Listening recently to Yuval Noah Harari talking about developments in “AI” I was struck how increasingly we are left with fewer opportunities in making our own choices.   He cited his own coming out and how already AI is targeting his own sexuality in target marketing products and services.  By monitoring simple things as eye movement while browsing, algorithms adapt marketing strategies to present products specifically for him.  Algorithms pick up minute details.  Looking at an image of a group of people, a gay man’s eyes will focus, not on the girls, but on the guys in the group.   He goes on to say this is used to market product to him with images of sexy guys.  Hot sweaty men appear in Coca Cola adverts and he feels constrained to buy the drink.  To my heterosexual friends different images are used.  All of this on an individual basis and increasingly this invasive AI will creep up and control us ever more.

Now turn this argument on its head.  Ok, technology is replacing ancient inherent life skills, but is it a new concept?  For a long time it has been widely accepted that a place chooses you.  Be it a home or a holiday location, I strongly believe that if you are in touch with the real world, you are drawn to the right place.  Places also have different auras in my opinion souls.  These auras and souls attract the right person to their place.  For you sceptics, please do not click off, please read on, just humour me a bit.

Guests arriving at Bellaugello Gay Guest House are struck by the beauty and tranquillity and positive vibe of the place.  They often ask how I found the location.  The answer is simple; it chose me.  With my ex partner I had been searching for a spot to open a guest house for guys.  The search had taken over five years.  We had specific ‘must have’ attributes for the place we wanted to live and run the business.  In those five years we had seen so many ‘wrong’ places.   Either the location was not right or more importantly the place just did not feel ‘right’.

From the moment I turned into the road at Valdichiascio without even having seen Bellaugello I instinctively knew the place was meant to be.  Four kilometres down an astonishingly beautiful country lane and I arrived at the place I am thrilled to now call ‘home’.   You pass many houses, this was and still is a farming community.  People were born and raised in the houses and many still live where they were born.  I remember that first drive down the road, my heart fluttered, raced, it felt good and so positive.

It took over three years to transform the long abandoned farm to the guest house it is today.  Initially, logically, I am sure there were some raised eyebrows.  A gay guest house in rural Umbria, possibly the first such place in Italy was a new and different concept for this traditional community to have to cope with.  However the community did accept me and as well as good neighbours, they have become good friends.

In our little valley some 14km from the medieval town of Gubbio we are a community of some hundred and twenty.  As I wrote, some were born here and have never moved from the valley.  Some, like me, have chosen to move here.  I am not the last ‘incomer’.  In my years here I have seen the older generation sadly pass on, but happily replaced by a new generation.  Kids have been born here.  Although farming does continue, even though on a smaller scale, many are now forced to work outside the valley, returning home in the evening.

A large tract of Valdichiascio was an estate, which, in the major part is still is owned by one family.  The families living in the various houses dotted along the road all worked for the estate.   The ‘Mezzadria’ ended here in the late 1970’s and the estate gave a small parcel of land to the various families that they could continue to live in the valley.  This, with us incomers, is our valley today.

By tradition residents congregated each year on 8th September for a lunch in a field.  Every family brought food and wine to share, that is the way we do things here.  Living in detached houses, often separated by a few km, and previously without cars, it was a rare occasion to be together.  Sadly before I arrived this tradition had lapsed.   It occurred to me that this lunch should be revived,community is important to me.  Discretely, I made tentative enquiries and was met with a delightfully positive response.  Yes! a neighbourhood lunch would be a great idea.  We formed a tiny steering committee, and set the date of 30th September.  Invitations were hand delivered to every house.  WhatsApp messages buzzed to and fro, and neighbours asked what they could do to help.

Sunday dawned, a blisteringly beautiful day.  Bright sunlight, warm, later hot.  The men arrived with tables kept from previous lunches that had been stored at the church and began setting them up on the lawns at Bellaugello.  The women were all still busy cooking at home.  Bright cheery coverings were laid on the tables.  We opened the box of biodegradable plates, cutlery and glasses bought specially for the occasion.  Bellaugello soon began to look very festive.  BBQs were set up a short distance away so as not to smoke out the party and we lit the old wood oven.  At 11am I began to have doubts, would people turn up?  Was I mad?  Had I, as an incomer have any right to suggest this party?

By midday people laden with exquisite home cooked dishes wended their way down the path to the main terrace.  Soon the table we use for breakfasts and dinners was groaning with quiches, pastas, torta al testo, prosciutto, salads, breads, bbq sausages, bracciole and savouries.  Oh! how well we all ate.  I had set the dining room table for the deserts and it too was totally covered with a vast array of delicious home cooked crostatas, cakes, biscuits and tiramisu.  Everyone brought wines and Prosecco, the youngsters provided the music and the party continued.

I did a rough count; we were over ninety neighbours.  We all chatted and ate and drank, so, so well.  From the very old to the very young, (both requiring help but in different ways) delightfully, so many neighbours turned up.  Those that did not were few and had previous engagements.

As somebody later remarked, nobody was on their cell phones.  It was astonishing, six hours and the only cell phone usage was to take photographs.  People actually talked to each other.  It was a real party.  People mixed.  People who I have never seen talking to each other were deep in conversation.  The priest came, dressed casual, he too is an integral part of Valdichiascio life.

Let some photos do the talking:

So strong is our community that people are vying to hold the next year’s party lunch at their homes.  I feel so very privileged to live and work in this great community.   I realise just how precious and rare it is to be able to live in such an environment.  To be able to share this gem with guys from all round the world is particularly special.