At Lunch with the Hermit
In March to Athens on 19 February 2012 at 18:40
Eboli, February 19
The characters you meet on a march make it all worthwile. At Battipaglia we were welcomed, among many others, by a local hermit. Barefooted, with a long beard, he stopped to talk to every one of us about a different world closer to nature.
He invited us all to lunch, today, in his cave up the hill. He would make risotto con funghi, even though he wouldn’t join us himself. He only eats fruit and vegetables.
At night the hermit showed me and comrade Mary the road to his home, so we could guide the rest there today. It was amazing. Just out of town, on the slope of a hill, there stood the skeleton of a building that was never finished. Only floors, no walls. You find lots of these ruins in the south. They are one of the marks left by the underworld.
The hermit adopted this particular building, he cleaned all the surroundings from the trash and built his cave inside. He did so in part by constructing a wall like the ancients did, without cement, and in another part by using wooden planks. All materials are recycled, and the result is a cozy little space with a large table, a television set, and room for six people to sleep. Outside, under the roof, he created a living space with sofas, a wood fire and a stereo.
When we arrive, we meet two friends of the hermit. They are all fellow countrymen from the Czech Republic, visiting. “It’s a nice home isn’t it?”
It’s great. Completely postmodern, as comrade Max described it. Next to the television set there are shelves full of old VHS and music cassettes, CDs and books. Everything recycled from the trash. But not just any movie or album. The hermit only took the best he could find.
We are offered tea and fruit, and the hermit tells us how he found this place, how he made his home here, how he got into trouble with the owner and the police and how he had to dismantle everything, three times.
Now, since a couple of years he is finally appreciated for all the work he has done around here, he gets to stay officially, and his electricity is on the house.
It’s late when we return to town. We already got a glimpse of what was coming, the others were in for a big surprise.
So today around noon we arrived at the abbandoned building with our shopping carts. We are only about a dozen, and we marvel at the panorama. The town of Battipaglia is right beneath us and in the distance you can see the Tyrrhenian coast from Calabria to Amalfi and Capri.
The hermit got up early in the morning, he went down twice into town to get water, he cut wood for the fire, and he spent all morning making lunch. It was more than excellent, it was a pleasure to be a guest in this modern cave and hear the hermit speak about his dreams.
He wants to return to Sardinia to live a natural life in a real cave. He has already chosen the spot and lived there for a while. It’s near the sea, and he planted fruit trees all around, just like he did here. He has his own vegetable garden, and the rest he gets from the market. They know him there, and they always leave him a few kilos of fruit.
The hermit doesn’t need much more. Whenever he wants to return to the world, he travels, with his sleeping bag under his arm. He knows people and places all over Italy, but only when he will have settled down with other enlightened people in the nature of Sardinia, will he have found his Ithaka.
After lunch we do a short march of only a few kilometres to Eboli. The name of this place was immortalised by Italian writer Carlo Levi, who was sent into exile in the inland of Basilicata by the fascist regime.
Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, is the title of his renowned account about the conditions he found there in the early 1940s. ‘Christ has stopped in Eboli’, meaning that he didn’t go any further than here. The inlands to which we are directed were never touched by the Greeks or the Romans or the christians. Eboli is the last outpost of civilization.