An exploration of communities

2008-10-02 08:05

Living up to his book's subtitle - A Search for a Better Life - Tobias Jones heads off to spend time in communities inspired by ideals, if not exactly utopian, that at least provide an alternative to the way we live now.

Jones first drops in on Damanhur, brainchild of Oberto Airaudi, now known as Falcon. Everyone at Damanhur has adopted animal and vegetable names so Jones finds himself conversing with the likes of Dingo Onion and Lamb Radish. Damanhur has some interesting things to offer, not least its complementary currency, the credito. But the core belief system, based around Airaudi's Via Horusiana, sees Damanhur tend more to cult than community.

No money is to be found at Nomadelfia, a community founded by Zeno Saltini, a Catholic priest and social activist who turned a concentration camp into refuge for children orphaned during World War 2. Today the self-supporting community consists of groups, essentially extended families, of about 30 people each.

The elderly are the mainspring for Hartrigg Oaks, a Quaker retirement village in Britain's Yorkshire, that comes across as a solid middle-class affair where everyone wears sensible shoes.

Libera Terra (Free World) is an intriguing community based in Sicily, where former drug addicts work on land that has been confiscated from the Mafia. Poetic justice indeed.

Jones's final port of call is the Pilsdon community in Dorset, which provides a home to vagrants, addicts and anyone in need. Of necessity it's a community with a floating population, helped along with a few key permanent residents.

While the communities are fascinating, it is Jones's often amiably inconclusive thoughts on the issues they raise that give the book much of its appeal. As a mirror held up to contemporary life Utopian Dreams is a thoroughly engaging, thought-provoking read.

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