If you walk far enough down a dirt road outside of town; if you stalk through the weeds and sweatshirt-snagging thistles; if you scramble and heave and hoist yourself over a crumbly stone wall and follow the dent in the foliage that has become a path, you will find it: an abandoned monastery covered in art.
You will be on the roof. You won’t be sure how you got there. The storm will be moving in, and the countryside, the heel of the boot that is Puglia, will stretch out beneath the gray: plastic tarps over vineyards, farms, the coughing plumes of the factories of Taranto.
You’ll circle the perimeter of the roof with your new friends. You found them all—you found each other—like a rag-tag team of adventurers in some cartoon: Rebecca at a cafe, Pedro as you walked through the Old Town, then Greg as he feverishly rode a bicycle away from a herd of grazing animals (“Were they rabid?” “No.” “What were they doing?” “I dunno, they were just in the road. It was some weird country shit.”). You’ve all come alone, all flown from your various big cities to Grottaglie, for nothing more than the love of street art. And adventure.
And you will have gotten there. You’ll have gotten to the moldy, peely, crumbling core of What It Is You Came For. Over the last three years of Fame Festival, the abandoned Convento dei Cappuccini has amassed works by visiting artists on its decrepit old walls. It’s become something of a museum of anarchic awesome—where you crunch through the broken glass, through rooms and rooms with bleeding walls; down dank stairways where the mosquitoes buzz and the light don’t shine; down into the guts and internal organs of an abandoned holiness left to rot, left to reborn in the last gasps of its decomposition, its swallowing-back-up by the earth, by the weeds, by the green; left to the artists and the vandals and the punk little kids with bruises on their knees, to the foreigners that don’t speak the language but know that urgent lonesome in the howling of the wind, the coming of the storm, as it blows through the broken windows and walks alongside you.
It’s not so much about the art, not the monastery or Fame or the streets of Grottaglie. It’s about the spirit, the breathing of new life into the forgotten, the love of the forgotten, saying, “Yes, yes, you can still be something beautiful to me.”
It’s exceedingly tender; it’s exceedingly unexpected that you would find this here: this vision of yourself in the walls of an abandoned monastery outside a small Italian town. As though every painting and stencil and shitty little tag were a message of love, saying, “Even in your wreckage, your falling-apart, your scars and wounds and ragged flesh—something can still love you enough to take the time, to do something beautiful.”
It’s what you like to think of God as. It’s how you’d like to treat yourself, as if you could love yourself as much as an abandoned monastery.
And it’s even more unexpected that you would find three friends to tromp around with you, to be as stoked as you, to love this place and this town and this art as much as you do.
You pause; you take a moment to take it all in, to file it away in the card catalog of your heart, to be able to call upon in those certain difficult times ahead, when you need something, just a little something, to remind you What It Is You Came For. You look around, smile, tuck it under the slot labeled “Best Travel Moments.”
And then you walk into the chapel.
For a far better visual representation, check out Bablegum’s video of their trip to the monastery. The music doesn’t really fit the experience to me—but in those moments when you hear the wind howl, that’s closer to what I felt in there.