A Brazilian Dreamer in Celle

Carol and Iza

How an anarchist with a dream birthed a space for creativity

She appeared suddenly one evening in April. Celle di San Vito, the smallest village in the whole of Puglia was covered in snow, with the notorious Cellesi wind that gets right to the cores of your bones, blowing willfully. Like it’s trying to blow out the fire.

Don Michele, owner of the Castello housing the project, an Italian priest in his 80s with a passion for the local Franco Provenziale language and an uncanny ability to churn out back-to-back historical facts about seemingly everything, received a call at 9:30pm.

“Io arrivo”, she said in her trademark mix of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. “Dove?”, asked Don Michele? “Celle”. “Dormo alla tienda”, continuing to explain that she had found a corner next to the Castello’s main door to pitch her tent in, right at the end of Celle’s one “primary” road. There was no need for him to come over from the next village with the key. She could wait until the next morning, she reassured him. Snow, freezing winds and camping right in the middle of a tiny village in Southern Italy do not even faze Carolina Bernardes.

Carolina and Izabelle with Iza's hand painted t-shirts
Carolina and Izabelle recounting the stories behind each of Izabelle’s beautiful hand-painted t-shirts at the spot Carol decided she would pitch her tent in when she first got to Celle.

The exchange is a perfect illustration of the way this shiny Brazilian manages to treat obstacles many of us would panic in the face of, as helpful leg-ups that get her closer to wherever she’s going. Armed with a tent and a hammock, she regards the whole world as her bedroom and has frequently slept in the middle of town squares when they happen to be the most practical night time resting spot.

It is very difficult to not fall in love with Carolina. Her dark curls, expressive green eyes and sculpted cheeks are seemingly always animated with her bright smile, often laughing at her own incessant jokes that she distributes to those around her with gusto; whether or not they can actually understand her. Her bubbling sense of humour is far larger than such mundane practicalities.

Carolina, hitchhiking around Celle Di San Vito.

A staunch feminist and a dedicated social rights activist, Carol lives her values in a more complete way than anyone I have ever met. Her preferred mode of travel is hitchhiking. Mostly traveling alone she has hitched rides all over South America and in Tunisia, places often regarded as potentially dangerous for solo females. She refuses to pay for transport unless absolutely constrained to, preferring to keep her money for more important things, like creating this artistic residence.

Financed directly by Carol with the assistance of others who have felt compelled to support the cause, the Open Oca: House of Dreams idea was born in Carol’s head three years ago. With a strong wish to make others’ dreams a reality, she carries her Dream Book with her throughout her travels and invites those she meets to register their dreams in it. Being the determined person that she is, with her accompanying ‘nothing is actually a barrier to what I want to do’ mantra, manifesting dreams comes more naturally to Carol than to most of us. She’s cheerful, practical, frugal and highly endowed with the ability to charm in the most endearing way possible. When Carol asks for help, the world cannot but offer itself at her disposal.

Of course she meets that with her own hard work. To make this House of Dreams happen, Carol has given herself fully in service of the residents. She buys food, cooks meals, cleans the house and provides ongoing feedback, support and encouragement for the participants’ projects.

Conversations with the residents of Celle Di San Vito
The people of Celle speak Franco Provenziale, a language unique to this tiny place. It’s a peculiar combination of French and Italian and often a challenge to understand. Not that it ever got in the way of an animated conversation.

What the artistic residence provides is delightfully simple: space and time to work on your own artistic project, your dream. Without the constraints of financial viability, supported with a comfortable place to sleep, nurturing food and the company of other artists following their own paths. Living conditions are simple. A mix of shared and single rooms with all basic needs but no luxury, fixed hours for breakfast, lunch, dinner and showers (for more efficient use of water-heating energy), good fresh local food and the enabling environment of tiny, sleepy, time-warped Celle Di San Vito.

This modest offering creates endless possibility. Time to stop doing what makes money, space to both do and reflect, inspiration and influence from other artistic disciplines and people who enrich your world with books, films, ideas, collaborations and many enlightening (and often hilarious) conversations that happen when creativity is given centre-stage.

The residents of the House of Dreams
Many enlightening and often hilarious conversations and collaborations happened. Some of the residents, from right: Carolina, me, Talita, Izabelle, Ines and Mirko. Photo by Izabelle.

Aside from the creation-friendly environment within the house, the project enjoys constant links and connection points with the local community. Open-house film screenings on Fridays, football on Saturdays and several courses open to both residents and locals. Rather than being some kind of lofty concept, community integration is very much at the heart of this house. We have had a local professor teach us the craft of book binding, an introduction to the unique local language of Franco Provenziale, a cultural evening that had local authors read their work, a young Cellesi working on and showing his first video project, painting collaborations and several joint Taranto dances and celebrations. Little Celle has enjoyed some good artistic injections and has worked its way into our art.

Professore Pasquale Cacchio teaching us the art of book binding.

Seemingly an abstract concept, creativity is often either taken fore granted or wholly dismissed as the realm of “others” – those with minds that veer strongly to the right, those who are ‘born artists’, whatever that really means. Creativity is a little like a plant. Water it, give it good soil to seed in, feed it with things that fortify it and watch it grow. A new sense of possibility seems to open up, a place for playing with ideas, concepts and exploring curiosities with new perspectives, a different lens. Disciplines merge, lines cross each other and blur to become something new. Ideas, paintings, photos, videos, methods, ways are somehow created out of space, encounters, thoughts. The process is nothing short of magic.

Wind turbines, space and possibility in Celle Di San Vito
A place where creativity is given space to roam, just because.

Carolina’s Dream House gives creativity a home. A place for creativity to stop being dragged along and asked to perform like a circus monkey. A place where it is given space to roam, just because. And the deep, easy breath that comes along with that is truly priceless

For more information about Open Oca: House of Dreams go to the project website Openoca.org and follow the blog on Medium. Carolina is currently putting together a book that explains the idea and method behind the artistic residence to inspire and facilitate others in creating similar spaces. Follow the blog for a free download link when the book is published.