postscript Casaprota

The evening of the launch of L’incontro and the following day, there were some wonderful responses. Perhaps my favourite came from a woman who told me that the characters were not just Italian, but “from here!” (Perhaps I’ve spent enough time in Italy now to have captured certain Italian characteristics?) Someone else described the event as “not just a beautiful story, but a beautiful experience”; and the Mayor, Marcello, promised me that if I came back and did another one, he would organise Italian citizenship for me…

But I left Casaprota for Venice two days after the presentation, so I did not witness any individual Casaprotani ‘walking the story”. I harboured the idea of people “walking the story” in groups and making it more of an oral tale, but I now think that a reading by actors achieved more; it was not just an oral story, but also a community event. I hope future projects like this one will have a similar community presentation.

I originally intended the story to be in place for two weeks, but at the suggestion of Renato, we decided just to leave it there and see what happened. It stayed up for almost three months, and in that time, locals and tourists alike “walked the story”, and as a result, some of the characters from the story have now been absorbed into the locals’ sense of their town, while tourists from Rome — there are many during the hottest part of summer — discovered parts of the town they would rarely go.

Towards the end of my time in Casaprota, I agreed to publish the text with an English translation after returning to Australia. It has taken an inordinate amount of time, while many unrelated issues intervened, but L’incontro (The Encounter) is now ‘printed matter’. I wanted a book that had the feel of an object, that when you held it you felt that you were holding something precious. There is more than a little influence of Bruno Munari on the design of the book. The English translation was difficult, it seemed bizarre to be translating my own work into my native language, and I have to say, my Italian original is somewhat better than my English translation! Had I written the story in English originally, it would have had a different rhythm.

As the book was put to press, (and the bookbinder, Martin, went off on holidays), the Casaprota project took another fascinating turn. Through a wonderful chance encounter during my stay in Venice this year, I was invited to submit a proposal for next year’s Architecture Biennale. Okay, I know that writing is not architecture, I know the Architecture Biennale is not a place of pilgrimage for writers… but the relationship between the two is at the heart of the Casaprota project: the physicality of place (the built environment) and the telling of stories that give meaning to place.

I had been intrigued by one of the exhibits in the 2014 Architecture Biennale, Luka Skansi’s The Remnants of a Miracle (I resti di un miracolo), which I have written about under Art-Architecture. I feel strongly that we need to find some path to re-thinking our relationship to buildings (such as these) and to the built environment generally, and that it is not something for architects as professionals specifically to do, it is for those who occupy, who live in, who live with built environments, those for whom a specific built environment is a central part of their everyday life. Could we change the way we see built environments, I now wondered, by writing stories about them?

The resultant project ‘Building Stories’ has been accepted into the ‘Time-Space-Existence’ exhibition in the European Cultural Centre at the 2018 Venice Biennale. I have in mind a particular space in the Palazzo Moro in which to place a bespoke object, that is literary in form and architectural in construction. The project may not go ahead, though, unless certain funding issues can be satisfactorily resolved. As I write, we are still in negotiation, so I remain hopeful. The proposal is documented below.

Building Stories:
Re-imagining our relationships with the built environment

Time-Space-Existence: a proposal for the 16th International Architecture Biennale 2018

Architecture is more than design, more than building, more than the enclosure of space; it is also the stage on which life’s stories play. 

BUILDING STORIES is based on the proposition that we can utilise place-centred fiction to find new ways of engaging with buildings, new ways of configuring our relationships with diverse built environments. Through these imagined stories we are reminded of the centrality of architecture in our lives, we see afresh the potential of buildings beyond their – sometimes exhausted – historical or utilitarian existence.

BUILDING STORIES reports on a recent project of place-centred fiction in a small Italian town, and suggests the potential for re-imagining our engagement with diverse built environments, including the urban and industrial. Here, reference can be made to Luke Skansi’s The Remnants of a Miracle from Monditalia at the 2014 Architecture Biennale.

The project, L’incontro: a ‘story for walking’, took place over a period of four months (late April – late August 2017) in the central Italian town of Casaprota (RI), under the auspices of l’Associazione Culturale SabinARTi. The aim was to foster a re-imagining of relationships to the town by combining two ways we come to know place: the spatial experience of place and the telling of stories that give meaning to place.

I selected certain sites of actual or imagined significance in the town and constructed a fictional historical narrative which responded to these sites. The story was installed on panels, each section at its corresponding site, so the narrative lead the reader on a journey of encounter: laneway, courtyard, archway, balcony, stone stairway, piazza, abandoned church. ‘Walking the story’ became an opportunity for renewed spatial exploration through an imagined cultural layer.

The community enthusiastically engaged with the project. For the launch, two local drummers lead the audience on their journey through the town, while local actors read the story to them. During the three months in which the panels remained in place, many ‘walked the story’ individually. Characters from the story became absorbed into their relationship with certain sites: the one-armed Capitano Bassetti with the Palazzo del Gatto, for example; the would-be lovers, Alice and Mario, with the narrow vicoli of the medieval borgo. For the August holiday-makers from Rome, ‘walking the story’ meant engaging with town sites they would rarely visit.

L’incontro has now been published, (with a translation in English), as a pocket guide to walking the story.

The BUILDING STORIES exhibit will present the project in Casaprota and suggest the potential of this idea for re-imagining relationships with more challenging built environments.

©2017 Linzi Murrie


#20 sabato sera: il giro, il racconto

qualche consiglio all’ultimo momento…

Antonio Andronico comincia il racconto…

i tamburini guidano la folla…

il Palazzo del Gatto…
Antonio Mercadante nel giardino del palazzo…

le ragazze sono sempre in prima fila…

entriamo il centro storico…Antonio Mercadante sul balcone…il porcile abbandonato…Dopo la presentazione, ringraziamenti, poi pasta, grazie Emanuele e Pro Loco Casaprota, e vino, grazie Marcello e il Comune di Casaprota.

Fotos: Susanna Emili (Grazie mille, Susanna!). Susanna ha caricato bellissimi foto della lettura di «L’incontro» sabato sera sul Facebook sito:

#19 installazione

I confess to considerable anxiety during this process, especially how the frames for the panels would be attached to these (mostly) medieval walls in the centro storico. Renato, being an architect, suffered no such anxiety!

Renato, Sergio e io nel centro storico, dove Mario trova Alice…

Via Circonvallazione…

davanti Palazzo del Gatto…

…l’ultimo posto davanti la Chiesa dei Santi Domenico and Michele.

#18 presentation

My original idea for reading this story was quite modest. I assumed people would read the story on their own as part of a deliberate journey, or perhaps as a journey that they undertook over several days. I liked the idea that people might read in groups, taking it in turns to read it out aloud to the others, in the way of storytelling of oral stories.

It was this aspect that was picked up by Susanna and Renato and by other people in the town. Here was a certain theatricality possible, and so the idea of a launch of the project with a public reading, in this case by professional actors, perhaps with some musical accompaniment, took hold.

The Mayor, Marcello Ratini, suggested that the musical accompaniment might be provided by the famous Banda Nazionale Garibaldina from the town of Pioggio Mirteto. Founded in 1592, this band is the oldest wind ensemble in Europe. The Garibaldi name came from a much later involvement in the 1867 battle for Rome. It was only a short step from there to the television cameras coming. Suddenly I was faced with having to buy some new clothes for the “television interview”. The band agreed to perform, but as it happened, they were unable to muster the required number of musicians for the evening, as they had a major performance scheduled the following night.

Eventually, we settled on two actors, Antonio Andronico e Antonio Mercadante, and two drummers from the local Casaprota band, Marco and eight-year-old Federico, who was a perfect parallel for one of the minor characters in the story. This was a better outcome because it left the focus on reading the story, rather than on the music.

It was wonderful that the community had become engaged with the project, and were making their own contribution. It seemed that now part of the ownership of this project had passed to the town.

#17 presentazione

La mia prima idea era piuttosto modesta: la gente sarebbe camminare per Casaprota e leggere il racconto da solo, forse durante qualche giorno seguendo l’azione del racconto. Mi piaceva l’idea che la gente potrebbe camminare il racconto in piccoli gruppi, e fare a turno a leggerlo ad altra voce l’uno agli altri, nel modo di raccontare storie orali.

Quest’idea è stata ripresa da Susanna e Renato e altri nel paese, perché suggeriva qualcosa teatrale, un’opportunità per uno spettacolo: una lettura pubblica con musicisti e attori.

Il sindaco, Marcello Ratini, ha suggerito che la famosa Banda Nazionale Garibaldina di Poggio Mirteto potrebbe fornire la musica. Fondata nel 1592, questa banda è considerata la più antica in Europa. Il suo nome «Garibaldina» risale alla battaglia per Roma nel 1867, in cui i musicisti della banda hanno partecipato.

In un batter d’occhio parlavano della copertura televisiva, stavo pensando delle interviste e la necessità di comprare vestiti nuovi! La banda ha accettato di eseguire, ma com’è successo, non è stato possibile da radunare abbastanza musicisti per la sera, perché la banda aveva uno spettacolo importante in programma la sera seguente.

Alla fine, due attori, Antonio Andronico e Antonio Mercadante, hanno accettato di leggere il racconto, e due tamburi dalla banda locale, Marco e Federico, accettato di suonare. Federico di otto anni sembra come uno dei personaggi nel racconto! Questo risultato è stato migliore perché la lettura del racconto rimane il punto centrale, piuttosto che la musica.

È meraviglioso che i Casaprotani siano impegnati nel progetto e stiano facendo contributi; mi sembra che adesso il progetto appartenga anche al paese.

#16 pubblicità

Grazie mille, Susanna!


Pro loco, Casaprota:


È una bella giornata primaverile nell’anno di nostro Signore 1849, nella breve vita della Repubblica Romana. Un gruppo di soldati arriva in un villaggio della Sabina, alla ricerca di giovani volontari da arruolare per combattere con Garibaldi contro le truppe francesi, in difesa della nuova repubblica…

A scrivere di questo incontro tra i garibaldini e gli abitanti di Casaprota è Linzi Murrie, uno scrittore australiano, da un mese in residenza artistica al Palazzo del Gatto. E’ un racconto immaginario, ma in quell’epoca i garibaldini erano effettivamente accampati in Sabina, ed è per questo che Linzi ha scelto Casaprota.

Linzi ha scritto il racconto, ma non è un racconto “da leggere”, è un racconto “da camminare”: sì perché le pagine del racconto sono state esposte, capitolo per capitolo, nei vari punti del borgo in cui la storia si svolge. «Camminare il racconto» diventa quindi un’opportunità per scoprire il paese attraverso un evento storico immaginato.

“Ho sviluppato l’idea di un «racconto da camminare» per combinare i due modi in cui veniamo a conoscenza di un luogo: l’esperienza fisica di trovarci in quel luogo e la narrazione di storie, che dà un significato particolare al luogo stesso.” Per Linzi, l’incontro ha anche un altro significato: “è il mio incontro con il paese di Casaprota e con la storia del Risorgimento, che si traduce in una storia italiana, vista con occhi australiani”.

Questo sabato alle 18, il racconto si snoderà per le strade, i vicoli e le piazze di Casaprota: seguendo Linzi, due tamburini e due attori, seguiremo il racconto nelle 10 tappe in giro per il borgo, sapremo di amori, di intrighi, di sogni e di avventure, ci ritroveremo a ridere, a sorridere e a pensare, e ci godremo l’esperienza condivisa della lettura ad alta voce.

A fine maggio Linzi tornerà in Australia e stamperà il suo libro. A Casaprota già chiedono come si fa ad averne delle copie. Ma intanto, sabato 27 e domenica 28 le pagine rimarranno esposte nei 10 punti del borgo, e ci auguriamo che questa si trasformi in un’installazione perenne, in modo che in futuro Casaprota possa sempre offrire il suo “racconto da camminare”.

Il racconto inizia in Piazza del Municipio, prosegue per il centro storico e si conclude davanti alla Chiesa di San Domenico e San Michele Arcangelo.

Ti aspettiamo sabato 27 maggio 2017 alle 18.00 in Piazza del Municipio a Casaprota, per scoprire insieme che cosa avrebbe potuto succedere se quella mattina di maggio del 1849, quattro garibaldini fossero arrivati a Casaprota…

Grazie ai “lettori” Antonio Andronico e Antonio Mercadante, che daranno voce al racconto, al Comune di Casaprota per il patrocinio, ai tamburini Marco e Federico, che accompagneranno la camminata, e alla Proloco di Casaprota, per la spaghettata finale.

#15 L’incontro per gli anziani

Italian towns. This may be a symptom of an ageing population, but it’s just as likely to be because old people tend to spend more time in the streets and piazzas here, to sit and chat, often for an hour or more. I wondered how they would deal with my “racconto da camminare” given that some of them, the older ones at least, would not be able to follow the itinerary in this steep town, nor probably would they want to.

So, despite my intention that the story would be “only published in the street”, I decided to bind copies of the story, which they could borrow and read and pass on. It would certainly have been wrong that, because of their age or infirmity, the anziani of Casaprota were excluded from participation in this event.

On Sunday, the day after the launch and the ‘first reading’, I will deposit copies in the ‘libraries’ for L’incontro, the bars Micarelli and Daff.

Guardando gli anziani di Casaprota, che chiacchierano sulle panchine prima di pranzo e di cena, mi chiedo se possano camminare il mio «racconto da camminare». Alcuni hanno difficoltà a camminare, altri hanno bastoni da passeggio, e Casaprota è un paese ripido! È ovvia che ci sono molti anziani che non potrebbero «camminare il racconto», quindi, nonostante la mia intenzione di pubblicare il racconto «solo nelle strade», decido di stampare e rilegare copie de «L’incontro» per loro. Domenica, dopo la presentazione e la lettura sabato sera, lascerò le copie nei bar Micarelli e Daff, per gli anziani prendere in prestito, leggere e restituire, nel modo di prendere in prestito libri di una biblioteca.

#14 developing the story…

It was a beautiful spring day in the year of our Lord 1849, during the brief life of the Roman Republic. A group of soldiers arrive in a village in the Sabina region, in search of young men to fight with Garibaldi against the French troops, in defence of the new republic… There follows a brief encounter between the soldiers and the townspeople, between different stories and experiences, and conflicting ideas of belonging…

It was obvious that the story could not be contemporary. The only possible contemporary story would be the story of the ‘foreigner discovering the town’. Mercifully, that is an act of self-centredness I would not entertain. Setting the story historically was the obvious solution, and I thought it needed to be sufficiently far in the past that there would be no living memory of the period. My knowledge of that past time would then be gained in the same way that Italians do, through history, through reading.

I already knew quite a bit about the Risorgimento, although I would acknowledge now, I knew less than I thought I did! I did not know much about life in the Sabina region during that period, so finding out about that constituted much of my research. Some of the events in the long history towards Italian unification took place in this region, and fortunately for me, several concerned the defence in 1849 of the Roman Republic, an impressively liberal republic that survived only six months, but became, at least for a time, highly symbolic. These historical events provided a background for a story that was fictional, but neither unrealistic nor unlikely. 

I chose the idea of an encounter between locals and soldiers to emphasise their different ideas about place. I knew that a common Italian word for town paese was also a possible word for country. (I slip a direct reference to that into part eight of the story.)

This had to be a short story. Given the constraints on publishing (and reading) a story in the street, I set the word limit at 10,000. I decided there would be around ten locations in which the story would be published, and that each ‘episode’ would need to be relatively self-contained, clearly linked to the rest of the story, but with its own time-frame. So it would be possible to read the story over several days, coincidentally, the period during which the events take place.

The characters had to be central, and they needed to be quickly established and vivid. None of them could be given elaborate or long descriptions or introductions. It was an highly enjoyable challenge for me, given that I normally allow myself plenty of words and time for this task.

The soldiers came first, they were easier to create: idealists and romantics mainly, most relatively educated, and the passion of youthful imagining, the desire for the heroic, the sense of being part of history as it unfolded. There had to be a poet, of course, someone who delighted in words, but that, was also historically accurate. Literature and writers were such an important part of the Risorgimento.

The townspeople were harder: there was always a danger of making them more current (in attitudes or language) than they would have been, or, on the other hand, making them so historically accurate that their language and attitudes would seriously alienate the reader today. A further challenge was of developing female characters who could influence events…

Of course, there is a lot of me in here: the comedy, the irony, the references to larger contexts, the chance happenings that change lives or do not, and our common naivety at thinking that we know how things are, that we know how things will turn out…

On Saturday (more on this later) the project will be launched with a reading through the streets of Casaprota. Antonio Mercadante, one of the actors who will give the reading, (both actors are called ‘Antonio’), described the story as being a bit like a circus: with clowns and trapeze artists and dancing elephants and lion tamers and the beautiful girl on the back of the horse… and a little bit of Shakespeare, too. I’ll settle for that.

È una bella giornata primaverile nell’anno di nostro Signore 1849, nella breve vita della Repubblica Romana. Un gruppo di soldati arriva in un villaggio della Sabina, alla ricerca di giovani volontari da arruolare per combattere con Garibaldi contro le truppe francesi, in difesa della nuova repubblica…

Ovviamente, non ho potuto scrivere un racconto contemporaneo per questo progetto, perché non conosco né Casaprota né la regione. Il racconto doveva essere storico e ambientato in un’epoca di cui gli italiani conoscono solo da leggere la storia italiana, un’epoca di cui non c’è nessuna memoria d’uomo.

Ho già conosciuto la storia del Risorgimento, ma non quanto come ho creduto. Non ero a conoscenza con la vita a Sabina in quell’epoca o con la storia del governo pontificio; avevo bisogno di fare delle ricerche.

Ci sono stati alcuni eventi storici del Risorgimento che hanno accaduto nella regione, di cui ho scelto la marcia dei Garibaldini da Rieti a Roma nel 1849 per difendere La Repubblica Romana, perché i soldati avevano marciato lungo la Via Salaria vicino a Casaprota. Anche la repubblica m’interesse molto, perché era stata così politicamente avanzata.

Dovevo scrivere un racconto che sarebbe immaginato ma credibile, un racconto che sarebbe potuto accadere in un villaggio sabine, in quell’epoca. Ho scelto l’idea di un incontro, per porre un accento le esperienze diverse tra i soldati e paesani, e le idee di appartenenza contrastanti. Conosco i significati diversi della parola «paese», che sembrano riflettere queste idee diverse di appartenenza.

Era necessario di scrivere un racconto breve, meno di 10,000 parole, dato la difficoltà di pubblicarlo nelle strade e piazze del paese. Ho deciso che sarebbero dieci luoghi in cui il racconto sarebbe pubblicato, e ogni parte del racconto sarebbe quasi autonoma, in modo che, sarebbe possibile di leggere il racconto durante alcuni giorni, lo stesso tempo in cui l’azione del racconto si accade.

I personaggi dovevano essere importanti, vivaci e abbozzati in poche frasi. Questo è stato una sfida per me, preferisco delineare i miei personaggi lentamente. I soldati sono stati più facili a creare. Anche se c’erano opportuniste tra i Garibaldini, la maggioranza erano idealisti, inspirati da Garibaldi e la visione dell’Italia unita. Potevano vedere l’importanza di questo momento di storia, volevano essere parte. Uno di soldati doveva essere poeta, perché la letteratura era veramente importante al Risorgimento.

I paesani sono stati più difficili a creare. C’era il rischio di renderli più attuali in atteggiamenti e linguaggio di quelli che sarebbero stati, o di renderli storici con precisione in modo che il loro linguaggio e atteggiamenti avrebbero alienare i lettori di oggi. Un’altra sfida era di scrivere personaggi femminili che potrebbero influenzare gli eventi…

Anche c’entra lo scrittore nel racconto, vale a dire: la commedia, l’ironia, i riferimenti a contesti più grandi, gli eventi casuali che cambiano la vita o non, e la nostra ingenuità comune a pensare che sappiamo come stanno le cose, come andranno a finirle …

«È come un circo…», ha detto Antonio Mercadante, uno degli attori che leggerà il racconto sabato sera. Ci sono artisti di trapezio, elefanti danzanti, pagliacci, una bella ragazza sul dorso di un cavallo – e un po’ di Shakespeare! Sono d’accordo.

#13 che cosa serve una mappa di Casaprota?

I have been distributing some of the brochures to those groups of locals who sit out in the evening to chat. Casaprota is full of places to sit, especially where you can catch the late afternoon sun. Yesterday evening I chatted with two women about the project and gave them each a copy of the brochure. They were immediately transfixed by the map.

‘Look’, said one, ‘There’s Via del Mattatoio!’ ‘Yes’, said the other, ‘and there’s Via Sant’Angelo!’ And the two explored the map, naming each street in turn. ‘I live here’, one pointed out to me, ‘And I live here!’, the other explained. We were sitting exactly halfway between their homes. It is not too much to say that they were ‘marvelling’ at the map, and it dawned on me then that they had never seen a map of their town before.

And why would they have? The only reason I have seen a map of Casaprota is that I made one for my project. They would have no need for such an abstract thing as a map drawn on a piece of paper, the map they have is one carried around in their heads, built up since childhood through walking the town, made through the experience of a lifetime living here.

It is a map of buildings and street corners and small balconies with washing hanging on Thursdays, and seats where certain people always sit on sunny afternoons. It is a map of daily living, of routines and rituals, of stories they were told, stories they now tell, it is a map of memories of special occasions.

This was another lesson for me about the relationship to place, one I thought I already knew.

Ieri sera, camminando per il paese, ho incontrato due donne, anziane, sedute al sole chiacchierando. Mi sono presentato il mio progetto e glielo ho spiegato. Hanno aperto il pieghevole e immediatamente erano affascinate dalla mappa.

«Guarda!» ha detto una donna, «C’è Via del Mattatoio!» «Sì!», ha risposto l’altra, «E c’è Via Sant’Angelo!» Poi le due hanno esplorato la mappa chiamando ogni strada l’una dopo l’altra. «Abito qui!», una mi ha detto, e l’altra, «E io qui!» Eravamo seduti a metà strada tra le loro case. Allora mi sono reso conto che le donne non avevano mai visto una mappa di Casaprota prima!

Ma che cosa serve una mappa di Casaprota? Ho una mappa di Casaprota, ma io l’ho fatto per il mio progetto, e senza il progetto, io non l’ho bisogno una mappa… Le donne non hanno mai avuto bisogno di una mappa astratta del loro paese, loro hanno una vera mappa nelle loro teste. È una mappa che s’inizia in infanzia e costruisce durante tutta la vita. È una mappa degli edifici e angoli di strada, dei balconi con il bucato appeso di giovedì, e delle panchine, dove persone sempre siedono al sole nelle sere. È una mappa della vita quotidiana, delle storie che hanno sentito, delle storie che ora loro raccontano, una mappa dei ricordi delle occasioni speciali.

Questa è una lezione per me, una che ho pensato che la già sapevo.


#12 il racconto non è scritto in inglese

The story is not in English.

I was taken aback by the query by some of my colleagues here. They seemed to find it quite strange that the story was not in English given that I was a native speaker of English. They were so looking forward to reading it, they said, and then…! The fact that we were in Italy, and more importantly, that we were in a small town where most people did not speak English, (and do not need to), did not seem pertinent to them. An American explained: “English is the international language. Everyone should be speaking it.” To not speak English is to be “uneducated”…

The story is not in English.

The story is about an historical Italian event, even if the story itself is fictional. To write it in a language other than Italian would seem perverso. Without the Italian context, it is hard to see how it would make much sense to an English person, even less so to an American.

The story is not in English.

The story is published in Casaprota, a small Italian town, with the aim of having the townspeople walk through their very familiar environment and engage with it slightly differently by reading a fictional story about it, seen through the eyes of a foreigner.

The story is not in English.

Later, when the story is published in book form, it will definitely include an English translation. The book is intended to accompany a walk around this beautiful town, that will be a walk that could be undertaken by anyone who happens to live here, or happens to visit. (A visit is highly recommended!) But until then…

The story is not in English.