16 October 2005

Oh miale...

Of course the pigs got out. The pigs always get out.

There are, give or take a dozen, 80 pigs at Spannocchia. They are separated, somewhat, by age, and so therefore by size. Today, it was the middle-sized (middle-aged?) pigs that were loose.

I learned that the pigs were out when I was finishing the last of this weekend's Animali duty. I had fed the chickens and gathered their eggs (15 Oct, 24 hens, 18 eggs). I was saving the sheep and outer-penned baby pigs for last, forcing myself to first climb the long, steep walk up Pig Hill. I hadn't gotten far at all when I came across Riccio, the farm manager, on one of the tractors.


He yelled my name with that Italian accent that makes it sound more like "Eddin,"like a shot from the mouth. "The pigs, they are out..." He tapered off his point in his famous Riccio way, leading me to immediately formulate 20 ends to his sentence, 20 questions about the pigs, in addition to the one I already had about the sheep - was he the one who let them out this morning (follow-up questions: Why? And why didn't he tell me at some point in order to save me the trip out to Casetta?).

He pointed to our right and I saw 15 good-sized pigs moving at a steady clip towards us. "Try and lead them...there are pens on the left...you can.....eat the chestnuts. Don't feed box 7."

This is a normal conversation with Riccio.

The tractor was roaring, Riccio was squinting at the pigs, squinting up the hill, and I responded to all of this with the best tool I have learned to have at the ready here: a knowing nod.

Riccio will undoubtedly later ask why you did something ("Why you do this?"). He asks half with accusation, half with sensitivity, as though he is about to bestow a great lesson to you on some tenet of organic farming or animal husbandry. The nod is the best way to get him past his initial explanation (an re-explanation) of something, move you into the hotseat of figuring out what it is you are actually supposed to do, and can often inspire confidence to help you move forward.

I nod.

Riccio stands about 6 feet, and wears a thick crown of curly light brown hair, for which he gets his nickname ("Curly;" his real name, we have learned, is Bruno). He has small, friendly blue eyes which are framed by oft-raised eyebrows, and he seemingly smiles all the time, even when making his Exasperated Face. Exasperation happens a lot on the farm - between the animals, various independent-minded workers, a constant turnover of intern help, equipment and vehicles in various states of disrepair, and the dynamic Tuscan weather - and Riccio's responses are great: a somewhat indifferent throwing of his hands, perhaps, a brief, high-pitched moan from his throat, though most often an "Oh miale..." (Oh pig), or "Ochh Madonna..." (Ochh Madonna). These are his exasperation/swear words; he adds an exclamation point when he needs the emphasis.

Riccio knows more random American songs than any American I know, and he sings them often. Also often, he uses his own lyrics. At dinner the other night, he managed to work the phrase "Don't Worry, Be Happy" into the conversation. He plays the guitar in a Tuscan folk band, which the interns will have the pleasure of hearing in the near future. Riccio has two lovely, curly-haired daughters, Sylvia and Serena, and his fabulous wife, Daniela, also works for Spannocchia, more on the administrative side of things. They all live across from Pulcinelli. I wonder how often they actually see one another.

On our second or third weekend here, Riccio took me and three other interns to a peace march between the cities of Perugia and Assissi, a two hour drive away. He wouldn't let us contribute to a gas fund (though he finally caved to our cacophanous female protestations and let us buy him gelato), and he talked to every random street vendor and booth attendant that stopped him mid-step. He wears no condescension, and jokes as much as possible. If Riccio were an American, he would live in California or the mountains of North Carolina, wear Birkenstocks, and be a favorite amongst the locals. He is certainly a favorite here.

He knows how to do just about everything. Except communicate with precision.

He roared off in the tractor, leaving me with the trotting pigs. I grabbed two olive switches from the ground and began to holler at the pigs, finding a good position for moving but not scaring them back the way they had just come. Miraculously, we made it up some of the hill without losing critical mass to the stepped terraces of olive trees. Pigs can lose their train of thought (and locomotion) quickly, unless it involves food. Blessedly, someone had left a huge gate open on one of the terraces, and the pigs began to file in. Good enough, I thought, shooing the last ones in, and closing the gate. As I wandered on up the hill to feed the others, I found myself stepping over tons of freshly-fallen chestnuts. Perhaps Riccio had wanted me to try and push them further up the hill...by myself....

I like feeding the pigs, really I do. But it's one of those tasks that is often ruined with too much thought about it. Like running. I used to get up at 5:36 in Louisville, in order to drive over to the park and meet up with the gang for the 6:15 run. Not painful at all when you're moving as soon as the alarm goes off, holding on firmly to the stupor of sleep as you slip into the running clothes you laid out the night before. Grab your packed bags, lunch, and go. You wake up either in the car when the familiar chimes of NPR arouse your conscious, or at some point in the run itself, just in time to congratulate yourself on a fantastic morning and a job well done. With the pigs, you can't think about the heavy slop buckets you haul up the steep, steep hill, the sweat and shortness of breath that you gain, or even the dust that you stir up and then breathe when filling the grain buckets. Rather, you call out to Lapo, Sally, and Bea - "Vieni qui" - and talk to those trusty dogs about the fog that the morning hills are wearing, or the late afternoon sun hitting the silvery olive trees. You focus on dropping the buckets and beating the pigs to the feeding pen gates, so you don't have to then chase them out and listen to then scream in protest (they will scream enough as it is).

You find the rhythm and routine to feeding animals that really really really love that you are there to care for them (hear the screaming yet?). They let you know. Then, after filling the troughs with farm-milled grain and water (to slow and aid their digestion) you watch them feast, pushing, shoving, kicking, standing in their food, squealing at one another, and you nod knowingly. The pigs are fed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin :),

Loved your latest entry on your blog about Bruno and handling those pigs. It reminds of this one time in Boot Camp....er never mind ;). Anyway, fall in the Virginia and North Carolina area is coming and things are starting to cool down and the leaves are starting to change color. Definitely learning to appreciate the beauty of the states. Hope the animals aren't giving you too much grief.

Take Care,

David :)

2:03 PM  

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