Getting away from it all and building a dream home in the middle of everywhere and nowhere. It’s a bit like a Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast except this is landlocked, dry and hot.What about following E.B. White’s command to be obscure clearly? .When Fabrizio Rondolino built his desert escape near Death Valley was he acting in the closing scene of a sequel to Antonioni’s Zabriskie point and writing the epilogue to the Enlightenment’s central theme: what is the nature of man?…
NEIGHBORS are few out here in the high desert of Nevada, where Fabrizio Rondolino, an Italian journalist, built his dream home. There was a fellow one lot over who, after reportedly hearing instructions from above, built a chapel. But possibly the voice subsequently hollered down, “Just kidding!” for while the chapel remains, the owner’s trailer is gone. There is also the Shady Lady Ranch, a bordello (legal in these parts) about seven miles down the road. …But bordellos and mystics are not the first thing an Easterner wants to know about after arriving on this stretch of land 150 miles north of Las Vegas, not far from Death Valley, on a scorching summer day. The first thing one wants to know is whether there are rattlesnakes. The answer, from Peter Strzebniok, the architect who built this house and is also visiting on this day: no, it is too hot. Rattlesnakes prefer the shade. … Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/garden/in-the-high-nevada-desert-sleeping-in-star-surround.html?_r=1&ref=joycewadler
It is certainly one of the most isolated and extreme places to live in the Americas. The idea of living in total isolation is not new, but it continues to exert an almost romantic fascination. In the late eighteenth-century, enlightenment philosophers began to ask what is the nature of man? And for an answer to this central question they looked to a deaf-mute child found running wild in the forest. He was the wild boy of Aveyron.
In 1797, peasants in the region of Lacaunne, in south-central France, spied a naked boy fleeing through the woods. Their curiosity aroused, they lay in wait on the following days and finally saw him searching for acorns and roots. In 1798 he was sighted again by woodsmen, and despite violent resistance, taken to the village of Lacaunne, where his arrival created a sensation. He was put on display several times in the public square, but the crowd’s curiosity was quickly satisfied by the sight of the filthy mute urchin, and under relaxed surveillance he was able to escape into the forest.
In July 1799, three hunters spotted him in the same woods, gave chase and succeeded in dislodging him from a tree. Securely tied, he was led back to Lacaunne and entrusted to the care of an old widow. This devoted guardian dressed him in a gown to hide his nakedness and offered him various foods, including raw and cooked meat, which he refused. He did accept acorns, walnuts and potatoes, always sniffing them before putting them in his mouth. When not eating or sleeping, he prowled from door to door and window to window seeking to escape. After eight days he succeeded.
…The next question — the big one — is for the owner: Why would he build a house in the middle of the scorching nowhere?
It is not an unexpected question. Mr. Rondolino, who arrived earlier the same day from his home in Rome, with his wife, Simona Ercolani; their daughters, Francesca, 23, and Bianca, 17; and his parents, Gianni and Lina Rondolino, cheerfully interrupts, as it is one he has heard countless times.
“Why, why, why, why, why?” he asks, his face full of happiness, like a man who has been reunited with a true love after a long time apart. “It all started with ‘Zabriskie Point,’ ” he says, referring to the Antonioni film about 1960s counterculture. “Simona’s father worked on that movie — he was chief electrician back in 1969. ‘Zabris
Point’ was kind of a mythical occasion for him. It is set in Death Valley; part of it was shot at Zabriskie Point.”
“Anyway, we came here for the first time 17, 18 years ago, and we fell deeply in love with Death Valley, so we keep coming,” continues Mr. Rondolino, who is 51 and speaks English fluently. “And then we decided, why not build?”
“My father has the Alzheimer’s for 13 years,” says Ms. Ercolani, who is 47 and speaks English less fluently than her husband. “When he died, the last words he remembered was ‘Zabriskie Point.’ Not me, not my daughters, not my mother. Only ‘Zabriskie Point.’ ” Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/garden/in-the-high-nevada-desert-sleeping-in-star-surround.html?_r=1&ref=joycewadler
…This time the wild boy did not return to the forest. Climbing the nearby mountains, he gained the braod plateau in the area of Aveyron. Through the autumn and into winter he wandered over this elevated and sparsely populated region, occasionally entering farmhouses where he was fed. During the day he was seen swimming and drinking in streams, climbing trees, running at great speed on all fours, and digging for roots and bulbs in the fields. When the wind blew from the Midi, he would turn toward the sky and render deep cries and great bursts of laughter.
Encouraged perhaps by the treatment he had received from the farmers on the plateau, he made his way down into the village of Saint-Sernin and urged on perhaps by hunger, he approached the workshop of a dyer named Vidal. At seven a.m. on January 8,1800, the boy slipped across the threshold into a new life, and into a new era in the education of man. …
She adds: “When my father died, we take the airplane here to honor my father and just walk, and he” — meaning Mr. Rondolino — “says, ‘It’s a beautiful place, we can build something.’ And joking, I say, ‘Sure.’ ”
Speaking of her husband, we have just noticed he has a small blue “S” tattooed on his hand in the tender tissue between thumb and forefinger. What’s that about? “We had a small troubled period,” Ms. Ercolani says. “So after we build the house, I marked my husband.” Does the desert attract those with interesting stories? Or is it just that in the desert one has time to listen to them? Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/garden/in-the-high-nevada-desert-sleeping-in-star-surround.html?_r=1&ref=joycewadlera
Word of the extraordinary wild boy spread rapidly, not only in the provinces but in Paris where several newspapers and most of the intelligentsia took up the theme of the “enfant sauvage de l’Aveyron.” Never was a name more unsuitable, or so much responsible for later confusion. The label “sauvage” could refer equally to wild animals, primitive people such as the Tahitians, and original man such as Rousseau’s noble savage. The enfant sauvage was later to be identified with each of these in turn and was, of course, none of them.
Over the next five years he would help answer the central question of the Enlightenment: what is the nature of man? Enlightenment philosophers saw a slippery slope in the continuity of the species and were leery of affirming the animal nature of man. Their unease in the philosophies of a Linnaeus who somewhat scandalously placed man and primate within the same order. Their unease was amply justified, since man in the latter half of the eighteenth-century, found himself squarely in the company of wild animals, primitive people and wild children.
…Then there is the story of Mr. Rondolino and Ms. Ercolani, aficionados of the American desert. On this summer afternoon, they are playing Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, and welcoming guests, as the temperature in their house, which has no air-conditioning, tops out at 94 degrees.
Mr. Rondolino, whose father is a cinema professor, is a novelist and press agent as well as a journalist, and was once a spokesman for the former Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema. Ms. Ercolani is a television producer. …
…They spent a week in the house over Christmas. Was it everything they hoped?
“When you stay here in the night, you can see the stars move,” Ms. Ercolani says, referring to the experience of sleeping in a bedroom with a floor-to-ceiling glass corner and a skylight.
Her husband adds: “I had the sensation of being on a spaceship. This winter, we had a really strong wind one night — the house was almost shaking. And there were millions, billions of stars from everywhere, you were completely surrounded by the stars down to the horizon, which in the cities or countryside you are not. Normally you see the stars above you, not around you. Yes, it was like a spaceship.” Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/garden/in-the-high-nevada-desert-sleeping-in-star-surround.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=joycewadler
All this served to sharpen such questions as what makes us men? The search for terms of comparison led out of society and into near and distant wilds. Wild children were studied with zeal. Rousseau cited the example of the wolf child of Lithuania, 1694, the wild child Peter of Hanover, 1794, as well as the wild girl of Sogny, Mlle. Le Blanc. The growing body of comparative data and analysis tended to undermine the standing of the traditional criteria for manhood: human appearance, vertical station, and speech. The behavior of wild children was critical to the controversy.
To be continued….