Our host David with a chicken that’s definitely not going to dance!
Every year on our writing retreat I am surprised by what students create and contribute. This year was no different. Theatre director Lesley Strachan brought a sense of drama to a short story inspired by the Messapian cave beneath our venue, Masseria Impisi. News editor Lulu Sinclair broke the habit of a lifetime to use more than one adjective in a sentence and get descriptive. Engineer Jim Sanderson, on his fourth retreat, made us all laugh with a tale of stolen lemon drops at the sweet factory while new girl Alina Baczynska brought tears to our eyes with a story about her grandmother’s experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland. Dr. Mary gave us a useful tip for confidently dealing with high court judges – wear a very elegant suit but no knickers.
Most extraordinary of all, however, was Jamaican Joan’s offer of making our hosts chickens dance. As well as writing a poignant account of her childhood in the Blue Mountains, Joan spent the week collecting the necessary equipment for choreographing Red Leghorns: fine cotton, a needle, some big green leaves and fresh coconut (no easy thing to find in rural Puglia). Our excitement mounted; the chickens seemed slightly nervous. Our final morning at 8 a.m. was set as the optimum time to let the chickens out of the coop, suitably hungry, yet rested, and ready to rock. We all gathered bleary-eyed near their roost. We wondered if they would do dancehall moves, the funky chicken or a more traditional light fantastic. Joan, the chicken-whisperer, came with her kit (I cannot reveal the method – it would spoil the surprise). The chickens looked at her, turned on their fluffy feathered red legs and started to scratch about among the olive groves ignoring her. She even demonstrated to the ungrateful fowls but they just did the avian equivalent of a Latin shrug – “No pasta?” Joan blamed lack of sufficient coconut and the gastronomic chauvinism of Italian chickens and we headed for the airport, disappointed. We are going to try again next year.
Look out for Alina Baczynska’s short story The Deep End , winner of our Italian Retreat annual competition, coming soon to www.chalkthesun.co.uk