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The history of a resilient forest and the writer who narrates it

03 September 2022

The Cuma Forest is three thousand years old. It stretches for kilometres and kilometres under the acropolis of Cuma, an archaeological site in the metropolitan city of Naples, a place of uninterrupted fascination. It is a forgotten, abused and abandoned forest. To read the book that Antonella Cilento has dedicated to it, however, it appears resilient, because despite everything, despite so much, it lives on. It can therefore be saved.

Austere and magical, the Sibyl is there, for she is the protagonist of the book Solo di uomini il bosco può morire [Only Because of Men the Forest Can Die], Aboca editions. The title is devoutly borrowed from Danilo Dolci, the Italian sociologist, poet, educator and non-violence activist. The author rediscovered the forest during the pandemic, when there was nowhere to go, when not even the world, at certain times, knew which way to go. She rediscovered its history, its flora, its fauna; and she recounts its torment.

“In this enchantment, however, the residues of an enormous quantity of pollution are there, the dunes close to the shoreline stage a plastic bonanza. Plastics of all kinds, car tires, crutches, chairs, detergent containers, cans, shoes, pushchairs, clothes, fragments of glasses, plates, wheels, 79 containers, chandeliers, pipes, tools, bottles, caps, pens, benches, umbrellas and parasols, even tables. Acid stains from detergents, lakes of naphtha, diesel and petrol, foam from detergents and medicines, pesticide containers. The dunes, populated with plants and shells that the sea brings in from offshore, are now made of plastic. Micro-plastics worn away by wind and salt are everywhere. Paper wrappers, food bags, dead mice, tissues, toilet paper, and condoms. This is just scratching the surface, considering the intense infiltration of tiny fragments of our daily objects, whether that be toothbrushes, eyeglass holders, food containers, freezer bags, envelopes and even more envelopes, laces, gloves, into the lives of the dune plants and their inhabitants - beetles, insects, the very rare blue bees that found a habitat there, like the Cuma lily, found only on this beach. Flying over us, in droves, are seagulls and other birds that I will learn about in the days to follow. High and circumspect fly the hawks.

I walk and cry, the first few times”.