CROSSINGS OF BLISS AND SWEAT
The 5th Crossings Festival in Belmonte Calabro.
- Aug 29 2022
- Caterina Selva & Ido Nahari Caterina Selva is an architect, landscape designer and researcher. A graduate of the Center for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths University, her work explores the power structures that shape bodies and landscapes in extractive ecologies and border environments.
Ido Nahari is a sociologist, researcher and writer. A graduate of the London School of Economics, Nahari works in the fields of cultural revivalism, social welfare and the commodification of emotions.
Angelo drips sweat on his golden cross necklace and offers seven parts of the animal outside the patronal festivities in the cracked Chiesa del Carmine. Tongs fiddle charred flesh when he passes instructions to his mother, Assunta, who has been taking care of toppings and condiments; turnip leaves are seasoned and then layered in a soft, white panini roll. Wadding the bills from their tilted, fluorescent van guarded by an image of a virgin, her husband Silvio serves beer bottles to pairs of clammy teenage hands. Between bites that trickle sauce on the tilted pavement, we looked at each other and remained indebted to shared nights in which plastic chairs are adjacent to stone walls and families take selfies in the dark. Most of those around us share a personal taste and have been volunteering with La Rivoluzione delle Seppie, a local collective that aims to redistribute cultural welfare and celebrate spatial rejuvenation without exploitation; a challenge in the depopulated and structurally impoverished village of Belmonte Calabro. Between the other volunteers is Giuseppe, who has been sharing a laugh with us. As a member of the Orizzontale architectural group, which specializes in fostering common relational spaces, he has been seeing eye-to-eye with Le Seppie. It is a busy after hours get-together up a slope brimming with dialect as we ascend together with the other pilgrims who cross their hearts and hope to die for their Black Madonna.
Like Giuseppe, those of us who decided to linger around the central stage, listening to how the very best of San Remo hammers at the church’s already existing fragility, discovered a populace fed up with gimmicks, some that are old and others who are waiting. Giuseppe and the rest of us were busy dancing to tacky music when Gerardo insisted on the locals’ participation in “the revolution”. He handed people postcards depicting the village as it was and leaflets detailing some of the goals and means by which Le Seppie intends to look after neglected spaces, and in so doing nourish social appetites. His words were met with confusion, a couple of nods, excited hesitation or an invitation to reminisce. Being part of a band of blind mollusks who only learn by feeling and quickly adapt to different shells, Gerardo’s intuitions almost always aid him in reaching an understanding with those who don’t want to listen. When he moved from Naples to Calabria two years ago, he found himself sharing a retrograde red car that wheezes between gears. It is left outside his apartment by the side of a road coated with dry prickly pears and this, he tells us, is serenity, too. Belmonte Calabro, he said when we were out for a ride the next day, is an oddball place. Founded by the local nobility as a walled township in the late thirteenth century, its scant demographic population did not change much for several decades until numbers plummeted with the onslaught of modernity and the pursuit of economic promises in the booming north. The promises of industrial flourishing that were hindered by policies of segregation and extraction of bodies in the south of Italy was a chance for emigration – an opportunity to ditch a fortified territory. It’s probably a hassle to leave a home placed on top of a hill, but many still did so: Heading north, sailing west or descending to the shore – anything beat staying put in a still setting. But promises, as it so happens, are a priceless matter that not everyone can afford.
What now remains in the medieval village is a shell of its former self where one hundred people continue to shelter. Signs of local services have been torn off, and children conspire on the steps of the closed municipal building. Most of the residents here are descendants of serfs and mezzadri, who worked under the barons, counts, and clergy who picked up their things one day and left. No one cares to remember them anymore, even though there is still a heavy weight they have impacted everyone with. As a parting gift, the nobility endowed all remaining villagers with the crumbling carcasses of their former estates; luscious, decorated mansions with peeled colors and barged gates that are dotted between residential homes. Rita Elvira Adamo, the founder of Le Seppie and our host in her native Calabria, said goodbye to her coastal home when she was eighteen, coming back eight years later by accident, more than by design. She mentioned how the presence of absence in the south of Italy attracts a fabricated romanticism that has been vehemently rejected by members of Le Seppie, yet it is embraced by many locals who utilize its allure for the sake of tourism; mentioned how abandonment is both idealized and divorced from any aspect of its socio-political background. Besides the windowsill facing the shoreline, Rita pointed out another leaning mansion that will join the many others already razed in the region. Far too many empty palazzos are now hanging by a thread. Because baroque projects of marble and limestone have become too expensive to maintain or renovate with local or national funds, they have inadvertently become a safety hazard, imposing their soon-to-be-collapsing structures on the homes of the workers who once endured and built them. Members of Le Seppie know how a nostalgic longing can be a burden, and as a response, they continue to reconstruct structures that are shared in their reshaping. In 2019, Le Seppie refurbished a former, uninhabited nunnery as a site for shared conviviality. The Casa di Belmondo nears the edge of Belmonte, close to where the road spirals down to the shore. It’s where plans are made, coffee is burnt, and the front door key is wedged inside for anyone to come on in. The ground floor remains a dusty storage unit. Screwdrivers are stocked in the attic and incomprehensible electronic music blares from Joe’s computer who lives next door, but prefers to shower here. “It's all based on relationships,'' Rita said. “It was very important for me to unite two metaphorical homes, the one in London and the other in Belmonte. The physical space of the Casa di Belmondo simply provided a point of reference; the space that exists here is made up of energies and the people who create them.” Rita admitted that “renovating Belmondo's house is not an architectural project in itself,” but that “it is a place of experimentation, of alternative imagination that describes its community, places, and relationships in a different, even provocative way.”
Fifteen minutes of steering have passed and Gerardo parked the red car between two kiosks on the shoreline. Most of the people who now identify themselves with Belmonte returned to the coast. An updated segment of the municipality was developed down there after the war, when the region experienced a brief economic boom. What connects the two parts of Belmonte together are some roads passing by a towering fascist monument dedicated to a noted local who was the first secretary of the National Fascist Party. Maybe its soaring focal point of thirty-five meters is a persisting reminder to residents to enjoy the futurist liberties of a station that has since shut down, but its tracks continue to host bullet trains slicing the nearby seaside sounds, and a highway that hacked their old church in half. Its other part still hosts a Mass every Sunday. What’s tucked between the pair of invasive infrastructures in an awkward, isolated space is Le Seppie’s base for the next week: An empty tomato market that has not been used once for its intended purpose since it was inaugurated twenty years ago. No sun-struck tomatoes were traded, but its disuse allowed for spontaneous interpretations by the drunks, deadbeats, and horny teenagers that marked their traces on it. Seeing the plethora of phallic art that has graced its walls or the shattered glass bottles surrounding its perimeter assert that the market never really was an unlived space – it just never consolidated to the working-class morals that investors or politicians had in mind. Remote from most homes, the market attracted a marginality of shouts and moans. For Le Seppie, the market is an open site of imagination in continuous making. It is where we would spend almost all of our remaining days together to actively envisage its dilapidated condition as a public square in the making, and dry seventy towels on piping hot metal rails after a shared dip in the afternoon.
Every year, La Rivoluzione delle Seppie intertwines its social intentions with communal joy in a week-long festival called Crossings. Initially conceived by Rita as an extracurricular program for the architectural students of the London Metropolitan University – where she once studied, and where she now teaches – Crossings now welcomes practitioners, collectives, individuals, and strangers interested in playful interventions in the public space done for their own sake; anyone who intentionally plays is necessarily involved. It is a lighthearted horizontal participation that included mopping the floors, installing a bathroom, and building public benches with Orizzontale, plastering words of provocation in the company of the interventionist public art collective CHEAP, and reinstating local news media with the journalist Claudio Morelli. Between the one hundred-and-something participants in the flustered enterprise, there was a whole family of carpenters from Lebanon and a wrinkled spectator who peddled around the market on his bike with his two pet parrots every now and then.
Projects that operate on the basis of direct action in a given environment are all too often scorned if they fail to reach the full consensus of the local population: Unless every store owner, old lady, and priest who live around the corner are satisfied with the remaking of the market, it should be halted for potentially harming them. But is social unanimity even possible, let alone desirable? Forget about newcomers who are sustained by idealism in the built environment – even neighbors from a similar socio-economic background who live side by side don’t always get along. Friction is not only a given in a shared environment, it is its life force. Bickering provides us with the joy of gossipping, a framework for storytelling and the possibility of cultivating a folklore. There can never be a satisfactory quota for how many locals involved with Le Seppie constitute a general agreement. When participants were sanding tables and painting walls, one local was operating a cash register, another was selling fruits, and a few more wearing blue gallabias tried to interest beachgoers with jewelry. Locals are not at the service of Le Seppie – Rita kept reminding us that they are in an ongoing, sporadic, and friendly conversation with one another: “There is a strong sense of family in Calabria, and the village has practically adopted us. There are locals who take care of the project, lend us work tools, or cook with us all throughout the year.” Crossings and the transformation of the market is not a speculative real estate project; it is a complimentary template in which anyone could partake, a space that is open to extensive interpretation in the form of dance, soft conversations, and fried fish. When we learn to accept the fluidity of social interaction, we realize that we cannot determine if Le Seppie are successful or not in their mission, since our own understanding of what those parameters mean are determined by the same alien guidelines we supposedly denounce. It is a door that is left open for all to come and go when they please, but never forces anyone to stay.
Chatty voices of conviviality and the clinging of spritz glasses coexist here with sleazy beats. It’s just the right touch to make us feel festive when the sounds of cicadas overlap with waves that disappear in the background, hours before our train back home. The Mercatomarina was inaugurated by participants and members of all of the collectives, and included some words of solidarity by the gelled hair and moccasin-shoe-wearing mayor. Familiar faces gathered for a final night in a reimagined public square to groove, complain, and shut their eyes after drinking a bit too much under a long day in the scorching sun. There is an opportunity to reclaim spaces where we would like to see each other as equals, as the children we never stopped being, and as clumsy caretakers who learn by feeling: We feel like we should honor the peculiarity of southern beaches, winking, and planning our sticky, sweaty return. Arrivederci al 2023 Crossings, ci vediamo in piazza.
Banner: Quando Torni? Creato da CHEAP e documentato da Caterina Selva, 2022