Notes from Afar 10: Art Monastery, Italy

So I have spent the last month at the Art Monastery Project. The project is about fusing artistic production and monastic discipline – or something, it is an evolving process – and living in community.

The Art Monastery project is based in Labro, a tiny old hilltop town in the Italian countryside. The Monastery itself dates back to the 1200s. The first references to Labro are from sometime in the 900s. Labro is all old stones and seriously cute. There are two winding roads in the town, that’s it. There used to be a gigantic tower here, but then they murdered the priest and the town was excommunicated. The price of getting back into the religion was destroying the tower.

Life here has been a radical shift from the chaos of the road.This is very much their downtime of the year, so there are not lots of weird shows being put on. While that would have been cool, this actually suits my purposes pretty well. Mostly I have been splitting wood and cleaning, and rewriting Mosaic, which is coming along nicely, and becoming a pretty unusual fantasy novel. And getting to know the artmonks, who are a pretty fascinating cast of characters. There are only three of them here at the moment, so we are a small crew. But we are getting through the astoundingly cheap 5 litre jugs of wine. And it has been great making deeper connections after the intense but brief way of things on the road. We are pretty isolated, and the interaction is pretty intensive, as there is not much space, and everyone is caught up in the project.

One definite highlight was singing Compline a couple of times in the medieval church of the monastery. (Compline is the Gregorian chant monks sang, the last of singing the hours.) 

Autumn here is staggeringly beautiful. Lots more colours of autumn than I am used to, a range of fire, yellow and red and orange and brown. The Italian countryside, at least around here, with its hills and lakes and green, is the closest thing to New Zealand I have encountered. (Other than generally, every time I get somewhere beautiful, kind of nodding and going, yeah, that’s kind of like a part of NZ.) There is not much public transport and nowhere much to go, though it is all very pretty. I walked to a ruined castle on a nearby hill, and wandered around Labro. 

But yeah. A quiet, productive time. We have quasi-adopted a bunch of stray cats, but are keeping them at arms length, as everyone leaves for winter and they can’t start thinking of it as home. 

Have booked tickets to Ireland, and back to NZ. I am not quite ready for this mad and beautiful dream to end, but so it goes. And I will definitely miss this place, and these people. Good times, good times.

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