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.