L’école buissonière

I played hooky last week. Skipped off school and went AWOL. Or, as we say in French, went to ‘bush’ school.

That’s not really true but it is how it felt. I signed up for a week’s retreat on the remote Sicilian island of Pantelleria with a group called Wide Open Writing (WOW).

It was a chance to go off the path and enjoy a holiday break while devoting time to myself — and to writing. Not the PR work I do for a living, or the blogging I do here, but in pursuit of the storytelling muse that lives inside us all.

For a week our group enjoyed the rugged beauty of this volcanic island that is actually closer to Tunisia than Italy. That did not mean warmer, however, as it was windswept and chilly a good part of the week. But when the sun came out it was wonderful!

All week long we met twice daily to think, write, read our work and share thoughts. The idea wasn’t to critique each other’s writing so much as to give positive feedback. It was an experience at times intense, hilarious, emotional, beautiful and moving. I found a sense of kinship with this group of writers from all walks of life and at different stages of finding their voice. There was also yoga and meditation for those so inclined.

I stayed in a dammuso, the thick-walled stone cottages unique to Pantelleria. They are designed with domed roofs to capture the rain water.

Water so essential for irrigating the capers, olive trees and vines that grow here…and these days also for more leisurely pursuits.

Walled gardens are also part of Pantelleria’s unique heritage. This one in a vineyard was built to protect the precious lime tree growing within.

On our last day we visited the Donna Fugata vineyard where a variety of the ancient Muscat grape called Zibibbo is grown to make the island’s famous Passito, a sweeter apperitif wine, among others.

Throughout the week, we also ate and drank copious amounts of Sicilian food and wine.

This dessert is called bacio pantesco. It’s a kind of waffle pastry filled with delicately perfumed ricotta.

One of the things I love most about living in France is how close we are to so many amazing places. It wasn’t easy to get to Pantelleria, as it involved three flights via Rome and Palermo. The last one on this Air Mistral plane operated by the Italian Post.

You can learn a lot when you skip school, or ‘faire l’école buisonnière’, as the French call it. It was a bit of a splurge, but well worth it. Besides, getting away is good for the soul.

Do you remember skipping school?


  1. midihideaways · May 10, 2018

    Sounds like a wonderful experience – well deserved, I’m sure!! And those food pictures are killing me, just before lunchtime!! 🙂

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      Thanks, it was indeed wonderful (although I’m never quite sure about the well deserved…). Bon appétit!

    • acflory · May 12, 2018

      lol – breakfast here and I’m drooling!

  2. Ayesha · May 10, 2018

    Looks like a productive and peaceful time.

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      It was a wonderful experience, although neither as productive or peaceful as I had anticipated. More disruptive and provoking on some level. But highly rewarding!

  3. francetaste · May 10, 2018

    What a fantastic place. I’d love to hear more about what you learned with WOW.

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      I will think about that one. It has taken me a few days to ‘land’ and I’m still figuring out what I’ve taken away. A suivre… 🤓

  4. poshbirdy · May 10, 2018

    Oh, that food! It looks amazing. What a lovely opportunity. I try to skip school more and more often these days 🙂

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      I can see how it could become habit-forming. The food and the skipping! x

  5. M. L. Kappa · May 10, 2018

    Next time I’m coming with you!😆

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      Avec plaisir! Seriously, you would love it…and we all deserve it.

  6. coteetcampagne · May 10, 2018

    Looks wonderful. I’m skipping school right now to plant a passion flower and stake my tomatoes.
    As far as “real school” went, I left immediately after taking my GCE’s at 16 and got a job to save up for the summers music festivals and to go travelling. I was not a model pupil

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      I don’t know why but for some reason that does not surprise me – neither that you are planting something now or that you left academic school early in life. Despite your passion and knowledge of so much about antiques and character properties, I sense you are also a passion flower who thrives in the ‘real’ world! 🙂

      • coteetcampagne · May 12, 2018

        Nicely put Mel. There are some who might label me otherwise!

        I did go to Art College in the seventies and took a couple of A levels and some work related vocational courses when the children were young, but formal education establishments and me were never a good fit.

  7. suzlearnsfrench · May 10, 2018

    How wonderful. The food looks delicious and the buildings are so cool! I need to skip school as well and take a little trip – it really does recharge the soul.

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      Oh yes, do! There is so much to absorb off the path, and somehow the rest just follows. And for learning French, nothing better than taking the plunge in rural France!

  8. Osyth · May 10, 2018

    What a wonderful place and I am sure that it was a head-clearing and centering experience as well as a culinary and cultural delight. All good ingredients for coaxing that muse into the open. Now that I’m beginning to get my own head round my new destination, I’m hoping that the pesky muse will at least allow me to write some blog posts – any more than that seems like a mountain right now. Perhaps I should skip school …. but then, I would need to be in school to skip it, right? 🤭

    • MELewis · May 10, 2018

      Lol. I am sure that you are school-skipping spirit regardless of whether an actual establishment is involved. You would be right in your element in such a setting as Pantelleria – magical, mystical yet so very earthy. I certainly hope the muse will visit you States-side…but give yourself time to settle in. 😍

      • Osyth · May 13, 2018

        I must admit your words and the photos did speak straight to my soul. I need to root here a little but I am sorely tempted to play hooky in Sicily as soon as I am!

  9. Heide · May 10, 2018

    So happy you were able to have this experience! I can’t imagine a more beautiful — or more enriching — reason to skip school. I hope you came home both restored and overflowing with enthusiasm and new ideas. xx

    • MELewis · May 12, 2018

      I am grateful to have had the opportunity, Heide. It’s not often we get an off-the-path experience like this with such a stunning location to boot. Overflowing with creative energy — the challenge is to channel it!

  10. Susanne · May 10, 2018

    I lived in a small town on Vancouver Island and skipping was the thing to do in June – head to the beach and relax.

    What did you work on during the retreat? It looks like a heavenly location with or without heat. Lots of natural inspiration!

    • MELewis · May 12, 2018

      It was indeed inspiring Suzanne! The group writing sessions were themed around the elements – earth, wind, fire, etc – and were quite open so as to give voice to whatever we chose. It was almost therapeutic! Definitely gave me a stronger sense of my own voice as a writer. 🙂 As for Vancouver, I can only imagine the call of those beaches would be tempting for skipping off school. I sometimes felt the call in Ontario and it was far less enticing!

  11. Colin Bisset · May 10, 2018

    How wonderfully nourishing on so many levels! If you haven’t already seen it, you might enjoy Luca Guadagnino’s film A Bigger Splash which is set on the island – and as stylish as all his other films.

    • MELewis · May 12, 2018

      Thanks Colin, it was indeed replenishing. I have heard of A Bigger Splash as the retreat was actually held on the property where it was filmed! 😉 Haven’t yet watched it yet but will do so if only to revisit the location. It is a gorgeous setting, and I believe the island is a bit of an exclusive retreat — our tour guide pointed out the Armani residence and mentioned a royal wedding this summer… Ah, to be able to hop over by private jet! 😎

      • Colin Bisset · May 12, 2018

        I thought it looked familiar. Think you’ll like the film – quite novelish.

  12. davidprosser · May 11, 2018

    I’m glad you had a great time Mel. Did you come back in writing mode? I’m happy to say it’s far too many years ago to remember any truancy from school.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · May 12, 2018

      Thank you, dear David. I did come back in a kind of buzzing creative mode but that is ironically making it much more difficult to get on with the regular (boring) work! A change of perspective, meeting new friends and discovering such a fabulous place has been wonderful. What a great word: truancy. We could all use a bit of it! Bzzzz xx

  13. awtytravels · May 11, 2018

    Mmmh Zibibbo, passito… now I have a massive craving for Sicilian liquourous wines!!

    • MELewis · May 12, 2018

      Aha, so you know them! I must admit, the sweeter wines are not generally my thing, but the taste of Passito does grow on you. I do love the Nero d’Avola. 😎

  14. acflory · May 12, 2018

    I’m not a yoga person, but I’d go just for the food. So…how did /your/ writing go?

    • MELewis · May 12, 2018

      It was a true retreat in the sense that I completely disconnected from the day to day. Did not end up doing much yoga as I felt I needed the time for writing. Definitely helped unblock the flow but time will tell what this is worth! 🙂 And yes, the food! *Sigh*

      • acflory · May 12, 2018

        Hey! If you’re writing, that’s all that matters. The first draft is only for you. Give yourself permission to go wherever your subconscious takes you.

  15. Lisa @ cheergerm · May 15, 2018

    A writing school combined with all that good food and wine! Now you’re talking….lovely. 😊

    • MELewis · May 16, 2018

      It was indeed lovely, you would have been right (write) in your element! 😍

  16. Lisa @ cheergerm · May 15, 2018

    Not ‘school’, I meant to write ‘retreat’…have a cotton wool head full of cold….either way, looks and sounds like a fab experience.

    • MELewis · May 16, 2018

      Lol…no cold (touch wood, as it is freezing here at the moment) but I do know the cotton wool brain feeling!

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