Spot the difference
Last week we celebrated our eighth and final writing retreat at Masseria Impisi, a fortified farmhouse, hard by the white stone city of Ostuni. Tearfully we raised glasses of Pugliese Primitivo and shared poems and writings inspired by our stay.
With all the poignant farewells, we needed a laugh so as usual I read a less than edifying parody entitled Carry On Up the Masseria, featuring all our students, tutor Simona Sideri, hosts David Westby and Leonie Whitton, and the ‘Take-aways’ Liz and Roberto (more properly termed ‘Work-aways’).
I was upstaged by host David, who had found time in between tending his olive groves and sculpting in the Massapian cave, to knock up a new version of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper starring me as J.C. (yeah my ego is as shiny as my halo) with all the Sunchalkers as my literary disciples. Even Daisy, our favourite dog, and the farmhouse cats appear under the table, with hunter Tom-tom typically torturing a gecko. This was an amazing surprise and one, which lifted our melancholy (I successfully smuggled the drawing home, rolled in a yoga mat, without being arrested as an international art thief or blasphemer).
We laughed at David’s skilful depiction of us all in Biblical mode while simultaneously guzzling Leonie’s fish soup, recently declared a masterpiece by Jamie Oliver. It struck me that our hosts create art with their everyday lives as well as in their formal practice as sculptors and painters. The old house, the courtyard, the rooms on the honey-coloured, colonnaded terrace conceal bright mosaics, stained glass, self-portraits on terracotta wall tiles; suns, moons and sheaves of wheat top the roof terraces; David’s bird sculptures fly out of unexpected places in the gardens; old stone seats, hammocks and little bridges dot the olive groves; painter Leonie, an artist in the kitchen too, delights the palate and the eye with her recipes and preserves.
The hard, focussed work necessary to create all this beauty is accompanied by David’s silly jokes, his readily loaned funny hat collection, Leonie’s wry remarks and sense of fun. This is the essence of people taking their work seriously not themselves, a maxim for all writers and artists. It is this spirit that has made Masseria Impisi the perfect place for Chalk the Sun and will continue to resonate in the imaginations of everyone, who has loved this place and the special people who created it.
Jamie Cooks Italy will be aired on Channel 4 September 2018