A mystical backlash accompanied our presence in Matera. We could profess our innocence of any imperialistic ambitions, but a significant segment of the population stood against the very existence of such a foreign entity as the unMonastery in the primo real estate of their city. Days after the first unMoaner souls set foot in the Mediateca to make our fledgling inquiries a video appeared on the YouTube purporting to cover the existence of a serial killer preying upon unsuspecting unMonasterians. Even those whom one could consider close personal friends could embrace you as an individual while repelling the very idea. The Materani would proudly be a hard nut to crack.
Having made a study of the congenital Canadian twins of anti-imperialistic resistance and provincialism, it was possible to slice the cake generously. A people beset by waves of historic opposition could legitimately harbour skepticism, but had not the modern love of ecclectical cross-over and globalised culture made it to these parts? Were not we unMonasaterians a blessing that would help lift clouds of inbred mutual self-censure? Would the manner in which we embraced one another in-house echo the manner in which we were embraced across our interface with the locals?
We weren’t the first wave of upstarts. Centralised governement had done its well-meaning cynical best. A region whose idealogical composition had consistently voted far to the left of the hegemonic coalition clusters that had hampered the country for 60 years would hardly be rewarded for its loyalty. At best they would be treated as an eccentric uncle with hygiene issues – if there was hard work to be done, they’d get the nod, but they were not to be invited to the prettier feasts. Resentment became entrenched.
Perhaps the foulest rejection was reserved the least cognitive invaders from the North. In times of plenty, these would claim a familiar, cultural bond between all who applied the same postage stamps. However, obtuse Northerners would never quite grasp the allergic reaction with which they were not embraced. Even when the ‘foreigner’ in question was genetically a re-immigrant, removed from the soil of their ancestors for no more than the generation necessary to befuddle their dialect, the atmosphere at the frontier could easily turn toxic. The pain of cycles that exported favorite brothers to greener pastures sat deep in those left behind. Among those left behind, fierce civic pride guarded the primary virtue of survival.
The central myth of Matera is Madonna della Bruna. Every year exiled citizens flock to their ancestral home for a reenactment of an historical event. (See my Rehearsing Police Brutality with Andrea Semplici’s striking photo essay.) The detail in the day is glorious; however, no one can convincingly articulate its deeper significance. Why must the magnificent, beautiful ‘caro’ be torn into pieces?
In the political climate fought out between the squadrons of social innovators and cultural preservationists in Matera someone would always be the victim. Pomp and self-glorification would be inevitably encounter bitter reality. The battle cry of ‘Death to the State’ was hardwired into the neurological pathways of the man in the street. Every magnificent idea paraded in from the North was viewed as a caro; without even having to assess repercussions, the caro was to be demolished.