Sometimes, when I take the big iron key and turn it in the lock, I have to pinch myself … are we really allowed to use this amazing old building for our writing workshops? It feels like trespassing.
The Priest’s House – or Bishop’s House, depending on whose translation you hear – has been standing empty and cobwebby for many years now, with just a few pieces of furniture on the ground floor. But oh, what furniture: the long oak table that we sit at once lived in the local school, way back in the days when children were still taught on the island. Mariapia, owner of our hotel, remembers it well. She runs her hand along its surface, telling me how she did all her lessons sitting at this very table. Then she comes back to today and puts a big plate of pastries on it for our coffee break.
The narrow doors that open onto the garden are even more impressive, fastened in place with all manner of old locks and bolts. A long iron rod slots into two holes at either side of the doorway, and easing it out sends crumbs of plaster spilling to the floor. Then it’s time to push the doors open. Light floods in, sending the local pheasants scattering over the grass to the lake.
We’re so privileged to have somewhere this atmospheric all to ourselves. It’s all thanks to Isola del Libro, the local cultural organisation, keepers of the big iron key. They just love us being here, putting the house to such good use. They don’t even mind us picking the occasional handful of walnuts and bashing them open on the wall. Every time I turn that rusty key in the lock, it’s like the adventure begins all over again.