What does it mean to live in an ecovillage community? And before that, what is it like to live in a place with ancient history? How does its shape, public and private spaces, closures and openings influence and are influenced by those who live there? Between disorientation, deconstruction, encounters of different identities, a path of new orientation, re-construction and growth begins.
Entering in the village
“Abandoned during the 20th century, the ancient medieval hamlet in the village of Torri Superiore was completely depopulated. At the beginning of the 90s the Torri Superiore Cultural Association began negotiations for the purchase of the houses through hard and long research work (the traces of the owners of many of the almost 160 rooms parcelled out over time had been lost) and negotiations for the transfer of ownership. This was followed by a detailed study of the structure of the buildings and the elaboration of a complex restoration project…”.
About four years ago, I started in this way, collecting data and doing interviews with the “members of the ecovillage” to reconstruct their history, while I walked nose up, through the alleys of the ancient stone village. I admired the result of a very long restoration, about 20 years of construction. I was wondering how much connection there was between rebuilding a village, born as an ancient community of women and men who were born, lived and worked here and the new women and men who came back, even from very far places, to revive the stones, building their destiny and … a new community.
You have to be there to see it! The stone village of Torri Superiore has been defined in many ways: agglomeration of houses, tangle of streets… “labyrinth”. And, in fact, with the ups and downs of the internal alleys, the stairs and steps, the bridges connecting rooms and halls connected to dwellings, doors in front, at the back, upstairs and downstairs, gardens, hidden corridors and terraces, it seems to move in a print by Escher.
Yet this continuous movement has something naturally human to make you understand that even getting lost is living. Perhaps because it reminds you of the human act of taming, making you familiar, especially when you go the same way twice or when you go out the back way you find yourself on a front door. When a public space is inserted in a private and intimate place…confusion, wonder, conquest, always temporary. Enter, retrace your steps, try a new path. Getting lost.
Yes, because that’s exactly what happens: the place responds, it gets walked and hides. It opens and retracts. Like any relationship, it wants its time. Slow.
Even today, after several months of life in the ecovillage, I still confuse a few entrances every now and then. I haven’t yet associated all the windows with all the houses, but I know some shortcuts…
It’s especially when I repeat the names I’ve learned, the names of people I’ve peeked at in the black and white photos, pictures of boys and girls in jeans and T-shirt (the unmistakable ’90s and “oh! but this is you!!”) the names of gardens and houses, that all this takes on the flavour of the familiar.
I was once asked this question: “What is it like living in a community that has lived together for so long?” I didn’t really know what to say. Also because this community not only lives together but has built its living together. Then one evening, while I was talking with “the members of the community” about this experience of mine in the making, I had an intuition.
Try to get a book, a book that weaves the stories of many characters, some have gone away, others have stayed, others are coming back. Just think that on page 347 you and your story come in. How do you enter between paths already marked out, houses already built? Speeches already started, by entering your own, not too much, not too little?
This village has something special already in the architectural structure. Indeed it was designed for the interconnected life of a community and, always its shape, is made of high and defensive walls. What was it defending? Its community.
What frightens an ancient community? What is new and can bring disorder. What cannot feel its character, rhythm, harmony and disharmony. And to make it his own.
Like a house
I’m like a house. I’m made of walls, coloured partitions, some colours are bright and vibrant, others are shady. I am even furniture, thoughts I like to dust. I’m full of stuff, drawers of projects and memories.
Moving my house and finding a place among other houses is finding a way to be in the village, independent and connected at the same time. There are new steps to connect, doors to open, windows overlooking new views. What to do? Space, opening, connections!
I start to take away what is no longer needed, it’s not me anymore. Labour begins. I wander around a house that, deep down, I’ve never really looked at… how long have I kept that vase there? And what’s in it? More importantly, can I distinguish a load-bearing wall from a partition? What, if knocked down, will collapse everything and what will give me a better perspective?
The rubble raises ancient dust. In the rubble I felt lost, disoriented.
There I sat, waiting for the dust to settle again. Don’t be in a hurry, neither to destroy nor to rebuild. In the rubble there is a past to make peace with and, at the same time, a potential for creativity. I can use new material. I can see if it works.
What if it doesn’t work? I guess by then I’ll have learned to distinguish a load-bearing wall from a partition.
I’ll have learned to live. I’ll have learned that we all do it the same way. Not “what” then, but “how”, helps me to be with others.
And it helps me understand that fears are the same, old and new. Open or close. Open and Close.
“The human being cannot act any other way than by colonizing the environment in which he lives for his own survival. However, it is the way he chooses to relate to the environment in which he settles that makes him a man (and a woman…again!)”.
“Living then becomes the ability to build lasting relationships that make sense…”
What lasts over time? How to live in relationships?
All we can do is to try, to live, to be with others, between orientation and disorientation, between construction and deconstruction and again reconstruction, defence of identity, construction of a new identity.
Earth and stones. Words and silence. It’s more than putting oneself on the line, it’s living, being in action.
Relationships build us and stay with us, they live in our house.
Only you, my friend, are static, discreet spectator. You watching us live, love, leave. We build you, we abandon you, we recover you, more beautiful than before… as we do with ourselves. But how many laughs and tears do you bring to your hundred-year-old story, my dear, dear village? I’ll give you mine too.