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.


About bembodavies

Theatre worker who long ago abandoned theatres, I remain adept at fabricating projects out of thin air. All proposals welcome.
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