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Diving in my own Arcadia

Giovanni Tocci and his relationship with the Tyrrenhian Sea

Cosenza is in the heart of Calabria, in a Southern Italy that lies halfway between the ancestraland the hyper-realist: “I get in the car and in twenty minutes I feel free. Outside the city, away from the noise.” The road is a short journey, not an escape.

The waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea were his second cradle: “I was four years old and I used to throw myself in.” His parents would take him to the beach and they would see him running through the shallows to where the water was bluer. They understood that this was his element, the ideal place to return. His Arcadia. Nothing has changed since then for Giovanni Tocci.

Freedom, there it is, he says: the sea again, the water again. Friend, mother, sister, lover, ally – sometimes even a tough rival. Giovanni soon found out what sort of relationship he would have with her. Before swimming, after diving in.

The diving board as a mystical art. From the municipal swimming pool of Campagnano, a suburb of Cosenza, to the gold medals in youth com- petitions, later earning his place among the great with silver at the 2016 European Games in London, followed in 2017 by bronze at the World Diving Championships in Budapest and the World Student Games in Taipei.

But then, Campagnano is always home: “I grew up there. I haven’t changed the place where I train,” he says. The water of the swimmer is a protective shell, a contact that beguiles and challenges time.

That of the diver is a wall that you can cross like a superhero, or a shield that repulses you and submits you to a judgment made up of votes and numbers: “Just one wrong move, go in on your back, or on your side. You learn that, there too, you can suffer pain. The water you live for can be ruthless.”

Italy is formed around miles and miles of coastline. The experience of those who visit it, often more in the spirit of an explorer than a tourist, is made up of solids and liquids. The breadth of the squares, of the ancient churches, of the castles perched atop medieval villages.

The quiet extension of its seas. Between the Tyrrhenian and Campagnano, Giovanni Tocci found the locus amoenus described and dreamt of by the poets. There comes a lyrical and powerful moment when the diver rises and leaps into the air, before realigning his limbs and body like a mathematical axiom, a sort of Vitruvian Man, a praise to symmetry that could hardly be bettered even if there was an invisible compass to point the way.

The seconds tick by; the muscles are tensed, like spaceships flying through the heavens, sinuous vibrations that cut through the air, to go down towards where you will be met by a waiting slab that can hurt or embrace you, like a heartless Valkyrie.

It’s called birth. It means life. A backward dive, with eyes closed and the hope of feeling an elusive sense of peace, is what epitomises it most tangibly.

Credits

PH Giovanni Gallio & Sara Capovilla
TEXT Matteo Fontana 

February 12, 2020

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