6. An Evening in Matera

We had an excursion in the afternoon to Matera, the oldest continually-inhabited city in the world. For centuries, the people here lived in caves, called sassi, made famous by Carlo Levi’s book, “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” meaning that the area was so bleak even Jesus wouldn’t go there. The government forced them out and into public housing in the 1950’s, and over time, the caves were converted into chic hotels, restaurants and spas. There is a school of thought that that effort should have been devoted to improving the hygiene and other aspects of cave life (like living with their livestock) because the rich culture and community of cave communities was lost, and not necessarily replaced with something better in public housing.

When my father came from Italy to a small New England town, he wondered “Where are all the people?” In America, we spend our lives closed into our houses and our cars and our workplaces. In Italy, the streets are bustling with people of all ages in the evening, just enjoying each other’s company, the passeggiata. We are particularly enjoying seeing the groups of older men out strolling; one senses they’ve been doing this together for 80 years.

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