a notebook, while the teacher, who seemed very far away, held his lesson: I drew so many to fill an entire notebook... a strange thing that I still can't explain (I would have been an interesting case for our friend Sigmund). That notebook greatly impressed my teacher, Ettore Guatelli, who asked me to give it to him: I gave it to him... and then immediately started another one. This fantastic master has today become famous for his collection of old instruments linked to our peasant civilization, which are now collected in a beautiful museum: who knows what happened to that notebook !

Even today this railway continues to exercise its mysterious and irrational charm, and I like to collect photos of trains, tracks and stations, in the hope perhaps of being able to preserve the historical memory of this railway line. I am not an avid admirer of the machines themselves, so much so as to delve into the technical details and specific nomenclature, I instead prefer a more romantic vision, in fact I prefer to photograph trains not as isolated subjects and ends in themselves, but as part of the landscape, I prefer to focus on the poetic and symbolic aspect of this world, of trains, stations and tracks, as metaphors of traveling and dreaming: I want to look at trains again with the amazed eyes of that curious child !

An evening view of Parma's rail station

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Free Wild Spirit - You will never have me - by Andrea Franchi - all rights reserved