The Fire Tamers
Photography by Stefano Milazzo
Text edited by Cosimo Calabrese and Andrea Mancuso
Nazareno and Pasquale, Bruno, Angelo and Cosimo and still Nazareno said Zeno, like a circus family handed down from generations, the circus of nature between the beech trees and larch, the secrets and the arts of the fire tamers
In a fast-paced world where everything has to be produced in the fastest time possible, here in Serra San Bruno, production is carried on by burning coal with a traditional method, ecologically sustainable and non-intensive. You don’t go by accident to Serra San Bruno, the country among the "South" Alps in the province of Vibo Valentia, which counts about 7000 souls. In the Regional Natural Park of the Serre, a family, dedicating their lives, 365 days a year, to a ceaseless confrontation with the fire. From 5 am to 5 pm, they are there, in the nature protected from the loud noises of the city, where you only hear the rustling of the trees marked by the rhythm of work, and a cloud that envelops you and carries you away in time.
"We make and govern the" scarazzi "(charcoal burning, in Calabrian dialect)" they repeat. The Serra San Bruno charcoal burners are proud of their knowledge, or rather, of their art, because it is a difficult job like an acrobat who knows how and when to put the foot on the tightrope of the tent. Like them, Nazarene, knows how and when to direct the wind that fuels the fire of coal, knows how to keep it with the earth and knows how to stop it at the right time with water. All this to turn the wood into coal, a coal type of plant which is mainly used in the kitchen for cooking food "from the fire to the fire".
For centuries, the circus tamers of fire have realized that to keep control, it is essential to know the forces of the other elements, that is air, water and earth. Angelo and his son Cosimo have just completed one of the charcoal, as they assess weather conditions, they decide to postpone the start of the scarazzo because of the rising wind. They are going to wait, because once the scarazzo is ignited, it can not be turned off, it has to keep baking for 15 days.
Around all these lives contour rotates another family, the impresarios of the circus. The family chief is Mr. Bruno, a true entrepreneur who was able, out of nothing, to create the absolute coal distribution network needed, the CarbonSud. Thanks to his abilities, he has created real economy around this millenary business with a major economic impact and benefits for dozens of families. From loggers to charcoal burners to firewood and coal carriers. Once the coal was the main heating source and there were many charcoalers with important economic local activities in Italy throughout the past centuries until the '50s and' 60s. Today, however, it is only used for barbecue or to feed the ovens of the pizzerias. "Charcoal Calabria" writes the name on the bag for sale, because they are proud of their work, and, above all, for using nowadays an entique technique, that stays untouched in time.
The strong smell of burning woods conquers immediately the smell and it dominates the all senses: the smell of those smoky mist will persist when far away from these places, even lasting for days. As long as all this will be possible, as long as the tradition will not dissolve, there will be clouds of smoke to cover stories and arts, crafts and mysteries, wrapped in a timeless charm.
Stefano Milazzos - Send an e-mail to Stefano