So, Offida, where I am staying for around 2 ½ weeks, is in the Marché area of Italy – quite beautiful – 20 minutes from the warm and placid Adriatic Sea, and 20 minutes from the mountains, amid rolling hills of olive trees and wine grapes. I’ve learned, after the Roman era, it was a region of medieval splendor, with many castles and towns, as Offida, dating to the 1400’s. So the city centers are all within ancient walls, with few gates to enter. Offida is walled on only one side because there is a cliff on the other side. It’s, of course, all about protection 800 years ago.
Suburban areas with modern housing, supermarkets, etc. are outside the walls.
My friends, Remo and Rhoda, rent a house 3 minutes from Offida Centro by car, where I am staying. Remo’s parents live in Offida Centro and we often enjoy their warm hospitality, eating meals of his mother’s delicious food. They have internet, use Facebook, within a house from the medieval era.
So, as I see all these castles, in this landscape that appears to offer sustenance for many, imagining the knights in armor, the conflict between the church and secular government (this area belonged to the Church, until the people rose up against the Papal State in 1860’s). I ponder human nature, I guess. It is so easy to connect with people around the world, despite different languages, customs, religions. It seems if governments were eliminated, the rest of us could get along fine. No, I’m not a libertarian. I guess that has been tried, and human nature seems to be the problem. Oh well.
Most of the time, I am spending in Offida, working on some writing, studying and practicing the Italian script for the show I will present for the festival, and simply participating in the household life of my friends.
However, they did insist that I should see Pennabilli, the town where they met at an annual festival, so we drove around 3 hours and spent the night there. Pennabilli is another beautiful medieval town, with a unique history, and remarkably peaceful atmosphere. There were originally, two communities here, built on hills very near each other: Penna, and Billi.
At some point in medieval times, they joined forces and became Pennabilli. The ancient castle of Penna is crumbling on it’s hill, while Pennabilli continues to thrive today as a vibrant community, as well as tourist destination.
But, there is more to the history. Several hundred years ago, a church brother led an expedition to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama, carrying a bell for the three years it took to reach there, and finally meeting the Dalai Lama, with whom he became friends. The few brothers who survived the journey built a church and mission there and coexisted peacefully until a change of government caused them to return to Italy. In more recent times, another group of brothers set off from Pennabilli once more, to the same location, (now China) to find the bell that came from their city. They did locate the bell in the depths of a storage area, somehow snuck it into their hotel where they made a mold. They returned the bell, and brought the mold back to Pennabilli, where they cast another bell, just like the original.
In the 1980’s, the Dalai Lama decided to visit the home of his friend in Pennabilli (as each Dalai Lama is a reincarnation, so really the same person over all time). The Dali Lama has visited twice now, and the re-cast bell is mounted on the mountaintop along with three Tibetan prayer wheels for all to find peace and appreciate that all religions may coexist.
Pennabilli was also home to the poet, artist, and screenwriter Tonino Guerra, who wrote the screenplays for Fellini’s films, among others. His creative spirit dominates the town in gardens, unique sundials, and poems.
He emphasized the need for people to slow down, and the snail was his symbolic totem. I was told many famous film makers lived off and on here, without paparazzi, simply as community members. The palpable spirituality of Pennabilli draws artists to live in and maintain the community today.
Following, a few photos of my friends’ show at a small Buskers Festival in Roccoraso, a winter ski resort town, and a shot of the alto plano (high plane) in the way there.