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.”

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