Walking on Water


It was love at first sight.

Simple as that.

I took one look at the saffron coloured piers stretching across a panoramic lake I’d never heard of before, in Northern Italy, and I was love-struck.

Love-struck, obsessed and thousands of kilometres away.

I was obsessed with the idea of what it would feel like to be there, on the piers, on the water.

Would it feel as magic as it appeared from distant and rarely serene, never pristine Beirut?

As I urged a friend flying to Milan to absolutely go, telling him: “If you go, it’s almost as if I were there,” us both laughing at my stubborn incitement, I started to question myself about this fantasy.

And I started looking at flights to Milan, probing friends residing there about vacant sofas.

The colour of the fabric, which looks like a blend between hues – what we’d get mixing tumeric, apricot and saffron – is a fragnant, warm and stimulating colour. Closer to yellow than orange with the shades of azure and teal of the deep mountain Lago d’Iseo, it effectively represents the Tibetan holy colours: yellow and blue.

Whether or not Christo and Jeanne-Claude were aware of that or whether Johannes Itten would approve, I believe no other two colours would have had quite the same effect.

More than anything though, it was the fact that as in most of their projects, Christo and Jeanne-Claude created something somewhat impossible, created something solid but ephemeral. And herein lies the magic of it: it is not architecture, it is not engineering (though I’m sure there are some part of the team) – it is art. And as such, it proves the beauty of an edifice, a valley, a waterfall, a set of islands – the beauty of our planet – by adding something equally beautiful but changing our perceptions entirely, our relationship to the wrapped or draped or surrounded entity, which once the intervention is over, returns to its initial state, but is no longer the same. Nor are we.


I have followed Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who passed away in 2009) for many years. The Running Fence and the Umbrellas are among my favourites. That said, I regret not getting to see the Wrapped Reichstag but I did get to see the Wrapped Trees, which once snow fell on the Japanese mesh, took on poetic beauty.


Cycling from Iseo to Sulzano from where one gained access to the piers, I could see the installation from afar and how it blended into the landscape. I could not see the incredible queues I’d have to join before eventually stepping on the water…

After much waiting and frequent showers courtesy of the local fire brigade, I finally walked on the fabric, laid out in small streets of Sulzano near the water.

The initial crowd management, demanding of everyone stepping on to get a move on, instead of taking pictures or admiring the views and the FEELING, spoilt the first impressions but regardless of the masses of people – it was possible, given the sheer size of the piers, to have a personal experience. Also due to the fact that once on the piers, everyone was free to stay for however long they wanted.

Though ferries have been re-routed, there were frequently motorboats and also the boats patrolling for the Floating Piers project, causing small waves to move the piers, gently though. While I felt like a sailor back on land in Sulzano, I felt safe – a deeply happy – at all times.

It is that feeling of safety, of insouciance, that made me inevitably think of others who attempt to cross the waters, maybe at the same time as I was taking my shoes off and placing my bare feet on the piers.

Whether or not Christo and Jeanne-Claude intended to make a statement for unity and solidarity or not –probably not as the project had been in the planning years before the exodus across the Eastern Mediterranean, a wave of sadness washed over me. Here I hop borders barely ever asked to prove and provide 100 things to be let in. Here I safely walk on water, while others die crossing the Mediterranean.

All around me, thousands of people were as evidently happy as I was. But they probably thought other thoughts…

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are not Ai Wei Wei. Their art is transformative but has not often been political. Their War of Oil Barrels – The Iron Curtain set up in Rue Visconti in Paris  10 months after the Berlin Wall was erected, is a notable exception. I therefore decided that a heavy heart and a happy eye can live of art and aesthetics. A bit like The Two Fridas…



About Tales from a Small Country

I'm a project coordinator and features writer with a passion for the seventh art, a keen interest in culture and mobility, as well as social and environmental subjects. Half French, half German by origin possibly explains why I am drawn to divided countries and diverse societies: I called Cape Town in South Africa home for over a decade before coming to Beirut in early 2012. Besides people watching and cats, I also love Tripoli, Lebanon's second city.
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