italy again: SIP 2015 at the Workcenter: beginnings

So, to begin at the beginning. Always hard for me to know exactly where the beginning is, because everything affects everything else. But to start on the day of departing Melbourne, there was a delay on my flight from Melbourne to Dubai, which meant a couple of things: first that I had an extra hour and a half to pack my bags in Melbourne, which was good and meant that I was actually ready to go (although I still did not pack very well!) and also the delay meant that I missed my connecting flight to Rome and was at Dubai airport for six hours waiting for the next flight. This was not ideal, but after I worked out that I would not arrive in Rome too late to check in to my hotel, I could relax a bit and I did use the time to work on my pieces for the workshop as best I could. I arrived in Rome safely and checked in to the glorious Beehive Hotel and had a cup of tea and a good sleep.

The next morning, after a nice breakfast downstairs, I raced to the station, bought my tickets to Pontedera, bought a map and two books about Venice and then returned to the hotel and got my bag and got on the train to Florence, armed with a sandwich and something to drink. It is a pretty journey, and although I was a little apprehensive about the possibility of running into trouble with the gypsies again, I was happy to be looking out of the window at the countryside and anticipating the weeks to come.

Once at Florence station, I saw that they were having some kind of crackdown on the gypsies, because there were barriers around the ticket machines to stop them hassling people as they are buying tickets and vulnerable (which was so good because last time I was there that is precisely what they did!!) and also a much stronger police presence and indeed I saw the police give one of the gypsy girls (who, weirdly, I recognised from last time!) a bit of a talking to. And even if it was all a bit of a show for the tourists, I think it was actually better. So I went to have a coffee in the same café I had been to last year with Sara and happily got on the train to Pontedera with no mishaps.

One thing which I would like to make note of here, which of course is pretty obvious but which really struck me on this trip, is how much easier things are the second time around. Especially when travelling alone. The first time around it is as if quite a lot of the self is taken up with survival. Is it a primitive thing, a practical thing, or particular to me…don’t know…but it’s something like that during the second time in any place or situation there is at least some sense of the known, that some mapping has taken place, that there is some safety, the escape routes are known…something like that.

So, the van arrives, we all gather to put our luggage in and introduce ourselves to each other and hop in to go shopping at the lovely Panorama. It is amazing what happens right at the beginning. So many small knowings happen, when you look back you see that whatever it was was probably there right at the beginning. It’s that magic where you start talking to strangers and you feel things, make connections, right at the beginning, sometimes without even really knowing it. It’s not always the case, but often it is thus. So, on that first day, there was Benoit, from Thomas’ team, who was driving the van, and it was really lovely to see him again and we had a nice time together through the two weeks, fun and gentle, and there was Pauline, who was very friendly and interested and open and interesting. And that friendship grew and grew. Lovely.

After shopping we were all dropped off at our various houses. I was again at Santa Lucia, about which I was so happy, and…it was a simply incredible thing…

there was a new in-ground pool…

This pool makes me so, so happy and is such a beautiful and sweet thing. It becomes quite a ray of light for me at times in the two weeks. It makes the dusty, hot walk back home so much more bearable, it washes away so much dirt of all sorts, it’s a wonderful place to relax and chat and share and hang out.

It is really, really great.

Sara arrives about three hours later. So it will be Sara, Miriam and I in Climene Nord. Excellent! Miriam is a dancer from Brazil, and a very interesting person. Lots of fun. Sara is a lovely woman from Abu Dhabi, about 36/7 years old. Very wonderful for me to meet someone like her who has, truly, such a very different life from me. She lives in a house with her mother, her two brothers and her brothers’ wives and their kids. She’s a writer.

And so, we’re settled in, we have food, we have a pool, and we begin!

On the first morning I got up early, aware that I was not really quite ready to show, and worried that Mario would do as he had on the first day last year and select some of the more experienced people to start. So I went through my piece and my song, knowing that I was a bit under-prepared, and feeling, as ever, regretful about that…but there is nothing to do, so I worked as much as I could before having to start on getting showered, having breakfast and getting some lunch ready to take. And then getting the whole Santa Lucia gang ready to walk to the end of the track to be picked up.

It is hard to work on a piece alone, in isolation. It is a really particular discipline and it is difficult. It’s difficult to motivate oneself, and it is difficult to create life in the work, out of context. This year, rather than bringing a piece of text which had been written by someone else, I had decided to bring a piece of my own writing, from ‘Catherine: The Body Politic’, the Cath McAveny monologue. I was quite nervous about this because I had written it myself and because it spoke directly to the audience, but I decided that it was a good thing to take the risk, up the ante from last year, and also I liked the idea of taking something and someone from my own culture. Also, because I had already done some work on it, in the Explorations season and also in Leisa’s classes, I knew that I really knew it. I didn’t know the specific words properly enough, but I did know her…very well. For the song, I had originally decided to do a beautiful song which I had heard on the Deadwood soundtrack which is called ‘A Prayer,’ sung by Madeleine Peyroux. But I was a bit nervous about this because I wondered if it was too common, and also too much of a sort of ‘Mario-pleasing’ song, and in the end, during the last few days in Melbourne, after listening to various options, including ‘Shiver’ and ‘I’ll Dive for You’ I decided on a song which is beautifully sung by Shirley Bassey called ‘If you Go Away,’ which is a translation of a famous Jacques Brel song called ‘Je Ne Quitte Pas.’

So all the Santa Lucians, well, most of us, kind of gathered and started walking toward the front gate. We were: Sara, Miriam and I; Marcio and Hyram; Daniel and Kai; Chiara and Aurora and Jun and Sang-hi (I’m not sure if this is quite right, as I never saw their names written in English script). It was an amazing and wonderful moment to pull up again in the van at the Workcenter, to feel the warm summer air, to smell the same smells, to feel that I was there in the right place. I was excited and happy to see many familiar faces again and excited and happy to start work. So we stood around and waited for everyone to gradually arrive, and I met some new people and said hello to various members of the Workcenter teams, particularly of course the people who I had connected with last year. There were only a couple of participants from the year before, of course there was Tabi, who had spent a year with Mario’s team, and it was really great to see her, and Delphine, likewise, and I felt like I had so many questions to ask Delphine! There was also an Italian girl called Anna who last year had worked with Thomas, and also Chiara who had been with Mario last year but was working with Thomas this year.

Then eventually everyone was present and Cecile read out the people’s names who were going upstairs into Thomas’ group, and we in Mario’s group got ready for singing.

So then we started. It was really wonderful to be back in the room with the songs and the team and with a group of people ready (more or less) to work. It was a really joyous return for me to encounter the songs again, and to be part of that feeling again. I was very happy. (Indeed both last year and this year the thing that I have missed most about the workshop in the weeks following it is the absence of that kind of group singing in my life…I don’t know really how to address this yet, but it is the case).

After the singing we started showing pieces and that aspect of the work began. This year Mario didn’t just select people, he let people self-select to work, so I think I did not show until late in the day on Sunday (or was it even the Monday?)

Next: in the thick of things: the work on the pieces, and other pleasures