11 September 2005

MY weekend...MINE!

Ahhh, Saturday. Day of farm rest.

Slept in until 8am, had some horrendous saltless Tuscan bread made palatable with Rosia melon jam (which I helped make yesterday), and am sipping coffee (ristretto - yow!). I'm happy to once again embrace weekends for what they should be - nothing, and yet somehow everything. Irreplaceable rest. Pace slowed to match whatever personal exploration I feel up to on that day. Today: reading, writing, and, with one more cup of coffee, a run over this hilly, rocky terrain. Like the electrical voltage here in Italy, the caffeine (wine, too?) runs at a higher voltage. Buzz, buzz, buzz.

Speaking of voltage, I finally located a converter and adapter for my dying computer. The red battery light on the side of the keyboard is continually flashing in panic, but the external battery pack should continue to deliver me the juice I need - knock on wood. It feels AWFUL guuud to be typing at leisure, rather than at frantic-crane-your-head-to-hear-anyone-approaching-the-communal-computer-cough-out-loud-
and-express-your-impatience-with-this-blog-typing-fool. Leisure is luxury. And nothing like the familiar clickety-clack of my keyboard. Another sip of coffee, and a head nod in time with Al Green on the EECpod.

This week is nearly a blur. My early onset Alzheimer's is worsening with the addition of daily physical fatigue. What did I do yesterday? Uhhh...worked hard, like the day before, specifics no longer known...? There are so many highlights and hard work in each day that it's simply difficult to keep track of it all; life marches on, not so much in repetition but in indifference to the pace of my digestion of it. Here are some highlights of late that I simply haven’t had the time to divulge before now:

(PS - I’m wearing my sparkly black Milan shoes, the muses they are. Seems they make good writing wear!)

Pastorella Plus, Or Dumpster Diving in Italy
The life of pastorella is not all sun-dappled hillsides and smiling wooly friends.

I am Pastorella Plus, expanding on my master-of-none-ness with tasks as various as pruning shrubs and climbing ivy, sorting and stacking wood, making jam, and gathering trash and recycling for disposal at the nearby collection site. And I'm getting something out of each task: from pruning fig trees I was left with red welts up and down my arms (the burning sensation evolved to blisters evolved to itchy scabs, which is where I am now. Bastardo fico!), from my woodworking I feel certain I have a future in bodybuilding, from making jam I have the taste of sweet cinnamony goodness on my morning bread, mid-day cookie, and evening biscuit - fuel for my muscle-building, no?

Above all, though, trash duty delivers a bounty. I get to kick it closer to the main Fattoria property (a break from the long bike ride), I get the satisfaction of cleaning and seeing the visual result of my work, I get to break glass (yeah!), I get to drive (yeah, yeah! - pimping in a Big Blue Van, over roads I would scarcely think my Forester could handle), and I get a little closer to knowing those that stay here. By going through their trash. And setting aside the good bits.

Yes, I'm dumpster diving in Italy. My first task when I enter the Trash & Recycling Room, after donning rubber work gloves, is to begin cleaning up a bit after everyone who left their trash and recycling in not quite the right place. Trash goes with trash, recycling is divided into paper (do people really think Kleenex can be recycled??), and glass-plastic-tetrapak. Not too hard to understand, and yet somehow it is. Mixed bags litter every corner of the room. My knee-jerk organizational skills flare up and I get to work.

Inevitably, I find items too good to toss out: art supplies like a pad of cardstock postcards awaiting decoration, a perfectly good Frisbee (what, is exercise and fun not necessary here, in the land of saltless bread over-consumption?), cute little Campari bottles (great vases), and various pieces of scrap metal that I hope to weld into a sculpture by the end of my time here. And it's only week two of Ranger G(arbage) duty! ;-)

Dad must be so proud.

Driving on the Right Side of the Road
I don’t just drive bins of trash and bags of tetrapak around. People sometimes passenge into the equation as well. Eight other interns makes for a full Big Blue Van. And sometimes, chaos.

Four of the ten of us volunteered to be drivers while here. In Italy, we drive on the right side of the road, as we do in the states, so there was no major challenge there (except maybe for Kirsty, our token Brit intern). And thanks to my Dad, who trained me at 15 in large work vehicles (Hey Honey, how about backing up and parallel parking in this here 20 person van, F250 diesel truck, etc??), I don’t mind the size of the Big Blue Van, it’s lack of power steering, or even the fact that I should have a phone book or two behind my back to reach the pedals (the seat only goes UP or DOWN, not FORWARD or BACK).

The only challenges I really face with this baby are tight spaces - driving and parking, which are, of course, the norm here - and, sometimes, thinking and driving on the unfamiliar Italian roads with 8 backseat drivers trying to reach consensus on a decision. Comically, we often defer in our decision-making to the youngest of the intern brood: Russell, 18, and fresh out of high school in NYC. Russell has been coming to Spannocchia for vacation with his family for the past 11 years, and can often answer our most basic questions (Q: So, what can you do in Rosia [where we go when we "go into town"]?? Russell: Buy beer and walk around). Even when he doesn't know the answer, he is getting accustomed to being our Questions Man (somebody's got to do it), and is honing his fact fabrication skills. Me? I’m just the driver.

We do take turns behind the wheel. Returning to the farm from a field trip in Siena last week, it was suggested that one of the intern drivers take the reins; Deanna stepped up to the challenge. Pressure was on for this early driving experience, as each step seemed part of an obstacle course in a Candid Camera skit. Back the Big Blue Beast from a matchbook parking space into a circle of traffic, make the correct turn away from the city center (who has the right of way?? I like to think it is always the Big Blue Van, always...), don't nick any small building or cars on the way out, what does that flashing light mean?, how to turn off the rear wiper whose blade has slipped off creating a metal on glass screech every three seconds?, navigate the roundabout correctly, are the lights on?, bear our collective intern groan over the screeeech screeeech, enlist another intern to locate the off switch for the rear wiper as all buttons so far have only succeeded in turning on the front wipers and doing unnoticed other effects, to encourage or not to encourage Seth to continue climbing out a rear window to pull off the rear wiper?, are we still able to see the car we are supposed to be following?? Russell, which way should be go from here???

Deanna was stoic, keeping us between the road's lines, if not in line ourselves. Once we were through the thick of the confusion, we erupted in laughter, the old van shaking along with us. We were on our way home. We stopped in Rosia, for beer and a short walk around.

Smoking in the Bosco
Earlier this week, after a morning sheep duties, I was instructed to join Roberto (Italian worker) and Seth (intern) to help with the boscaiolo (woodsman) efforts. This sounded great, as I was eager to see the for-profit side of the farm's operation closer-up, and to work with Roberto.

Roberto is as wiry as they come, with tattoos blanketing his muscular forearms, and wire-rimmed glasses that, taken with his quiet nature and searching eyes, make him appear something of an academic. He's an attractive man, with calm, well-proportioned features. One ear is pierced with a small diamond stud. His clothes are trim and well-fitted, and his shirt is always tucked in, his pants belted. He stays amazingly clean with ease. Roberto, who I would guess is in his mid-to-late 40s, joins the interns in the Pulcinelli kitchen for lunch every work day, where he eats from our buffet (a combination of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, and whatever else we have to fill in with) and drinks, without fail, white wine poured from an old water bottle he brings each day. He talks little, even to those who speak Italian, though I have a feeling he could cut up and carry on if the opportunity presented itself.

When I joined the boscaioli, rain was falling in a drizzle, the sound amplified by the corrugated tin roof under which we were working. Our task was to trim and stack longer pieces of wood to 90cm, the length of wood used to fuel the caldaia – the farm’s source of hot water heat. Seth and I pulled wood from a huge pile, creating small stacks that Roberto then trimmed with his chainsaw, and split with another machine, when necessary.

If my work with the sheep is slippery and carefree, then this work was satisfyingly decisive, especially on that first day: the rain pounded down, the diesel-fueled splitter cracked through wide logs, the chainsaw screamed through wood leaving a half-inch gap in its wake, Seth and I slapped down cut logs onto the ever-growing cord, we chucked the log ends into a mountainous scrap pile. The experience was aural, kinetic, visual (each piece of wood as unique as people - different grains, colors, weights, shapes), and, my favorite, olfactory: the wood smell was strong, sawdust perfumed the air, diesel mingled its sharpness in my nose along with wet earth...Roberto lit a cigarette, and the tobacco aroma just fit. I was blissful. When Roberto offered me una sigaretta, I had to join him; it was an opportunity for a partnership of sorts and a synergy I couldn’t pass up. Smoking in the bosco, with Roberto.

I Want to Be Like Common (Closet) People
In getting familiar with Pulcinelli, our dorm-like home away from home, the ten of us poked through every nook and cranny. I like to think we are investigators, researchers on what has come before us, but we are just nosy and curious. The Find, the booty, came via the Common Closet. The CC is a large armoire in the Common Room (aka living room - 5 couches, fireplace, stocked bookshelf), chock full of clothes, accessories, and accoutremont mista from previous interns and who knows where (I mean, the jock strap? Is that a joke someone planted?). The CC gives and gives. It clothes us, it entertains us, it feeds our creativity.

On Day One, we pored through the CC as a group, holding up and commenting on every item in the closet. Some pieces were scored (me: pants-convertible-shorts of a really nice quality). Nearly everyone had at least one item on or in their hands that night. Future Dress Up For Fun from the closet seemed inevitable.

Day Two: As a gift to Nick, the only intern celebrating a birthday while we are here, we decided to give him free rein to dress another intern solely from the CC for the entirety of his birth day. We played it fair, with Nick handing out playing cards to each intern, leaving one aside for Kate who was checking her email. Whoever had the lowest card "won" the costume contest. Kate won.

Nick, ever fair and fun, and apparently costume-challenged, let each of the other interns select their own piece from the CC, for consideration in Kate’s outfit; Nick had the final vote from this pre-selected wardrobe. I have to say, Kate looked mighty fetching in her purple fish-print dress, yellow pants, and pink-flowered shoulder bag (my pick!). She carried a pink and white striped parasol all day. Thank goodness it was a Sunday, and not a normal work day; she works for the guest services side of the farm.

I still wonder what Kate would have done with the single purple sock that was Aubrey's pick.

Day Three: As it became apparent to Aubrey that her lost luggage wasn't going to make its way to Spannocchia, at least not in the promised two days, the CC took on new depth. We returned to delving deep into its offerings, and Aubrey’s been dressed in dry, clean clothing since. Grandmother's Chest meets The Real World.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin :)!

Enjoyed reading about your latest experiences on the farm in Italy. It sounds like a once in a life time experience. You certainly are making alot of friends (people I mean). I got a good laugh with the Rambo story - it reminds me of this donkey that we had to chase down in Iraq for this Iraqi woman back in July. Right now, enjoying a nice cold Corona and getting ready to jump in the hot tub. Jealous? Take care, have fun, and stay out of trouble with the sheep ;).

David :)

2:03 PM  

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