Matera: A Rich Past - and Future

@Carla_Trigilia: a conversation with Paul Di Filippo

Soon in italian here (on paper) and here (online)
Paul: Wikipedia | Official Site


1. What was your experience in Basilicata and what did touch you?

I arrived in Matera few days before Christmas 2013, and was instantly struck by the true festive holiday experience, especially in Matera’s main square, the Vittorio Veneto, where beautiful decorations complemented the happy people. While shopping was certainly being enjoyed, the less-commercial pleasures predominated: conversation, good food and drink, making children happy with public sleigh rides. This authentic spirit enveloped me, especially since my wonderful guides, Dora and Michele Cappiello, invited me into their homes, where all the traditions spoke to my Italian-American heritage.

But holiday aside, I found the history of the region deep and enthralling. Such a rich past—and future! People everywhere were welcoming and generous. The climate was temperate, even at the start of winter. Oranges on the trees! And the architecture and scenery were stunning.

I know that I felt a special ancestral connection with the land and people. But I cannot imagine that a visitor of any ethnicity would not be similarly enraptured.

2. Basilicata is a territory to discover…What do you think about it? Please tell us

I spent about twelve days in the region, visiting inside just a small circle centered on Matera. And during that time, every minute was filled. There was not one moment of boredom. Part of this is attributed to my expert guides. But even when out on my own, I could find plenty of understandable experiences to savor. I barely touched the larger region, and could envision spending a month or so exploring all the many small towns. The citizens all seem proud of their land, and eager to share it.

I must also compliment the many fine museums I encountered. And there seems to be a good amount of support from the civic authorities as well.

Finally, I found the hotels and other lodgings of superior quality. I visited many, but have intimate feelings especially for my own residence for the period, the Locanda di San Martino, whose ancient underground spa is unparalleled, I think.

3. What about food and wine? Could you tell us your personal food&wine experience?

I did not experience a single bad meal in Matera and vicinity. Even simple sandwiches were a feast. I ate many of my meals at an excellent restaurant called Le Botteghe, which can stand in for the rest of the places. Its hearty proprietor was justifiably proud of his fine establishment and its local offerings. One meal he served me had at least six appetizers, all very delicate yet robust. I particularly recall the wonderful local sausages. And now I have a new favorite wine, the Primitivo! Local breads, which I regard as a true benchmark of cuisine, were excellent! Although I was not in a position to shop and to cook my own meals, I enjoyed the very beautiful and fresh open-air food markets.

4. People in Basilicata. Could you tell us a portrait of them?

As I mentioned, I did not meet a single grumpy soul! Everyone extended themselves to make a visitor feel at home. I believe there is a deep well of talent in the region—my visit to the Italian Space Agency site proved that the area is not just backwards-looking! I sensed a true religiosity to the people, which is not showy or proselytizing, but very humble yet keen.

Being a married man, I don’t know if I should speak too frankly of the beautiful women of Basilicata. Let me just say that they added much allure to the landscape! I am still amazed at how high-heeled shoes can be employed on slippery cobble stones without causing many trips to the hospital.

5. Basilicata in a glance. What is Basilicata for you?

I am currently reading a biography of Kenneth Grahame, the author of the famous book THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. As an Englishman, a northerner, he fell in love with the Italian Riviera. Such is the charm and attraction of Italy’s fabled south for those of us who must live through long winters, and subsist in a culture that is often more dour than joyful! But the portion of the United States where I live, New England, has enough Italian-Americans to offset Puritanism, and also boasts a lovely coastline and nice summers. So I was already prepared to feel that Basilicata was my second home! Every inch of the gorgeous landscape is imprinted with deep history, hospitality, and hope for the future.

6. Could you tell us something about the genesis of “Queen of Sassi”?

My mandate in coming to the region, on the generous allowance of the APT, was to write a piece of either journalism or fiction on the region, encapsulating what I learned. At first, I leaned towards non-fiction. But the more research I did, the more I learned that many fine essays had already been done on the region. And so I turned to my first love, fiction—specifically, fantasy. I feel that fantastical stories can often capture the soul of an experience better than “mere” naturalism. But on the other hand, I wanted to ground the story in the factual realities of Basilicata. So my story begins realistically, to lure readers in, then gradually ascends into the supernatural, hopefully after the protagonist has gained the sympathy of the readers. I also had to contrive the plot so as to include the most factual information about Matera as possible, so I made my hero an American who has settled in the Sassi, and thus legitimately has much to learn, so the reader can learn also. And because Italy has a long history of royalty, I thought I would invent a romantic new figure of nobility, the never-before-seen “Queen of Sassi.”

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