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Restanza: here is the school that teaches not to emigrate

Keepers of stories and sensations of the landscapes, villages and villagers of Salento and the South.

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73020 Botrugno LE, Italia (92m s.l.m.)


A trip on a winkle train, a walk with poetry reading, a literary review in an old oil mill or even a lesson on the economy of pomegranates. These are just some of the lessons-experiences of the School of Restanza, the school for learning to stay that Gianluca Palma founded in his small town in the province of Lecce to shape a poetic and political vision at the same time: leaving, especially from the most difficult areas, is not the solution.

We meet Gianluca Palma in February 2020, when this bold school, the first of its kind in Italy and certainly not a traditional school, officially opens. "We don't give diplomas, nor are there any specific courses," explains Palma, who runs it together with the boys of the La Scatola di Latta association in Botrugno. "It is a path that never ends, we would like to sensitize people to re-stare, with the hyphen, that is, to stay in the place where they live by learning to value the landscape, culture, food, practices, and traditions of that territory. However, we do not want young people in particular to stay in one place without really wanting to and perhaps dreaming of emigrating. We therefore promote the psychological awareness of staying as well: those who stay can lend a hand in developing the economy, ours is a philosophy but it also wants to make ends meet. We are not nostalgic or parochial, that we leave to those who think they want to draw boundaries between us and others. We abandon the logic of competition: all territories have something to say and to offer people, first and foremost those who live there."

Restoring meaning to places

So far, the Restanza School has promoted experiences to be enjoyed while walking or even sitting, in a wide variety of places: "We went for a walk along the Otranto coast to discover the bauxite lake where the earth is as red as on Mars. Along the way we read poetry but also encountered an abandoned bathtub on the beach and a pine forest set on fire: not all the land is beautiful and clean, we in fact want to regenerate it, mend it and give meaning back to places." In this way, is the reasoning, fewer and fewer boys and girls will want to emigrate but will endure and make the places where they were born flourish.

The Remainers

The excursions organized by this special school are almost always attended by professional figures who give a lesson of sorts: the nutritionist emphasizes the healthiest and tastiest foods, the yoga teacher offers a meditation session, the writer of poems reads them, those who know the place tell its history, and those who have found a new way of earning money while respecting the land teach it to those who want to learn.

Central, Palma points out, is the first and foremost internal awareness of wanting to re-stay in order to eliminate the discontentment of those who remain due to lack of alternatives. That's why among the various activities of the School of Restance will be organized a train ride to Ceglie (Brindisi) in which psychotherapists will also board, reasoning about external landscape and inner landscape. However, the "lessons" do not always happen on the move: sometimes it is the discovery of an abandoned wonder, or a literary review, the home of an elderly person who recounts his or her own vicissitudes intersected with the history of the place, a food returned to memory by tradition. Or the rediscovery of the importance of kneading lime with hemp plant to keep houses cool, a tradition that had been lost but is now making a comeback in the Salento area.

The pomegranates of the Restanza

The ideal, for Palma and his friends, is the story of a boy from Lecce who, after studying at Bocconi in Milan, wanted to return to open a pomegranate farm from which he makes juice and a special paint. His farm, now thriving, is open to workshops for children who learn botany this way. Or even the Paduli Park in the middle of Salento where it is possible to sleep in huge nests hanging from olive trees, under the stars. "We are happy if some tourists want to come and get to know our wonders, ours is a welcoming philosophy but opposed to mass tourism that destroys territories," the founder explains.

Spreading the Restanza

A few weeks after its inception, already hundreds of people want to become part of the project: as teachers, as alumni, as collaborators. "They write to us from Milan, from Florence, from Benevento, from everywhere," says Palma, who runs it together with the guys from the La Scatola di Latta association. "A fisherman offers to do sea lessons on a boat, a professor wants to organize a philosophy train, the possibilities are countless and not always connected to festivals or special events since the idea is that all places possess riches from Monday to Sunday, if only there is a desire to discover them."

Restanza is not Palma's invention, however. It is a term now widespread, especially in the South, coined by Calabrian anthropologist Vito Teti as an omen against the depopulation of depressed areas, lonely villages, and inland areas where resisting is increasingly complex.

At the end of February 2020, the School of Restanza will for the first time leave the borders of Apulia to land in Basilicata, going to Pisticci and San Mauro Forte (Matera), in the areas that were dear to Carlo Levi. As well as Tricarico, where one of Italy's most characteristic carnivals is celebrated with masks of cows and bulls to simulate transhumance.

The hope is to disseminate Restanza wherever it can take root, "starting from the bottom but asking politics not to abandon small towns leaving us, for example, the Post Office, a pharmacy, a school, all fundamental principals. Instead, it is up to citizens to roll up their sleeves, not to indulge in cynicism and pessimism, and revitalize the places they see every day without perhaps knowing their history, their value, their intrinsic beauty."

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Laura Eduati

February 2020


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