Talking to Strangers in Matera, Italy

Matera held the absolute best and absolute worst experiences for me. I’m writing this now in response to Nik’s post highlighting her favorite craftsman in Florence and the recent discussion of sexual assault and harassment in the news and on social media โ€” two unrelated topics in Nik’s case, but not in mine.

I decided I needed to see this historically rich, ravine-side, cave city during my solo travels through Italy back in 2015.

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It took me a van and three trains (one of which was only one-train car long!), a day of travel, and getting lost in the silent, rainy, maze-like streets to finally end up at my Airbnb. I loved that the city had three distinct dialects, a sculpture museum, hot chocolate, caves caves caves, and spectacular views from every angle, especially when the sun came down and the street lights came on.

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First, the bad: I trusted an old man I met in a church to show me around the countryside. We took two trips to see caves and frescos across town, but this meant getting into the car with that man going god-knows-where. Cue J. Cole’s “No Role Modelz” (it’s explicit, but that interlude and bridge bring humor and power back to anyone in a negative situation). I was pushed, groped, kissed for over an hour in the middle of nowhere. Unwanted and aggressive behavior is gross and painful. Saying it could have been worse, does not cancel out what I experienced. It’s sad and true that men are taught they can behave this way.

The lesson: Even religious, married grandpas commit sexual assault. #metoo. I don’t have hold onto the shame of feeling like I caused my assault. I don’t have to hold onto any shame about myself sexually or physically.

The good: A beautiful, warm Italian-French family hosted me for dinner almost every night of my week stay in Matera. Donato and Anna owned and lived adjacent to Arte Trenta Sette. On my daily round of getting lost in the spiraling alleys, I stopped for a moment in their doorway but kept going. Almost as instantaneously as I turned away Donato, who had been standing on his terrace, invited me in to see his gallery. (The damn promise of art!) I met his wife soon afterwards and we had wine later that evening.

It was wonderful to meet a fellow artist (these are Donato’s business cards with his paintings on them). To be invited into their home. To go looking for their street cats as a family (cats they fed and let into their home too but who mostly lived in an abandoned, gated cave under their terrace). To share a meal. Meals.

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I baked chocolate chip cookies and a pear tart to bring to dinner

The evening before I was attacked Donato told me nel italiano “Life is simple. People are terrible.” That along with a few nightmares I was having that week were the universe’s warnings (damn not listening to my female intuition! or Donato).

The lesson: Trusting strangers is okay. Live with an open heart. But be aware of my surroundings and how dependent I am on that stranger. I had a comforting woman to turn to (thank you Anna). One stranger hurt me and another saved me. I still hold some part of this pain in my body now, but god-knows it would have been a lot worse if I truly was alone in that town. I even had two Airbnb cats to comfort me.

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I don’t remember his name, but he knew how to plan and deceive. To pretend not to understand me. To ask questions to get the answers he wanted. He showed up two days later on the morning I was leaving town, at my bus stop on the other side of town, to say “goodbye.”

If you’re thinking of going to Matera, go. Eat their local cheese (I can’t remember what it’s called but it was like cream cheese meetsย creme fraiche meets mozzarella), visit all the museums you can (I went to the archeological museum, an old cavernous church, and Musma), stop by Donato’s, and avoid old men over the age of seventy.

If you see and feel something speak about it. Believe every woman. Educate those around you.

I read the Facebook post of a woman I’ve yet to meet describing her experience at a NYC airport listening to a loud man laughing about sexual assault on the phone. She went up to him and said “You are in a public place; sexual assault of minors is not funny. Please be quiet.” That is powerful!! When our president won’t take responsibility for his own actions, we have to take responsibility for our own power.

Thank you to Anna, Donato, their family, Luigi (my Airbnb host), and the powerful, courageous women of this world.

I’m altering my sign-off for this one.

Love and light,

Caryn

7 thoughts on “Talking to Strangers in Matera, Italy

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