In late August 2020, in a highly original creative response to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, Julia conceived and co-produced a Residential Storytelling Retreat based on Italian writer, Boccaccio’s well known book, The Decameron, (set in 1348) by bringing together ten contemporary storytellers, seven women and three men, in a hilltop villa in an extraordinarily beautiful setting in rural Tuscany.
Led by award-winning British playwright, theatre director and classical scholar Justin Butcher, the modern-day Decameronians collaborated in a creative ‘holistic exploration’ of Boccaccio’s text, studying and reenacting many of the stories in The Decameron, reflecting on the daily story themes in myths, legends, fairytales and popular culture, and then bringing their own stories to each day’s theme.
Each day’s workshop began and ended in the open-air with meditative and refreshing classes in yoga and ‘brain gym’, led by expert dancer, brain gym practitioner and academic historian, Natalia Tatulli.
As in Boccaccio’s Decameron, the group appointed – and crowned with a laurel wreath – a new ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ to preside over each day, whose chief responsibility was to appoint and order the tasks of preparing and serving meals to different group teams. Also in keeping with the rigours of the text, the delicious home-produced Tuscan dinners were followed, each evening, with a broad array of music, singing and dancing.
The group also experienced the beauty of walking through rural Tuscany, on a stretch of the medieval pilgrimage route the Via Francigena, from Colle di Val d’Elsa to Monteriggioni – taking in medieval abbeys, castles, orchards and forests – an experience which would have been very familiar to Boccaccio and his readers.
The idyllic excursion to the ‘Valley of the Ladies’ described at the end of Decameron Day VI was reenacted in a wild-swimming visit to the glorious Reserve Naturale di Farma, near Solaia, Province of Siena. The Torrente Farma is a breathtakingly beautiful stretch of wild river flowing between steep-sloping forests and astonishing rock gorges, with deep emerald pools, crystal clear water and abundant fish.
On the last day of Decameron 2020, a number of the Decameron stories re-enacted through dance, dumb-show, mime and music were filmed to create an archive of the inaugural workshop. All participants testified to a rich, inspiring and educative experience of creative exploration, profound connection and trust amongst the group, many opportunities to ‘think outside the box’ and venture ‘outside one’s comfort zone’ – as well as a huge amount of fun!