Tuesday, February 24, 2015


When I moved into this flat, I discovered that it is a common practice in Italy to rent and sell homes that have no kitchen. That is, there is a room, and it has tiles on the walls, and water, gas and electric outlets, but no sink, stove, fridge, cabinets or shelves. It was just a room. With tiles.

I took the place anyway, even though naturally I've never bought a cooker or range, nor owned a fridge or had to install my own kitchen cabinets in any place I've ever rented in a lifetime of renting flats. It was such a nice place, and so ideally located, I couldn't resist.

I figured I could improvise and sort things out as we went along. So, as soon as I arrived, I marched off to the garden centre and bought a good quality three-burner camp stove, and a large bombola for gas and all the valves and hoses and whatnot, and have quite a good cooker out of it that is working perfectly adequately. A friend in Rome has donated quite a nice fridge (which I'm assured will eventually actually materialise... some day... ). I bought a very large microwave and have had a large freezer chest for some time. Between all that, and a camp cooler for the milk and an extra book case that can double as an emergency kitchen shelf, we're off to the culinary races.

Of course, it's all pretty much makeshift, and subject to putting things together more permanently. But I am not one for just running out and getting the nearest thing just to have a thing. I like to wait until the right thing materialises, and I'm not at all uncomfortable with a little minor inconvenience in the meantime. Shift is just fine for the time being. And it's sort of fun, in an empowering way, to figure things out for myself.

But since coming here, I've been thinking hard about permanence, "stability" as St. Benedict calls it. I've still not been made an official Oblate yet, having had a year of noviciate to think about things. The date is coming up though, the feast of St. Benedict, March 21st. And more and more the concept of Benedictine Stability is in my mind. It has a lot to do, I think, with the modern notion of "commitment" and how all people of my generation are supposed to be terrified of it.

It's all very well to gypsy around the world, moving here and there according to the various vicissitudes, but eventually one runs out of reasons. I'm going to be 49 next month. I knew that S. Mar was not the last place. But I don't have the same certainty about this place. This feels like the kind of place that could very well be the last place. Whatever it is I've spent all this time looking for, I'm getting more and more certain that I'll find it only if I stay here. Or, perhaps more precisely, whatever it is I need to do, I think I might have been sent to this particular place to do.

I came across an advert in town for a piece of agricultural land, with water access but little else. Just 1.7 acres of plain old land, for €22,000. Of course, I'm a long way off being able to put together that much money, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility. My grandparents built their own house, so I'm used to the idea that this is a thing one can do. I've been looking at the websites about "natural home building," straw bale, cob and other kinds of natural, "sustainable" materials and techniques. Youtube is full of stuff about homesteading and small-scale and niche-market farming. So, there's some thoughts developing about that...

In all my long pilgrimage through the last 30 years, I've known I would eventually fetch up somewhere and get the message from God that this is the place. And it is starting to feel like that. I'm reminded of the old Greek story of a seaman who one day realised he'd had enough of the sea. He put an oar over his shoulder and started walking inland. When he came to a place where they looked at the oar and said, "What's that thing for?" he knew he had come to the right place, planted the oar and set about farming for the rest of his land-lubbing days.

In any case, two things that made me think about it more have happened in the last few days. Just little things, and they would hardly have registered if I hadn't already been thinking about Things. They're just "dots" and I guess I can connect them if I want.

The other day I took my shopping cart down to the zona industriale, the place outside town, down on the valley floor, where the non-touristy, regular shops are. Things like the garden centre, the hardware store, the dollar store, the big supermarket...I wanted some weather stripping for the windows and needed a dish rack and some emergency candles. In the window of the ferramenta was one of these...

It's an Italian thing. A La Nordica Rosetta Range wood burning cooker. A modern woodburning range. And it was marked down to €1100. I have conceived a burning desire to own this gorgeous thing. And I've been thinking about what it would mean to buy one.

Owning and installing one of these would by a kind of symbolic thing. It would mean I had decided to stay put, and had plans for the future, that I would no longer be a person living on the fringe, not an outsider in the world, looking in, but someone integrated into the human world, into this community. It's a symbol of commitment. Stability.

The second thing just happened this evening. I got home this evening and discovered my leather-bound note book was not in my bike basket. I wondered if it was left in any of the places I'd been today, a shop or the cafe or the church. I figured I would start a search tomorrow. It's such a small town that I was confident it would show up soon.

Then after I'd been home a couple of hours, the doorbell rang. It was the nice chap in town who runs a little restaurant next to the monastery I've had lunch in a few times and who I know is friendly with the monks. I've chatted with the guy a couple of times and learned that we live on the same street. He held out my book and said he'd found it in the street and thought it looked important. I suppose it must have bounced out of my basket without my noticing.

I thanked him most profusely, and he said not to mention it. "Beautiful drawings," he said, as he waved good night. It was only an hour later that it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't ever told him exactly where I lived. But he knew. And he knew the book was mine. It has occurred to me that it is likely quite a few people in town know who I am and where I live. And this does not fill me with dread. Quite the opposite.

I've wandered around life like a homeless person for 34 years. I've always known I was looking for something, some very specific thing, even if I didn't know specifically what it was. I was always very confident that I would know it when I saw it. I haven't been without a purpose in all this, but I know exactly what Pope Francis meant the other day when he said that many people grow up feeling as though they are on the outside, marginalized (to use the trendy jargon) and as though there is no real place anywhere in the world where they could possibly belong.

In a sense, this is a good thing, since we do not have a permanent home in this life. But at some point, the physical wandering will get in the way of the inner search. It will be a distraction from what needs to be done on the inside.

Well, anyway, I'm beginning to think that the wandering part of the journey may finally be coming to a close. And this is a magnificent place. It's not just the view. It's the people. I've come to the conclusion that there is a culture here of kindness, of generosity, friendliness and good will that I was rather skeptical about for a while. It's something I could certainly do to pick up.



Anonymous said...

"I've come to the conclusion that there is a culture here of kindness, of generosity, friendliness and good will..."
How wonderful. Those virtues are in scant evidence in the city in which I reside.

My husband keeps telling me that he wants to build a straw bale house, or something similar, but I feel too old and tired to do the work...

I think there are organisations that have been established to help people build their own homes using traditional, or 'alternative' building techniques.

Good luck with it. It is certainly achievable.


Unknown said...

That's a well regarded cook stove. They sell for $2600 here is the States. I'd buy it in a heartbeat at that price.

I'm thoroughly enjoying your reflections on life in Italy. Please keep up the Good Work. Your writing here and elsewhere is much needed and much appreciated.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Thanks Brian. I thought it was quite a good price. I may ask a friend for a loan to get it. Installing it is another story.

I did rather worry that all my talking about my life in Italy was a bit dull...like hearing hobbits go on about their relatives, the weather and the crops.

What with ... all the other stuff going on.

Louise L said...

"I did rather worry that all my talking about my life in Italy was a bit dull...like hearing hobbits go on about their relatives, the weather and the crops."

Beats reading about the damnable Zombie Apocalypse.

I'm just glad to know there's such a nice place in the world.

Chloe said...

We love hearing about life in Norcia Hilary. Keep writing it up. I hope you get your stove.