L’incontro: a ‘walking 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…

The project took place in the small town of Casaprota in the Sabina region during a residency with SabinArti. My premise was simple: to write a story set in the town and ‘published’ there. Each section of the story to be posted up in that part of the town (piazza, church, alleyway, gateway, balcony, etc) where the action of the story takes place. The story is then read through a process of ‘walking the story’, a process of marking out the place of Casaprota through an imagined event, reflecting one prominent idea of place as a ‘tapestry of stories’.

Casaprota: the town dates from 934

It was obvious that the story could not be contemporary. It needed to be sufficiently far in the past that there would be no living memory of the period. 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.

My brief for walking the narrative included that it couldn’t take too long, otherwise people wouldn’t do it; that it couldn’t be confusing; that hopefully the walk would be a loop around the town, and that the map that guides the reader should be easily recognisable. It was most important that the walk began and ended in the social centre of the town, conveniently next to Micarelli’s bar and bar Daff.

So some sites chose themselves: the Piazza del Municipio (1) and the church of San Domenico and San Michele (10), which fronts onto the piazza, and in the centre of the original town (the centro storico), the Palazzo Filippi (5) with its dominant tower, (dating from 1200), was another “must”.

1 & 10 The main piazza from the steps of the church

I felt I had to use the Palazzo del Gatto (2), which is the home of the SabinARTi resident artists, and is conveniently located halfway between the Piazza del Municipio and the Palazzo Filippi. That turned out to be a small problem, as the building wasn’t constructed until 1891, well after the period in which the story is set. But behind the palazzo there is another, that existed at the time, so that became my focus. I simply dropped the name “Palazzo del Gatto”.

Leaving the piazza we pass the Palazzo del Gatto, head onto the back entrance of the once productive gardens of the Palazzo Filippi. Halfway through the story we find ourselves in the narrow alleys of the centro storico (5 and 6), we head out again to take in the fabulous views for the denouement (7 and 8), and then head back through the centro storico for one short scene (9) before the tale comes to its conclusion on the steps of the main church, again with some superb vistas.

There is only one completely invented site, an abandoned farm building (there are many in the region) that I have imagined as haunted. My original vision was for haunted stables, and there are ruined stables in the gardens of the Palazzo del Gatto and probably elsewhere, but the building I had to choose could never have been imagined as stables, it is on the side of a hill, so it has become a derelict pigsty, the fictional home of terrified pigs.

The project was launched with a ‘live reading’ by two actors on a balmy Saturday evening in spring before an audience of around forty locals, including lots of kids. The Mayor threw a free pasta dinner for everyone afterwards. The story remained ‘published’ in the town for the three months of summer.

Back home, I completed an English translation and published it with the original. (The Italian is better!) A blog of the project (in both languages) is here.


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