Taranto, Italy After flying from New Orleans to Houston to Newark to Munich to Bari, Italy over an 18-hour period, there’s no sense in lying, I was beat up a bit when we coasted into the small airport at Bari along the Adriatic Sea. Nonetheless, I was intrigued with the sense of place and whimsy that led the city worthies to build the airport terminal as an architectural replica of a cruise ship. We walked from the plane to the main building looking through portholes. I kind of liked this whole scene, but maybe I was delirious.
Somehow the plans had been unclear about how I was getting from Bari to Taranto where the workshops were scheduled, so when I broke through the customs door, I was looking for a driver with a sign in his hand with my name on it. Instead, I was met by Roberto Covolo, who had organized La Scuola di Bollenti Spiriti, the School of Hot Spirits, where I would be doing the training, along with a teacher from the school and a fascinating friend who had been dragooned into translating. They were so upbeat, that the day immediately took a turn from “dragging wagon” to “ready for whatever.” It might have been their “hot spirits!”
They asked me if I wanted to go by a town called San Vito dei Normanni where they had been developing a bunch of social enterprises. I said, sure! They also mentioned stopping for lunch somewhere before Taranto, and I said sure to that as well, and that would work before I probably had to have a nap.
An hour later, I was in for a series of surprises, and real treats. We stopped at an old brick winery Roberto was managing that had been owned by a former general with Fadda in his name, hence the name for the operation was, very straightforwardly, ExFadda. Roberto was quite the impresario. First we had a cup of coffee at a little coffee bar that was in one of the out buildings. Make my espresso a double!
Then he asked if I wanted to see the space inside. I imagined a beat down warehouse, but this was a well-done warren of spaces built out by various groups of young people. We saw something on the way to being an internet radio. We went into XFoto, a photography co-op. We looked at the Dance and yoga cooperative space as well. The head of the World Music Academy posed for me re-enacting a picture of him helping build the practice rooms and other spaces in their area. Later we also saw the top-of-the-line kitchen and, you know where this is going by now, had a 3 hour plus million course Italian family meal with the wonderful Spera clan at Xfood, also not surprisingly, is what they call the restaurant, which also hires the disabled. Outside there was a big garden and yet more grounds for a farm in the making which already had a couple of ducks and a goose there too.
Is it all sustainable? Who knows at this point? It’s all too new to know, and it represents a huge investment of capital and vision by the state. Most of the front end cost was provided by the pretty progressive state government in Puglia which is desperately trying to fashion some real programs to hold on to and motivate youth between 18-30, and has embraced Roberto’s work since 2007 enthusiastically and is proud of the recognition and awards the effort is garnering from various observers in the European Union.
As always, whenever I go to help people learn more about community organizing, if I can keep my eyes – and my mind – open, I am always rewarded by getting to learn more than I might ever hope to be able to teach.