A Week In The Borgo
Robert Barrett

Last year, at the Flash Fiction Festival, I was the lucky winner of a weeks writing retreat in Italy, courtesy of Charmaine Wilkerson. (I’ll let you all in on a little secret, Charmaine is just as charming and generous as you thought she was, only more so).

I write this on my last day here, sitting by the open window with the sun on my shoulders, sad to leave, but delighted with the experience. I have written and walked and slept and eaten my fill for a week, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I feel recharged and renewed for the fight.

Charmaine’s apartment is in a little town outside of Orte which sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Tiber valley, an hour and a half from Rome. The apartment is in the Borgo, a medieval settlement of high stone buildings and tiled, rusty-coloured roofs. Narrow paths and passageways run, uphill and downhill, in between the buildings, with stone staircases leading into passages and doorways. There are Etruscan grottos carved into the rock beneath the houses, that serve now as sort of ancient garages with brightly painted wooden doors. Women shout ‘mama mia’ at children from sixth floor open windows and hang out their washing from dizzying heights. The birds sing all the time and bells from the bell tower seem to ring at no particular time and for no particular reason; melodic little runs of peeling bells dancing over the valley. The Borgo is a walker’s paradise, a dawdler’s dream, it’s like walking around inside a renaissance painting, with surprises at every corner; two-thousand-year-old Roman laundry baths, an amphitheatre, medieval public bread ovens.

The townspeople themselves are friendly, cheerful sorts, with endless patience for mumbled ‘Buonaseras’ and mixed-up ‘pregos’ and ‘grazies’. They seemed to be mostly made up of soft-faced old men in little scooter trucks (Apes – Apaays) who pooter about the place, running errands, while the women throw their hands to the heavens in good-humoured complaint. Spring water is sold in the town centre from a dispenser for 5c a litre. People stop here to chat as they refill (a town-sized water-cooler). There’s another dispenser nearby for wine. (Yes, I know.) People queue in the shop for bread, with no great interest in being served. There is little sign of hurry. It appears that if you wish to visit somebody, you stop outside their house and beep the horn until they appear. The car is then left running while you climb out and wrap them in a hug, telling them how wonderful they look and asking after the health of everyone they know.

I got lots of writing done, first draft stuff mostly, the hardest end of the spectrum for me, because it comes easiest in the quiet. I had the luxury of lots of time to think and plan, time to step off the world and look about. For that I am very thankful. I believe Charmaine is offering this generous prize again for 2018. Buy a ticket (or 10). You’ll love it.

P.S. A big thank you to my better-half Dawn, who held the fort against impossible odds. I owe you one.

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