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The Sassi of Matera & a Monastery

Sophia Khan

watercolor ~ copyright © Sophia Khan

watercolor ~ copyright © Sophia Khan

There is a place in Italy that once felt like a secret to me.

Not just a secret that Italy kept. But one that I felt in some ways, I also kept.

It is a series of cave dwellings, deep in the south of the country, that I traveled to on a bus through miles of - 'I don't know where I am'- to get to. And I arrived in the town with that same feeling of being somewhere that was both mysterious and other worldly, while at the same time it beckoned me nearer and nearer.

I have had the good fortune of traveling to these caves four times, so far. Four precious encounters. With each visit unraveling more and more of the mystery, and deepening my sense of nearness to it. I might also say that each visit signified a different stage in my life.

The Sassi of Matera.

It is a place that has a story, a history. It is a place where I had the most precious, memorable, and tender encounters with the locals then that in all of my travels through Italy and beyond.

I will hope to share more of my art and these stories with you in a future letter.

For now, I wish instead to perhaps leave but a glimpse, a tiny sliver of my experience there, just as the town had first revealed itself to me.

And it is no coincidence, I feel, that at the same time that I am reminiscing about my travels to these caves, that I also spent a few days at a monastery. A former monastery which has been converted to a learning center.

There is something primitive about both. Something stripped of both unnecessary outward possessions, but also unnecessary inward longings. It is within such emptied places, that we make room for certain things to be revealed.

I will admit that this letter may perhaps seem a bit cryptic, or outside the lines, in comparison with others that I have written. But, I always do write here what is true for me, and right now this is where I am. And writing is a way for me to capture, deepen, honor, and share wherever it is that I may be. Even more so, the creative life for me is one that is closely tied to my inner, or spiritual life.

The workshop that I attended at the former monastery, the Garrison Institute in New York, was about the poetry of Rumi. But....just like the caves, just like the Sassi of Matera, and many of my other travels, the outward form is but the invitation, the initial opening.

It is often the case that the outward appearance of a place is what beckons us to it. But if we have even a sliver of a deeper yearning, we are shown that which deep down inside of us we long to know.

If you are a traveler, in whatever way you might describe travel, or if you are a seeker, in whatever way you might describe seeking, I hope that perhaps this letter can be an invitation. An invitation to take a moment to remember a place that holds special meaning for you. And to bask again in the gem that you may have been gifted along your own winding and beautiful path.

Until next time, wishing you peace, joy, serenity and the warmth of loved ones near & far.

Sketches of the Sassi of Matera, from my travels. circa 2003

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