It's one thing to experience great European art by donning ear buds and ambling through the Louvre or the Uffizi. It's something else entirely to take off your shoes, roll up your jeans and walk all over the art. That's what I did last week at the opening of Christo's latest installation,"The Floating Piers," on Italy's Lake Iseo.
I arrived at the Piers by ferry. The boat was packed, all of us craning our necks to get a glimpse of the nearly two-mile-long shimmering yellow floating walkway that crossed the lake from the town of Sulzano on the mainland to Monte Isola, one of the highest lake islands in Europe.
The thrill of the crowd was electrifying. People were laughing, calling out to each other, snapping photos. Groups of people jumped in the air in unison to get that perfect action shot; others sat down resting or sunbathed at the edges. Toddlers were crawling around; older children were doing cartwheels. Couples sat, arms intertwined, staring at the hills of Monte Isola or the sailboats in the distance. Even the dogs seemed excited, pulling on their leashes. Ducks swam by and a swan that jumped onto the walkway became an Instagram star. Most of us walked barefoot for maximum effect, feeling the wrinkles in the reflective fabric, the transition from wet to dry (the wet patches a deep orange).
The floating piers undulated with the movement of the water, which intensified when motor boats sped by or the wind picked up. It felt not unlike sailing for hours and then stepping back on solid ground but still feeling the swaying of the waves in your body.
I had just walked onto the floating pathway surrounding the tiny island next to Monte Isola, San Paolo, when a barge approached, moving slowly parallel to the pier at a few feet’s distance. There were many boats circling around, with both security personnel and spectators. I wouldn’t have paid it attention if it weren’t for the shouts of “Christo!” The name passed through the crowd like the gentle waves swaying the floating pier we were standing on.
We gathered at the edges, looking at the barge; Christo’s white mane was easy to spot among the dozen people on it. The crowd began clapping. Many called out, “Bravo!” Others waved. As the barge made its way further down, clapping erupted along the piers. An avid traveler, I’m tired of the crowds at popular tourist locations and try to avoid them at all cost. But this was different. This was intoxicating. I have never been more excited to be surrounded by people.
I had arranged to meet a friend arriving at the marina an hour after me. But I’d barely made it halfway across one of the two floating piers connecting San Paolo to Monte Isola when she called to say that her boat was already pulling in. I had lost track of time.
We decided that she would take the pier closer to where she’d disembarked and we would meet at the point the two connected at a sharp angle—about 700 yards from land. It was a favorite place for photographs.
It occurred to me I would never again arrange to meet someone at the sharp point of the Piers (unless I did it in the 15 days left of the installation). For many, this was one of the most appealing aspects of the installation—its temporary nature. We can go see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre whenever we want. We can go to the Grand Canyon or climb Kilimanjaro tomorrow, next year, in ten years. But there is only a 16-day window to walk on Christo’s ‘Floating Piers.’ Just like with a rainbow, you can’t say, “I’ll see it another time.”
On my way back to Iseo, I watched from the ferry’s top deck as the hum of the people grew fainter, the bright yellow fabric just a smudge at the edge of the island, and I thought that photos and even video could never do it justice.
“The Floating Piers” is living, breathing art; art that undulates not only with the waves but also with the excitement of the crowds. Being a part of it was a magical experience that will stay with me for years to come.
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