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An Ancient Corner of Italy Finds the World on Its Doorstep

Category: Lifestyle,Travel

I had coffee with the mayor, and soon we were joined by Salvatore Adduce, President of the Matera Basilicata 2019 Foundation.

“I will be brutal: We do not want tourists,” said Mr. Adduce, an avuncular gentleman in a crisp shirt and thickly knotted tie. “It should not be, ‘Let’s see a church and eat pasta and try those crunchy red peppers and leave a few pieces of plastic behind.’”

I sank in shame. I disposed of my recycling properly, but the truth is, I had grown quite fond of the crunchy red peppers.

“I want people to have an experience that will change their lives, change the world,” he said. “For the exhibitions next year, Matera will sell passes — 19 euros, good for one year. The visitors will be temporary cultural inhabitants, and they will be asked to leave a personal item behind. At the end of the year, these items will become their own exhibition.”

This is the only region of Italy that has an alter ego, the only one that goes by two names. Depending on your age and generation, it is either Lucania or Basilicata, with a painful past and a glittering future as the European capital of culture.

On our last day in Matera, we met old friends for lunch. My friend Francesco is from a small coastal town called Nova Siri, but he and his husband, David, currently live in Puglia.

“You have to remember, I ran away to Rome when I was 18, and I didn’t come back for five years,” Francesco said. “I told people I was from Basilicata, and they didn’t know what it was. Actual Italians didn’t know Basilicata. They would say, ‘That’s in Sicily, right?’”

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