Saying Goodbye

As our final day at Trove comes to an end, I go out into the evening sun’s golden glow to walk for one last time around this place that, after almost three months, feels like home. As I close my eyes and inhale the sweet aromas of the garden I ask myself, not for the first time, if this can possibly be real or if I have finally, as I have always suspected I might, succumbed to madness. I have always had a tendency to let my vivid imagination run away with me, but I wonder now if my mind is capable of creating such a robust fantasy as this. However, I know that if in fact this was all a world of my own creation then tomorrow I would not be boarding a train bound for Umbria, thus leaving Tuscany behind me. For I know in my heart, with absolute certainty, that I would gladly trade every shred of my sanity in order to remain forever, in this most glorious of dreams.

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No Place Like Trove

Spring has well and truly come to end here at Podere Trove, taking with it the lush green foliage, the snowfall of white blossoms from the trees and the unpredictable rainfall that I had grown so used to. Though I miss these things greatly, I cannot deny that Summer has brought her own little gifts, so entirely different from those of spring and yet equally as beautiful in their own right. All along the sides of the roads, the hedges are now filled with wildflowers in varying shades of pink and purple, they are so lovely that I cannot help but pick whole bunches every time we go walking, with which to decorate our little cottage. Everything that was so green only a few weeks ago has now been tinted with a hint of brown around the edges and the grass crunches ever so slightly under my feet. The silvery leaves of the olive trees have darkened slightly to a richer green which glows almost golden as the sun begins to set and on each twig hangs a thin pale strand of delicate seeds, baby olives as I call them. Likewise the vines are now hung with light green bunches which, come Autumn, will be harvested and turned into the delicious Trove wine.

The weather is exactly what one would expect of Summer in Tuscany, every day the sun shines brightly highlighting the reddish tint in the soil and stone, glistening off the delicate criss-crossing of spider webs through the trees, beating down on us as we work. Working in the afternoons is simply not an option now, so we do most of our work in the evenings and a little in the mornings, though by 11am we are already breaking a sweat and chugging down bottles of water.

Of course the heat means that watering has become a very important part of our routine, a job which I find particularly pleasing to the senses. Every second evening we connect the two long hoses and begin what will be at least an hour of tending to the thirsty plants, making sure that the soil is well saturated so that the plants can stretch their roots deep into the soil. When I am watering I am struck by the intensified scents of all of the plants, the citrus freshness of the orange and lemon trees, the heady perfumes of the roses and lavender, the distinctive luscious smell of wet grass, the mouth-watering flavours of all of the herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage and parsley, not to mention the delicious aromas from the vegetable garden, (my favourite of which is the tomato plants) all underlined with the dense, intoxicating scent of damp earth. Like I said, it is most pleasing. 🙂

The nights are filled with new wonders to enjoy, new bird calls and animal sounds that I can’t even identify and most recently, the most thrilling sight of fireflies, last night one even made its way into our bedroom and floated around the ceiling flashing its bright light. I found myself humming that song that was always on the radio a few years ago “You would not believe your eyes, if ten million fireflies lit up the world as I fell asleep…..”

My work at the moment is based almost entirely on making the place look beautiful for the wedding which will be hosted here in July: weeding the courtyard, trimming bushes and planting Summer flowers to replace the ones that Spring took away with her, and of course tending to the vegetable and herb gardens and all of the existing plants. Barbara has often expressed that she believes I have “green fingers” which I find flattering but I think it has less to do with an affinity for plants and more to do with the fact that I take great pleasure in making things as pretty as I can.

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These joys are somewhat marred by the fact that I know our time at Trove is coming to an end, by the end of this month we will be moving on and leaving this place behind. Mostly I try not to think of this and go about my work, enjoying the time that I have left here, determined to make every minute count, longing for the days ahead to drag on for as long as possible, but sometimes when I am planting vegetables or flowers I am struck by a sudden sadness when I realise that I won’t be here to see them bloom and grow, all of these efforts are for somebody else. I have become so sublimely happy here that I almost forget sometimes that this is not my home. However I always find myself consoled when I see the pleasure that my work brings to Barbara, how happy she becomes when something is transformed. Like on the day that we hung baskets of falling ivy over some old iron bars or when we trudged up and down the road feeling wheelbarrows with rocks from the big pile up the hill to outline some trees and give definition to a part of the garden that we had cleared of weeds and branches. In the end it makes it all worth while, I won’t be here to enjoy all of the work I have done but Barbara and Ugo will be and I am leaving a little bit of myself behind at Trove, just as I will carry my memories with me when I leave.

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It is a well known fact that for a long time artists have come from all over the world to study the “Tuscan Light” but before coming here I never would have believed that one place’s light could be all that special and yet it is. There is something magical about the light here, I have seen so many different forms of it, in the way it washes over fields of young wheat like silk, rippling over the surface in the breeze, or the way it glitters through the tops of the trees that hang over the courtyard, casting a maze of shadows over every surface, in the way it can wash a yellow haze over a scene in the rain or splatter the trees with a thousand colours in the evening sun. Sometimes even Barbara or Ugo will stop what they are doing to marvel at a new light that has been cast over a scene, whether it’s shining down over the hilltops turning the grass from green to yellow or bouncing off the leaves of the olive trees emitting that silvery or sometimes even golden glow.

It is in the cities too, when Barbara took us to Sienna for an evening Josh and I spent hours wandering around, not really exploring, just looking. We watched as the light changed from one street to the next, some almost dark and others ablaze with light. I remember standing on one street and watching, fascinated, for several minutes as the almost setting sunlight slowly crept up the walls of the buildings there, starting at the pavement and working its way up, setting the windows on fire as it passed them. I remember that there were two American guys there too, one was in the Pizzeria nearby asking for directions and the other was looking intently at a map on his phone. I wanted to shout at him “Look up! You are missing it!” I couldn’t understand how someone could be standing in such a stunning place at such a crucial moment and not be amazed by the scene that was unfolding.

Barbara said once that some people who come here to volunteer have “Romantic notions” about Tuscany but that she doesn’t see that in us. She meant it as a compliment, it was said in a conversation about how well we have taken to life here. At first I found this perplexing as I have already expressed on many occasions exactly how head-over-heels in love I am with Tuscany, but over time I think I have come to realise what she meant by that, or at least, I have given it my own meaning. Some people come to Tuscany expecting the romance, having seen it in films and read about it in books, they come here with such a strong idea of what it should be like that they fail to see what it’s really like. We arrived without much of an idea of what to expect so everything we see here is brand new, we walk around with our heads held high and our eyes wide open, taking mental pictures of every sight, getting a thrill out of every little change in the scenery, determined not to miss anything and so we see it for what it is.

How can I ever forget the first time that I experienced the full impact of a true Tuscan sunset? We were walking home from Petroio one Sunday evening in May, it had been a beautiful day and Josh and I had taken the day off to have a picnic outside and then we had gone to the bar for a few afternoon drinks. As we turned onto the track that would take us to the farm, I was struck by the scene ahead of us. How can I describe it? It was like Spring had been transformed into Autumn in a split second, the green trees glowed in various shades of orange, yellow and red. When I looked to my right I saw the blazing orange of the sky, underlined with subtle shades of purple and pink. The village of Castelmuzio, turned black against its new backdrop, looked suddenly like a medieval kingdom from a fairytale where a princess waits for a knight in shining armour to sweep her off her feet. To the left I saw Montepulciano far off in the distance, the setting sun reflected there made the town appear to be sparkling. In that moment I was struck speechless, there were no words to describe it, even now I struggle to put into words the beauty of that moment.

IMG_0125Or the day that Josh and I went cherry picking? For a while I stood on the ground holding the basket, having already picked everything within my somewhat limited reach and watched Josh as he worked from the ladder. I watched the sun dancing in his hair, illuminating his skin and casting a bright halo around his head, I watched it bouncing from the bright green leaves to the plump pink cherries and I thought about how many artists had painted scenes just like this one, in this very place.

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No I will never forget these moments, the simple pleasures that I have found here. The unexpected adventures and the immeasurable beauty. No matter what happens next, one thing will always be true: There is no place like Trove.

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Romance and Rainfall

 I realise that I have been in Trove for almost 3 weeks now and I haven’t written anything about it. The truth is that nothing very exciting has happened since we arrived here… and yet… I am having an affair! I am in love with Tuscany. Tuscany is my bit on the side. I am having my cake and eating it in Tuscany! There is something in the expansive countryside of rolling hills and vast, untouched woodland, in the fairytale villages of cobbled streets, terracotta roofs and rough, misshapen stone walls and in the winding roads lined with perfect rows of the dark trunks and bright green leaves of vines, or the shimmering silver leaves and pale trunks of olive trees. I can’t explain it really. Like all great romances it was simply love at first sight. Unexplainable, unimaginable, undeniable love. The kind that epic novels are based on. Life here is so simple, so peaceful that I am constantly reminded of living in a 17th century romance novel. Planting vegetables for the kitchen, going out to gather herbs, waiting patiently for the trees to bear fruit with which to make jams and pies. Sweeping the rough stone floors of our little cottage. And of course my daily routine of filling a bucket with well water for my morning wash out in the courtyard. I started this about a week and a half ago when the water ran out and, because of air in the pipes, we had no running water for a whole week.

Conserving water is something that took me a little while to get used to, being from Ireland where water is free and constant it’s not something I have ever had to think about before. I have to remind myself several times a day to use the buckets of water from the well to flush the toilet and not to leave taps running and I learned quite quickly that 3 showers a week is still too many. Here it’s not simply a case of being over charged, if you use too much water it just runs out.

The water is now back on but, as crazy as it may sound, I really enjoy that outside wash so I have kept up the habit. Even when it rains (which it has been doing a lot lately).

When one thinks of Tuscany one sees blue sky and hot sun beating down on dry earth and crunchy grass and as much as I love the sunny weather I also love Tuscany in the rain. I love the way it saturates everything changing the sandy earth and dry foliage into dark, healthy browns and greens, I love that you can almost always see both ends of a rainbow stretching over the immense, limitless landscape, and the way the clouds hang low around the forests on the hillsides, casting them into an eery darkness.

When storms hit here they cannot be compared to the gale force winds and lashing rain of Ireland but they are extremely passionate in their own way. Loud, resounding clashes of thunder shake you every couple of minutes and the dark, cloudy sky lights up with blazing lightning. Then there is this amazing moment right before the sun sets when its as if you are looking at the world through a yellow tinted lens, as the evening sun struggles to shine through the thick, black clouds and everything looks so strange and distorted, but utterly perfect at the same time.

Life here is about as unstable and fickle as the weather at the moment. You simply never know what you will be doing from day to day. Before we go to bed at night we make a rough plan of what work we will do the next day (mostly our jobs are clearing Scottish Broom from the fields, digging out ditches where land slides have filled them in, taking care of our courtyard and the vegetable garden, which is my favourite part. We have planted onions, garlic, tomatoes, courgettes aubergines, chillies and lettuce and we even built little gazebos to protect them from the sun.) but when we wake up in the morning there is always the possibility that nothing on the list will get done. Maybe Ugo will suddenly invite us to accompany him to the market which will turn into an entire expedition that takes up the whole day. Or a sudden storm will keep us inside by the fire all day. Or we will notice that the courtyard needs a little weeding and end up spending the whole day cleaning between the stones. I think the perfect example of the sheer unpredictability of life here is this:

I started writing this post a few days ago but I found myself stuck with a bad case of writers’ block so I put down the laptop and headed outside. Following the sound of raised voices I found myself in the driveway where Josh, Barbara and Ugo seemed to be involved in some kind of argument beside the big tractor. It seemed that in the process of transporting water from the well, up the road to the tank (so that it could be pumped back into the house), the wheel of the 1000ltr water container (which was being pulled by the small tractor) had somehow burst and both tractor and container were stuck on the steepest hill of the road with rocks behind the wheels to stop it from rolling away. Barbara was trying to get Ugo to explain clearly what his plan was and Josh was standing around looking confused. Ugo’s plan was this:

  • Drive the big tractor the long way around (through the fields) to the road to get it in front of the small tractor.
  • Reverse down the hill to the small tractor and hook it to the big tractor.
  • With Barbara driving the small tractor for extra power, pull it and water container up the hill to the tank.

“Right.” Barbara said “Who’s coming?”

And so Josh, Barbara and I climbed onto the back of the tractor and rode through the fields. By the time we reached the road, about 5 minutes later, the warm sun had disappeared behind a dark cloud and rain was falling heavily down on us and I was, rather foolishly, still wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Josh donated his water-proof coat to keep me somewhat dry, though it didn’t have a hood and we were all soon dripping from head to toe, regardless of what we were wearing. The plan ran smoothly and we made it safely to the top of the hill. While the men struggled to attach the pipe to fill he tank, Barbara and I discussed the work that Josh and I had been doing while she was away (she only returned that day from a week of sight-seeing with her sister who had been visiting from Australia)  and she seemed very pleased to hear about all that we had done.

Barbara. How can I describe her? She is like a whirlwind in reverse. Instead of causing destruction she sweeps through the house and the farm putting everything in its proper place and making sure that everything is running as it should. Yet through all the chaos she still manages to make you feel comfortable and appreciated. Kind of like a warm but stern Auntie, always willing to help out and ready to tell you to stay in bed when you are sick.

Ugo is more like a river, content to just go with the flow, occasionally prone to little bursts of temper when things get in his way or disrupt his course, but always ready to sweep you away on some great adventure. He is a treasure trove of knowledge about geography history and tourism and speaks more languages than I can keep up with. Every time we go out to the shops he takes a different route somewhere so that we can see more of the region and in between yelling and cursing at other drivers for not indicating, or going too fast, he gives us plenty of information about the area. It’s like having our own personal tour guide but with more colourful language. We are learning plenty of excellent swear words. 🙂

Barbara and Ugo are away on a tour at the moment (they run a private tour company) and we have another couple volunteering with us. They are older, maybe in their 60’s and don’t speak any English. In a way it’s great because I get to test how well my Italian is coming along. Every afternoon and every evening, the man cooks us beautiful meals – spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce, fusilli with tuna, mushroom risotto, fried artichoke and courgette, stewed mince meat, bruschetta with roasted red pepper and aubergine, it’s like eating in a restaurant only we don’t have to pay. At the table the woman and I both have our dictionaries handy and we find a way to make polite conversation and we even manage a joke or two, all the while translating for the men so that they can join in. Today I even found myself describing the differences in weather between Italy and Ireland, with my hands flying around in descriptive ways feeling very Italian indeed.

So you see, life here isn’t outrageous or thrilling but it’s somehow never boring either. There is pleasure in every little thing we do and every little thing we see and the most exiting moments are just the small unexpected things that happen on an average day. What more could one expect from a Tuscan fairytale than simple bliss?

 

 

 

Onwards and Upwards!

Our new adventure has begun and so far I can say with some confidence that it will be a great one.

Monday 14th April 2014

The City of One Hundred Towers

We took the 7am bus to Ascoli Piceno, a beautiful and ancient town, older than Rome itself. Once upon a medieval time there stood 200 tall towers, scattered around the city, then King Frederic II ordered that 90 of them be demolished. Nowadays around 50 of them can be retraced. Some have been built into the surrounding buildings, others have been turned into bell towers and one has been turned into the beautiful Ostello Dei Longobardi where we had the pleasure of spending the night.

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We arrived at the hostel at around 9am and were greeted by our wonderful host, a man of around 60 who advised us on where we should go and what we should do. We were too early to check in so we left our bags and went to explore the city. It is a small enough city with a population of around 51000, (though the urban areas surrounding have a much higher population) which makes it very easy to get to know your surroundings and find your way around. We took a scenic route, walking first along the riverside and then through the narrow winding streets, lined with old stone house with dainty balconies, that I love so much,

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eventually ending up at the Piazza del Popolo “The people’s square”. It is known to be one of the most beautiful squares in Italy and it doesn’t disappoint. It is a long rectangular piazza, lined with graceful columns that disguise the shops and restaurants behind, and the enormous Palazzo dei Capitani on the right, with the medieval Church of St. Francesco at one end and a row of shops at the other,

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in between which is a little alleyway that leads you straight onto the Piazza Roma, a small square where the hold a market on Monday mornings. We wandered around the market for a while, I bought a new pair of sunglasses and some pretty sun earrings and then we headed left to Piazza Arringo, so name for the public assemblies which were once held here. It is the religious centre of Ascoli, it holds at the far end the Cathedral of St. Emidio and, in the centre, two beautiful stone fountains. We had a little look around the cathedral, which is beautiful, the ceiling is painted in rich blue and gold and the theme is carried in the many paintings which line the walls. Then feeling quite hungry we walked a little out of the historical centre to a tasty looking kebab shop, where we piled on the chilli sauce and savoured some doner. 🙂

We decided to wander back towards Piazza del Popolo to visit the Palazzo dei Capitani or The Captain’s Palace, for those of you who don’t speak Italian,

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where they were holding a free art exhibition, so we spend a pleasant an hour or so wandering around looking at the lovely paintings and sculptures before heading back out into the sunshine.
By two o clock we were feeling a little run down and in desperate need of showers so we made our way back to the hostel to see if we could go to our room. When we arrived we let ourselves in with the key we were given, the host usually wasn’t there, you can call him on his mobile via the intercom if you needed him, which is what I did. He arrived quickly and we paid for our room then headed up the stairs, with all the bags, to the second floor. Our room was a 6 bed dorm that we had to ourselves with our own bathroom so we pushed two single beds together and made it up as a double. I took my time washing off the day’s travelling grime as well as several weeks’ worth of farm stress and emerged from the steaming shower feeling renewed and refreshed and quite ready for cocktails, which is exactly what we did next. We got changed into some lighter clothing, as the day was turning into a scorcher and headed for the cocktail bar on Piazza del Popolo.

We ordered a fresh fruit cocktail for me and sparkling rum and lime type thing for Josh which we both drank eagerly in the sunshine. The waiter brought us a little plate of assorted bruschetta type things with cheese, tomato, anchovies, salmon and mushrooms which we happily munched away, listening to the blabbering Italians and watching them wave there arms wildly. It gave me the feeling that I had been missing in the last few weeks, of being on holiday, being a tourist, just relaxing and enjoying being on the outside, looking in. As much as I love integrating and becoming a part of the great wave of italian life, sometimes it can be refreshing to be sitting on the shore just watching wide-eyed as it moves.

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We ordered a second cocktail this time I had a Spritz and Josh had a Garibaldi, both had the delicious bitter liqueur Campari, with fruit juice and soda water. A real treat. We got talking to an Amercan couple on the table beside us, they were the first English-speaking tourists we had met in Ascoli, part of its charm is that although it is well-known in Italy it is not a huge tourist attraction for foreigners, most people have never even heard of it. The couple had arrived that afternoon and were already planning how to get out of there, they said they “weren’t feeling it”. I have to say that this shocked me a lot. We had only just arrived and, far from wanting to leave, I was already picking out which of the pretty apartments we would live in if we moved there. For the first time I felt like I had actually found somewhere that I could see myself calling home.

The sun was beginning to set when we headed back to the hostel to change for dinner, I put on my favourite dress and a pair of heels and Josh changed into a clean black shirt. We ate at 7:30 in a restaurant called “Lorenz” which was directly opposite the cocktail bar. We ordered a set menu for €25, including a bottle of white wine, the food was nothing special but it was tasty all the same, a selection of the usual cold antipasti – meat and cheese and bread, followed by hot ones – aubergine roulade, baked tomato, fried courgettes, fried custard (which was actually surprisingly yummy) and the famous Olive Ascolana (Olives stuffed with a mixture of cooked meats – pork, beef and turkey usually – battered and deep-fried). The main course was a trio of pasta’s Caneloni stuffed with beef, spinach and ricotta Ravioli and Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms. We shared a Tiramisu for dessert.

Once we had polished off the wine and paid for our meal, we weren’t quite ready to call it a night so we headed back over to the cocktail bar. I had a huge Pina Colada and Josh had a black russian. The city is beautiful at night, transformed by the gentle glow of the street lights and as we made our way back across the Piazza Josh took my hand and gave me a quick twirl right there in the middle of the almost empty square, the polished stone making for a perfect dance floor. We laughed and skipped and sang all the way back to the hostel where, after a quick cigarette by the river, we tucked ourselves up in bed and enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep.

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Tuesday 15th April 2014

On the Road Again

We began our journey at 11:22am when the train left the station at Ascoli Piceno bound for Ancona our first change in along journey that would see us arriving in Sinalunga in Tuscana at around 7pm. From Ancona we took a train to Orte where we were to change trains for Chiusi, of course I had forgotten how unreliable the Italian trains could be so we sat on the platform and waiting for an hour for the train which was supposed to depart at 17:55 but which did not arrive until around 18:45. Needless to say we missed our connection at Chiusi and had to wait an hour for the next train to Sinalunga.
So we arrived in Sinalunga in the dark at around 8:30 pm where Ugo, our new host whom I can only describe as a “Jolly auld fellow”, and Tiffany, another volunteer from Australia, met us to take us to Podere Trove. I knew immediately that this was going to feel a lot more relaxed than our previous home had, as the car ride to the farm was spent laughing and joking, without a single moment of awkward silence. The road to the farm from the main road is about 800km long and full of roller-coaster twists and turns and steep hills. We couldn’t see much in the dark but Ugo pointed out where all of the neighbours lived and various land marks for finding our way to and from the farm.

When we arrived at the huge old farm-house, Tiffany showed us to where we will be staying for the next 2 and a half months. From the car we walked through the garage to a little wooden door which opened into an adorable cottage-like room, cosy and warm from the little wood burning stove in the corner of the kitchen area which has a table and chairs, a sofa, a cooker and oven, a fridge, and cupboards with tea and coffee, bread and jam, pots and pans, cups and plates and everything one needs in a kitchen. The second half of the room, separated by a wide archway is the bedroom with a huge comfortable bed, dressed in soft blankets and a closet full of clothes that we can wear for working, which have been left behind by years’ worth of volunteers. The bathroom is outside so our room also came equipped with a bed-pan to be used for night-time emergencies when it’s too cold to go outside. I’m not sure whether I will ever have a need for that, but you never know.

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After a quick tour of the newly installed bathroom, (equipped with a shower, toilet, bath, sink, washing machine, and one of those “ploppers” as I call them; the kind of squatting hole for pooping) Barbara’s sister, who is staying with them for a few days, called us for dinner. We made our way upstairs to the main house which is like a Tuscan fairy tale, large and open, yet somehow still delightfully cosy. Barbara, Ugo’s wife, greeted us warmly as we entered, she is a lovely woman who made us feel instantly at home. At the dinner table she told us that we were to “help ourselves and don’t be shy”. They had prepared a delicious meal of rice and a kind of cabbage stir-fry with ginger and raisins and nuts, and Barbara had brought out her prized sweet soy sauce for the occasion, and of course there was a jug of red wine. Conversation flowed freely, no awkward small talk, just good hearty banter. I felt so at ease already, like we were catching up with old friends. We did n’t talk much about work as Barbara said it could wait until tomorrow. After dinner, she gave us milk, eggs, bread and apples to take down to our room for breakfast, which we eat separately (I am very pleased about this, as I am not very sociable in the mornings and I always find it awkward trying to make conversation over breakfast) and told us that “food is not rationed” we can eat as much as we want and help ourselves to anything. We can all eat dinner together or, if they are busy or we want some alone time, we can take what we want from the kitchen and cook for ourselves downstairs.

We took our food down to our cosy little cottage room and climbed into the warm bed, we could hear people moving around upstairs and the wind in the trees outside and i drifted off to sleep feeling happier and lighter than I have in weeks.

Wednesday 16th April 2014

Introducing Podere Trove

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We got up at 8 and made ourselves a nice little breakfast of bread and jam and boiled eggs, we found a little cafetière and made espressos. There is a back door from our kitchen that leads out onto a pretty little courtyard where there is a table and chairs, a sink for washing up and a well, it is surrounded by deliciously scented flowers and shrubs of all kinds and paved with a random pattern of red bricks and stone.

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At around half 9 we went up to the main house where Barbara introduced us to Nicolette, the cleaner who comes on Wednesday and showed us the guest room that we would be helping her to set up next week for the new volunteers who would be arriving. Then we went outside and Barbara showed us around the gardens and sheds and the little vegetable patch. She went through a list of things that were to be done, weeding and planting flowers and clearing ditches, mostly and explained that we make our own time schedules here. We have 30 hours to play with and we can arrange that however we wish so that we can have a few days off to go exploring other cities and what not. This is such a pleasant thing to hear after 6 weeks of rigid time schedules and full work loads. It’s like the polar opposite of what we have become used to.

She told us that today we could get used to the place and start working properly tomorrow so we went for a walk down the road to take in the breathtaking views of the Tuscan hillsides and farms, the vineyards and olive groves, the fruit trees and wildflowers.

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We didn’t go all the way to the village as I was quite content to spend the day in my little fairy tale bubble, so we headed back to the farm and spent the day just soaking up the sun and enjoying the calming atmosphere of the stunning Tuscan countryside.

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A rainy afternoon

There is something about a wet and cold afternoon that makes me very homesick. Listening to the rain falling on the windows makes me miss being snuggled up on my mum’s couch watching Judge Judy and listening to Yo Gabba Gabba playing on the phone while PJ tries to eat noodles and dance at the same time. I feel so worn out right now. The family are away on holiday for a week and we are here alone with the animals and a long list of jobs to be done. Today as it’s raining Josh is chopping wood and I am cleaning the house, we are taking a break to have lunch at the moment and I thought I would catch up on telling some stories. Let’s start with last Saturday afternoon…

Saturday 29th March 2014

Sun and Surfer Dudes.

It was a stunning day, with hot sunshine and not a cloud in the sky so I put on a sundress and Josh and I headed into Rotella after lunch for our usual routine of drinking wine while we waited for the shops to re-open at 5pm, we arrived at the bar where we were, as usual, greeted somewhat pleasantly by the locals. We had been hoping to run into Luigi so that we would have someone to talk to but, alas, there was no sign of him so we ordered our frizzante and sat outside for a while watching the world go by.

After about an hour I noted some mildly attractive out of towners entering the bar. I knew they were from out of town as Rotella has very few people our age and I have come to recognise all of them and have nicknames for most of them in my head. The guys I have noted are: “Eyebrows”, so named because they are waxed more perfectly than mine, “Heavy” fairly self-explanitory and “The Fringe” who has quite the superman thing going on. All of them are far too metro-sexual for my liking. These guys seemed a little less put together. They had that “we party hard” look about them.

After a while the sun was getting too much so we headed inside to finish our wine, before long one of the guys came over to ask us for a lighter and we got to talking (kind of) and his friends came over and offered us some Italian whiskey and laughed when I made face like my throat was on fire. They were from San Benedetto, a coastal town about an hour away from us. (Josh and I spent a couple of hours there one evening a few weeks ago, the sun was setting by the time we arrived but the water looked so inviting that we swam anyway. People walking past looked at us like we were mad but the water was really warm.)

They introduced themselves as Hanselmo (Ans for short), Daniel (only it’s pronounced Danielle) and Luigino.They kept asking us why we were in Rotella with incredulous looks on their faces, like they couldn’t believe that people our age would be in such a tiny place on purpose, and suggesting that we go with them to San Ben. and not look back. They explained several times that this is place for old people and that we should be somewhere a little more hip and cool. I have to admit, I was flattered by the fact that they clearly thought we were big city people and not small towners. We spoke mostly with Daniel who had the most English and he explained that they were surfers and the previous night they had partied til dawn (because ‘ how surfers roll) and this morning they had decided to drive to Capradosso for lunch. (They also had the steak). After a while it came time for them to leave and they all climbed into their car (a fiat, big surprise) and Luigino, being the least drunk (although not by much), drove them away, but not before leaving us one small piece of advice “You must move (demonstrates with hands moving an object from one place to another) from here to some place better, with sea and lots of people (gestures around him, trying to demonstrate a more desirable atmosphere).”

I have to say, as much as I enjoy life here and, on days when we are not working, it is very relaxing, I do often feel quite isolated, I do miss having the opportunity to make new friends, people our own age, other travellers with whom we can share stories and have a few drinks of an evening. That’s why we have decided that the best thing for us is to cut our time in Le Marche short and head to Podere Trove in Tuscany on the 14th instead of the 26th. They will have quite a few other volunteers there at the same time and I think it will just be a slightly more relaxed atmosphere for us. It can be difficult living with somebody elses family, always feeling like an outsider. I’m always thinking about different my own family is.

Tuesday 1st April 2014

Un Alboro Ha Rotta Sulla Strada

The family left for their holiday after lunch and Josh and I enjoyed a half hour of lying in the sun enjoying the silence before it was time to walk the dogs. Josh took the dogs and I went inside to clean up from lunch. He took the dogs the usual route; up the track past the neighbours’ house and back, when he returned I was sitting out on the steps tanning my legs. Just as he arrived, there was a loud crack and thud as a huge branch broke free from an old oak tree right onto the track where he had stood not 3 minutes earlier with the dogs. My first thought was how relieved I was that it hadn’t fallen when he walked past, I dread to think of the damage it would have done. My second thought was panic as to what we were supposed to do about it. Cars drove up and down that road a few times a day and as the tree was on Anne and Caspar’s land it was our responsibility to do something about it but it was far too big for us to move ourselves. I knew I would have to go to the neighbours to ask for help, but they are elderly and speak no English at all so I did the only thing I could think of. In times of trouble one must turn to Google for answers. I quickly translated “A tree had broken onto the road”, I repeated the phrase to myself several times and scribbled it onto a piece of paper, just in case and headed off. The neighbours’ farm connects with ours and it is only a 2 minute walk to their house, I  was briefly worried about how I was going to get past their dog, an old German Shepherd that barked at us every time we went past, to knock on their door but I was consoled by the fact that I could hear their tractor running so there must have been somebody outside. When I arrived at there house however my heart nearly stopped. The gate was open and the dog had seen me, it stood perfectly still, watching me as I battled with myself. I have been terrified of strange dogs my entire life and my automatic response is to turn around and walk away, but I knew that I had to tell somebody about the tree. I heard voices coming from behind the house and called out but the tractor was still running and they couldn’t hear me. The dog was slowly moving closer, I took note of the fact that it’s tail was not wagging and was further frightened, I dared not move too quickly for fear it would see it as a threat. Heart pounding, trying not to stare it down, but also trying to breathe evenly so it wouldn’t sense fear, I inched my way forward keeping left as the dog moved right, and slowly made my way to the back gate where I could see Maria and Angelo in the yard. I called out again but still they couldn’t hear me. I kept looking around to check that the dog wasn’t coming after me. Again I called out, nothing. Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, although it was most likely about 5 minutes, Maria turned and saw me standing there. Looking very confused she approached me and I breathed a sigh of relief. Knowing that she would call off her dog if it attacked. “Buongiorno I said “Sono Natalie” seeing that she still seemed confused I tried to explain “di Anne i Caspar?” I said hesitantly. “Ah” she understood “si, buongiorno”. She opened the gate, she was a tiny woman in her 80’s and stooped so low that she barely came to my waist but she gave off a lighthearted and friendly air when she smiled that did a lot to calm me down. I took a deep breath and repeated my phrase with confidence, after all I had come here with a purpose, “Un alboro (I moved my arms to demonstrate a large tree) ha rotta sulla strada (I swept my hands sideways, down low to show what I meant).” She expressed that she understood and called her husband, a small, slim man who somehow had that look that he was quite attractive in his day but many years of hard work and hot sunshine had hidden his face under a mask of wrinkles, over to relay my tale. I was inwardly very pleased with myself. I had successfully delivered a message in Italian. I gave myself a mental pat on the back. “Dov’é?” She was asking and we walked onto the road and I pointed to where Josh stood waiting, to warn oncoming traffic. Luckily there was none. Maria started talking in fast Italian gesturing with her arms and I understood that I was to wait with her while he prepared the tractor and then go down with him. She led me over to wall, beside which the dog now lay snoozing, and we took a seat. She chatted and I tried to listen, occasionally she would laugh and say “no capido?” and I would shake my head with embarrassment and she would pat me on the arm as if to say “it’s okay we don’t need words.” At one point she kissed me on the arm and said “brava” several times and I got the feeling that she could tell how nervous I had been about going to them. She was truly a comforting person to sit beside. She pointed to herself and to me and said “amici” and I couldn’t help myself from blushing, far from the nervous wreck I had been a few moments earlier, now I was completely relaxed sitting with this old biddy who seemed to know me far better than I knew her.

Then Angelo drove the tractor out of the yard and I got up and started to walk beside him, when he demonstrated that I should stand on the back and ride down with him. How exciting. The last time I rode a tractor I must have been about 7, “helping” our old friends Tim and Robin to collect wood. I climbed on and held on tight and we headed back to where the branch lay across the road. I very much enjoyed that drive, standing up so high with the breeze in my hair, it’s the little things in life that get me giddy. When we stopped I got down and he started speaking in Italian and gesturing and I got the feeling that he was asking if it was okay to pull the branch onto Anne and Caspar’s land. I agreed and he hooked a chain to them and pulled them easily to the side. I thanked him earnestly and shook his hand. I waved as he drove back to his farm. Oh the excitement. I was quite shaky with it actually. For the first time since arriving, I had been put in a situation where it was imperative that I relay a message accurately to people who don’t speak a word of English, and I had done it. Josh and I headed back to work as if it were just any other day but I secretly carried a sense of pride with me for the whole day.

 

Thursday 3rd March 2014

Market Day

We got up at 7:15 and got dressed in our nice clothes, rather than our work clothes as Francesco (the brother of Angelo, who also lives with them) was coming at 8:30 to take us to the market in Offida. He arrived right on time in a little two door fiat (seriously, everybody here drives them) and we drove for 20 minutes or so to the nearest “big town”. Offida is a pretty town with plenty of old Italian charm, narrow streets, red roofs pretty balconies and ancient walls intertwined with modern apartment buildings of pastel colours with their white railings and grey pull-down shutters. The Thursday market buzzes with people from all of the neighbouring villages come to buy organic vegetables, cheese, baked goods, clothes, shoes, handbags, kitchen and home ware and much more. There are stands selling fried fish, chicken, sausages and baked ham in buns. It is certainly a weekly highlight. Francesco told us to meet him back at the car at 10:30, or rather he wrote it in the dust on the back window, as he hasn’t a word of English and we headed off to explore. First we wandered around to look at things then we found a large vegetable stand where we bought courgettes, red pepper, mushrooms, vine tomatoes and oranges. They also gave us celery and a carrot for free. It seems they do this with every purchase. Then, having skipped breakfast, we followed our noses to a stand selling chicken wings which we ate overlooking the vast landscape of Italian countryside. Next, hankering for something sweet, we went to a bakery stand and bought some almond biscuits (all of which we polished off later that evening). We watched the other shoppers for a while, slightly in awe of the way they communicate; shouting at one another and gesturing wildly with their hands as if to show the shop keeper exactly what they want and how to do it. For example one ordering half a wheel of cheese would ask for “mezzo” and then demonstrate cutting it in half with their hand, as if they wouldn’t understand otherwise how to slice a cheese in half.

The people here, much like the traffic, live in a constant state of chaos, always running late but never caring, there are no queues, you simply push to where you want to be, if you manage to procure a bus or train time-table you can bet that they won’t run at those times anyway. When you are in a crowd you are bombarded with loud voices and car horns and people rushing from A to B not really paying attention to what is going on and can seem like total madness but when you stop moving and watch, there is a certain elegance to the way everything moves. It’s like a dance. People cross the road without looking and cars imply swerve around them. Someone pushes in front of somebody else and a shopkeeper will serve both of them at the same time while still talking to somebody else over his shoulder. A woman can be yelling at her children who are running smoothly between people’s legs while she is handing the shopkeeper the money. The puzzle as a whole looks like a mess but if I slow it all down in my head and look at it one piece at a time, there is a system there and I can see exactly where I fit into it. I can move swiftly through the crowd unaware of the people bumping into to me or yelling at each other over my head, or cars rushing past me, even on pedestrian crossings. If you are hesitant you will never fit in, you will throw off the whole dance but if you go for it and become a part of the routine, the whole thing will run smoothly.

Next we headed to a stand selling cheese, meat and some vegetables and ordered “Un etto di prosciutto crudo” and also bought a few heads of some deliciously green looking spinach. While we were ordering people slipped in and out beside us and paid for their veggies without acknowledging us, so I was surprised when I heard someone saying hello from behind us. We turned and saw that it was a dutch friend of Anne’s, we had been to her house the previous weekend to collect Mels from a birthday party. (Their house was amazing, huge and modern. Their cooker had 6 rings and an oven big enough for four loaves of bread. As Anne had said “her husband has a job”.) We chatted for a few minutes, she asked us how we were doing and if we found it “a little too peaceful” in Rotella and then she helped us to order some cheese, “Un quarto” of a tasty looking one. (She demonstrated cutting it in half and then half again). After we had finished our shopping we heading for a little cafe we had seen to get some ice cream. (2.50 for three huge scoops.) Then headed back to the car to meet our driver.

Well that just about concludes the excitement of this week. Stay tuned for more witty anecdotes and keen observations coming soon.

Ciao!

 

Aside

Farming and Follies

Friday 14th March 2014

Nature and Nurture

One week has passed since we first arrived at Anne and Caspar’s.

I am shocked, as most of you will be too, to find myself adapting so well to life on the farm. 7am is no longer a sinister, unfamiliar thing, it is simply morning time. I no longer find myself nearly crippled after a day’s work and far from wishing the day would day would end, I find myself taking pride in my work. Caspar says the plants like me and though I am sure he is taking the piss, (although sometimes it can be hard to tell) I have come to the strange realisation that I like the plants too. I want to help them grow. I am covered from head to toe in cuts, bruises and bites but far from resenting the raspberries with their sharp thorns or the saffron beds full of nasty weeds and bugs, I spend my days down on the ground, tending to their soil, pulling weeds and laying mulch. I never thought I would say this, but even the insects don’t bother me anymore. There are hundreds of thousand of them here, everywhere I look I see them. Slimey ones, creepy crawly ones, flying ones, jumping ones, big ones, small ones, some with lots of legs and some with no legs at all but I hardly even notice them anymore. Call me crazy, but I think they are more afraid of me than I am of them. I wasn’t afraid of the huge spider on the bedroom wall, or the beetle that was so big that it landed on the window with a thud and I was quite delighted at the sight of the lizard on my windowsill yesterday afternoon. I no longer jump when something buzzes past my ear, when I lie in the hammock in the garden I listen to bees humming in the treesabove me without so much as a flinch. This time last year I wouldn’t even sit in the grass without a blanket in case something would crawl on me but now I kneel bare-legged in the dirt, talking to the plants and the worms as I work. (Okay maybe I am a little crazy, but I always knew that.)

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Every day I am here I feel myself getting fitter. Italy has already worked it’s magic on my figure, not only am skinnier and more tanned (and generally prettier than ever) but my muscles have improved so much already. Every time we cycle to Rotella I make it one more hill than the time before. It’s a really a great feeling, knowing that I am getting closer to my goal. 🙂

We are learning so much about growing food organically and eating healthily and I have to say, I really enjoy it. At home preparing carrots means peeling a chopping, here it means going out with a pitch fork (not just for angry mobs, you know) and digging them up, washing them, taking off the stalks, cutting out the worm eaten bits and washing them again. I used to shy away from vegetables that look like they have already been munched on by creepy crawlies but now I am hit with the strange notion that if the insects won’t eat them, why would I want to?

The only downside, is that I don’t see much of Josh on weekdays. He does the “manly jobs”, building poly tunnels, putting in posts, building fences, chopping wood etc. while I plant seeds and tend the beds and sometimes help in the kitchen. (I am learning lots of new healthy recipes.) It’s nice to have time alone with my thoughts though and I’m so happy to see him at the end of the day. It’s refreshing to feel that way, it’s been so long since I had a chance to miss him.

We now have a friend in Rotella, his name is Luigi or Gigino as everybody calls him, he is very old, I don’t know how old, probably 70-ish and likes to drink. A lot. He always buys us drinks when we are in Rotella and he doesn’t speak English but he speaks German so he and Josh chat away while I happily sip frizzante and laugh when appropriate. He thinks Josh is called George but other than that we get along great. 😉

Sunday 23rd March

Do You Like Meat?

Caspar was having friends around for a birthday lunch and as there was no room at the table Josh and I were planning to take a day trip to San Benedetto to go to the beach. Then we hit a little snag, we live in the middle of nowhere and busses don’t run on Sundays. Anne reccommended a restaurant in nearby Capradosso where other volunteers had enjoyed lunch. She called ahead to make sure that they were open and told them that her english speaking helpers would be having a meal there.

We took a “short cut” to Capradosso which is probably about 4km away, Anne said that we should walk rather than take the bikes and we were very glad that we followed her advice as the short cut had us hiking for an hour up a very steep mountain path during which time I began to wonder if they had simply sent us on a wild goose chase to get us out of the house. Of course we forgot to bring any water so I was getting crankier and crankier, cursing everything and whining constantly about how hard we work and how I hate walking. Luckily it was quite a cool day, otherwise I would probably have had a fit right there. Finally we saw a village up ahead after a long time of nothing but the odd farm and some woodland. That is when the rain started, buckets of rain, rivalled only by that of West Kerry fell down on us we made our way into the village which seemed entirely deserted. Luckily we quickly saw a sign with a blue “T” for Tabaccaria and thought we could ask for directions to the restaurant and buy a packet of Marlboros. Two birds one stone. Actually, this turned out to be the restaurant, we were greeted by a waitress who spoke a little English.

Ten minutes later we were seated in the empty restaurant which was very pretty, with white table cloths and coloured water glasses, we ordered vino bianco and water (no gas). The waitress returned with our drinks and a basket of bread and asked us what we would like to eat. Josh and I looked at each other with clear confusion, as we had not been given a menu. We questioned the waitress about whether we could see one and she looked at us apologetically and said simply “no menu”. Hmmm… well as you can imagine we were more than a little thrown by this. Then the conversation went like this…

  • Waitress: Antipasti?
  • Us: Si
  • Waitress: Pasta?
  • Us: Si
  • Waitress: Pomodoro? Funghi?
  • Us: Si
  • Waitress: Do you like meat? Beef?
  • Us: Si
  • Waitress: Okay, will I choose?
  • Us: Si

And so began our mystery lunch.

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First e were brought a platter with cured meats, cheese and little cheesy bread things which were all very tasty. When we were finished with these the waitress returned with mozerella stuffed aubergines and mushroom bruschetta which were both wonderful. Then the waitress came with stuffed mushrooms and baked tomatoes which were amazing. Having eaten all of this we awaited our official second course and drank from our jug of vino with much enthusiasm. Gone were my earlier feelings of angst and they had been replaced with the kind of giddiness that only comes from wine and suspense.

The waitress soon arrived with our pasta, tagliatelli to be specific, one with a kind of bolognaise and one with a mushroom sauce. Both used very simple flavours, they were dripping with sauce (we were glad we had kept a bread roll aside) and went down a treat. When we had eaten our fill the waitress cleared our empty wine jug, water bottle and dirty plates. Feeling quite full, we guessed that next would desert as Anne had said that they served 3 courses.

When the waitress next arrived she brought with her a second jug of wine, a second bottle of water and a small gas burner which she lit and then said something in Italian that we didn’t understand, and left again, she then returned with a stone plate which she placed over the burner and warned us that it was very hot. How excited we were to see what kind of treat we were getting next. Then it arrived. I can honestly say that I have never been shocked at a plate of food in my life. There in front of us was place a plate of steak, quite big enough to feed four people, cut into thin dtrips that had been just barely seared, surrounded by a salad of rocket, cherry tomatoes and strawberries with croutons on the side. The waitress demonstrated putting the steak onto the hot plate to cook it to our liking and went away. I swear we stared at that plate for a full minute before deciding that, at a moment like this, there is nothing that can be done except to stuff yourself silly with mouth-watering red meat.

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And so we did, and I have to say I was very proud of our effort, there were only 3 or 4 little pieces left when the waitress returned yet again. This time she cleared everything and asked us if we would like coffee, to which we of course replied “si”. (In Italy the fact that you still have half a jug of wine, means nothing when in comes to coffee) So we continued to drink our wine and await our espressos.

Little did we know that our surprise lunch was not over yet, the waitress came rushing over to our table (at this point the restaurant was entirely full but she continued to give every customer her full attention.) with a dish of about 20 almond biscotti things and and a small jug of sweet vino corto (kind of like port, for those of you who don’t know). Well you know me, it doesn’t matter how full I am, if there are sweets to be eaten then so help me God I will give it a go. The biscuits were wonderfully crunchy and nutty and the vino corto washed them down with a delightful tickle. Feeling quite drunk and incredibly satisfied we had our coffee and went to pay. I have to admit I was getting worried about how much this extravagant lunch was going affect our budget but when we went to pay we were pleasantly surprised, for the 7th time that afternoon, to find that it cost only 25 euro each!

Needless to say we practically skipped the whole back to the house, where we collected the bikes and cycled to Rotella to pass a couple of hours at the bar.

Ah what a wonderful life it is.

 

A story told is a story shared… or something.

As many of you know, I am travelling and working in Italy with my boyfriend Josh this year. Along the way I have been keeping a diary of the things that we have been up to along the way, as well as sending novel length emails to my family at home and today I had the idea (okay, my mum had the idea) that I should start a blog so that I can share our experiences with all of you.

Well, in primary school I was taught that every story must contain three espencial things: a beginning a middle, and an end. Later I learned that it must also contain relatable characters, good use of imagery and an unexpected plot twist. Needless to say my stories here will contain all of those things and more, but for now let’s just start at the beginning.

March 7th 2014

Vivo i Lavoro

We took the bus from Rome to Grottammare at 2pm after a delicious lunch in Ristorante Santi, which I would reccommend to anyone travelling to Rome. (It is a small family place where they use simple flavours and ingredients to create perfect and delicious meals.) The bus took a beautifully scenic route through the countryside. I fought with my eyelids to stay awake so that I wouldn’t miss anything, but as usual, sleep was inevitable as the bus rocked gently back and forth. Josh, knowing my love of pretty things, woke me up to show me the snow topped mountains that we passed. I was thankful for this as I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the way the sun bounced off the pure white surface of some, while others blended so well into the clouds above that I couldn’t tell where the sky began. IMG_0073IMG_0075

The motorway here was held up by tall pillars as it ran through the mountains. Quite literally through them, via a series of long tunnels that run right through the middles. Genius!

By some miracle we managed to get off at the right stop, Grottammare, where we were collected by Caspar and the children and were driven to the farm. The farm is set 2km outside of the little village of Rotella. When we arrived it was dark so we couldn’t see much but we greeted by two gorgeous dogs, named Dante and Lila, of some large hungarian breed which I can never remember. The house is warm and welcoming after a long day of travelling, as was Anne who had prepared a delicious supper of home-baked Sourdough bread, olive oil, cheese, prosciutto and lots of different jams and spreads, (which we fell upon gratefully and enjoyed immensely) and a glass of vino rosso to wash it down. We chat and get to know each other a little, but we don’t discuss work as Caspar says that it can wait until the morning. Mels (a delightful and inquisitive 6 year old) shows us to our room which looks delightfully comfortable and by 10pm we find ourselves tucked up in bed ready for our first night’s sleep in our new home.

8th March

Let the games begin

Breakfast was at 8am as it was saturday so we get a lie in (hahahaha). We had porridge with walnuts and honey and cinnamon and a few different kinds of seeds sprinkled on top. We washed this down with a delicious cup of green tea.

After breakfast Caspar led us to the stables (the room below the house where the tools and boots and waterproofs etc. are kept), where we put on some wellies and rain ponchos (I know what you are thinking: “rain in Italy? surely that’s not what you signed up for?” I know this because it is exactly what I was thinking at that point) and took us to explore the land. We began by taking a walk “downstairs” which is the term they use to describe the lower part of the farm, at the end of a steep downhill path through trees and brambles, where they have 3 large saffron beds in a field that runs alongside a small river. He showed us the saffron plants and taught us about how the grown organically without any chemicals (which means a lot of weeding and mulching). We hiked back up the path, at which point I struggled to conceal my wheezing, breathless display of general unfitness and a bad case of smokers’ lungs. Once “upstairs” again, we took a brief tour of the main farm, the rest of the saffron beds, the raspberry beds (which at this point really looked like a bunch of dead sticks in the mud),

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the carrot plantation, the herb garden, the garage, the chicken pen, the woodshed and the laboratory which is used at harvest time for sorting the saffron. At this point my brain was so full of new information that I thought I might have a stroke, so I was delighted when Caspar announced that it was time for coffee. We headed back into the house for an espresso and a tiny piece of dark chocolate (as the have a macro-biotic diet which doesn’t allow much sugar) before setting to work. As our first job we were given the seemingly harmless task of weeding the upstairs saffron beds. So with our gloves and wellies on we set to work. I began humming Bob Marley to myself and contemplating how nice it was to work outdoors for a change.

After about 10 minutes of crouching down, my legs and back began to ache terribly and some of the weeds were proving incredibly difficult to extract from the soil and some tangled themselves so intricately around the long leaves of the saffron that I had to remove my gloves in order to seperate them without damaging the plants, which look rather irritatingly like grass.

After an hour I was only halfway through the first bed, my frozen fingers and toes were aching and my joints were screaming at me to stop moving. Josh’s bed had even more weeds than mine and so he was only a quarter of the way through his and he too was complaining of pain in his legs. Far from humming contentedly I was now demanding from myself what on earh had made me think that I would enjoy, or even be able to survive, farming. After all, had I not expressed, on many occasions, my deep loathing for the wet, muddy, insect ridden places?

Three quarters of the way through the bed and I was starting to work a little faster as I became familiar with the roots of the different plants and I realised that the Saffron wasn’t quite as delicate as it appeared, however every time I pulled a big weed and unearthed a nest of spiders or beetles or ants, I had to consciously stop myself from juping up and squealing like a 3 year old.

Towards the end of the row the weeding became quicker and easier as a lot of the saffron was dead and yellow because the bulbs had been eaten by mice so I finished quickly and started on the next bed. Resigned to the fact that I was probably covered in bugs already, I gave up caring about them and allowed them to go about their business and I too went about mine. At about 1:30, a quarter of the way into my second bed I heard the wonderful sound of Anne calling us for lunch. Fingers and toes numb, back and joints burning with every step, nose running and stomach growling, I changed out of my work clothes and washed my hands and face.

Anne had prepared a beautiful meal of nettle risotto with a salad of raw spinach leaves, over which I drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar and grated fresh parmesan cheese. I don’t think I have appreciated a hot meal quite so much in a very long time. After lunch I took a blissfully hot shower and scrubbed the day’s muck off of my tired body, then changed into clean comfortable sweats.

Josh and I borrowed bicycles and cycled the 2k to Rotella which was very difficult as it has a lot of gentle uphill slopes. We had to dismount and walk the bikes several times on that first ride and I made it my goal to one day make it the whole way without stopping. By the time we arrived I was quite sure that I had broken my bum. Of course we had picked a bad time of day as the shops were all closed until 5 o clock. We decided we would head to the bar for an espresso while we waited. I swear, as soon as we walked in we wondered if we had committed some kind of social faux-pas as the place was full of men playing cards who all stopped what they were doing in order to get a good look at the strangers wandering in. Needless to say we had our espresso and got the hell out of there rather quickly.

We spent an hour wandering around the village, we took side streets which sometimes abruptly ended in somebody’s back garden/ We stood and looked over the railings which surrounded the village where it disappeared over a sheer drop at the edge of the mountain.

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We then tried to find our way to the shop where Anne had asked us to buy prosciutto, latte and borro. Aftwe a few very embarrassing attempts at asking for directions in appalling Italian, we finally found where we were going. In the shop we found the milk and butter but the prosciutto we had to order at the deli counter. I remembered that we wanted the kind that began with “C” but I couldn’t remember the word, then Maria, the shop assistant asked if we wanted “prosciutto crudo” or “prosciutto cotto”. Oh the horror. After staring dumb-foundedly at her for a moment and trying to explain to this woman, who had not one word of english, that I wanted the one that wasn’t cooked, I swallowed by pride and rang Anne, who was quite amused by my story and informed that Crudo was the way to go.

9th March

And on the seventh day….

Sunday, our day off and the day of the week when it is acceptable to go to the bar and drink in the morning. Aka, my favourite day of the week. The women go to church and the men and non-Catholics drink. There is a small market in the square and very popular fish stand. Anne, Caspar, Filipa, Mels and the two of us all arrived at the bar at around 11:30. The sun was shining so we sat outside to have our wine and after the 3rd glass of Frizzante I began to remember why I loved Italy so much. Having arrived with them people now understood that we were their volunteers and made a huge effort to make us feel welcome. They shared their fish and snacks with us and bought us drinks. It was nice not to feel like strangers anymore. At lunch time we headed back to the house and had a delicious lunch of pasta with spicy tomato sauce, cooked by Caspar. Then we all went outside to play in the sun. Filipa the absolutely adorable 3 year old, with her blonde curls and tendency to make funny faces at you over the table at meal times, watched with awe and delight as Josh put on a juggling show for her. I sat at the little table under the palm trees and contentedly, and admittedly a little drunkenly wrote all of this down in my favourite little owl book.

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