The Wow of Chastity, Frugality & Obedience

MA mealtime

(in the run up to the beta version of the Book of Greater and Lesser Omissions – several items that are more internal than informative are being temporarily parked here in full public view. Please excuse me.)
Reprogramming Individuality
Urban life is trying.  The rhythms, tempo and volume to which many of us subject ourselves is hardly healthy.  The tricks we devise to survive are scarcely inventive — human wiring provides us few alternatives but to be full of ourselves.  Nature makes us borderline social basket-cases.

Choosing to leave behind such a constellation of adaptive devices in favour of a renegotiated collective lifestyle isn’t done lightly.  Leaving one’s core self behind is just not done; despite our best of intentions, we drag great mounds of our most unAppealing habits with us…

It was written in a format that doesn’t survive translation that the early unMoaners should receive an intricately devised cyclical wine ration that had them with one glass or two for three days a week, with a whole bottle every other Saturday, but with the interim days dry.  None of this became unRule.

It is not a minority position that injudicious drinking habits depleted the integrity of the early unMonasterians.  No matter how desirable, periodic emergence from our cloisters to partake in the pleasures of the local night life would not go unObserved.  Intemperate levels of inhibition release combined with unMo standard levels of sleep deprivation depleted attention available to morning practice, intelligible meetings or Italiano lessons.  The generosity of our guests descending upon us with their family’s liquid finest left us with unScenic mountains of recyclable glass. 

Arriving back in town at the end of June*, to be greeted in town by the rumour of the unMo’s incarnation as a study centre in, at best, a mild form of debauchery, was beyond disconcerting.  The ensuing meeting, held it seems under a cloud of adherent guilt, spontaneously decreed that henceforth the unMoaners should limit their intake of C2H6O to three days a week… 

The speed with which this decision was subject to creative interpretation could make the staunchest of us unRuly.  Our meeting being held on a Thursday, the immediate week in question held but three days as eligible candidates; (Sunday is inconveniently a floater on some calendar systems, and was therefore placed in zone libero.)  Forgotten in the mix was an implied consumption cap.  Quality failed to negotiate with quantity:  granted but three days, one should best thoroughly explore the far side of sobriety flat out before the countdown of the new week beckoned.  Needless to say, elements in the cultural calendar decreed that this proposed policy evaporate as soon as possible…

  • Described by some as “The Stone Age” this apparent nadir in the unMonastery history reflects the rather incongruous, retrograde exploration of a social experiment whose results many thought were tabled years ago.  
    Cannabis has without doubt value in symptom reduction with ailments as variable as epilepsy and arthritis, but these are by and large ailments of our dotage.  For able-bodied youth such indulgence seems incompatible with the unMonasterian ethic of ‘doing’.  Anyone with extended practice in the collaborative arts (music and theatre come to mind) recognises that cannabis use, while amusing, is incompatible with teamwork:  it invariably leads to off-tempo solos and a diminished sensitivity to the nuances of others.  Whereas our monastic predecessors across the valley would have sought enlightenment via marathons of applied chanting, the chemical enhancement of a marihuana assisted meditation often contribute to minor logical gaps in best practice that leave one fascinated by ones own private universe and infatuated with shallow, flimsy invention.  
    The social acquiescence to cannabis use among segments of local youth is also problematic.  At times local contacts would drop by for a place they could smoke in peace; the unMo had not developed a coherent line and instead floated an immature interpretation of adapting to local practice that left us exposed.

The other culturally prevalent addictive drug of diminishing choice was also insidious in its successful incursion into the collective unMoaner bloodstream.  Several resident unMonkers reported fretful backslides in the face of the available hardware in the unMonastery kitchen.  Lacking a teapot, we improvised.  None of the solutions at hand granted us anything close to a satisfying sensual ritual of tea drinking.  Meanwhile, assailing ones nostrils from every street corner café were an  assortment of coffee blends that pronounced themselves the Nectar of the Gods.  The will just didn’t hold out.  And while the quality was improved for us all, some people neglected to adjust the quantity.  Many of us remained high-wired on superb caffeine from morning to night.

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Creative Deconstruction

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The unMonastery salutes the unBid

A group of a hundred strong local citizens have formed an alternative channel for Materiani to shape the program proposal for their city as European culture capital. This time this radical redefinition of content is not directly the responsibility of the unMonastery.  However, in the spirit of popular participatory practice that this represents a vibrant, thoughtful and rigorous ‘counterbid’ is to be thoroughly welcomed. 

Materan history is full of popular rebellion.  Luciani resist the foreign.  Disagreement, iconoclasm and public vandalism are bred into the blood of your/our fellowship.  And while some of this proud defense of their marginality is habitual polarised opposition to whatever ever impetus comes from the residue of the great Italian Communist movement, another aspect appears a reflex response to external forces and concepts that at its core is a vital self-preservation and anti-imperialism stance.  ‘Development’ comes slowly to the South.  There is honour in resistance. 

Voluntary Consultants
Much as the inhabitants of the unMonastery approached the idea of community service via rejecting a core religious premise of monasticism, the strength of this alternative citizen’s cultural initiative lies in being built upon a healthy skepticism towards top-down, hyper conceptual solutions grounded in blind faith.  That a broad group of concerned citizens set themselves the task of producing a parallel unofficial cultural program even before what they presumably consider the — corrupt, elitist, self-appointed — MA2019 committee has revealed the details of their ‘official’ proposal, adds further testimony to the value and integrity of this initiative.  The unBidders are independently working the same ground from scratch: answering the same core thirty questions. 

The unMonastery has never been a popular hit — for that it is too conceptually unDefined.  It is ‘something doing something’; its fruits won’t mature until after its doors are closed.  For a group of 100 cultural activists to have absorbed the essence of the ‘un’ in the unMonastery thought process is a major triumph.

At the inaugural meet the community gathering at the unMonastery, one of the senior unMonasterians held a small demonstration.  His point was to reveal the pervasive toxic atmosphere that they anticipated working in; the official version of the social imperative behind unMonastery mandate had been scandalously beautified; the true, ugly story must be told.  The highlight of this revelation was to lead the assembled citizens in a chorus of their unBeautified text.  To great delight the chanted a text that begun:

No, No.
No, No.

No, No, No. 

No.
Non.

No, no, no.
Scarso. No.
Sprecato. No.

Retrogrado, scarso. No.

No, difficile, no.
No, No, sporco.

Scarso. No.
La gente si lamenta molto.

This was followed by a short theatrical ritual then progressed to demonstrate the act of a Materiani and an unMonasterian beating each other over the head with long cardboard boxes.

Much as the unMonastery has had to struggle to win territorial independence from its parental sponsors, the unBid demands to be taken seriously as a legitimate, independent mature political process.  The unBid is not just an expression of negativity, it is creatively seizing a task.  It takes as its core concern that culture is far too important to be left to the self proclaimed aristocrats. 

We can only anticipate that a future triangulation between the international tinged ‘Bid’ and the hopefully militantly local ‘unBid’ will produce a vibrant dialog that enriches the greater mandate of the work at hand.

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Inventing Tradition

the circle

It had to happen.  It was the eve of that emotional day when the original constellation of unMoaners would reduce itself to a solitary carrier of light who would be charged with inconclusively shutting the doors.  We needed closure.

As usual all the necessities were at hand.  A message went out: “meet at the unMonastery precisely at 19:15, we will be marching.”  An odd group of behind the scenes champions, inherited orphans, veterans of the extended slog assembled.  Collective afterthoughts postponed departure.  Leadership got anxious.

The standard ploy in Judo involves getting your opponent balanced on the wrong foot; to not know where you are not going adds to the dynamics of the voyage.  Rigmarole can be employed; time was pressing…

We took the road less travelled.  Not up along the web of winding pathways that we had explored so often, but out towards our favorite beckoning vista.   Still our dawdlers dawdled sufficiently that we may easily have resembled all the other flocks of tourists that hourly pass beneath the unMonastery Prototipe Matera parapets.  To help discipline the herd instinct several insignificant scenic details were afforded attention; scattered stones were grasped….

Yet another scandal needed addressing.  In the bowels of the rock formation upon which the unMonastery edifice had once upon a time been erected, lies a certified pearl.  Closing time was 20:00.  As we approached, one of the multilingual archeology students who guard this cultural treasure could be spotted overhead in the massive rock making her way along an external passageway; she was no doubt sweeping the upper chambers for stragglers.

Far below at street level is the entrance to the twin churches of Our Lady of the Virtues and St. Nick the Greek.  While its upper reaches share the unMon terrace through a locked iron gate, some of our long term residents had yet to set foot inside this the spiritual cavern that underlied all our efforts.  Time was running out…

International museum guide protocol agrees about one thing:  closing time is closing time.  A mini-bus load of panting tourists not necessarily eager for a last second compromise should technically be turned away.  Mercifully, our argument proved compelling: Neighbours are neighbours.  An alarm was detached, a key turned, and we were granted five awesome minutes among the holiest of holies.

The carving techniques of the Rupestrian churches seem a prerequisite for the settlement at Matera.  The city boasts over 150 such places of worship; not five months ago yet another was uncovered behind a forgotten wall.  They are glorious, they speak volumes, they are sincere.

Madonna della Virtú may be exceptional; clearly designed to mimic another building tradition, carved high in the vaulted ceiling are the shapes of arched windows through which no light shall ever enter.  Without flipping in a guidebook, and with the remembered mention of the XIII Century only really directed at one favoured fresco, it would be only informed speculation that the repeated Greek reference that speckles the region implies that this church too was scraped out in the aftermath of the massive transport of refugee monks after the fall of the Byzantine.  Perched as we were above its unCupola, the unMonastery had been in very good company.

The residual unMonasterians’ brief immersion in the esthetics of our predecessors was at face value inserted in the evening program to help set the tone of our arrivederci ritual; it was also part of getting the participants off-balance. The desired quarantine from our ‘filthy habits’ wasn’t to be forced but induced.  While in transition, we could always tolerate one last tweet of the monumental significance of this significant monument.  (insert Piersoft’s video tweet here)

The next stop might command even greater respect…
This time the barriers were less procedural.  Partially physical, they were also deeply psychological: as loyal citizens we would need to balance on a short stretch of wall and then transgress an officious — ‘No Entrance without Authorisation’ sign that was attached to a flimsy but trusting fence.  The encroaching weeds clearly testified that we were headed off piste.  Silence was requested, no so much as a sign of reverence but more to diminish the capacity of a party of eight to call attention to themselves as they scrambled past the bright orange — No Go Zone — barrier…

The trip has been roughly rehearsed.  Many moons ago, during a period of unMonastic troubles, some members of the team had sought renewal in each other’s company.  Now the stone circle that we had constructed then as a statement of faith stood silently awaiting us.  This time we wouldn’t sit.

A supply of candles were lit to illuminate the carved alcoves and altarpieces of this abandoned troglodyte home with clear religious affiliations.  Words of welcome were uttered.  With three or four neophytes to our practice of internal circles of alignment and self-regulation, we wouldn’t go to the more extreme extremes.  Yet. 

To somehow render the event closer to familiar cultural norms, a bottle of superior grappa appeared and circulated.  A zinc bucket was brought forth and placed in the centre:  did anyone have anything to burn?  People did…

Such homemade rituals give back what one puts into them.  They can easily fall flat.  As the ubiquitous unMoanastic Post-it block circulated, a parade of easy targets were scribbled down and ceremoniously torched by candlelight.  The culprits to be cleansed were perhaps predictable, if anything they held individual relevance.  Slowly the balance shifted towards significance.  A thinking soul had removed from their place on the unMon wall the illuminated graphic renditions of “The Twelve Challenges”. 

As discussed ad nauseum elsewhere ( link to video ) these baulderised ‘statements of intent’ had been awarded an unDeserved position of leverage in the unMonastery mythology.  Those who had witnessed their origin as rewrites of a longer list of sorrowful wails, cringed when the effort to outfit each challenge with a designer quality individual logo had only helped carve something in figurative stone that hadn’t actually a genuine root in the community they sought to represent.  The current observation was that these pumped-up objectives were too much a millstone for the unMonastery’s “Experti i Niente”.  They would best be burnt to avoid them falling into the wrong hands; anyone resuming our good works should be free of the these falsely inflated expectations.

As usual a small miracle accompanied our efforts.  It wasn’t just the good spirits accompanying the occasion; it seemed, as we read these immutable challenges and resolutely filed each sheet in the burning bucket, that we had addressed and celebrated forward motion towards almost all of them.  Solutions to the entire regional energy supply shortfall many not have been supplied, but serious new collaborations had been established.  We had indeed worked our way to some impressive results.

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The Currency of Grace

MA unmo-dinnerIn the unMonastery some subjects, though not technically taboo, remain unSpoken.  Were we to speak frankly about how much we appreciate each others efforts, it might open the Pandora’s box of something unImaginable.  Perhaps we fear that we might suffer from unBearable glee…

Instead unMoaners sublimate.  Our most significant strategy is the heaping upon one another of generous portions of incredibly sumptuous foods.  Twice a day seemingly haphazard pairings of the house’s inhabitants conspire to inspire.  Turning the glories garnered from local markets into our agency of appreciation and bombarding one another with the best we have on offer, we can get carried away.

Sometimes it goes wrong.  Bland pasta tastes like bland pasta — the lack of love resounds around the unMon eating hall.  Harmony does not reign.

Contemplation is a mixed blessing — thinking over certain phenomena gives inescapable conclusions.  Sumptuousness in its absence can expand beyond the merely insipid — it easily becomes an affront to virtue.  Incompetence, or an injudicious spice quota, reflects not a bad day in the kitchen but disdain for the collective.  To serve a flat sauce or even an over-ornate show-off of a salad is to kick the captive audience where it hurts.  Vows have been broken for less…

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The Extraordinary Case of the unMonastery 1.0

MA Monacelle meeting

The unMonastery Prototipo Matera saw its existence thanks to an almost unique moment. A group of citizens in the ancient but largely ignored administrative centre of the Basilicata region chose to systematically redefine themselves around questions of culture and inherent content. Generating the momentum, and providing the leverage to perform such a self cross-examination was the audacious act of nominating themselves as the Italian representative as a Capital of European Culture for 2019.

At issue was not their virtue nor essential Italianess, ( the selection of country was already fixed.) The question was the city’s merit in a country replete with bona fide major candidates. Relief and belief were both enormous when among circa 22 other hot-spots of Italian cultural superlatives, the local committee’s proposal made the short list of six cities. Well into their commitment to the unMonastery experiment, justice was seen to be done: we made it so far. Still, up against heavyweights such as Siena, Cagliari and Lecce, many in Matera felt the city a mouse masquerading as a magnificent Creature indeed.

Listening in the background to the soul-searching that accompanied a city with a self-image as peripheral and irrelevant was uniquely rewarding. Comparisons must be fatuous, but pockets of Latin American states renegotiating centuries of gross injustice, who have recently reformed themselves via social turmoil, will offer similar fertile soil. However, it is more likely that these societies have such straight forward demands of life and death infrastructure issues that these allow less time for more existential dilemmas such as: Who are we?

Matera, although long suffering on a scale of progressive national neglect, has retained secure supply lines to the rich food production of the region and is buoyed by a not yet suffocating parallel tourist economy. In addition they have one more enormous advantage: they legitimately possess a claim to being a deep cultural European resource. Some sources have it as the city with the clearest links to a Neolithic past. Others assert the claim of the world’s third oldest city with signs of urban inhabitance 10,000 years ago. In the rhetoric of the candidacy committee; we’ve been here for 8000 years , we want to remain here for 8000 more. Their virtue is a resilience that gets its strength from their very marginality…

Even the most self-declared neutral social anthropologists operate as cultural imperialists; to pronounce something as observation worthy is to intrude upon it. To rush to conclusion is offensive; the preferred tactic is to seep oneself in the social intercourse over time and to gently reflect upon ones own perceptions. 

To monitor the outer form of culture without having linguistic access to its content is not to wallow in ones exclusion, but to visit a therapeutic health bath that includes us in the core inner life of humanity. To spend time surrounded by a richness of after-a-while familiar faces, all involved in seeking purchase to negotiate their place in their future, is an inspiration. Even with little direct access to the debate, witnessing the forces of renewal and resistance: the passion is readily absorbable.

For an outsider the pain wasn’t immediately tactile. The fault-lines in the city are not minor. The fertile earth of a conceptual crisis may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Questions of belonging and authentic voice quickly become as familiar as they are fascinating. For a people balanced upon centuries of frustration and repressed rebellion as waves of conquest are illogically enforced, helplessness can easily become a predigested reality. Chronic negativity is only a superficial symptom – it purports to be realism even if it may often be indicative of inherited defeat.

For those of us ensconced in castles of noble concern, besieged by seemingly militant waves of indifference, to probe and provoke the citizenry by offering the luxury of wishing out loud in orderly concentric circles, is to invite rebellion. To carry on is a sign of bravery.

In the vibrant climate a periphery of such a broad social project, the unMonastery perceives itself as essential. Not in the sense of that the MA2019 process cannot do without us, but we see in our experimental prototype an alchemic distillation that hopefully one day very soon shall surrender the secret essence of all human endeavors.

The brave initiative takers behind both the Materan candidacy and its favorite sub-project The unMonastery may be foolhardy; it shall be a deep tragedy if either of us find no one to carry our banner…

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Deconstructing the Bruna — Ritual Police Brutality

 
MA Bruna Donna x 2all photos: Andrea Semplici 2013

Everyone comes out into the streets for mysterious reasons.  They are to partake in an immersion in their masses.  Boil it down to basics : they just might witness something.  The program has been clear for over 600 years.
I missed the early morning shepherds running their flocks through the streets, but at the stroke of sometime shortly after 1230, we gather for the emergence of the local incarnation of the blesséd Madonna from a church that isn’t actually 600 years old.  The horse braying under the generale and the trills of a gentile marching band in overture modus will have been recirculated through many a generation, but otherwise this is that which we do…

MA Bruna - anticipation

It was the city’s Big Day, the feast of Maria della Bruna, a most marvelous occasion of conflicting explanations.   I only know what I saw:

People converge upon a church to see if there is anything to see.  Not surprisingly there is.  After the parade of flowery cavalieri  – horsemen and horsegirls decked out to the frilliest, several pudgy men of the ceremonial committee with four horse drawn wagons arrive to collect yet other notables.  It did not seem to occur to anyone in my party that also the ceremony in the innards of the church was somehow intrinsic to the experience; on this day we were more than content perched on a strategic balcony that had served several families through several centuries. 

Applause; out into the sunlight comes a beaming face under a purple bonnet clutching a life-size rendition of an infant.  The pudgy men have had their ranks swollen by among others my friend the mayor.  Surrounded by only somewhat less pudgy men in the flowing robes of the clergy, they carry a most beautiful woman swaying above their shoulders.  The band waits behind her designated wagon, the one with the satin and the flowers.  Red hat carrying her baby gets his own wagon.  Off they go.  Two ex-colony nuns had wandered by at some point.

MA Bruna emergesThe men were holding a party for a most alluring plaster woman.  What were we on about?

MA Buna - Committee on Steps

In the evening it became richer.  The shepherding away of the maiden in question was temporary, she’d be back in the fold by the evening, reunited with her youngster.

According to not necessarily informed sources, Matera is the only Italian city whose patron saint is a matron saint.  Indeed a creature to be honored, applause greets the very mention of her name as her effigy is paraded upon the historical route of her minor miracle.  However, it is not quite as visceral and as heartfelt as is the glee by which the cognisenti eye the fault-lines and the prize pieces of paper maché figures and architectural detail that comprise this year’s rendition of her designer carro chariot.  Employed solely for the return trip, this isn’t the carriages of this morning; rather it is multi-tiered ship that holds her figure high and depicts guiding lights and current themes of the Roman Catholic pantheon.  Her wheels shall steal the show.

MA Bruna prowMA Bruna - raptureWith much stopping and starting along the parade, the crowd are suitably primed when Maria perched atop her carro finally appear on the fringe of the piazza.  Music cues are coordinated.  Eight trumpeters sound the fanfare from Aida which peaks appropriately just before the belovéd virgin glides effortlessly into the epicentre of our civic space to stop under a floating panoply of peacock feather patterned lights.  Especially constructed four days before the event, at this late hour their illumination transforms the city’s always enticing central public square into pure raw beauty. The sound system breaks into Ave Maria.  It is as contagious as it is primitive. 

MA Bruna Panoply

There is a marked contrast of male domination of parade committee and the clergy (the female presence among the officialdom largely limited to a pair of red cross workers) and the object of our admiration.  It appears the boys are about to make good.  We are here to celebrate a magnificent creature.  However, some time in ancient history, things had gotten out of hand…

Ritual Police Brutality 
Soon the story will diverge.   The action swoops by the Cathedral.   After depositing the sacred memory of this glorious virgin, now reunited with her infant in a gesture that must bring solace to single mothers everywhere, there is a decided game shift.  The skittish nature of the noble, politically correct but sadly chronically unemployed horses, requires that the forty or so glorious knights in their tin plate chain mail breast plates and ditto helmets must muster off: spears, flags and all.  Having thus removed a significant percentage of potentially deadly weaponry, the ritual goes hard core.

MA Bruna caveleri retires
Up to date as only design conscious southern Italy can manage, the developments are now televised on three screens including one on the main piazza above the historic cisterns that remind one that this may be the oldest city in Europe.   We thus witness the retreat of the cavalry twice; once on screen and then moments later al fresco as they trot through the hordes back along the residual pathway of their first appearance.  At the last moment four less quirky, blinkered mules have been ushered into place at the head of the chariot.  Their driver strapped in, the carro performs the mandatory three ritual circles in yet another crowded piazza, before aligning itself with the canyon to come.  The evening’s raison d’être involves running the gauntlet between those ravenous for loot.  A body guard of blue helmeted police squads and the loyal followers of the local football team are tasked with getting the precious wagon past 120 meters prime retail outlets (fenced in for the occasion) and out before the awaiting masses on the piazza beneath the delicate dome of micro lights. 

MA Bruna Police + Boys

Sizing up their immediate future, a calculation is communicated between the phalanx of defenders of the faith and the man at the reins.  The wagon train and its foot soldiers take the plunge.  Charging gladiators wield the whips that earlier seemed a useful precaution to protect the crowd from the symptoms of rusty horsemanship, but that now seek other flesh.  They would progress but a few meters before the next security hazard raises its presence and clogs the canyon.  The waiting marauders are forced backward to whence they came and towards where the impatient masses now watch in simulcast from six cameras.  There are to be several attempts before the inevitable last charge into the human stream of negotiated no-man’s land collides with attendant rebellion.

MA Bruna Faccia a Faccia

Before our eager eyes, one of the city’s resident bastards breaks through the security cordon and surprises himself by scampering to the top of the wagon.  In a moment that will he will retell for the rest of his life, he scatters elements of the most fragile decor into the surge below.  The injustice is palpable: 45 meters before the chariot and its much sought after plunder become sanctified fair game, the forces of chaos triumph.   However, an understandable civic outrage is not the response of the blood thirsty among us.

MA Bruna vulturesThe defenses compromised, the camera zooms in on the gun-jumpers eager to embrace a prized piece.  As the Christs, doves, and cherubim clenched in the fists of the greedy are broadcast to all, one would anticipate this disgusting lack of fair play would provoke instant disapproval.  Not so; in an orgy of reverse schadenfreude the crowd erupt in a surprising roar for the home team.  A cloud of testosterone fired by the scent of the prey expresses great vicarious glee at the successful pillage.

MA Bruna teamwork
Honour among thieves
Once the prize possessions of angels or mock doric columns have been torn off and claimed, the rules of the game allow recapture within a certain circumference.  Organised into gangs that hone in on the primo treasures and then pass them down to eager accomplices, the loot is quickly divvied up and carted off.  Not everyone gets the biggest piece of a wedding cake.  The telly zooms in on the late comers descending upon the chariot remnants as a lowly staircase gets eviscerated by the hungry.  In an unconscious touch of fairness, a treasured headless apostle floats by along the intended route as the victorious parade fresh relics across the piazza for our admiration.

MA Bruna blurrr

Brother Andrea who’s magnificent photos may accompany this article became collateral damage.  His first FaceBook chat from his hospital bed came from a man more in ecstasy than pain: 

My Bruna was so wonderful and ‘near’. Five costal bones broken and camera broken. Very near to the chariot. I’m in the hospital. Don’t worry, I was where I wanted to be….yes Bruna is wonderful…

MA Bruna blurrr2It is hard not to read the manifestations of this tradition but as a glorification of bullying that has the church performing backwards somersaults to justify.  The explanations get rapidly very hazy indeed.  The mock rebellion where a half-criminal caste is allowed to exercise a tendency to vandalism that rivals the Vandals, and that leaves those charged with the defense of fair play bathed in their own indignation, doesn’t immediately seem to promote social cohesion.

Much as the chariot itself, the supporting elements of its legend are crying out to be taken to pieces.  It may even be the case that, horror of horrors, this reenactment of ancient history doesn’t accommodate the story it purports to ritualise.  Repelling plundering hordes by acting as plundering hordes is an intricate scenario.  Not only are the heros the bad guys, but the high point in the pageant comes much too early in the narrative and the day.

MA Bruna welcoming committeeThe complex psychic make-up of the locals that feed this reenactment with centuries of identity crisis refute this story being mere myth.  Something did indeed happen sometime. However, the proffered alignment of the irate citizenry rising up against the plundering invaders making off with the jewel encrusted icon that had of late been generously demonstrating her healing powers, holds at most mere kernels of believability. 

Three paper thin stories are meant to support the tale:
The archbishop of Matera in the 1340’s was not an insignificant soul  - his next appointment would be as Pope Urban the Somethingth.  Popes of his day were not elected on piety alone; typically he’d had administrated significant expansion of ecclesiastic splendor.  A fetching brunette receiving visitations within a donkey ride of his palazzo could be just the trick to rally the faithful round the necessary levies for his next construction project. 

MA Bruna lords finery

To underline the benevolence of the current regime, it could be helpful to vilify them that went before – a triumph for the virtuous could be just the thing.  Enter the Saracens.  Hardly an empty threat, this variant of invading hordes from Carthage certainly had previous; they had long held sway of the historical Greek Island of Sicily.   However, if it depicts a barbarian invasion, the forces destroying the wagon seem to identify with the Barbarians and force the holy church to bless their essentially heretical behavior.   Even before the decent of the jolly modern day Milani and Romans, the confusing tide of civilisation had delivered the local lands unto Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthage, the Lombardy Goths and the Norman mercenaries in hire of the Spaniards.  Something nasty must certainly have set its spore during the transitions.

It is easy to see that the wagon is heading the wrong way.  Given that some dramaturgic tweaking may have be desirable to avoid that the lady herself not harbour in the centre of the fray, it is understandable to place her safely back on her pedestal before the free-for-all ensues.  Some have the pageant’s ritual of revenge as a brutal exercise of mandatory renewal and reincarnation.   At the same time laying to ruins the Maria’s precious carro is hardly unbridled homage.  Feeble legends have been composed featuring the city’s favorite villain, the vile Count Tramonte, who so taxed the patience of the citizenry that on the 28th of December 1514, he was removed from office with a dagger.

With one foot in theatre history other scenarios present themselves:  playing the bad guy is infinitely more fun, more plausible is that a modest enactment somewhere became the revenge of the bit players  – a ritual conflict that turned sour when the rabble insisted on winning.   This interpretation is reinforced when more pastoral sources depict the ambush as nothing more severe than a plunder of the summer flowers that once decked Our Lady’s modest sedan chair.

MA Bruna figgers
Modern technology does have its blessings.  Within minutes the local television coverage offered up instant replay of the initial assault and the dramatic toppling of the cupola.  Details that inferior camera angles, or the sheer speed of the dismemberment, left blurry are subject to zooms and freeze frame.  As the burro-driver gropes for the reins to bail out from any further advance, the defenders of the faith turn upon the first of the perpetrators who breached the defensive ring as the surge collapsed.  Brandishing whips made of an entwined, stretched and then dried ox penises, the primordial exchange of a good thrashing for a good story provides mutual vindication to all.

The subtext is blatant:  Materani do social upheaval.  Historians may find it unsubstantiated but local legend has them believe theirs was the first Italian rebellion against fascist troops in 1943.  There is also considerable pride attached to the rebellion against the afore mentioned vile tax-collector in 1514 and to the bloody local manifestation of the forced unification of Italy in 1861.  That all these three events no doubt provoked harsh reprisals with the apparent blessing of the church is barely mentioned.  That a successful raid in the face of sanctified violence ends in victory for the victims may reflect the deep story of Maria della Bruna.  As such it provides both social therapy and valuable mutual training in something or another.  Would it be blasphemy to seek a little clarity? 

MA Bruna Babes

Clearly it is not beyond the powers of the imagination to apply conjecture as to how and why the evolution of a popular ritual has responded to evolving needs.  The next step is however deeply problematic.  Dare we tamper with the future?   The wagon itself only partially constructed for greater things. On the surface it is to serve two functions: it parades the untouchable splendor of the virtuous local lass and provides competing families of cartapasta artists a showcase to display their skills.  That it is destined to be torn asunder and thereby shall end its days as souvenir sized chunks to be carted off to be given pride of place in shop windows and living rooms throughout the city is not convincingly reflected in the design.   Could elements at the core of the ritual be adjusted?

Tweaking the expressions of the collective consciousness is at best invasive.  Social anthropology shall observe, not fiddle with the DNA of cultural reproduction.  Designing tradition may be the world of the unMonastery or the Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda but it invites confrontation…  As with the work of Jungian Sandplay Therapy, to maneuver what is essentially the stuff of dreams before the glaring light of conscious choice is to take responsibility for shaping one’s history.

MA Bruna menfolk

However, it is not beyond the possible that even the deeply conservative elements immersed in the memories of an entire community can be persuaded to bend before converging forces.  For this year’s parade the number of horses was reportedly shaved from a glorious 100 to a more modest 60.  If this was a health and safety issue promoted by the street sweepers union or by the emergency department at the local hospital could be a subject of research.  Perhaps the dreaded animal rights activists had voiced disapproval.  In either case 40 equestrian couples had been put out to pasture or sent to the meat market.  Whether this reflected a sudden drop in the prestige of maintaining the gear, or whether it reflected a schism and bad blood in the organising committee is not the subject of this inquiry.  Since the equipage were not yet embroidered with the logos of culturally savvy multinational corporations; the tradition will no doubt survive.

MA Bruna Police wallThe composition of the protective phalanx has similarly been adjusted in recent years as foreign mercenaries hired in from the national police force lacked an understanding of the cultural nuance of give and take (read: last year – the year of Andrea’s photos – had 100 cases referred to the emergency department), the task of policing was then transferred to local forces.  Report has it that this provoked a comic sight as the local officers suffered a neurological conflict of interest – serving and protecting the honour of the chariot while their every manly fibre twitched at the prospect of plunder.

A more obviously recent adjustment was the addition of 3 public screens that enable many more citizens to viscerally witness the core of the event.  These will already be considered an immutable feature of the 625 year old ritual.  The prospect of the crowd that crowds the piazza retreating to the comfort of their living rooms seems unlikely as long as the 2nd of July falls in the summer season.

MA Bruna looters

Ritual Tweaks
While isolated detail dictated by a tradition in imperceptible transition can easily point one in a false direction, being parachuted in to witness ones first iteration of the Bruna without the encumbrance of processions past allows the luxury of unobstructed perspective.  Explanations as to why people feel duty bound to indulge in an act of patriotic vandalism can be many. Though it may be a simple act of acute iconoclasm, it is very tempting to speculate which of the diverse social imperatives will in the future enforce their influence upon this theoretically unrockable ceremony.  And while humility is not the natural realm of a speculative inquiry such as this one, to publicly challenge the best available local minds to determine which forces should be encouraged to consciously shape this major defining ritual of regional identity beckons as a tempting human imperative.  

As we walk by after the smoke has cleared, the vultures still pick at the less appetising bones and sinew of the chariot carcass…

MA - Bruna aftermathThe Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda, division Matera sits with 10 alternative scenarios clutched to its chest…

 

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The unDo

It is an elemental truth in community service that to do anything at all is to risk censure. Everything one launches promotes a reaction; filling empty space implies that the space shouldn’t have been empty in the first place. To do is a critique of passivity. To unilaterally break the negotiated stalemate between hope and possibility in the face of the valid lessons of surrender, apathy, fatalism and stagnation that so easily adhere to a society, is often read as an insult to someone somewhere.

The unMonastery functions as an injection of enthusiasm. We may or may not be naive, but we routinely assume a classic naive posture: we are here to give. If we are alert, we may recognise that we have little we can effectively give. The classic progression as formulated by René Dumal states “Recognising we have little we desire to give of ourselves, in desiring to give of ourselves we may realise that we are nothing. Finding that we are nothing we desire to become, in desiring to become, we begin to live.” But the modern doer is not trained to begin at the beginning. Postulating that we arrive empty handed may amount to yet another insult. It is no wonder that humility is an illusive virtue.

The solution to this conundrum is to avoid first generation doing; ones presence is best applied as a response to the established…

An articulated dent…

The mountain is massive, our efforts would always remain puny. Persistence, endurance, applied tunnel vision are often considered vital virtues should we ‘accomplish’ anything at all. However it is legitimate to question the very concept of accomplishment. To leave clear directions for the pursuit of as yet unaccomplished accomplishments is often a much better strategy. Efforts that are anchored locally are worth more than anything that can be applied by the nomadic unMonasterians. No matter how visionary our initiatives – it is through the resonance and reverberation in our collaborators that we can measure our impact. Stepping aside at the right moment can be more valuable than stubbornly insisting upon shaping a grand finale.

Backlash of middle class imperialism, presumption of our infinite value with such an entire foreign concept of Mapping the Commons that it defied translation. It was only with the name change that clarified the essence of our visit. Strangers would spend a day in a marginalised corner of the city to share and absorb. Our ‘day’ could be either a surprise or utterly normal. Fortunately the PR bit lagged behind, we could promise the moon. To extract the keys for one weeks work, took two weeks work.

Forcing a satisfactory conclusion seldom gives a satisfactory conclusion. It would require considerable grace.

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