rock climbing, ski mountaineering, CARTOONS and a big fall
I was curious about Claudio Getto’s, or Caio as he is called, views on climbing and how he approaches creating his cartoons. His cartoons poke fun at climbers, calling out their quirks (of which Caio assured me there are many). We met on a sunny June morning In Chivasso, a small town near his home between Milan and Turin. Over coffee we talked about his perspectives on work, climbing, climbers and other mountain sports. He also told me what he was thinking about just before he lost consciousness on a 30 meter (100-foot) fall he took when climbing.
Caio’s cartoons, are known throughout Italy and to some extent, the climbing world at large, but not all of his work is translated. However, the egos and mannerisms of the climbers captured in the (sometimes R-rated) cartoons aren’t limited to Italians. Those who are familiar with the sport will be able to appreciate many of his creations, regardless of language. A collection of his climbing cartoons can be found published in the book, Siamo Mica Qui per Divertirci, (We are Not Here to Have Fun).
While recognized for cartoons on climbing, Caio’s preferred activity is scialpinismo (ski mountaineering, backcountry skiing or ski touring, depending on how you want to translate it). He is now working on the drawings for a new book that pokes fun at back-country skiers. Its title is still TBD (he was taking suggestions on last check).
Coffee Talk in Chivasso
Dressed casually in shorts and a checked shirt, topped off by a slightly wild mass of gray hair, he could have passed for a Colorado guy, aside from speaking only in Italian. We met at the train station. Neither of us knowing Chivasso, we went off in search of a café where I could ask him about his book, his cartoons and climbing.
While looking for a place to talk, I mentioned to him that I had changed trains there once before. I had been to the restaurant by the station, which was admittedly not inspirational in its offering, (though I remembered that a glass of red wine was quite cheap and not terrible, but it was too early and hot for that). The train station restaurant suggestion didn’t go over well. Caio didn’t like the look of the place so we kept walking in a direction that seemed right, arriving a few minutes later in a small piazza where we found some outside tables.
The café must be a hot spot in Chivasso; their claim already staked, a high volume group of old ladies, chatted animatedly at the next table. I‘m usually in the minority in my being disturbed by loud talkers in a country where talking at volume, in both quantity and decibels, is just what people do. But today I was not alone in my disturbance, as Claudio gave a slight eye roll and under-the-breath comment on the yelling that was taking place. His sharp humor now made evident beyond the drawings.
The real job
Our interview was thanks to a mutual friend, Paola De Vecchi Galbiati, a former colleague of his. Caio studied architecture under Achille Castiglioni, a famous Italian architect and designer noted for his mid-century objects. When not in the mountains, his time indoors included working for Italy’s largest communications agency, Armando Testa, and as creative director for the communications department of Fila. He considers the agency work his real job and works on the cartoons when he has time.
Cross training: Creativity on Paper and Rock
Over the course of the morning, we discussed the topic of creativity a few times, connecting the “c” word to both work and play. Caio noted that he detests the word “creative” but agreed that this is precisely what he employs. For a word he professes to hate, the meaning behind it fills up his time. Caio’s sharp eye and thought process may be more immediately evident in his day job but he certainly puts these skills to use not only at his agency and in his cartoons, but when climbing too.
As for how he ended up in advertising and rock climbing, he said that both were somewhat by chance. In the case of climbing, one winter when the snow wasn’t so good, he left his skis at home and tried out climbing. By his own account, he’s not obsessed with either of these activities (though obsession can be a matter of perspective).
I’m not an advertising or climbing fanatic. Also physically, I’m not one that is all sinews and muscles. In fact, I’ve never climbed at an advanced level. I am decidedly average. I’m more into setting routes.
For Caio, each of these undertakings provides a kind of cross-training for the others. From his “real work”, to his cartoons and his time outdoors, he talked about how all are creative in different ways. In particular, he feels that the time he spends setting climbing routes in Valchiusella (see below) is especially beneficial. “It’s definitely a kind of creativity that I apply in a different way than in advertising.”
Having to bring drills, bolts and hammers up a cliff and setting routes for others to climb, provides him with a 360-degree vision of the sport. It gives him greater insights into the world he captures with pen and tablet. “One helps the other. The approach is a type of training, a way of thinking.”
Caio draws often and estimates he spends about half his time on the cartoons. He doesn’t waste time worrying about creative blocks. Neither does he make himself sit at the desk every day. New ideas pop up from his interactions with and observations of others. When they arrive, they are about 90 percent complete in his head before he draws them. Initially, he used pen and paper, but now he works directly on a digital drawing pad.
Curiosity, CRITICISM and climbers
Caio reflected that he is a curious person. Attentive to details, he spends a great deal of time observing the world around him. He shared how he would like to live;, sitting on a park bench, watching how people look, how they move, how they dress, how they talk. He applies this curiosity about people and the insights gained to create his cartoons.
Criticism is part of the equation too. Along with curiosity, Caio explained how he is critical, even hypercritical of himself. He doesn’t profess to be a genius at work or play but acknowledges his strength.
I’m not too self-deprecating and I don’t give myself too many compliments, that’s just not my nature. I do not believe that I draw well, but I think that I draw better than many people. Where I think I am good is in the ability to synthesize a situation in a drawing. The right drawing with the right joke, this is something that is not easy.
Anchor setting in Piedmont
More than the climbing itself, Caio’s real passion is spending his time as a chiodatura, (setting anchors), preparing the way for others to participate. Along with his book and cartoons, he has contributed a lot to the sport, setting over 500 routes (all self-funded) in the small town of Traversella, in Valchiusella in Piedmont. You can read more here (in Italian, but you can get an idea from his drawings) about his work in Traversella.
The (good and bad) culture of climbers- an inexhaustible source of ideas
I asked, why focus on climbers? Since he gets out on the crag himself, he sees first-hand all of the peculiarities of this breed of human. His work includes a dose of self-criticism too. He chooses the activities he knows well. Knowing the culture inside and out is important. If not, the risk is that the work produced becomes superficial. He assured me that tennis players, cyclists, accountants, any group really, has their own idiosyncrasies which could provide fodder for people to poke fun at. Though he feels climbers, with their obsessions, are an especially rich target.
They have their mannerisms, attitudes and idiosyncrasies, their way of speaking. Climbing is full of these. Surely climbing demonstrates an extraordinary amount of particular mannerisms that can make us laugh. There are thousand and thousands. Climbing offers an inexhaustible source.
He laments that magazines show pictures of hard routes and climbers on challenging problems. But they don’t talk about the proper behavior that people should have when climbing. He questions the values and ego behind some decisions of his subject matter; climbers may prefer to spend more on expensive t-shirts rather than buying a guidebook. Citing that while you can climb in a cheap t-shirt, investing in a guidebook might be more useful.
Who gets the fresh tracks?
Not one to mince words (despite a career in marketing) Caio feels that some sports have developed due to marketing and the desire to sell equipment, rather than a more natural evolution. He lightheartedly sites Nordic walking as one such example of sports designed by marketers. He jokes that he should be shot if found snowshoeing. While not a fan of walking on the snow with racquets affixed to his feet, he is not entirely opposed to the idea of snowshoes. He acknowledges that they existed before marketers and allow the many who don’t ski to enjoy the mountains in winter. There is enough space for all, but….
The problem with snowshoers is that there are some who leave their cars, and who don’t know where to go. So they put on their snowshoes and walk up the tracks set by skiers. This sheep-like following of skiers tracks ruins the tracks of skiers.
Beyond putting holes in the snow and the lack of originality some snowshoers display, his designer’s eye surfaces on his objections. He expressed his disdain especially on powder days when it becomes a brutto (ugly) problem for backcountry skiers. (No friends on powder days is also a problem in the Alps).
The tracks of a ski mountaineer are belle, lineare, pulite (beautiful, linear, clean). His sense of humor was evident when he talked about competing for snow space, but he turned more serious with his sentiments on Italian attitudes. He explained in Italy there is little civic sense. When he comments to others on sharing the back-country he hears repeatedly, “Where is the problem? There is space for all!” He responds that the problem comes from everyone. “Snowmobiles, snow cats, one is worse than the other, there is space for all, but all need to have respect for the other.”
a 30 Meter fall
Caio has had a couple of big falls. One at 30 meters and one at 35 meters . ( for the Imperial minded, those are 100 feet and more). We talked about what happened on one of them and what his thoughts were. While normally one for synthesis and succinctness, he acknowledged that he could write an entire book on this fall. He lost consciousness when he hit the ground. But in the two and half seconds of free-fall (the time it takes to fall 100 feet), many thoughts rushed through his head. He was rappelling down a face and then his rope was gone. It snaked out of his hands in an instant. There was no knot. He fell 30 meters to the ground.
When I fell I knew that I was going to die. I had exactly the perception that after a second and a half I would be dead. It was an enlightening sensation. I could write 15 pages on just this. I discovered then that in these situations your brain reasons like fast, like a computer.
Everything that I’m telling you now was concentrated in a micro-fraction of a second. I was rappelling down, continuing with the rope in my hand. And then the rope was gone. At that point, your mind understands.
THOUGHTS BEFORE LOSING CONSCIOUSNESS
He went on to explain that your mind perceives the difference in something that you have no hope of controlling. He gave the example of driving a car and even if the car skids, you believe you still have control. You try to steer the car. You may end-up dead anyway, but you try. If the car goes off a 500 meter cliff you know there is nothing to be done. The brain understands this and reasons differently when you believe you are going to die.
I thought of the everyday things that I would not get to do anymore, unimportant things. I thought tomorrow morning I will not wake up, I will not put on my shoes and pants and go shopping, I will not buy bread. I will not go to dinner. It’s all over.
He was surprised at these thoughts of such trivial things, of daily tasks that he thought he would not get to do anymore. He also shared his progression of emotions during these two seconds. First he felt surprise, and then he evaluated how it would all end. Finally, he realized that he accepted the end with serenity. “Vabbè”. OK.
It didn’t seem to faze him that he survived two such impactful (sorry I couldn’t resist) falls. Does he still climb? “Why not?” He is not afraid. He continues to climb and do his work in Traversella. “I know it’s a beautiful thing to live.”
What’s Next? Ski mountaineering book
So, what’s next for Caio? He’s now looking forward to finishing his ski mountaineering book, another world he knows well. Through this next round of cartoons, he will point out the quirks of those who eschew chairlifts to make their turns on snow. Like his book title, “We are Not Here to Have Fun” his drawings remind us to lighten-up a bit when we get too obsessed with our mountain activities.
Thanks to Rachel Gilbert for her expert eyes!