On 9 July 2018, after decades of war, the Prime Ministers of Eritrea and Ethiopia ended the conflict and signed a joint declaration to start a new era of peace and friendship. In the midst of many conflicts around the world, this was a wonderful and unexpected news.
I had the opportunity to visit Eritrea six months before the agreement, when the country was still fighting at the border against neighboring Ethiopia.
What stroke me mostly was the strange atmosphere of Asmara, the Eritrean capital. So unusual for a country in conflict for such a long time, I was amazed by the peaceful of the forgotten African city and I was drawn to the iconic atmosphere of Italy in the 1930s, when Eritrea was an Italian colony. Trying to forget the long war at the border, I tried to document everyday life in the very heart of the city along and around the main street: Viale della Liberazione (now Arnett Avenue), a wide avenue lined with palm trees and ancient Italian buildings.
I wandered around and it was like looking at old Italian postcards in the 30s 40s and 50s. While women had mostly worn the clothes of the Eritrean culture, older men followed the old Italian rituals : walking up and down well dress up on Sundays passing through the flower gardens of the ancient theater before attending the mass in the Catholic Cathedral. Have their hair cut on Saturday, have a delicious espresso at the bar served strictly with a glass of water on the side, enter the majestic “Cinema Impero” showing its rationalist architecture and its decadent interiors. I was amazed by the kindness of old people who still spoke Italian with a touch of elegant Italian style in their soul, a style that had not disappeared after almost 80 years.
Then, in the silent and well kept Italian cemetery, I was suddenly taken back to the old war where too many boys left their broken lives on African soil in those dark and distant years.