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!