Why you should care
Because there are many ways to fight fascism. Like dancing.
“People always talk about all of the bad things fascism has done. Why don’t they talk about some of the good things?” Against a background of deep house music and seaside breezes, I tilt back my glass of Chianti and laugh my ass off.
Elena Mastropasqua, the 40-something owner of Eremo — the Italian word for hermitage — and her girlfriend smile and wait for the groaning translator to translate my question. He does so with an apologetic shrug. It’s not like there are many countries where fascism makes for an effective punchline, and especially not in Italy, a country whose past was scarred by it and whose present sees it flirting with some of those same elements as leader of the far-right Lega party, and interior minister, Matteo Salvini just turned away a ship carrying more than 600 immigrants.
Mastropasqua doesn’t bite, but instead spills. All about how her grandfather Onofrio, a history and philosophy professor in Rome, was on a walkabout around the ancient city, contemplating the nature of fascism, amid a country in the grips of Mussolini madness. In the end he’d grown so sick of fascism that he headed south, to Bari, and then to Molfetta, a sleepy seaside town right on the Adriatic coast. One day Onofrio stopped on the roadside to watch a farmer curse God for having made the beachfront soil essentially untillable.
You can drink, dance and party, and then walk, or swim, back to the hotel.
“Nothing grows here,” he purportedly told Onofrio, who, in a rush of instinct, offered to buy the land and free the farmer from his fruitless attempts. Onofrio wouldn’t even try to farm on it, but Bari was sufficiently far enough from Rome that he could avoid fascist toxicity. Years later, after enduring Mussolini’s rise, celebrating his fall, building a house, renting the house out in 1971 and, in what was largely felt by the family to be a colossal mistake, selling a portion of the land to a hotel, the Mastropasquas turned what they were now calling Eremo into the best beachside club in Bari.
Mastropasqua’s father, who deeply regretted selling the plot next to theirs, died at 95 but lived long enough to see his daughter open the club in 2009 in what he told her was the single best act of revenge he could have ever imagined.
“Revenge against the past,” Mastropasqua says earnestly, as she walks me around the property. Kitted out with glowing white globes as big as oversize Pilates balls lighting the spaces between wooden chaise lounges and molded plastic pop art chairs, the grounds look like they’re out of a postmodern Fellini-esque take on the future. The DJs outside play while people dance, drink and talk. There are two DJs inside, one working a bar, the other a large space for live shows. A pop-up record store runs along the front.
“This is one of the best clubs in all of Italy,” says musician Xabier Iriondo. The guitarist, whose band Afterhours is an Italian version of U2, cites attention to detail, locale and a concert curation that covers all the bases of cool. Eremo also has gay-themed nights and a kitchen not just to die for but also to kill for. You can have a night out for an amount of money that makes staying at one of the nearby hotels totally possible. Which means you can drink, dance and party, and then walk, or swim, back to the hotel.
The city council has countered all of Mastropasqua’s plans to build out, while local hotels expand and eye the plot jealously. A French tourist famously described Eremo as “a reality show” when complaining online about confusing crowd control. But Eremo endures.
“This is my home,” says Mastropasqua. “We all expect and want everyone to have a good time.” Which, as the DJ starts playing Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” is not just good enough. At 3 in the morning, it’s great.