My name is Quaglia Cocco, which means “Quail Coconut” in Italian. I live in Damanhur Spiritual EcoCommunity in northern Italy as a full time resident “A” citizen. This means I live in one of the nucleo communities and fully participate in all aspects of Damanhur, so: the social and community life, the spiritual tradition and rituals, and the aspect connected to playful transformation. I am the first and (so far) only born-and-raised American who has made this particular choice of full immersion Damanhur.
I often hear the questions, “How did you hear about Damanhur? … How did you come here? … How did you come to live here?!?” asked rather incredulously. Yes, it does seem unlikely that an Ohio-born, Texas-raised nomadic Renaissance artist with ancestral roots in China and Taiwan and educational roots in Berkeley, California and tribal roots in San Francisco, with a tendency to hop tropical islands and fire dance all over the world … would decide to settle in provincial northern Italy at the foothills of the Piedmont Alps. Well, this isn’t just an Italian mountain village here, folks. This is Damanhur. I could live anywhere in the world, and I chose to live here. But how?
Like many important, life-altering choices, it all started at Burning Man.
I went to Burning Man for the first time in 2001. Burning Man, you know, that big temporary city built on principles of radical self-reliance, social interconnectedness and creative expression that appears in the Black Rock desert of Nevada for one week every year. Although I was camped at the Red Planet theme camp (one of many tribe-like autonomous sectors of the city), soon after arrival, I was taken to the Heebeegeebee Healers, where I skeptically received an accurate energy reading, after which, I fell asleep on the floor of the carpeted circus-like tent turned meditative healing sanctuary. In 2002, I returned to the playa (as the Burning Man site is affectionately called, due to the pervasive presence of fine, sandy “playa” dust). That year, I and my San Francisco housemates crashed the Wonderlounge theme camp, full of wild Texans, Irish-Californians and a few Japanese women. Again, I was drawn to the Heebeegeebee Healers, where I received a Reiki treatment that activated my energetic sensitivity and spiritual awareness in a big way. I went back to San Francisco and did a Reiki 1 course ASAP. The next year, I joined the Heebeegeebee Healers theme camp as a healer myself, over the years offering massage and Reiki and also teaching Reiki courses there.
That year in 2003, one of my Heebee camp mates Papa Bear, invited me to receive an “Esalen” massage, and he told me about studying massage at the intentional learning center Esalen Institute on the Big Sur coast of California. The word Esalen resonated in my entire being, a soft bell signaling an important key, although at the time I had no idea how much it would unlock. I gratefully received the deep and nurturing bodywork session from him.
Later on in the year, Papa Bear and I went on a road trip down the California coast, breathing in the crisp, clean coastal winds and sparkling ocean views, pausing by the easy-to-miss Esalen sign signaling its entrance. We were just passing by, though the winds had germinated a seed.
I went into Esalen for the first time in the spring of 2005 as a work scholar, studying Spiritual Massage and doing work exchange with the laundry and housekeeping team. I fell in love with its enchanted lands, luxurious and healing thermal baths, and culture of clear and compassionate communication. Esalen offered me endless, sweet discoveries. After the work scholar month, I used any excuse to go back there, to visit and reconnect with friends and the beauty and magic of the community.
One visit to Esalen, I went to the Art Barn and met a smiling and gracious red-haired Italian woman while she was teaching a stained glass art workshop. I was impressed by the colorful and brilliant glass pieces created, especially hers. She needed a ride to San Francisco the day I was driving back up there, so she came along with me in the passenger seat of my white Honda Civic Hybrid. Her name was Piovra Caffè (Octopus Coffee) and on the three-hour ride up the coast, she told me about the place where she lives, using simple English in those days before I had any mastery of the Italian language. She basically said, “I live in an ecovillage in northern Italy where we build underground temples and use meditation techniques to create art. It’s called Damanhur.”
Damanhur. The name rang in my head like a crystal bell, and kept on ringing long after I dropped Piovra off at the SF Golden Gate Bridge parking lot, where her friend from the North Bay came to pick her up. I refused her gas money contribution. She called me an angel. Somehow I knew we’d see each other again.
Following my intuition and the signs around me, I packed up everything and left San Francisco, traveling across country to Texas, flying to Hawaii, Taiwan and back stateside. My intention was to salute my family and attend Burning Flipside, the Texas regional Burning Man event outside of Austin, then keep on going, nomadic, free. Next? Thailand and South East Asia was likely. At the culmination of Burning Flipside, a giant chalice-shaped effigy was burned. As I was walking across the field feeling rather electrified by dancing with fire and the energy of the moment, I looked up into the sky and my belly dancing belt fell silent as I stopped in my tracks. I saw an arrow of fire. The arrow was made by five floating fire lanterns, leisurely drifting across the deep black of night. It was a sign. It was an arrow. It was pointing in the direction I needed to go. Ever prepared, I pulled out a compass. It pointed East.
East? Thailand isn’t east. Huh…
After the event, in my father’s library at my parents house in Houston, I opened a world atlas and took out my pendulum, dousing for a destination. The pendulum indicated Italy. Italy is East. But Italy? Why? I’ve already been there. It’s not exotic and tropical beachy and rife with Buddhist monasteries. And it’s going to be high tourist season.
I began dreaming of Italy. Italian cathedrals. Italy came up in conversation every day and all around me. I got the message and a one-way plane ticket to Rome. It was one of the purest, most intuitive and irrational choices of my life. My aunt who lives in Perugia, Italy invited me to go there and study Italian at the University for Foreigners. I felt a tingling yes to that proposal and planned for it in the fall.
I remembered Damanhur, and Piovra, and poked around the Damanhur website, booking a visit in early August for Summer Festival, an introduction to the Federation and showcase of Damanhur’s esoteric studies.
I flew into Rome on 7.7.07, landing in a hostel near the Vatican, busking with glow poi and fire fans at Trastevere, belly dancing on Roman monuments, and blissfully delving into the Italian way of life. After a jaunt around the country on organic farms, eating fresh fruit off of trees throughout Tuscany and more fire dancing on a Venetian island, I took a train to Ivrea and a taxi to the front doors of Damanhur.
So, that answers the first two FAQs … I’ll get to the third one sometime soon. If you have more, email quail at damanhur.it. The story continues…