18 September 2005

Ahhhh, Rommmma

Hey All,

Just wanted to let you know that I've added some photos to the site, so check back at the beginning for some interesting visuals (I am thinking you don't want to miss the dolce dentures, yes?).

I've been in Rome this weekend, tripping through the city with my friend Paul (Anya, you are sooo missed! You'd better be making some good stuff in that pastry course to have missed being here with us...). We are headed to the Pantheon this morning, then on to test our moral mettle at the Bocca della Verita.

Enjoy the pics, don't know that there will be many more, at least not soon....it's been a decidedly trying process, argh.

Love to all, E

Castiglione di Pescaia

The girls at the Spiaggia Privato (whoops - who, us on a private beach?):

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.

10 September 2005

So That's What It's Like When It Rains Here

Katrina Jr hit Spannocchia Friday, bringing thunder and rains, and lightning on occasion, from pre-dawn to late-afternoon. Any questions about whether we work in the rain were answered thoroughly, as we each trudged out to our duties across the farm.

The beauty of the rain wasn't diminished, but, literally, amplified for me as I drove out to Casseta to see to the sheep. Rain beat on the tin roof of the Macchina Rossa, and we splashed through puddles along the dirt and gravel road. Emily G. was with me, learning about the sheep in preparation for her animal care weekend duty. It was nice, and later necessary, to have her company.

In driving rain, we let the sheep out into the main pasture. The sheep must not be fans of the rain; there was considerably less bleating than usual. Emily and I then prepped the now-empty evening stall, dropping fresh straw, filling the water tub with fresh suds, and clearing out damp hay from the feeding trough. Wet straw clung to our clothes, and I noticed a big blue stain across my orange jacket, smeared on me from the neck of a wounded sheep that I had dressed earlier with the colorful anti-fly spray. I was suddenly aware of how sheep-y I smelled, and how my rain pants had ceased to be waterproof; both pair of pants clung heavily to my legs. Thunder cracked loudly, and the rain picked up.

Emily and I, now yelling to be heard to one another over the roar of the rain, set to changing the day pen (the pens that I move, that change from week to week), flipping up one "L" side of fencing from the previous week's pen to meet up with the already-in-place "L" of fencing for the next week's pen. I went looking for the mallet in the barn, which was no longer there. Of course. Hollering instructions to Emily to pull up the stakes from the mud and roll up the fencing, clean and prepare the water bin for the day pen, I took off in the truck to get the missing mallets. The windshield fogged behind my breath, and the driver’s side window repeatedly fell open. I reached through the panel-less door to push the glass up from the bottom.

Returning from the farm, Emily and I first dragged the sheep's shade tent from last week's pen UP UP UP to this week's pen, stopping several times to adjust our grip, rest our arms, and gripe at the mud, which was sucking at our shoes with each step. Using all my reserve of strength (it had been a looong week), we groaned and pulled the long metal frame just into the new pen, accidentally hooking it on a rock. Great spot to leave it, we decided.

We unrolled the wire fencing and began driving the metal stakes through it and into the ground, about every 8-10 feet. My first pole, a bent one, broke at its weak point as I was hammering it in. I ran down to the sheep’s evening pen to grab an extra one from the pile, and trotted back up the hill, avoiding no puddles, but somehow keeping my shoes on (Gore Tex? What Gore Tex?). As thunder boomed and lightning crackled in the sky, Emily and I exchanged wide-eyed looks. She yelled, "Should we really be running around with metal stakes right now?" I half-laughed, half-shrugged and hammered harder. Funny how a fast heart rate and adrenaline can get things done; in no time, the fencing was up, and we had only to round up the sheep and get them into the day pen. "Only" - from the delights of the pasture "buffet" to the day pen "cornerstore," if you will, in the hard, driving rain, using only the blue bribery bucket of oats and our collective wits.

I took off for the far, far stretch of pasture where the sheep had resorted to. They seemed more confused than uncooperative, when I approached them talking. "Andiamo, pecore!" Arms up, I ran to the rear of the flock, racing left and right, to move them forward as a group. "Vai! Vai!" At the front of the pack, Emily shook the bucket of grain back and forth as we do to give the aural signal of "Follow Me" to the sheep. We might as well have been whispering. My wet, wooly friends wandered this way and that, but more often stood still or walked slowly in every direction. "Vai!" I pushed a lot of sheep bums that day, which seemed to be the winning strategy. Vai, push, Vai, push.

We made our way towards the day pen, Emily now crouching down at the front of the pack, not wanting to be a tall point in a large open field with a lightning storm raging. Belle, the dominant sheep, took the opportunity to dip her head into the lowered bucket, and Emily struggled to wrestle it away. We moved like this, lurching and hiccupping all the way up the hill and, miraculously, into the day pen. I bellowed to Emily to drop the oats all the way in the back of the pen, moving the sheep deeper into the pen, and away from the door. One renegade lamb didn't make it with the crush of white bodies through the open gate, but he was an easy scoop up and drop into the pen. I counted the wet, miserable sheep backs (28), and we splashed our way down to the car. The rain was thrilling, the air electric. The thunder boomed through my body. I was grateful to be outside.

I couldn't see through the fogged windows of the Macchina Rossa as we jostled back along the watery road to the farm. When I killed the ignition, I remembered that my work gloves were lying on the wire fencing of the pen. Another day. TGIF. I spent the rest of the day in tall rubber boots, making cinnamon-spiked jam, grateful for the discovery of fire.

09 September 2005

Hog-Tied and Milking It

In this last week, I've helped catch and hog-tie a ram, milk a mama sheep, and bottle feed and give meds to a sick lamb. Pastorella Plustest.

Last week, we noticed that one of the lambs wasn't kicking along with his cohorts. He was lethargic, lagging behind the pack, and struggling to breathe. His nose was running. Pretty soon the entire flock's noses were running, and approaching their pen in the mornings was like visiting a grade-school classroom in late November. Wet sniffs, snotty noses, innocent faces.

Lamb little, dubbed Coco Bello, worsened. One morning, after successfully leading the whole flock into their day pen, I came up in my count with one lamb short. One, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five...? The little ones are sometimes hard to spot from behind the big bellies of wool... One, two, three, four, five. Little one down??!

I looked up, scanning the field from where we had all just come. My eyes alighted on a small speck of white, and I took off for it. Coco Bello was lying in a ditch on his side, breathing in shallow, labored lamb heaves; he didn't lift his head when I dropped to my knees next to him, and he didn't respond at all to my touch. An ambulance alarm went off in my head. I told him I'd be right back with help (Do I leave him? Move him? Where do I move him?), and I jumped in the Macchina Rossa and beat it for the farm.

I was looking for Nikki, and luckily came across her on the road, where she was driving out to meet me, with some new meds for the lamb. I gave her his update, which she took in stride. She calmly told me she'd give him his first dose of medicine, and that I could continue to my other work back at the farm. Perhaps a cute little curly-haired, sweet-faced lamb couldn't perish from a trifling cold?? Coco Bello gave her a show, though - when she found him in the ditch, he had changed position so that his four little hoofed legs were all pointing skyward. (Did he smile when she wasn't looking?)

Part of caring for Coco, who had stopped nursing, was to milk his mom and bottle feed him. I learned from Nikki that to do this, I first had to embrace a full-sized sheep, reaching around the belly to squeeze the udder, then pull on the teat. If I was successful, a good tablespoon full or so of sheep's milk would splatter into our pot. After laboring over two squirming mamas, we managed to get about a half cup of milk. We gathered Coco Bello and headed up to the farm, where bottle and sick bed were waiting. He occasionally lifted his head from my lap on the bumpy ride up the hill and looked around wide-eyed, as if to ask, Where have all the other sheep gone? They are a pack creature, for sure.

Bottle-feeding is easy. As in milking, you have to hug the lamb, though this time it's around the neck, rather than around the rear (attenzione!), and you have to hold both the bottle and the lamb's neck at an angle. Adorable. The medicines we've been giving him - crushed pills and drops, diluted in water, given via syringe - have helped tremendously, and after four days of indoor(ish) confinement with his mom, he's been reunited with the group. Fris-ky!

But on to hog-tying and the Ram that got away. The ladies of the flock are entering breeding time, and part of the process involves a new diet of oats (rather than the de rigeuer barley) and separation from the ram (aka Rambo). Separation of the ram from the group involves catching him, laying him on the ground, and folding his legs in proper hog-tie fashion. Nikki and I wanted an extra challenge from this experience, so we made sure that it rained the day before making pasture really muddy, and we parked a goodly distance away from the tie spot.

I truly hope that gripping his wool like I did doesn't hurt him! Nikki tied his legs - after we got him to the ground, everything was cake - and we dug in to his thick cover for the slippery walk to the car. Another bumpy ride up to the farm from the Casseta property, and we untied Rambo in his new pen, a rather small and incredibly solitary home just behind the main farm buildings. Wide-eyed and quiet, Rambo seemed unimpressed and unhappy. I made a mental promise to visit him whenever I could.

Perhaps the trauma of the hog-tying got to him, or maybe he missed his harem, but Rambo made his feelings about confinement known later that afternoon, when he rushed the door, pushing past Nikki who was bringing straw for the pen floor. His nimbleness out-performed her leap, and he escaped into the forest. Searches for him later in the day proved futile. As with the pigs, that escaped their pen days before, we decided ("decided") it best to let him have his roam time.

We picked up the search, unintentionally, when we were all setting out for another group project the next day. His flash of white caught someone's eye, and we scattered, dropping tools, trying to corral him into a fenced pig pen. This particular breed of sheep are superior jumpers, as we witnessed. With some interns on Pig Hill Road, some on the upper piano, and the rest of us in the pig pen (pig pen proper?), we tried to slowly advance in silence, as best at 10 excited interns could. Rambo was freeeeeeeaked out, and proceeded to try to run with the pack of piglets that lived in this particular pen. Pack creatures, I tell you. It was hilarious.

At one point, someone got too close for Rambo, and he bolted past them, jumping UP to a higher piano, then racing out to Pig Hill Road. "He's coming out to the road," someone bellowed, to alert the other interns. "He's heading towards the officina!" "He’s by the pool!" Our chase continued around the farm, with sightings of white, hollered instructions on his whereabouts, and only two near catches - one being a bit of a ram by the Ram, into Nick. After about 30 minutes of sustained high heart rate activity, and fewer ram sightings, we dropped back into our original work plan, and gave up. Rambo, where are you?

05 September 2005

Good Eats, Part I

Do you think it's weird I haven't talked about food at all? Well, it's good. Tuscan food, at its best. Nothing transcendental (yet), but nothing bad has crossed these lips. Coffee is spectacular, veggies as fresh as you can get them, meat harvested from the farm...the other night we had 2 courses in a single meal that both featured wild boar (cinghiale). It was some of the most delicious meat I have ever had, masterfully prepared by the farm's two cooks, Graziella and Gaetana. These white-uniformed, smiling-faced round women churn out four-course meals daily. Our first courses, in typical fashion, tend to be pastas or soups, the second feature meat and a veggie, the third is always a simple salad, and the fourth a delicious homemade dessert (pineapple cake, almond past truffles, etc). The farm's red and white wines are passed at the table, as are the farm's own olive oil and vinegar. Our saltless Tuscan bread is bought in town.

I'm slowly learning vocab in order to interact with the cooks - to thank them for all the good eats! They don't speak English (Brad, you talked with a cook the other night, when your call was automatically routed to the Villa during our dinner - sorry! I wonder who was more confused by the conversation!).

Things I'm not finding at the tiny store in Rosia when we buy our own grocery stash: peanut butter, a nice french baguette (saaaaalty bread), cheddar cheese, good whole-grain mustard....well, the list could go on. It's a small shop. My diet is Tuscan for the foreseeable future, which makes having cravings like I did last week (Indian food) all the more difficult to bear. Did I just say "Tuscan food" and "difficult to bear" in the same sentence???? Shame, shame!

Back on wheels

I spent much of this summer lamenting the little cycling time I was getting. I'm getting my dose now. At least daily (weekends excluded), I ride from the upper farm out to the far pasture at Casseta where the sheep are currently shacking up. It's not really that long a haul, but it is a challenge. 3 short but very steep hills pepper the ride out, and the closer I get to Casseta, the thicker the flies (mosche) are. They bite, most of them. So, it's swat, swat, pedal, pedal, curse when the old farm bicicletta changes gears at whim, breathe in through the nose.... and take advantage of the downhills. The ride back, thankfully, is quicker and easier. The ups are now downs, and no walking is ever needed. Makes lunch and the end of the work day all the better.

Despite the sun and biting flies, I like standing (and walking and running) in the pasture fields. There is a tremendous view of Siena from Casseta, something the other interns don't get to enjoy at their posts. Other perks: blackberry bushes. Bleating sheep. A near-constant light breeze. Views of surrounding hilltop homes. It's totally Tuscan, minus the power lines.

You're OLD!

There are seven female interns and three male. The elders of each gender have their own rooms - no roommate! Guess who's the elder female? I was a little bummed about this at first, but there is ample social time, and I now have the most room for dirty clothes and poopy shoes. Not bad.

Being "old" isn't all privilege and glory, though. At dinner this past Thursday night, I was almost scolded for not being married and having kids already. The 16 yr old guest behind the scolding was mouth-open shocked at my age. "You're eleven years older than me! That's SOOO WEIRD! Ew!" She proceeded to address the elder male, sitting near me, in a similar fashion. Are kids really that out of touch?? She wasn't in the mood for a conversation about the topic, though, so I just excused myself in order to get to bed early, being elderly and all. She offered to help me out of my chair.

The interns' age spread is 18 - 27, and the oldest interns the program has accepted over the years were in their mid-late 30s; it's all about the group dynamics and the fact that we more or less live in small dorm. My status of elder was already apparent to me, when I found myself, on average, going to bed earlier than most, and drinking less, among other things. My fellow interns - the babes - rock, though. We are cohesive and chummy as a group, laugh all the time, and enjoy one another's company.

neither Here nor There

News about New Orleans has been trickling in to the farm. Please don't assume I know what's going on, no matter how huge the news might be; everything takes its time getting to me here. I had hoped that that would be a charming aspect of life here, but, in this case, I just feel torn between two worlds. I check the NYTimes headlines as often as I can (yeah, twice now), and some of the interns have picked up English newspapers as we've hit bigger cities over the weekend....but I haven't heard much about/from the federal government about the whole disaster, nor do I have a feel for "the people's" response. I probably couldn't help any better there than I can here, but I feel terribly far from my country-in-need, and from an Administration that apparently needs some active criticism. Feel free to send on articles that you think I would be interested in, or are necessary in your mind; odd, I didn't miss being out of the US loop when I was in Canada, but I am right now.

Most of you know that I visited New Orleans earlier this summer, for a foodie conference of sorts. I was given a great introduction to a special city, by some really wonderful people who happily call the place home. Every few minutes for the past 7 days, I have been wondering where these people are, what they are doing in lieu of regular life...I can't shake my thoughts and questions. I've also been replaying scenes from my days there - the Garden District apartment I stayed in, the gorgeous hotel that hosted the conference, the bar I danced in, the hole in the wall where I heard a great band. Surely, these places don't even exist now, and for some, may never again. How to process this? Memories of memories.

My heartfelt condolences to the people of this city, and the unbelievable rebuilding they will face once they too are able to process this and begin to do whatever it is they will each have to do. Whew.

02 September 2005

All in a day's work

I've been told I'm a guinea pig. Nikki, the deputy farm manager, told me this as she was introducing me to the flock and the job of the pastorella. As guinea pastorella, I'm testing a new practice for rotating the sheep through concentrated pasture areas, controlling what is eaten and, basically, how far down the field is "mowed." Instead of getting full access to the pasture's salad bar, I will create smaller fenced pens, and a system for how the sheep will most easily and effectively be rotated through them. This work is done with my hands, from the pulling and planting of iron stakes, to the laying of the fencing in the stakes, to the, uh, rounding up of the sheepies. Man, oh, man, do I wish I had a sheepdog. My only tools in the moving of the sheep (day pen to night pen and vice versa), are the blue bucket of barley and my voice (and frantically waving arms, at times). Pecore, I yell. Andiame! And also, Go, go, go! They respond well to a shove on the tush, but they could definitely take me out, weight-wise, if they chose to. Had a panic moment the other day when one was trying to exit the pen by a route that went between my legs. The little ones are not only cute, but easier to move; you can simply stick one under each arm and carry!

I've got nothing but determination and novelty driving this one, but I'm getting a helluva tan in the process.

FYI, the sheep are used only for meat. There is no cheesemaking operation here (Yet, as one of the interns says), and the wool is not of the variety useful for clothing, etc. Butchering happens about twice a year. The sheep are a Tuscan breed that was once in danger of dying out. Other animals here on the farm include pigs, cows, horses, and chickens, all of which I will get some exposure to when I have weekend duty. I've seen the pigs and they freak me out (there are so many, and I've never heard such noise in my life when they get riled up); the other animali will be new introductions next week.

Farm Sweet Home

How to describe arriving at Spannocchia?

It was a mix of absorbing and observing and realizing what, if any, preconceptions I had. 10 interns were spread between 2 large cars for the ride to the farm, a winding 20 minutes from Siena. My car laughed and joked the whole way, in excitement, asking the driver Daniela various questions about the farm and her role there. When we finally made the turn-off, into the nature reserve in which Spannocchia resides, we were nearly bouncing in our seats, oohing out the window, and talking considerably less. We climbed the hill(s), passing vacation rental homes, vineyards, the chestnut grove, towering cypress trees...and finally passed the stone walls that mark the inner Spannocchia property - where the Villa, Fattoria, and Casa Pulcinelli are located. Yes, it is beautiful. It is old and crumbly, holds the Tuscan light well, is lush with flowering plants, serves lovely views, etc, etc. Is it paradise, though? Dunno. It is a lovely and interesting new home, and one I will never forget - for all those good and less good reasons.

For while I live in Tuscany, a short drive from the medieval gem of Siena, I am also "employed" as a farmhand, working long days in the sun, amidst the flies (mosche). After a weekend of introduction, the 10 interns were finally given our primary duties (gardening, working with pigs or sheep, etc etc). Not to delay any further, please congratulate me (or something) on being the new pastorella (shepherdess, and then some). I care for the flock and help out in both the olive grove and the vineyards, and do whatever else might be needed (like prune lots of fig trees and rose bushes).

I have 29 new best friends. Or at least, weird-looking, not always accomodating cousins.... 23 sheep and 6 adorable lambs, with more lambs on the way, and breeding to come. Largely dumb as doornails, at least these ladies (and ram) make fun noises and look cute. We haven't totally bonded yet. But it's early.