Wednesday, November 30, 2011
It was all but thirty years ago that I first heard of Matera. I read about it then in Carlo Levi’s, ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’, his account of his detention in the then rather sauvage south of Italy during 1935/6 when he was obliged to live under a kind of house arrest for daring to question the activities of the prevailing fascist administration. In chapter ten of his book, Levi relates the story of a brief visit from his sister, Luisa, like himself a qualified doctor, who had passed through Matera on her way to visit her imprisoned brother. Levi’s rehearsing of his sister’s account of the place makes harrowing reading; 20,000 people living in caves carved from the mountainside with their goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, in dwellings devoid of running water or any kind of sanitation; endemic disease, malaria, trachoma; children begging not for sweets but for quinine.
Safe with the knowledge that things in Matera had changed through the three-quarters of a century that have passed since Luisa’s visit, I made at Matera the last overnight stop of my return trip home from Ireland. Wandering the extensive labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways of Matera’s two adjacent ‘sassos’, presently an anthill of tourist lodgings, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants, it was impossible for me to imagine quite what Matera might have been like in 1935; even the bathroom of the centrally heated B&B cave I rented for the night was half filled by an un-necessarily capacious jacuzzi bath; a fine looking thing but the graphics on its controls were far beyond my capacity to reason so jacuzzi bathing remains something to which I yet have to look forward.
Matera marked the sixty-second day of my absence from home, an absence that had begun on something of an inexplicable whim; a revelation that a change of scene and routine might shake me out of the far too comfortable torpor into which I felt I had allowed myself to ease.
Inasmuch as I have returned to my home inspired to prosecute all manner of changes, directly to my immediate environment and indirectly to myself, my absence from here satisfied at least one previously unrecognized objective.
God willing, I shall not wait a another fourteen years before making further solely hedonistic trips away from here. Indeed, I am already pipe-dreaming a return to Ireland next spring, to re-visit some of the places enjoyed on the recent trip and to explore others which, this year, I was obliged to by-pass.