Monday, October 26, 2009

End of October

Well. Here I am. As of this week, I am finished with my degree requirements at MSU, so while I don't have the diploma yet, I'm done. It's not as exciting as I thought it would be— it mostly feels good to have the work out of the way, but at the same time, the burnout I was feeling last fall semester was at once relieved and exacerbated by my time abroad and subsequent return home.

Now comes the Big Questions time, when I have to start thinking seriously about what my next step will be. There are lots of directions I could go, but knowing how to choose seems daunting. This is the first time I've ever not had that next step already lined up, and after so many years of classes and more classes, I'm enjoying the sense of adventure that comes with the unknown.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Little Something

I'm, quite frankly, getting pretty tired of hearing people jabber on and on about how they want to buy organic food and "be green" and then see them do nothing about it. Sure, buy "organic" things from WalMart and buy 17351 "eco-friendly" shopping bags when one or two would be enough, and then forget them at home and end up with new paper or plastic anyway.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Il Pennato

This is a journal entry that I wrote on the train the day I left Spannocchia, May 25, 2009. I submitted it to Broni as my final pennato.

“Wow, what a blur.

“I’m sitting on a train currently, headed for Cinque Terre. My internship at Spannocchia is over, seemingly as suddenly as it began. We’re rolling by intensely green fields, filled with dustings of yellow flowers and brilliantly red-orange poppies. Crumbling stone buildings, cyprus trees shouting into the sky, broombrush in full buttery bloom sliding by my window. Small garden patches that I have come to expect and yet still cherish. Freshly plowed fields, vineyards leaning into the sun on hillsides, olive trees reaching with crooked fingers out and up, maybe for clouds.

“The conductor just walked through the cabin, asking to see our tickets and frowning at my shoes propped up on the chair across from me. I am suddenly an American again, traveling with a duffel bag and a backpack through Europe like so many others. An American student, wearing tennis shoes, shorts and a tank top like all the rest. He doesn’t know I spent the last three months living and working here, even learning enough Italian to get me places. I’m no longer an intern at Spannocchia (the golden ticket in this area, for it is a well-known place). I’m anonymous, alone. It is at once terrifying and exhilarating. This trip is the longest that I have ever been away from home, and the coming month will be the first time that I have ever traveled completely alone. I think I can do it. I’ll find out soon, either way.

“We’re passing in and out of little towns, flowers on every windowsill and balcony. The sleeping, towering construction cranes that are watching over these ancient cities as they grow. The tomato plants with their teepee trellises, the same ones here as are at Spannocchia. Laundry out to dry. People walking— some obviously Italian, some obviously tourists. The Americans are the easiest to spot (like me, right now). Then, just as suddenly as you are in a town, you are out again, passing by fields made golden in the sun, with hay bales scattered like carelessly discarded marbles in the grass. A giant would play jacks with them.

“Oh, Tuscany. A place I have come to know very well, and yet still not at all. A way of life so different from my own, and yet now partly mine. I will take away as much of this place as I can, in memories, in language, in the dirt under my fingernails and the sun-streaks in my hair. And it will keep some of me, too— my work in the fields, my hands on the prosciutto legs that won’t be ready for two years, the sweat that I wiped into the grass (and even the occasional tear), my laughter echoing in the hills from the top of Pig Hill to the horse pasture where I said goodbye to Nera. Often here, tears and laughter came together.

“Was it all a dream? Or should I say, could everything have been real? Were Jay and I truly almost struck by lightning atop the tower one stormy night? Did I really go flying across fields on the back of a beautiful black horse? Did I wake up each morning and see Tuscan hillsides, olive orchards and fog lifting over castles? It can’t be true. And yet, somehow, it is. It was all real and I really do know how to tell a taxi driver where to take me, my family. I know how to wrangle pigs and form a team with a broken-hearted horse. I know about wines from all different regions, and I know that I love pecorino cheese. I know to stamp my train ticket at the station, and now I know to keep my feet off the furniture. Well, ok, so some things I knew before I came here. But I’ve learned so much and added so many things to my life list— things to do, places to go, people to meet, food to try (and to cook!). The universe must still be expanding, or at least mine is. May it always be so.

“Time to change trains…

“And what a change it was! The train from Siena was quiet, pensive. I switched in Empoli and this train is loud, rattling, exciting! The first train had air conditioning but this one does not, so all of the windows are down. The wind as we cut across the country fills the entire cabin, billowing out the shades and feeling like we’re moving at a much faster pace. I don’t think we actually are though— funny thing about life. The illusion of speed, tranquility, or whatever it may be. Sometimes all it takes is opening a window, and everything is different.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pictures from Paris

My travel partner in crime Carlee has kindly agreed to let me post a link to her pictures from Paris... there are some great ones!

Venice is a fascinating city and I've been enjoying being hopelessly lost here. The other people staying in the hostel are really fun, so I've had people [with better map skills than I possess] to wander with!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

OK, here's the one I wanted to post

Bonjour hopeful readers!

I'm sorry to have neglected you over the past two weeks, but rest assured that I am still alive and having a wonderful time!

I was so lucky to have a week to spend with my friend Irena, who not only showed me all the fun things to do around Helsinki but also provided me with a week of stability— the same apartment, a set of keys, and an opportunity to catch up on sleep. And I did crash for the first few days, enjoying a chance to do some laundry, read, and wander tentatively around the city on my own while she worked.

She was a fantastic tour guide as well as hostess, taking me for a picnic on a nearby island one day, on a bus tour of the city another, to an old [but not Spannocchia old] castle via a train ride through beautiful northern countryside... we even took a cruise to Estonia! I also got an idea of some Finnish traditions, like cold-cured meat [something I would like to learn more about], cloudberries & cheese, and saunas! And most of all, it was great to be able to spend a week catching up with her!

From Helsinki I headed to Geneva for a night, meeting up with my friend Carlee from the RCAH. I'm not keen to go back there, but we did have a delicious traditional Swiss dinner called R osti, which is basically hash browns with delicious toppings and lots of cheese! And then, Paris!

Monday, June 15, 2009

En Transit

This is a rough draft that I wrote on the train on my way to Paris... it's definitely not finished and there's a huge block of a quote that I haven't yet broken down into the essay, but you'll get the idea.

I wrote an update about my time in Paris and Helsinki but currently can't access it due to a dead computer! Exactly one hour from now I will board a train to Venice, and am officially in my last 10 days here as of tomorrow morning. Hard to believe.

Anyway, here's this... enjoy.

“How we eat can change the world.”
— Alice Waters

Almost as amazing as what I learned each day working with maiali, pecore, vacche, gallini [pigs, sheep, cows, chickens], constantly broken recinti [fences], and my broken Italiano, are the things I learned from the people there. From the owners of the estate, Randall and Francesca, I learned about the history and vision of Spannocchia; from the staff I learned about various workings of the farm; from the other interns I learned about food! Of course, I learned a lot about food anyway, as we were surrounded by traditional Tuscan dishes each night at dinner, and participated in tastings of wine, cheese, and regional aperitivi [appetizers] as much as time allowed. But that aside, I was constantly amazed by the knowledgability of my fellow interns on the subject of all things food. Anne has been working in a New York City bakery for the past few years, and Alison was a waitress at the revered and world-renowned The French Laundry restaurant in Napa before arriving in Italy. We also had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Jay, who came to Spannocchia as a “transformation” volunteer for five weeks. He has worked as the top chef in a number of restaurants in the States and has big plans to open his own small-scale animal processing facility in Kentucky, emphasizing quality over quantity.

And so we come to the crux of the European food experience, the reason Carl Petrini started the Slow Food movement in Bra, Italy, the reason so many people travel to Europe for the food and to America for the vistas. Quality over quantity!
The restaurants in Tuscany advertised their steaks proudly, proclaiming them to be Chianina beef. Chianina is a heritage breed very similar to the Kalvannah beef raised at Spannocchia. In America, steakhouses shout their steaks to you in ounces, the bigger the better. It doesn’t seem to matter where they came from or what kind of beef it is, nor does it matter how it was raised, or on what sort of food. Grain, rendered animal parts and antibiotics? Yum! I’ll take your biggest New York Strip please!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Finalement en France!

I've been in Nice for the past few days, with my friends Lindsay and David. They don't call it la cote d'azur for nothin'... it's beautiful. I have finally tried macarons and they were everything I've always hoped for. We spent yesterday morning wandering through the famous Marché aux Fleurs, a daily flower and farmer's market.

My brain is going through language shock— just when I was really starting to settle into Italian, I suddenly find myself in France! I took French for many years, but after three solid months in Italy, I'm having a lot of trouble remembering words that I know I know in French. I couldn't tell the taxi driver I had been working in Italy for the last three months, because I couldn't remember the words for "work," "month," or "farm." I've also been rolling my r's like crazy and saying perche? instead of pourquoi?, si instead of oui, and so on... apparently it's bad enough that a waiter asked me if I spoke Italian when I was trying to order in French. Such a strange thing!

Here's a farm video that's different from the rest... excuse my manic laughter in it! Fellow animale intern Max stars on the bike and with the ukelele, with Greg sitting next to me on the tractor and our supervisor Giulio driving. Enjoy!

Also, in case you are hoping for more posts about Spannocchia... they are coming! I will continue to digest my experience [probably for the rest of my life!] and will most definitely be writing more about it here. If anyone out there has questions to ask, about the farm or my experience or food or whatever, please leave a comment here or send me an email and I promise I'll get to it! Grazie, merci and thank you!

And... new pictures of my travels thus far.

Tomorrow I'm headed to Helsinki to see my dear friend Irena. Can't wait!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cinque Terre!

Lady Luck seems to be shining upon me!

I got to the first town in Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, by chance. I missed my original train in Siena but the man who helped me buy a new ticket seemed to appreciate my broken Italian and got me a great deal. When I got off the train here, I had no idea where I was going to stay. I actually asked an American couple where they were staying, and they directed me to a campground outside the city, "close by" as they said, but a half-hours train ride away! (Please excuse my terrible punctuation in this post, as I am using a weird keyboard and cant find the apostrophe key!)

Anyway, that did not appeal to me so I walked outside the train station, questioning my judgement in arriving without solid plans. Just then, an older man walked up to me and asked if I was looking for a room. Of course, my first reaction was "Dont do it, who knows what will happen?" but I remembered reading somewhere that its very common for pensione (pensioners) to rent out rooms here. So I figured, why not look? His apartment is about 30 seconds from the train station, and when we walked inside, there was another American woman, Michelle, staying in a different room! And not 5 minutes later, a Canadian couple showed up at the door looking for a place to stay-- and one of them had stayed with Sergio two years ago.

So thats where I have been for the last two nights. Sergio has an adorable breakfast ready for us in the morning (croissant with jam, fruit, and hot chocolate!) and is an all-around nice guy. He speaks to Michelle in English but he speaks to me, mostly, in Italian. I have continued to surprise myself with my Italian abilities-- of course I make lots of mistakes, but time and again I can communicate. I even spoke to a random woman on the street about her adorable little dog! Three months ago it would not have been possible.

Michelle and I get along really well, and spent yesterday hiking along the trails that link the Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The trail starts off fairly easy, paved and flooded with tourists. We stopped in each town to wander, getting a fantastic almond milk smoothie in one, getting foccaccia (flatbread) in another, and going for a swim in the ocean. By the time we started out for the last town, it was beginning to cool down and the sun was setting. A fantastic day. We also had a great meal, all fresh frutti di mare (sea food, literally "fruits of the ocean").

Today we will probably rent kayaks for a couple hours, and then I will be on my way to Nice!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Leaving Spannocchia

So, today's the day! The past three months really flew by. I meant to post something here but there just hasn't been time.

I'm headed to the UNESCO world heritage site Cinque Terre today. From there I will head to France and then Finland to meet up with friends. Exciting of course, but it's sad to be leaving. Yesterday Riccio and I moved the horses and donkeys out to their summer pasture, and with that, my work on the farm was done.

Since I'll have some time on the train today, there should be a longer post coming soon. Until then, pictures of my final weeks here and here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Final Countdown Commences....

Ciao tutti!

As you may have guessed from looking at the last pictures I posted, the exciting day I mentioned in my last post involved herding vacche [cows] on horseback! Realistically, it probably took longer than it would have on foot [because these cows are used to being “called,” not herded]… but it was a lot of fun for me and for Nera, the mare I’ve been working with here. I had the “Man From Snowy River” soundtrack playing in my head the entire time [some of you will know what I’m talking about].

The most exciting news I have to report is that I spent the last week with my mom, grandmother, aunt and uncle! It was the best birthday present imaginable [other than the Cheez-its, thanks again Dad!]. Spannocchia is a bit Grand Canyon-esque in that no picture or description [or various combinations of the two] can truly do it justice— it was a lot of fun for me to show them what I've been doing for the last 3 months. I realized, too, just how much I’ve been learning. I think they were on information overload all week from my ramblings about Cinta Senese breed standards, how to make pecorino, why Tuscan bread is terrible, and who San Galgano was. They were also lucky to be here just as every field in the region burst into bloom with wildflowers, most notably the famous Tuscan poppies.

This is our last week of work, and next Monday I will be on a train headed for France. It’s impossible to believe that the experience is nearly over. For now, I am trying to soak in every last experience, smell, taste, texture... Right now there are roses in bloom all over the farm, each of them a different color and with different petal shapes and patterns. Unlike the roses in the States, every one smells lovely, and they all smell different. But, hell, even the way the clothes hang on the lines to dry here is beautiful. I hope I never forget.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Miracle of Place

“I really want to get the miracle of this place into everybody’s mouth right from the start.”
—Odessa Piper

While perusing the library here at Spannocchia, I came across a book that instantly piqued my curiosity. Entitled The Tuscan Year, by Elizabeth Romer, the book was published in 1984. I, of course, am only here for the Tuscan Three Months, but I was curious how much of the book would cover things that I had already experienced. I also wondered if the book would still ring true twenty-five years later. A lot has been changing in Italy in these last few decades— the first fast food restaurant, the advent of the Slow Food Movement in response, the very slow trickle of “foreign” food restaurants into various cities, and the backlash against them, not just from citizens but also in the form of laws. Traditionalism, globalization, protectionism and tourism have met in Italy and run headlong into one another.

Romer addresses that immediately, right in her introduction:
When we first came to the valley Silvana did her ironing with an antiquated tall hollow iron that was filled with wood embers. One day when I wandered into the fattoria, she was using an electric one and chuckling with glee at the ease and convenience of the new iron. Then I realized that this old fashioned life could change; perhaps the next generation of country women would forget how to make cheese, maybe the prosciutto would be bought from the store and the old skills would be gradually forgotten [emphasis added].

Of course, this was before such an organization as Slow Food existed, but the danger is still present. Happily for me, the prosciutto at Spannocchia is made in the traditional way, from a heritage breed of pigs, the Cinta Senese. The tradition is still very much alive.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A metà strada

The internship ends one month from yesterday, and two months from today I will board a plane headed for home. Two months ago tomorrow, I was sitting in Detroit Metro airport wondering how the hell I had gotten myself into this all. Can I really be halfway done here, two-thirds of the way through at Spannocchia? Apparently.

The animales interns switched duties around as planned, so I have been taking care of the 28 pecore [sheep] and 10 agnelli [lambs] instead the maiali. It was a welcome change, but brought about new challenges of course. The learning curve with maiali was steep, but after working with them for five weeks I am confident enough to gauge most situations and deal with them appropriately. Our Cinta will, for the most part, follow anyone or anything with a grain bucket. The pecore, on the other hand, have an incredible herd instinct, which is great as long as they actually follow you.

The first morning after the switch, I had a plan:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Community and Place

“[T]o a great extent we are a de-placed people for whom our immediate places are no longer sources of food, water, livelihood, energy, materials, friends, recreation, or sacred inspiration.”
— David Orr

William Vitek (1996) discusses “community and the virtue of necessity” in an article he wrote by the same name, from the anthology Rooted in the Land: essays on community and place. His assertion that “necessity leads inevitably to virtue for the individual and well-being for the community” makes a lot of sense when you consider the oftentimes selfish nature of humans. It serves as a reminder that, without necessity, we tend to live without regard for others or the Earth— until faced with some sort of catastrophe or day of reckoning.

I have been at Spannocchia now for five weeks and feel remarkably settled into life here. I enjoy waking up early, knowing that the animals are hungry and waiting for me. I enjoy spending my days outside, and really, many days I am outside for 12 hours. On the days when we only work in the morning and have class in the afternoons I feel restless, anxious to put my boots back on and get outdoors again. I have been working with one of the horses here, so after I finish evening chores [or class] I run down to the stable until it’s time for dinner. What a change from my life at home, and oh, how much I am going to miss it when I leave.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Quick Update

Many of you have probably read about the earthquake[s] in Italy that happened last night... if there were any tremors here I slept through them, and all the pigs were in their pens this morning so life is good! Buona notte!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Primi Tartufi

After what can really only be described as a hellish week, with the theme of inexplicably broken fences and escaped pigs and all things wrong that could go wrong continuing, I am coming to the end of a much-needed relaxing weekend. Yesterday we drove to Pienza, hometown of Pope Pius II and one of the first planned cities [in Italy? Ever? I’m not sure, but Pius was the one to do it back in the 1400s].

From there we headed to a really beautiful natural hot spring to soak our sore muscles away. The drive itself was worth the trip— the area where Spannocchia is located is very hilly [bordering on mountainous], rocky, and densely forested. As you head south-east-ish, the landscape is transformed into gently rolling hills, intensely green right now from a week of rain. Cipressi [cypress trees] are exclamation points against the sky, and large herds of sheep white out some of the hillsides. The clouds, too, are gorgeous every day, always changing. Oftentimes it doesn’t look real, resembling more closely the backdrop of the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. If I haven’t mentioned the tramonti [sunsets] here yet it’s because it seems cliché, but they are the most beautiful I have ever seen, night after night. Sometimes, especially when I’m really tired after a long day of work, it feels like I’m beginning to take the beauty of the place around me for granted, but then I’ll look around and see olivi [olive trees] and ancient castelli [castles] and the sky against the surrounding mountains and it’s all new again.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


This week I was very lucky and privileged to spend two days in Spannocchia’s “transformation room,” where all the salumi and other meat products are made. I say lucky because butchering only takes place in the winter and spring in keeping with tradition, and the room is not climate-controlled and relies on nature’s air conditioning to maintain a safe temperature for processing carcasses.

The pigs raised here are Cinta Senese, an heirloom breed local to the Siena region. They are easily identified— black with a broad white stripe across their shoulders and down their front legs. Because the Cinta are an heirloom variety, they do not pack on weight quickly like many modern breeds, and are generally slaughtered at anywhere from 10 to 16 months of age (as opposed to the pigs commonly raised en masse in America who are slaughtered at little more than five months). The selected pigs are sent to a nearby slaughterhouse four at a time, for a total of twenty to thirty in a year, and the butchering of each group takes place every two weeks. As a testament to the intimate and local nature of the process, the pigs are transported on a Sunday and returned in halves the next morning, still warm.

From those halves come all the cuts of meat and various ingredients used to make the many types of salumi and pork products for which Spannocchia is known. After the meat has been prepared, the products, which require curing, are hung to dry a small, cool, humidity-controlled room. Prosciutto, which takes about as long to cure as it does to raise a Cinta to butchering age, has its own tightly climate-controlled room. It’s quite a production and requires an impressive amount of knowledge, finesse and patience to produce such high-quality meats.

On Monday as I did various chores around the farm, I walked by the transformation room and could see the halved carcasses hanging. By Tuesday morning when I showed up to work, the only pieces left intact were the hind legs, which become prosciutto. Another of the animales interns, Greg, and I suited up in long, white lab-type jackets, medieval-looking chain mail aprons and a chain mail glove to protect our non-cutting hands. While we got ready, the master butcher Pierro arrived. He is probably in his sixties, grandfatherly but stern, a man of few words and even fewer compliments. He only comes to the farm when there is butchering to be done. We were also working with Riccio who lives and works on the farm, and is the boss of my animales supervisor. Last but not least, Devin, a volunteer who has been working in the transformation room since November and was asked to stay on until the end of butchering season.

Pierro got right down to business, carving up the hind legs until they became recognizable as prosciutto. While he worked on that, Riccio and Devin continued to pare down the remaining parts, taking the good cuts to be used for various things. Greg and I were charged with cleaning up the leftover bones, cutting away all the leftover bits of meat to be used in salumi. The knife I used was easily the sharpest I have ever handled, sharp enough to leave slice-marks across the bones. Every so often Pierro would take the knife from me and expertly sharpen it on a whetstone. When I first started, Devin handed me a bone and told me to “get all the red.” Then Riccio came over and showed me how to cut with the grain of the meat, and they left me to work. When I had finished that one, Devin brought me two more bones and I set to work on them. At home I never cook with meat because I hate handling it, so this was a new experience for me. Apparently though, I passed the test— Riccio came over and inspected the bones, then patted me on the back and said I was “catching on” and doing a good job. He then showed the bones to Pierro who seemed to nod approvingly, although it was hard to tell for sure.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A few quick things

... since this computer refuses to open the post I had all typed and ready to go.

1) The other day I had some downtime so I walked out into the cow pasture a ways, and scared the hell out of three deer. I came over the top of the hill and was about 40 feet away from a buck, who the strangest barking noise I have ever heard before he and his girlfriends ran off. Then as I walked back, I surprised a young cinghiale [wild boar].

2) Each day I understand more and more of the Italian conversations around me. I'm still having trouble responding, but am at least learning new words daily that I can sometimes string together to form terrible half-sentences.

3) I think I've figured out the secret to Graciela's cooking. Olive oil.

4) The smell of chives will always remind me of yoga on the front terrace. They grow amongst the grass and wildflowers there and are crushed as you move through the asanas.

5) After just a few weeks, I am getting noticably stronger. When I got here I could lift bikes off the hooks where they're stored, but couldn't put them back up. As of this week, I can. I can also hold a full chatturanga pose during yoga, and throw bales of hay around . Still can't lift them above my head, but maybe next week...

6) I'm on duty this weekend which means that I'm in charge of all the animals [pigs, chickens, horses/donkeys, cows, sheep]. I worked from 8 am this morning until 6:30 tonight, with about an hour's break for lunch. Would have had more downtime but two groups of pigs busted through their fences and wandered down to the farmhouse for a little lunch in the olive orchards and I had to bring them back to their respective pastures. I'm turning into the pied piper of pigs.

7) On a related note, the more I work with pigs the less guilty I feel about eating them.

Also, new pictures!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh Shenanigans

Animales interns had a crazy day today!

Greg and I walked up to Pig Hill as usual to feed the miaili and miailini and check fences. At some point Nello, the giant polar bear-esque boar, escaped from his pen and wandered into the mill where we keep all the grain. The pictures don’t do this guy justice— we guess that he weighs around 500 pounds— but he’s not very excitable, so we chased him at a snail’s pace back into his pen and went to feed the rest of the pigs further up the road.

Then it was time to check the fences. They’re divided into three main sections, and two of them weren’t working, so we started walking to the back pasture where the third section has a breaker. Once you figure out which sections aren’t working, you have to walk along the fence until you find the spots where the current is broken. As we walked, we came across a sow who had just given birth to nine miailini. We found another sow last week while walking fences, so we knew what to do more or less. We went back to the mill to get buckets to carry the piglets, and returned. The tricky thing about collecting them is that the mothers can become upset and step on them as she tries to protect the “nest.” We put the 9 mialini into three buckets and then encountered the next tricky thing: actually getting the mother to follow you. The first time we did this, Giulio was with us and the sow came along pretty easily. The sow today refused to follow, despite our pleading “Qua! Qua!” [“Here! Here!”… the Italian equivalent to “Sooooeeeee!”].

Even after we grabbed sticks to prod her along she refused, sniffing around her nest looking for the miailini and making all sorts of strange and angry sounds. We assumed that, like the sow last week, she would follow the squeals of her babies, but this one was particularly stubborn. At one point I actually thought I was going to get mauled, because I tripped on some of the thick underbrush and fell backwards just a few feet from her, with a bucket of squealing miailini in my arms. Fortunately I still had my prodding stick in hand so a somewhat panicked thwack on her nose kept her away. According to Greg, pigs do bite. Hopefully I won’t find out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

First Week

I don’t know how to begin.

It’s been a week since the interns converged in Siena and headed to the Tenuta di Spannocchia. We’ve already settled into a steady rhythm, eating breakfast, working from 8 to 1, lunch from 1 to 2, and then work again until 5. After that, free time to bike or talk a walk around the grounds or write in a journal or collapse in a patch of sunlight and wait for what is certain to be a spectacular sunset across the valley from the front terrazzo. Sometimes we get out our yoga mats and practice sun salutes until the sun disappears below the mountains.

At 7 each evening we meet in the dining room for Spannocchia red wine, and then the dinner bell sounds at 7:30 and we get to experience Graciela’s unbelievable Tuscan cooking. Dinner really is an experience, with the primo then secondo followed by insalata [I’m still trying to get used to salad after dinner] and then last but most certainly not least, la dolce. The interns are usually back to the house we share, Pulcinelli, by 9. We build a fire in the fireplace and play a card game or read until, one by one, everyone goes to bed to prepare for another early morning.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


Greg and I were craving some good ol' fashioned American food before we head out to the farm, and stumbled upon what is probably Firenze's only diner. It's also the only place I have seen wi-fi in the city so far— go figure. There are some things only a burger, fries and a milkshake can cure.

Blogger seems to be broken and refuses to upload any pictures. If you click here you can see pictures through my facebook account!

Ciao Firenze!

I suppose it's the best possible news I could give you... that I haven't yet had time to update. I have been having an incredible time wandering the streets of Florence, eating gelato (usually more than once a day), and getting to know two of the interns, Greg and Max, I will be spending the next three-ish months with. The three of us met up a day after I arrived here, in the Piazza della Signoria in front of the outdoor copy of Michelangelo's David.

Even after 5 days here, it seems unreal to walk by the Duomo or across the Ponte Vecchio, impossible that I could be in Italy. Today we spent the afternoon exploring the Uffizi Gallery, coming face to face with thousand year-old paintings and sculptures as well as the frescoes inhabiting the ceiling space. My thoughts are fairly scattered right now and we're getting ready to venture out into the rainy night in search of fresh, hot pastries sold from the back door of a bakery near the River Arno.

As soon as I find a wireless internet connection I'll post pictures... and I promise to have a more interesting update for you soon. Tomorrow we're heading to Siena, and on friday we're heading to the farm! There's just no way to explain how excited I am. Ahhhhh!

If you want to check out the official Spannocchia farm blog, click here. And you can read a fellow intern's (Max) blog here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Saving the World [or not]

This seems like a fitting last entry to make before heading off to Spannocchia to work on a farm for three months. posted an article titled, "5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work)." Of course, I thought it sounded interesting and I was curious not only what the five things were, but what the justifications were behind them, and if there were any solutions mentioned. The article begins,

Between the hybrids, the reusable canvas shopping bags and cloth diapers, everybody's doing their little bit to save the world. Entire industries have sprang up to cater to us socially-responsible types who want to leave behind a better world for the robots to inherit once they take over.
But, most of the time, making you feel better is about all it does.

How ominous. There's certainly been a lot of press about how many of the "green" or "eco-friendly" products out there don't really work, and as it tends to do, corporate greed managed to capitalize on the earth-conscious trend by making crappy new products that weren't any better than the old ones— effectively diluting the meaningfulness of the movement to the average consumer. People realized that buying eight thousand cloth bags didn't really help the environment at all, especially when they forgot them at home anyway.

So what are the five things, you ask?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Talking Trash

According to GOOD magazine, each American throws away 5 pounds of trash per day. That, coupled with industrial waste, generates 251 MILLION TONS of trash each year. You can watch the video here.

So it got me thinking about the things I throw away. I am currently living at home with my mother, and between the two of us, we barely generate any trash whatsoever. Garbage collection is tomorrow and there is nothing to be taken out this week. Sure, we have a half-full bag in the kitchen, and sure, there are bags filled to varying half-degrees elsewhere in the house, but that represents one week where we will not contribute a thing to a landfill.

Last week, there was one bag. I noticed it because, the night before, I was going to take the trash out to the curb, but there was nothing to go out! The next morning, before she left for work, she took the mostly-filled bag of kitchen trash out. And that was it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Logic of War

I've been reading an anthology of essays edited by Ira Glass, The New Kings of Nonfiction, and was struck by an essay by Lee Sandlin entitled Losing the War. He points out what over and over again history books and docudramas seem to marginalize about World War II: "what an absolutely miserable, pointless, blundering, screaming bloody hell it was," to quote one review.

What I found most interesting, after reading it, was that the piece was written in 1997. It's so relevant to the current situation in Iraq and, in my humble peacenik opinion, just about any other war that has ever been waged. War is so barbaric, so out of place on this small planet, and yet conflict smolders and burns all around us.

Sandlin does a quick run-down of what he calls "the standard autopsy of the causes" of WWII: Germany crumbling after WWI, Japan's wounded national pride, racism, military stockpiling, fear mongering. And then he hits you upside the head with this...

"All of this is true enough, yet there's something faintly bogus and overly rationalized about it. The approaching war didn't seem like a political or economic event: it was more like a collective anxiety attack. Throughout the '30s people around the world came to share an unshakable dread about the future, a conviction that countless grave international crises were escalating out of control, a panicked sense that everything was coming unhinged and that they could do nothing to stop it."

As I read that, I had to stop and remember that Sandlin was writing about the days leading up to WWII, not the current fears about which the world is currently so panicked. Not only is this not written about our current world crisis, but the article is ten years old. So many other articles in ten years would feel quaintly outdated, but war is always familiar.