Level One at Rispescia / Al’s Tales

Date or timeframe: 11-12-1989 / 17-12-1989
Venue: Ex Istituto ENAOLI
City: Rispescia, Grosseto
Country: Italy
Category(-ies): /

I still remember pretty well the moment I drove my car into the parking lot in front of the house. Antonio and another chap of whom I don’t remember the name, were with me in the car; I was wearing a funny hat, I’ve been wearing hats very seldom, and that was the only time in my life I was wearing this Sicilian “coppola” hat. It was the early afternoon of December the 15th 1989.

Few people were wondering around in that yard and I had that classic feeling which occurs when you get into a new environment with new people, exchanging looks… Uncomfortable shyness, I suppose. We downloaded our suitcases and guitars and led to the entrance where a gentle young man took us to our dormitories. Going up the stairs on a landing, there he was: a guy, very Nordic looking, playing a single note repeatedly (an open string) on his guitar, facing the wall at no more than 50 centimetres from it. That vision had a strong impact on me; as only later I came to know that he was a chap from Norway and that he was using the wall as a mirror for the sound of his guitar to compensate various distractions coming from all over the place, at that very moment I had the sense I was walking into a madhouse. For the second time my instinct was telling me to run away. I ignored it. Left my things next to my bed instead and walked outside the house again as I was said that next thing would be dinner at 7 p.m.

Once outside I’ve been shaking few hands, mostly belonging to Italians, then it was the turn a cheerful guy with a funny haircut: he was bald but with a single curly topknot around the centre of his forehead “Alain, I’m from Spain” he said. We walked together uphill on a green field and soon bumped into a blond girl, slightly country-hippy-like: “Cathy Stevens, I’m here to offer the Alexander Technique”, we all turned into a sort of reverential mode, but she had a sweet smile while telling us she was a beginner too.

On the way back to the house Alain asked me a question with a straightforwardness with which I became familiar only in time: “So, why did you come to this course?”

I was taken by surprise and the only thing I could articulate was something like: “Among the weird things I came across about GC so far, I could detect a specific respect and consideration for silence, putting this idea in a musical context brought me back when I was very young and I was fascinated by the space between the notes, to the point I did appreciate the pause between the pieces on records; so I decided to come and see what it’s all about.”

Near the entrance suddenly Robert appeared, few people around him, I know it was him before I could recognise his face as I could perceive a sort of “radiation” he emanated, or maybe it was just the way he walked and smiled.

Back in the house; the architecture (the facility used to be an orphanage) fed the sense of being involved in something college-hospital-barrack-like. The long queue to get to the food fitted very much into that picture.

During the meal R. made the afterwards-well-known-announcement, offering us the chance to change our mind, get our money back and run away.

Probably just the uncomfortable idea of being under the spot revealing myself and giving up the privilege of being anonymous, refrained me to raise my hand. So that was it: I was going through it.

The level of excitement was pretty high, 32 L1s (plus about half of that forming the Kitchen Team), and there were four, six, to ten people each dormitory and it ended up being a very long night for many of us. Eventually we must have fallen asleep, but pretty soon we’ve been awaken up by some angelic music coming from the corridor, few of us raised their head from the pillow and there he was: Robert (in his underwear) playing what we’ll soon learn to be “The Moving Force”…

I do remember the following morning we had a meeting without guitars in what looked like a classroom with the classic amphitheatre shape, Robert “on stage” and us behind the desks while he presented the Principles behind the functioning of both hands when playing a guitar.

It was during our second dinner together that we all had our firs experience of Silence visiting…

Despite my original assertion I couldn’t recognize “a best friend”, instead it recalled some traumatic experiences from my childhood as it felt forced, imposed; I wanted to run away but I was petrified: never ending and impossible to bear.

During my first personal meeting with Robert ever, after working both on my left and right hand, he asks me about my life, how old I am, how I’m leading my life, relationships and so on, he listens to me carefully, then, after a pause, he says. “Your life can change”. I like to believe that in this very moment Hope breaks into my hearth and lives there since.

Before dinner Robert offered us an introduction to the Morning Sitting, which by then was marked on the board as “The Practice Of Doing Nothing” or alternatively “The Practice Of Silence”; that’s probably why after the presentation, when Robert asked if there were any questions, a guy asked him how he liked John Cage. After a pause he said that once in NY he saw an advert of a Cage’s performance where he was supposed to play cactus’ stings with a two dancers choreography, he went and kind of enjoyed it; two years later he was again in NY and Cage was there too, again with a show with cactus sting been played but no dancers, so he didn’t go.

I had two things with me which, before crossing the threshold of the house, I considered crucial for me: a demo tape of my music, and various kind of sleeping pills. By the second night in the dormitory I forgot completely about the pills, nobody was sleeping after all. When for the second time Robert walked along the corridor playing The Moving Force to wake us up, I could spot a couple of guys pulling their portable recording devices from under their pillow, but by the time they manage to make it operative Robert was gone: a clear and early lesson on how senseless could be such an attitude.

More Primaries during the day; Udo was asked to introduce us to the Third Primary, he was a bit shy in the beginning but then he delivered. At lunch time my first experience ever with people performing in the dining room: Guido, Udo and Stone, a German trio performed Bicycling To Afghanistan. I was blown away. No possible comparison as I never heard or saw anything like that before in my life. I believe it was in that very moment when I completely erased the idea of giving my demo tape to whoever from my mind.

I do remember a very dense week; classes, personal meetings, dish washing, it was all very concentrated; the pressure was pretty high and the smoking outside quite compulsive. AT was part of the “revelation”, Frank Sheldon was also there, and the lucky combination of his approach and Cathy’s one provided the very needed tools to enable us to let go of most of the unnecessary tension given by the situation itself.


It was pretty much when I let go of all my resistances and settle down undoing my suitcase once for all surrendering to the constant temptation to leave, that a performance by the L1s was announced. It looked like there was no way to escape, I was feeling again very uncomfortable. As if that feeling was not enough, the whole process of putting the performance together was a crescendo of total craziness culminating in desperation: from everlasting struggle for leadership to endless discussions on stupid questions like how many pieces we should play. I remember a guy who tuned the guitar back to the old tuning! After a sleepless night we are informed that there will be a guest from “outside”: a journalist from “La Repubblica”, one of the major national newspaper.

I’ve no clear memory of what actually happened during the performance, except the one full team piece we performed standing in what was, rather than a semi-circle, a line slightly bent at the ends; thirty something people… Suddenly I realize there was no way to hear what was going on at the other end, and looking at the tapping feet was even more confusing… Robert comment afterwards was that among all those right hands on display only four showed some assimilation of what was presented during the course so far. I do remember I felt confident that I was one of the four, but then quit few people thought the same…


Stage shift and the Kitchen Team was on, with us (and Robert and the journalist) in the audience. Bert’s wife and daughter were in the audience too, the new born baby was crying desperately throughout all our performance, through the break and was now keeping screaming while the KT was on. Then Bert, who was leading the team, introduced The Moving Force and, just after few notes of the intro, she got suddenly quiet; I was already quite emotional, and that was just overwhelming.

We had a short after-performance-socializing-time, when the journalist confessed to us that he enjoyed our performance better than the KT’s one, God knows why, he was probably lying as we were told later that he was hiding a recorder in his coat and recorded the whole thing! The tape was confiscated so that’s probably why he was so against the guys (the Kitchen Team) who unmasked him. He was welcomed and had quite a treat, he had dinner with us, but in response he stole our silverware: what a screw-up!


During the final meeting a list of future activities was presented, the following year was dense of events and courses; I learned that one of my L1 fellows would have gone straight to US with the rest of the caravan. It was so painful to realize how much I was wishing to stay or maybe only just attending other courses, and how little and unlike my chance to participate was looking from the place I was standing in that very moment. A bittersweet mouthful to swallow…

Looking at the whole experience from a distance I now know that my old me has been holding on for the whole time, terrified by the chance that he could disappear; while a new me was not there yet, maybe it had just been conceived, but he was only a potential. A heavy load of ballast had just been released (i.e. I no more needed pills of any kind in order to sleep, and I didn’t think of me as a brilliant, genial and unacknowledged songwriter any more), an exciting lightness indeed, but nothing was there to take that place, to fill that void up, not yet, and that was terrifying.

Related posts

Level 1

Ex Istituto ENAOLI
Rispescia, Grosseto