My Option B
When my life changed so quickly I had two choices.
- Work to keep my house and find another job.
- Let it all go and travel, live with family and contribute to their lives.
I went with Option B and it is the first decision I’ve made in my adult life that put my desires first. Not what I should do, but what I wanted to do. This happened after three weeks of “I shoulds” and four days of letting the universe manifest a different destiny.
I wound up in rural Italy at La Macchina Fissa, a reading retreat, and cultural association. I really didn’t know what that meant prior to coming here, but their website was charming, as was their “host” Clark Lawrence. He told me I could arrive any day I wanted, if I stayed a month and was gone by June 1 when all the rooms were booked up.
La Macchina Fissa was built in the 1600s (maybe 1500s) as a pump house for keeping the local fields irrigated. I’ve learned a lot about the systems of canals and importance of irrigation and its impact on Italy’s history since I’ve arrived.
More recently 20 people from five families lived here during WWll and rooms began to be subdivided, and second and third stories added. Apparently, despite the war, it was a very happy time for these families as they were together, their food could be grown, and the Mincho river provided fish.
Later an elderly couple resided here, and rooms were sealed off to save energy and keep the house warm in the winter. After they passed away it fell into disrepair, was vandalized and roofs caved in and nature took its course.
But it’s owner, Fausto, believed that it could be brought back to its glory and connected with Clark, who had run the reading retreat in several locations around the countryside and was looking for a permanent home for his art, books, garden, goats, and membership of thousands.
That was almost three years ago. Since then roofs were replaced, secret rooms uncovered, more rooms and new staircases added to create this charming place. Thresholds vary and require you to be alert, not all staircases lead to the same second floor and finding the kitchen can take 20 minutes your first day. It’s a little bit of Faulty Towers, Under the Tuscan Sun and David Sedaris, all rolled into one experience.
There are 10 bedrooms and multiple sitting rooms. There are three pianos to either play or use to compose music. Each room is dedicated to a different artist’s work and is full of books that reflect a theme. Some books in Italian, some in English. There are thousands of books!
The garden is the last project. Many of the plants have moved with Clark from four different locations. Most are still in pots and require constant watering. They are from all over the world and all over Italy. Clark is recognized as a gardener of note throughout Italy and most recently as an author of a book on how he came from rural Pennsylvania to rural Italy—and become a gardener along the way. The book is in Italian and some nights Clark reads from it, which is a wonderful way to pass the evening.
Some days are quiet and full of the chores that running a large house require. Other days are full of visitors that include members, guests stopping on the Eurovelo #7 trail located just outside the property or just friends stopping by to share wine or plants.
I’ve met people from the nearby City of Mantova, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, France, Cambodia, and Morocco. Chiara prepares all the meals and runs the household and we eat all our meals together as a community.
Culture comes to La Macchina Fissa through artists and musicians—all of Clark’s talented friends from around the world. Tonight, we will be treated to an intimate concert by Ricardo Ali Alvarez, a world-renowned pianist. But last night he treated us to an impromptu performance that included Imagine by John Lennon. His performance brought tears to my eyes, it was so moving and generous.
Also, here this week are 10 wonderful new friends from Germany here on a yoga retreat. They have let me join their practice and I’ve learned I can do can do yoga in German. And after 108 sun salutations on the terrace, I know the German words for right, left, breath in and breath out! Last night their instructor Roland, a former ballet dancer, joined the pianist for an impromptu dance performance.
This is what happens when you travel instead of going on vacation. When you take a sabbatical and stay in one place and let the experiences unfold, rather than the “If it’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” approach. As I write this Ricardo is practicing downstairs and the music fills the house, but first, we all shared yoga, breakfast, and stories as best we all can with four different languages.
I wonder why there are not more places like this in the world. A place where people can belong, attend concerts, stay, share, or just walk the goats. We need more Option B opportunities to reflect and refresh. A place to stay and understand a culture through daily life. A true retreat.