Who, driven by romantic sentiments, reaches Portofino by boat and pauses for a few brief instants in a sort of enchantment and tries to contemplate the spectacle before him, will have more or less the same vision that struck Guy de Maupassant more than a century ago. It is through the eyes of this author that one approaches this timeless village. Yes, timeless! Because they are the same words of Maupassant that can be used to give form to his vision: “a little village, Portofino, that envelopes like the arc of the moon around this calm basin“.
Maupassant arrived here with his yacht the “Bel Ami” in 1889 and was immediately enchanted by the intense greenery reflected in its waters, the houses which form a kind of smiling amphitheater, and the boats which almost seemed to be sleeping in tranquility and silence on the mirror that was the sea. He was thirty three years old and had just had an extraordinary success obtaining honors and riches. A student of the great Flaubert, he had first em- barked on a military career, then he became a State employee, and finally he became a writer, without sacrificing his love of sports, in particular ca- noeing, and an intense love life.
In 1880, with the story “Boule de suife”, triumph arrived. An extraordinary decade offertile creativity was thus begun; three hundred short stories, six novels, (among which the celebrated Bel Ami) travel journals, poetry, and works for the theater. His vast literary output ranges from the naturalistic stories to psychological probes which, in their exploration of psychic disturbances, focused on the restlessness of the subconscious. It is that restlessness that the same Maupassant endured in first person, condemned with a mental disease (it is not known whether it was caused by a form of syphilis, from the use of drugs, or from an unfortunate pathologic inheritance since both his mother and brother spent their last years in mental asylums) that anguished him, worsening day by day with migraine headaches, deterioration of sight, sudden attacks of hysteria alternating with periods of depression, from which he tried in vain to find relief through long voyages, luxurious holidays, and trips on his personal yacht.
It was indeed in Portofino that Maupassant, as he himself declares, enjoyed one of those rare moments of inner serenity which he repeatedly claimed to be in need of. “Never have I felt an impression equal to what I felt when I entered in that green cove, a incomparable sense of repose, of contentment, a pause in the useless agitation in which one debates life…. ” After an attempted suicide in 1892, the writer was admitted to a sanitarium where, on July 6, 1893, after 18 months of uninterrupted madness, he would die at only forty three years of age.
Guy de Maupassant
Portofino, a World apart.