25 November, 2007

no. 5: Italy on my mind

okay, I've discovered one of the many reasons why this autumn has been so agonisingly difficult for me, particularly as it related to productivity. Why, you ask? Because I keep reminiscing about the past and finding myself longing to be elsewhere. More specifically, longing to be in Italy once again.

The autumn of 2005, I ventured off for some travel and a little cultural enlightenment. Admittedly I didn't go far. Now I don't mean distance-wise, clearly I ventured a fair way's in that regard (nearly half-way around the world in fact), but I opted not to go too far out of my cultural comfort zone, choosing the more, uh, predictable world of Western Europe. Had I been truly adventurous like many a friend of mine, I would have gone for the backpacking through India, or the volunteering with development or environmental agencies in South-East Asia and South America. Alas, I was much more tame. I like to take baby steps, and not just leap out of my comfort zone. I know French, and so I started in France, and moved south to Spain before swinging a night train to Italy on what I felt was a (if partially small) leap of faith to WWOOF on an organic farm in the heart of Tuscany, near Pienza (the 'perfect city').

morning fog
morning fog, and the view from the olive grove
view from il frantoio
the luscious hillside across from il Romita, the oil-press, where we brought our fresh collection of olives at the end of every day.
view from il casale
the rolling, cypress-littered hillsides of Toscana, Pienza is out of frame to the right.

I stayed at the farm - Podere il Casale - for four weeks, almost an entire month, and grew to love both the land we worked in, and the people I met. I started to feel as though I was adopting them as my family. It was a marvelous experience, and one I'd gladly repeat. In fact, one I've been craving this autumn.

il casale
the courtyard at il Casale, replete with ripening squash and the occasional peafowl.
green roof il casale
the green-roofed long-house I slept in while working on the farm. It was a dream!

I miss just about everything about it. From the people, who were, on the whole, absolutely delightful; to the jaw-dropping landscape around me; to the food, the delicious food of which I am reminded almost constantly. (because nothing I have here compares to what I ate there). Of course, how could anything about an idyllic trip to the Italian countryside parallel to my land-locked and northern home? One has to allow for some (or many) discrepancies, but I'd hoped, after two years since my return to the land of ice and snow (ha! it's been so warm and dry... it's hardly believable), the memories would have faded a little and I'd not feel such a voracious need to return to the rolling hills and fresh green flavour of moments-ago pressed olive oil. I miss it so...

olive tree
an olive tree ready to be liberated of its fruit
morning olive picking
morning pause at the olives
picking olives
collection in high-swing
our day's collection
our day's collection of olives, ready to be pressed

I even miss hanging from the olive trees, soaking my feet in the early morning dew, and shaking out the 'paracadute' weighted down with freshly picked fruit. We spent glorious hours in the sunshine, perched on ladders or draped from branches, combing the olives out of craggy, ancient trees. During this time, I learned Swiss folk songs (sadly, I've mostly forgotten them now, though), told tales of my field research assistant adventures, related to people on the subject of "what am I going to do now that I've graduated from university?" and laughed at silly jokes that made absolutely no sense once translated. Oh, additionally, I attempted to describe the phenomenon known as maple syrup to some perplexed Swiss and Italians. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, not only because I was doing something so out of the ordinary, but for the people I met from all over the world - well not ALL over, but a fairly different collection from what I'm used to - and attempting to converse in French, English, Italian and a smidgeon of Swiss German. Mind boggling... but an absolute delight.

It makes me wonder, sometimes, why it was that I opted for graduate school, when deep down, there's a part of me that just simply wants to do something. To be actively doing something with my hands, with every fibre of my being, such that I am not sitting at a desk, in front of a computer, sorting through reams of numbers. And, in truth, I know, I'm not just doing that, but those reams of numbers are what legitimize my summers of counting trees in the forest. Yet counting trees in the forest is not nearly as ideal a contribution as I'd hoped for. I'd rather learn how to milk a goat - one of the friends I met on the farm had milked goats way up in the Swiss Alps during the summer, apparently Alpen cheese is a highly-prized delicacy, and boy is it a wonder to behold! - than sit at my computer day after day, pushing numbers.

But, like it or not, I do not currently have the funds, as pursuing this semi-albatross is a rather consumptive process for me. Perhaps one day (hopefully soon) I will find myself at the doorstep of that farm again, ready and eager to contribute to their harvest. Maybe next year.

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