ANASTASIA (AND A DIFFERENT FACTORY OF MEMORIES)

Anastasia is now 17 years old and she lives in Verona, northern Italy. She is daughter of street performers. Between 2010 and 2015 she lived in an apartment that the owner Vincenzo, professor of physics, had decided to share with people who find themselves in a state of housing emergency. Her mother Alice, her brother Andrej and their dog Leo were among them.

She now lives on her own in a flat she rent with her boyfriend Andrea.

The photographic project, which initially aimed to investigate an alternative way of living, a sort of cohousing during a period of great economic uncertainty and existential fragility, was then transformed into the story of the delicate and difficult transition from childhood to adolescence and then adulthood, lived in an atypical contest.

Her mother Alice, a street performer, was working as a kid party entertainer, that day, so I spent with Anastasia a couple of hours, pushing the stroller with her brother Andreij inside, who was recently born.
I remember that Anastasia was talking about her early childhood in Tuscany, where she lived in the countryside with her mother and her father. She told me she missed a bit that house.
Her parents split up when she was 9 years old, and then her father, a musician and street performer, went back to live to UK, where he came from.

When I met Anastasia, in 2010, she was 11 years old and she had just arrived in Verona, Northern Italy, with her mother Alice and their dog Leo. They didn’t have any place to go, they were staying in a youth hostel, looking for a better accommodation. After a few days they were in a bar when they met Vincenzo, a professor of physics who had decided to share his big apartment with people who found themselves in a state of housing emergency. He asked them to join him for a few days – they stayed for more than 5 years.

I became her “official photographer”. I spent a lot of time in that apartment, with Anastasia, her mother, Vincenzo and his flatmate Flavio. Anastasia is a really good singer and at that time she was studying piano and guitar, so that I often had my private concerts. We used to go out with her dog Leo, to watch videos on youtube, to try to speak English (she is bilingual because of her father, while I’m quite bad), and also to go to the bar where we first met to drink pear juice with milk (I used to order a glass of wine, to be honest). It wasn’t just because of the pictures, of course – it was a pleasure to spend time with her. I also found it really interesting the way they lived together. Money was always an issue – they hadn’t have much – but it wasn’t a problem at all among them.

A few months after I met her, Alice realized she was pregnant. At that time she had a relationship with Bolek, a Polish street performer she was crazily in love with. He was really handsome, he spoke Spanish, he drunk a lot and was an excellent mime. I would have loved to portray him but he always refused. Later, sadly, it became impossible.

When Andreij was born, Alice and Bolek went to live with the baby in another flat, leaving Anastasia with Vincenzo and Flavio, as she had asked to do.

Since Alice, Bolek and their baby were gone, Anastasia was living on her own, sharing the flat with Vincenzo and Flavio. She had to cook, make her laundry, look after herself… Although she didn’t always manage to handle everything, she was quite perseverant.  She was only 13 years old. I was a bit worried.

After Andrej’s birth, everything changed too fast. In a few months Alice, Bolek and the baby left their apartment and went to live to Canary Islands. They were looking for a better lifestyle. Winter is hard, in Verona, and working as a street performer is harder. Anastasia couldn’t stay alone, so she went to live with her grandparents in Friuli Region. We didn’t see each other for a long time. I used to check on her Facebook page, and looked fine. I remember a picture of her and her new friend…they were wearing similar glasses. I thought it was nice, because in her school, in Verona, didn’t have many friends, so she was always surrounded by adults. I was her youngest friend, and I was nearly 30.

In spring 2012 Bolek died in Canary Islands while he was swimming. Alice and Andrej were waiting for him on the beach.

Vincenzo called me to tell me what had happened.

After a few weeks Alice went back to Vincenzo’s place, and at the end of the school year, Anastasia went back too.

Only several months later Alice was able to talk about it in public. She also published a post on her Facebook page, announcing that after a period of pain, depression and phsicotherapy was finally coming back to life.

Step by step, things were going better. Alice is a really strong woman.

That summer was fine. Anastasia was “working” as a street musician with Vincenzo, sometimes. One night they met Sergio, who was living on the street, and asked him to join them in the apartment. He did it.

That summer they hosted some tourists in the apartment, too. Anastasia showed me the notes that visitors had left on her diary. They were enthusiasts about her and her  talent as a singer. Winter was a bit harder. Anastasia looked anxious. Alice had met a new boyfriend and they were traveling a lot.

She was quickly growing up. I suddenly realized she wasn’t a child anymore.

I was thinking that Anastasia wasn’t fine, that winter, so I decided to ask her to go to Milan together. My boyfriend lived there and I used to spend my weekends with him. She accepted. Francesco was happy, too. I hoped it would help.

After the ‘Milan period’ with us, Anastasia met her boyfriend Andrea.

Everything changed again: she was going to Milan every weekend again, but to meet him and his family. She looked so happy… He gave her so many rings..

I was happy too. Meanwhile I had moved to Spain, so that we were seeing each other only occasionally in Verona. Alice was going on with her new boyfriend, Jerko, a street performer who was a friend of Bolek. Andrej had spent some weeks in Poland with his grandparents and learned Polish. He refused to wear clothes.

Anastasia, during the week, was still living in the same apartment, with Vincenzo, Flavio, Alice, Jerko and Andrej. Sergio had gone.

On spring 2014 Alice and Jerko were fighting their battle against a new law in town that prohibited to feed homeless.

One year later I was having lunch with Francesco when I received some pictures on my mobile phone: Anastasia was showing us her new apartment.

She wrote me she was going to live with her boyfriend Andrea – and she was thrilled.