Getting on a plane for northern Italy, I was about five pages in to Michael Paternitti’s ‘The Telling Room’. A book I had heard, briefly serialised and sought out at an airport. A tale of a journey in search of a rare and wonderful and expensive cheese hand made in the hills outside Madrid. Sat down and suckered in by the draw of good story telling, I started seeing parallels emerging as I turned pages up sat there in the sky. That evening I was to drive into the the Dolomites and find somewhere to stay before the next morning finding someone to photograph. Not a cheese, but a handmade tale of myth and reputation none the less.
I had heard much about this man of steel and aluminium. This straight top tube kind of a guy in the foothills of the Dolomites that made bike frames of exquisite beauty people came from all over the world to have made for them.
Looking around, this space is kind of amazing. On the outside a bland industrial unit on the side of a quarry in the middle of nowhere. On the inside a post pop art studio of bright space and creative balance. Part bike showroom, part life pad. Think late 50’s modernist American interior and a tin shed. Kind of Frank Lloyd Wright designs the inside of your local Wall Mart. And thus you never want to leave. Huge leather sofas chaperone a beautiful hard wood coffee table. There are rugs everywhere. And lugs. Interesting pictures hung. A kitsch portrait of Dario appearing to be Jesus, with an iPhone in one hand and a cigarette in the other hang along side 4ft high hand prints and then an eight inch long steel bike frame miniature. Miles Davis is here. Quad loudspeakers are here. I could stay forever.
Maybe this is something that happens when you cheat death (Dario was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2007 – I remember this because a friend of mine was having a frame built at the time and it took a long time. But Pegoretti beat it and the bike did arrive.) I can’t help thinking as I watch Dario draw on a cigarette that most would be terrified of in his situation, that he isn’t scared of anything. Either that or he knows everything. I could believe it too, there is definitely some Marlon Brando about this frame maker in his own Apocalypse Now in these Italian hills. You’d follow him into the jungle even though you knew it was dangerous, he’s just got that sort of a presence you want to believe in.
Back to the studio for a sit down with new friends and a lump of bread, a lump of cheese and an old lump of procuitto in that way that only really southern Europe can get away with calling a perfect lunch and we just sit and listen. Loudspeakers speak loud, no words are spoken. Books are thumbed through, crumbs dropped, a dog cuddled. Cigarettes smoked, guitars strummed. Glances smiled upon. This is weird. I barely know these people and we are all enjoying non awkward silence together like old friends. I get the impression this is a normal lunchtime for these guys and having someone pop by probably happens all the time. It does slightly remind me of the scene as Martin Sheen approaches the camp and they are all hanging out, just one big happy hippie family of self exiled marines fighting their own little Vietnam into the Heart of Darkness. It’s beguiling. Wonderful. Enviable. I want to put down my rifle and stay and wear a bandana and paint bike frames and eat cheese. This is how I imagine Patterniti’s book will end. I almost don’t wan’t to read it now in case it doesn’t. It’s perfect.
For more info on the man himself, have a look at Pegoretti’s website here.