[Written by Elena Roselli]
[Image by Grace Elder]
Since a very young age, I have always been described as a “bookworm”.
Growing up, I quickly grew bored of usual stories you could find in kid’s books, to the point that my father had to make-up a new story every night to get me to go to sleep. The problem was pretty much solved when I started to read alone. I was finally able to form my personal image of the stories written in the books I loved, to choose the characters I wanted to dream of, the type of story I was intrigued by.
Everywhere I went, a book was always with me.
I thought this relationship between me and the thousands of fictional characters I read about was something unique, a beautiful exchange of experiences in which they gave me company and I gave them my complete devotion. I thought there couldn’t be anything more than that, that it was impossible for a human being to be as deeply involved in that mix of cellulose and ink as I was.
Till the day I met the baron.
I was seventeen. For my Italian literature class, we were required to read several books each semester as an extracurricular activity to better shape our understanding of certain literary movements. Before that day, all the required readings had been classics that I had already read long before my teacher asked me to.
But not that day, not that book named The Baron in the Trees.
When I first met the baron, it was a warm and sunny day of spring. The baron was dressed in green paper cover with trees on it, the pages were turning yellow as a sign of the time passing by. The price of the book was written in a currency that doesn’t exist anymore.
The story is simple. After the umpteenth quarrel with his father, the baron Cosimo di Rondò climbs up a tree to seek shelter from his parents that want him to eat the disgusting lunch cooked by his elder sister. When Cosimo refuses to do so, his father tells him that he won’t be allowed to get down of that tree till he apologises to his sister. And so, determined not to give up to an unjust sentence, Cosimo never gets down. He lives his life, his loves, his pains, his multiple adventures jumping from tree to tree, in a kingdom that is only his.
It’s probably necessary to mention that, when I first met the baron, I was in a moment of my life where I had to grow up faster than I would have wanted to. For personal reason that are not necessarily important to our story, I had to witness all my certainties fall one by one. I had to look at my parents struggling for something that was not their fault, I lost many of my friends, I was trapped in a relationship that was suffocating me, and I felt lost in a labyrinth from which I had no will nor strength to get out of.
I needed more than a week to read through the first chapter. I even complained with my teacher about her choice. Her only answer was to keep reading, and I’ll never thank her enough for that. After a few weeks, I decided to give the book a second chance. And that’s where it hit me. The more I explored the world of the baron, the more I was fascinated by it. I was given the chance to witness Cosimo in a world full of magic, adventure, heroism and pride. I was given the chance to grow up with him, to share the pain that he felt when keeping the lifestyle that made him free and how following his ideal meant that he had to give up on some of the people he loved. I suffered for his losses has if they were my own.
And yet that was not enough.
Towards the end of the book, when I was already trapped heart and soul in the story, I came upon a sentence that made me stop reading for a few minutes. For the following weeks, the more I tried not to think about that sentence, the more I couldn’t get it out of my head. It said: “There cannot be love if you are not yourself with all your strength”.
What was just 13 words printed on paper started to torment my days and nights. Everywhere I went, everything I did, every time I had to decide on anything remotely important that sentence popped out in my head again. There cannot be love if you are not yourself with all your strength. I slowly understood that, when it comes to Cosimo and his peculiar way of living, that sentence mostly meant that real love wouldn’t have ever asked him to get down of his trees, but that his choice also meant that he couldn’t force anyone to follow him, and that love mostly meant loving alone.
Without even noticing it, I started to apply that mantra to any aspect of my life. I understood that the wall of silence I built around myself wasn’t “being myself”, and that the first step towards being able to “love” again was starting to be honest with myself and face all those problems I refused to deal with before. I started to build a relationship with my family and the friends I had left little by little, repeating to myself that being myself was the only way for anyone to get to love me again. I decided to put an end to a relationship that was slowly killing me from the inside.
That was the moment I realised the power that a single book can have over the life of a person. The Baron didn’t give me the strength to change the path I was following, but he watched over me in silence, inspiring me to create my own kingdom of magic and adventure.
I currently have seven different copies of this book, and I buy a new one every time I find it in second hand shops. I re-read the book once a year, every spring, to remind me that “there cannot be love if you are not yourself with all your strength”, and that I must keep following this mantra to secure a place in my kingdom. I’m not the same person I was at seventeen, and I read many other books that shaped the person I became, but none of them will ever even compare with the baron. He will always be there for me, sitting on his tree, looking at the world going by, looking at the stars.
[Image Description: An illustration showing a tree in the middle of the frame, with a hedge and an outstretched field behind it. The leaves of the tree seem to blend into clouds in the sky. The only colours used are a very light beige/pink and black.]