In the narrow alley outside his guest house, Paolo reads the words on my T-shirt. ‘En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…’
It’s the opening paragraph of Don Quixote. I explain that I’m wearing the T-shirt because 29th September is Cervantes’s birthday as well as mine, and I happen to have it with me because we’ve just used the text as part of an exercise on the recent Dark Angels advanced course in Spain.
But now we’re in Italy, the Sardinian town of Bosa to be precise, and Sarah and I are running our first The Stories We Tell residential workshop. ‘That’s good,’ says Paolo, nodding approvingly at the coincidence of birthdays, then he grins. ‘What’s not so good is that it’s also Silvio Berlusconi’s birthday – though he’s not going to be seeing many more on the outside.’
It has started to patter with rain. ‘Our country…’ Paolo shakes his head. ‘The Pope, he lives everywhere. Do you know that the church owns ten percent of the property in Italy? Ten percent and they don’t pay a penny in tax.’ He looks at me. ‘You people wrote Magna Carta eight hundred years ago. We haven’t even read it yet.’
As the rain gets heavier, he manhandles a large BMW motorbike into its parking place in the alley – a bike on which the previous day he had taken one of our workshop participants, a sexagenarian, for a spin in the mountains because she told him she’d never been on a bike before and had always wanted to. A request and a response typical of the spontaneity and generosity that came to seem, as the course progressed, to characterise the whole week.
Now, just twenty-four hours after getting home, it’s hard to describe our time in Sardinia with any great clarity because so much happened there; but I don’t think anyone would disagree that our formula of three weekend workshops condensed and reshaped into a five-day residential course took everyone, including us, further and deeper than we could have expected.
There’s a certain magic about Bosa itself, a charming small town of multi-coloured houses nestling beneath a medieval castle on the banks of Sardinia’s only navigable river, a kilometre or so from the sea. It has tall tenements, shuttered windows, canyon-like alleys with shadowy little shops, and that air of busyness common to places where serving tourists is not people’s sole occupation.
Our venue was a third-floor apartment on the cobbled main street. Its owners, Pamela and Andy, bent over backwards to ensure that everything ran smoothly and provided delicious vegetarian lunches each day, prepared almost entirely from ingredients grown on their smallholding, a short distance out of town.
The sun shone most of the time and after lunch each day people went off to write, or down to the beach, or explored the town, before reconvening for a late afternoon workshop session. Metaphor, that almost alchemical provider of insights, became our constant companion. We stoked the fires of kindness, starting with ourselves. The flipchart filled with haikus, helping people to the nub of things quickly and clearly; and although Sarah and I were not writing them, their power and intensity had the effect of opening our hearts along with everyone else’s.
We came home more convinced than ever that the stories that have never been fully told are the ones that have power over us, the ones that hold us back; and that finding playful and imaginative ways to unlock them is the best way we know to help people live their lives more fully.
Our next residential workshop is next May (14-21) at the lovely Cortijo Romero, near Granada. Bookings via their website, with an early bird discount available till mid-November. Further details of our full programme of workshops here.