The beach is a stone’s throw (10 minutes away by bike) from Maria Grazia and Emiliano’s home, but when the heat becomes unbearable, they seek the cool refuge of the waters of the Canale di Renara with their two children Chris and Livia. Maria Grazia’s connection to the river began many years ago when she was a teenager, when she would escape with friends from her parents’ watchful eyes. Her visceral relationship with the river goes even further, as she has experienced the practice of “rebirthing”.

AB: Do you remember the first time you came to the river? 
Maria Grazia: Yes, I was 15. I had snuck out since my parents were very strict. I ran away with a girlfriend, and we came up here with some boys we’d met at the beach since they had a car…it was a splendid adventure (laughs). I thought I’d come God only knows where…

AB: Ah, so you ran away from home!
Maria Grazia: Yes. Even the water seemed warm to me, it was wonderful. It was a completely new experience for me and I felt like I was miles and miles away…I was 15 and my parents were so strict. We swam and spent the whole day here, with the fear of being caught. We were in a car with these boys we’d met at the beach, though I guess we barely knew them. Now that I’m a mother myself, if I found out my 22 year old daughter had done something like that, I would have killed her (laughs)! It felt like we’d come to this very exotic and beautiful place, this stunning water…

AB: How often do you come here?
Maria Grazia: We come less often than we used to. Honestly it depends on how hot the summer is, but there were years when we came every day and barely went to the beach.

AB: So a substitution for the beach?
Maria Grazia: It’s like apples and oranges… To come here you certainly have to be up for something a bit different – it’s not for everyone. It’s a very different kind of day compared to the beach – there’s nothing here, no bar, no…You have to have kids who are a bit adventurous and like to explore, because after you swim then what do you do? I came when I was pregnant with her (addressing Livia) and now she’s 10 months old. Earlier today I saw a woman with a 4 or 5 month old baby. This is a place which is also well-suited for even tiny babies. It’s cool, and then there is the constant sound of the crickets, you can’t hear the cars. It’s another kind of experience and you can take a step back from everything… and it’s so close! Today we didn’t decide to come until 4pm! And now we’re in a different place, and then in half an hour we’ll be back home. We’re in a very unique and special place. But that’s the wonderful part about this area, the Apuan Alps. Right now I am working in the hills above Versilia, in Seravezza and Stazzema. There are incredible places and yet you’re 10 minutes from the sea. It’s a region and landscape which is undervalued.

AB: You can feel that there is a public value to this place…
Maria Grazia: Certainly. Consider the generosity of the people whose homes have porches with access down to the river. You walk through their property, maybe while they’re eating, but they’re always welcoming. People are so kind. Earlier today my son went down the stairs, and he needed to cross part of the river. An older boy who was down there picked him up and carried him across. We don’t know him, but he helped him cross. There is a sort of magic which occurs in these wilder natural places. I don’t think it’s the same at the beach.

AB: What does this place mean to you?

Maria Grazia: I think for any Massese (someone from Massa) coming to the river is an important memory. When you’re growing up and you want to get into some mischief, you come down to the river. When you want to try and get away from… Why do so many teens like to come here? Because they can jump and dive – it’s their first taste of freedom. And then later you return with your own children. You know what I did here which was amazing? For a while I studied and practiced the rebirthing process with a wonderful woman. It’s a type of self-hypnosis in which you return to the moment of your birth through breathing. It’s usually done in water, and our teacher brought us here to the river. I can’t begin to tell you what an incredible experience it was. Then when you come out of the water it’s really emotional, some people cry, some… And we did it with the regular river-goers enjoying a day by the river, totally at ease. It was so natural. It was as if, arriving in this place, we were transformed.

Interview by Alessandro Baratti, translated by Kate Collins, within the series commissioned by The New York Times Magazine. August-September 2017.