I am just back from 18 days in Italy! What a wonderful time we had (my husband went with me). I could go on for hours about the food, the people, the poetry of the language, and all the fabulous art and buildings. Instead, I’m going to focus on the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, which I attended. I also gave a workshop there and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
First, a little about Matera. This unusual town of 65,000 is divided into old and new sections. The conference and our hotel was in the old section, where about 3,000 people currently live. This part of town has been populated for 7,000 years (that’s no typo— seven thousand), making it the longest ongoing town in the world. The first dwellers built their homes in the rock that rims the city. They lived in these caves (called Sassi, or homes of stone) along with their animals as if they were in the middle ages until 1950, when the Italian government was shamed into moving many of the people into homes with running water and electricity. (Thanks to a book about the subject, Christ Stopped in Eboli by Carlo Levi, which I intend to read in the near future.)
Many of the Sassi have been modernized. In fact, our 28-room hotel was once a group of Sassi houses and businesses. Our room was part of a church built in 800 and de-sanctified in 1950. It looked like a roomy cave, with light, heat and air conditioning, comfortable furnishings, and even a few windows. A fun, novel place to stay! (For a few photos of the hotel, visit http://www.travelitalia.com/it/hotels/Matera/1439/ )
The conference was small, about 50 attendees (mostly female) from the US, England, Italy, Germany, France and Sweden. Translators were available, too, and these amazing ladies were able to instantly translate English into Italian—no easy feat. Liz Jennings, the organizer of the festival, promised to make us speakers feel loved and welcomed. She lived up to that promise and then some. The night before the conference we met in an upscale boutique in Matera for a lovely cocktail party. Food and wine abounded, and we met other writers in town for the conference. After that, we enjoyed Happy Hour in one of the old squares, sitting outside to enjoy hors d’oeuvres and wine, while we listened to two very attractive actors read poetry in Italian. Made my little heart go pitty pat. ☺
Friday evening, Liz organized a tour of the town (during a full moon!), complete with a visit to Musma, a unique sculpture museum. We wandered into a huge cave consisting of room after room on various levels into the earth, where modern sculpture is artfully displayed. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern is truly marvelous.
And the food… There is nothing better than slow food. By that I mean pasta made and prepared on site, using fresh ingredients. Long, leisurely lunches and dinners. Oh!!
There were several agents and editors in attendance, and it was easy to sit down and chat. Plus lots of wonderful authors from America. Barbara Samuel, who I thoroughly enjoyed, Cindy Gerard with her fabulous energy, Kayle Perrin, Rosemary Laurey (aka Madeleine Oh) and Rachelle Chase. Liz Fielding (a Harlequin author from England) was there, too. Also editors Raelene Gorlinsky, Hilary Sares, and Karen Stoecker—fun ladies, indeed. The two agents from the U.S., Katharine Sands from the Jane Freymann Agency, and Christine Whitthohn from Book Cents Agency, both stayed at my hotel. I enjoyed our morning walk to the conference center. So we trudged up tons and tons of stairs that left us panting and somewhat warm from all that exertion. The exercise kept me from gaining a single pound, despite enjoying plenty of pasta, gelato and wine.
I gave a talk on creating realistic characters. It seemed to be well-received. A real thrill for me was when an Italian woman who runs a blog brought Another Life, which she had ordered from Amazon, for me to autograph. Another was that my name was mentioned in the local paper—in bold! If only I could fully comprehend Italian… ☺ For all I know, they said I was no mountain goat. Which would’ve come in handy for scaling all those stairs…
I didn’t stay for the Saturday cocktail party (we wanted to spend time in Rome before coming home), but it was hosted in an old olive oil factory/cave. For more info on the festival, visit www.womensfictionfestival.com .
Well, I’ve rattled on enough for one time. It’s good to be back, and I don’t intend to miss any more blogging days if I can help it.
Until next time,
Mitch Takes A Wife, August 2007
All I Want for Christmas, November 2007