I spent last week in a kind of blissful collective hallucination. I was in Italy for a meeting of a loose pan-European network of activists, hackers, artists, policy wonks, and others I can't even pretend to classify.
I say Italy. But this was Sassi/Matera, which must be the most extraordinary place I've ever visited. Supposedly one of the longest-inhabited places in the world, it's a series of caves which have gradually been built into a town over the past 9,000 years. Everything is intricately folded in on itself, and you can barely tell where the hills end and the hills begin. It feels like an Escher building, or that scene from Labyrinth with all the upside-down stairwells.
So: impossible location. Impossible people -- everybody with some convoluted, nomadic backstory. The rockstar turned economist, the materials scientist turned artist, the anarchist intellectual with one foot in the Pentagon, the Burner metamours building a flying wind farm. And on and on, through forty-odd bizarre biographies.
Somehow it all gelled, instantly, into a deep community. I've never had such an experience, of people turning from strangers into genuine friends over the matter of a few days. It stood outside the usual conference behaviour of status games and self-promotion. People who'd never met, from totally different backgrounds, would sit on the cave floor together for hours, teasing out the implications of questions I wouldn't even have managed to ask.
I'm aware it all sounds like a narcissistic wankfest. I don't understand how this particular mix brought up real communication rather than superficiality. But somehow it did, and now I feel like I've unexpectedly grown a whole new circle of friends.