His name was Gustave Eiffel, and he built his giant French tower because it was impossible—that is what everyone said—to build something so tall. They said the tower would topple under its own weight. Or the wind would blow, the metal would bend, and the rivets would snap. The tower would plunge into the city.
To get anywhere from the borgo—the walled-in cluster of medieval houses and skinny lanes connecting the castle, the church, and a tiny grassy square—one must go steeply downhill and then steeply up. Each morning, I choose a different high point from which to take in the magnetic hills of this corner of Lunigiana in northwest Tuscany, where friends have made a part-time home. Once I saw a handful of seniors out for a stroll, and I often say hello to a man in his eighties whose dog takes him out for jaunts, very slowly due to his heart trouble, but otherwise I encounter no one.
Scavenging down the blue potholed hill, rocking
out of cobalt acid, they steam chromatic, these Elijahs
in their cloud wheels, fatherless and man-killing,
their guts bloated with red heat, lice, cast-iron-soldiers
Downtown, already snagged between two countries, I make stock footage for an English return—block after block, hobbling in unwalkable shoes, uptown from the Ground Zero memorial where, today, Obama laid wreaths and tousled the head of Cannizzaro: a one-year-old boy on 9/11.
In a photograph Robert Adams took northeast of Riverside, California, in 1982, serpentine paths lead toward the horizon line; it’s not easy to discern whether these are creeks, dirt trails, or roads. Human presence takes the form of wooden poles carrying electric wires, which stride diagonally from the bottom left of the composition toward the distance at right. Scrubby brush covers the low hill that spreads out beneath Adams’s camera, a few trees poke up disconsolately here and there, and a larger hill dominates the right-hand edge of the picture. In the distance is the radiance of an invisible sun, an onrushing whiteness that presses toward the camera and blots out the landscape’s details.