Atop La Piazza De Spagna and more....

on Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Made it back to Rome. The anticipation to get to the countryside and start working is unbearable. We can hardly speak at dinner. There are moments when I think about what is going on back home & then I realize that nothing has changed…things are spinning on without us. I do miss all of our characters…but I know that what we’ll bring back to them is far more important than any feeling of lonliness. We watched some RAI news at the Hotel Principessa Tea (they have news stations from around the world and the one that represents the US….FOX. No wonder everyone thinks we’re idiots) and they featured a news story on Latvia. Not only is Latvia an impoverished eastern European nation, but they are setting some pretty infamous records as of late. Turns out, they are quite a few strides ahead of the entire world in the financial meltdown…they will soon be the first country to go completely bankrupt. I have never even seen a picture of Latvia, so watching the live footage of their city streets, the polluted city center, the gray skies and the impoverished, cigarette smoking race of Latvians…my first impression of the area was that it has always been in bad shape. Seeing it also reminded me of what little importance American media puts on eastern Europe…and pretty much every country that does not contribute our economy.
The country is about to be entirely bankrupt. So what matters after that…after the country is completely spent? With no money, I assume complete devastation. Do people riot? Do they fight the police? Do police even go to work anymore? Does the population cease to exist? Do we erase Latvia on the new world maps? Do they migrate and lose their entire race and culture? Or…do they simply go on living like they always have? Do they find a plot of land to grow food and continue to provide for their families? Do they look to trade and barter what they have left? Do they change their values & seek the finer things in life that never required a lavish back account? Clearly they must. When money didn’t exist, is this not how life was? Patient, artistic, filled with faith that God put us here to create love, peace & life.
It’s so easy to turn to religion in Rome. Buildings that took over 90 years to complete all in the name of Christ, churches blanketed in gold and marble…but maybe that’s why money started to eat away at everyone…money for salvation and sacrifice…woah. I imagine I’ll return to this faith on the farm…praying for rain so we can eat, surviving only to provide food & wine to share, learning to simply live and to live simply.
…There is a girl on the steps below crying. She took a call on her phone & excused herself. A Parisian girl & her two friends that I saw earlier today near our hotel (Rome is rather small and happens to create lots of familiar faces) and our eyes connected like we’d met before. I see her now, again, from a distance & her friends are consoling her. Amid all the map reading, kids counting steps, the “say cheese‘s”, maybe someone passed away back home…maybe, while she was exploring outside of France, the world went on without her. Someone left, her lover found someone else, an unfortunate prognosis…what would a French, 20-something year old be crying about?
A father photographs his family, a couple finds each other from across the square and meets to kiss in front of the fountain, an Indian man harasses a girl to buy roses, a dozen German boys slurp up triple layer ice cream cones...the steps that link the piazza to the church are bustling and it never stops…I love it…and I can’t wait to get away from it.
We arrived in Napoli Centrale by train and went directly to the Star Hotel Terminus as instructed. 3:45 was the meeting time. At 3:52 Rosanna and Jean Franco picked us up at Star Hotel and greeted us with kisses and hugs. We headed into the crowded city streets of Napoli. They were ecstatic to see us…speaking in Italian with some English words here and there, they told us we would take a quick tour of the city and we would head to Rosanna and Salvatorre’s house for the night….it was too late to head to the farm. She let us know how much she loved America and Americans…that there were 2 Wwoofers on the farm that we would meet tomorrow from PA…a couple from Japan and one from Australia. We would get to choose what we like to do for work and we would also choose what we like to do after work. Excuse the literal translation…but this is what I picked up from her Italian.
We could ride horses, a black and a brown one that they own from Spain. Practice archery, ride quads, learn to cook from Salvatore, work with flowers, plants, tend to the animals…whatever we would like. “Seems to be more like vacation“ I tried to tell her. Then, there it was “CRUNCH!“ In a traffic rush, a big (not half the size of trucks at home) cement truck hit’s bumper of our car. “MaFungulo!“ Jean Franco was pretty pissed and I was pretty nervous. I immediately assumed the worst…do they have fist fights when they get into accidents here? Is this a setup for us to get kidnapped? Are there boxing gloves in the glove compartment? Will there be a high speed pursuit if we drive away? Turns out, it’s pretty similar to accidents back home. Cement truck driver guy was pretty impatient and wanted to get the hell outta there before the cops showed up…but Rosanna…instead of calling the cops, called her lawyer Bruno….Bruno shows up on his vespa, diffuses the situation, assures everyone everything is cool and we head off. We follow Bruno to his office on a tiny side street of Naples. Italian lawyer number two comes out…takes a couple photos of the dented up fender…they talk, they laugh, smoke a couple cigarettes…forget about the car…bullshit some more, sign some papers and we hop back in and head home. First impression of Naples, it‘s a metropolis….a filthy, ancient metropolis…Then we arrived at their palace. Yeah, that’s right. They live in a palace from the 1700’s… they own all four floors in the heart of Naples. It is gorgeous. Antique…like a museum. Dual doors with huge knockers open to a garage like entrance with a lift that fits one, maybe two people comfortably. It’s all grey with that yellowish flourescent lighting…the kind of light that is always buzzing and flickers a bit before it turns on. “Molto vecchio” Very, very old. We take separate rides up to the fourth floor…A long corridor into the sitting room with two pianos, antiques from Zimbabwe, old photos of family, art and plants everywhere. In the kitchen, she prepares 3 small glasses of cherries…cherries pickled in vodka and cinnamon. Hard to swallow, but I pretended it was delicious and ate all of them and shortly after found myself drunk. Rosanna put out some biscotti and Perugina chocolates and poured Jean, Rick and myself some wine (she just met Jean today…at the barber…he wants to be a fashion designer and she likes fashion so she brought him with us…she seems to know and befriend everyone) and we headed out to the terrace. Brava! The city of Napoli…second impression….friggin awesome. Less commotion, no death defying stunt car driving, nearly killing pedestrians, taking out vespas and side swiping cars…just a colorful view of the crowded buildings…eight million windows. In the distance, you can see the business district which looks like a mini-Chicago. Then, to the rooftop garden. Rosanna and Salvatore own the highest palace in Napoli. It sits on top of the city. From here you can see Mt. Vesuvius, the Isle of Capri, Sorrento, and everything in between. It is breathtaking. Foreign police sirens in the street, the smell of cigarettes, the sun setting on another perfect day in Italia.
We haven’t even arrived on our first farm and I know why this is a secret….I plan to write about it in my prologue…why there are no books written abut Wwoofing….I don’t think anyone wants to spoil this. I think it’s supposed to be a secret…and, as much as I might regret spilling the beans, I would feel guilty if I didn’t share this with everyone…if I didn’t convince at least 100 people to do this. To leave, to jump into a strangers car and go and work on their farm for a week, a month, a year. This is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. This country, these people…the idea of all of this. Tonight, Salvatore is cooking us dinner. Tomorrow we will take out the horses in the morning and make marmalade. The hospitality is outrageous….all I can imagine doing at this point is giving it back….going home and taking the Rosanna and Salvatore side…inviting some Perusian Wwoofers into my home and cooking them grilled cheese and drinking Budweiser. Showing them how to play horseshoes and make honey…and giving them a comfy place on the couchbed to rest so we can make apple sauce and carve pumpkins the next day. It’s so damn simple…so full of life and ingenuity. Absolute reciprocity…no more, no less. I teach you the life I live and you help me live it….we’ll enjoy the fruits of our labor together.


I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to write but I have just been so busy and so very tired each night. I also have been rather selfish after a long days work and have been enjoying many books. Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl is a collection of short stories previously published in Playboy magazine. A fun read….but beyond that, I want to tell you everything…everything you can and cannot imagine about this place. Although, I was told that writers do not tell their story, but rather, show their story. I will try my best and, although I may miss chunks of the experience, it is the best I can do with only an hour before dinner.
We left Salvatore’s for the farm the following morning. We drove out of Naples and he told us about his life, where he grew up, his family. His father worked for Alfa Romeo and passed away this past June. He said, if we would not mind, he would like to stop at the church in his mothers town for the remass (? Not sure if that is the correct name…The Catholic ceremony held every 30 days after ones death to celebrate their life). A small village on the way to Bosco Morrone (the farm), it was 10:00 and people were just getting started with mass and then off to work until 1:00. Whenever we arrive, people know we are there…their seems to be a stir in the town, people opening windows and slowing their cars to catch a glimpse of the outsiders. The church looked like any other small square building but had a very small cross on top. Inside, a pastel pink church with cracked walls and a Padre Pio statue. Toward the end, we waited outside for Salvatore so he could be alone with his mother. When they finally came outside, his mother grabbed my arm and asked me to walk her back to her apartment. Dressed in black with swollen feet, she was a storybook cutout of an old Italian widow. She kissed us both and treated us like old friends. “Andiamo, mia casa por un caffe” Salvatore rolled his eyes and insisted we go with her…so….off we went and all the while she was squeezing my hand and my arm so tight…I felt like she really needed me. Hoofs up four flights of stairs, God Bless her and welcomes us into her home. Pictures are strewn about, collage style….everywhere…and she shows us ALL of them, kissing every one of her husband and pointing to heaven…smiling and laughing at her lot of nieces and nephews, bubbling with pride and blushing at pictures of her at her wedding. Already sparking up a conversation with the neighbors, Salvatore is waiting outside. Mom decides she wants to cook for us tonight at the farm…so we shoot some espresso, she packs a bag of her meds and we latch arms again for the descent. We all pack in the car and head to the farm. But wait, another stop for smokes for Andrea….ok, almost there. We arrive….stumbling down a small country road surrounded by vineyards and mountains….“Prego” Welcome to Bosco Morrone. Salvatore shouts to Andrea in the vineyard and throws his cigarettes over the fence. Andrea is an Albanian immigrant on the farm who works and lives at Bosco Morrone. He loves wine, wrestlemania and smoking really fat brown cigarettes. Andrea has one massive black eyebrow, a faded to white sailors cap, old man sweaters, rotten teeth, a drinking problem and a difficult Italian/Albanian accent. Andrea, like the rest of the characters we work with, have become our comrades…we work hard together, and when we sit to eat and drink wine on our breaks…we go all out. Language barriers don’t mean shit. We laugh through them and drink more wine. Each of us has our own task during the day, sometimes we work together, but we are always anxious to retire together and make fun of each other.
Rosa and Renatta are two Wwoofers from Pittsburgh that have been at the farm for 3 weeks. They show us to our room and give us the grand tour. Answer questions about the work load and what’s in store. It’s pretty laid back…if you want to do something, do it. If you think a cactus should be planted next to the chicken coop….plant it. If you have a project that needs tending you can get up and get started…or sleep til’ 10am, have breakfast and then get moving. Stetska, a Bulgarian woman works in the kitchen. The type of woman who is always working so hard that she doesn’t smile….she seems a bit rough round the edges, but once we threw some American charm at her she showed us her gold trimmed front teeth. She’s a sweetheart, really. Her husband Georgio….well, lets be honest…he probably beats her…but they’re a great couple and they hate each other equally. Georgio always seems uptight…but I think he just has a very bad nicotine addiction. Best explanation for his personality…when all of us were watching Rocky the other night, he laughed the entire time. I mean, Sly is a comical guy, but Rocky isn’t all laughs…right? Girogio is very….Eastern European. That is ignorant to say isn’t it…but I’ll say it anyway for lack of a better description. He, too, is a big fan of the WWF.
Brings me to Kumar. A short, tri-lingual Indian man who has an expired Visa and a shitty salary. He runs the show…feeds all the animals, fixes all that is broken, watches everyone’s back. When there is a drop of wine left, he looks to see if everyone has red lips before pouring himself a glass. He is the only man besides Rick, who does not assume all women are inadequate. That is a problem for me here. I have to force Salvatore to assign tasks for me outside of the kitchen…or make my own projects by following the boys around. I belong over the stove or in the sink pulling food out of the drain and washing dishes. They sincerely feel that women can not and should not be working outside with them. There are times when I see Rick with four logs on his shoulders and I have one log in both arms and I understand they have a very valid point…but I just don’t want to sit inside all day. That’s a whole different story, a whole different (and boring) 60’s phenom book about burning bras that I don’t care to write about, but it is certainly present in this country….or at least on this farm…the woman walks behind the man.
Very first day, we headed to the vineyard to remove all of the old logs holding up the vines. We will put 200 new ones in the ground and tie the vines to each one to hold it up. We pulled piles and piles and piles of weeds and prickers from the side of the vineyard and built a retaining wall to hold up the loose dirt. Salvatore wants to make it presentable for visitors to the farm. Every Sunday, there are about 65 guests that we cook for, serve and entertain. The kids ride the horses and play soccer in the fields, we grill, serve 7 plates (antipasti, pasta, meat, pasta, salad, soup, sweets)…it’s an agriturist restaurant away from the city of Naples…although, Salvatore does not use all organic ingredients. We replanted a bunch of huge cacti and tended to a garden with a rake for about 3 hours. Another day we did demolition on an old horse stable, we set up a chain of people and took it down one stone at a time. Another day, we picked ticks out of Poofala (the dog), bundled bamboo, made flower arrangements for the tables, weed whacked the entire vineyard, rode bikes to town to look for a non-existent internet, cut rope for the vineyard, made little log fences to accent different parts of the vineyard and so much more. Sometimes I would sneak away and feed the horses apples and try and talk to them in Italian. We have a small cabin to ourselves (until the last day when Susanna from Austria came to the farm) with a stinky septic problem (our bathroom smells like Secaucus in mid-July) and about 7 minutes worth of hot water each day. It’s perfect.


Said our goodbyes and caught the 1:00 train to Campobasso where Tullio picked us up and we headed to Riccia. At the cousins…we feel like we are home again…they are honestly the most amazing people on earth. Nicolina welcomed us with pasta, pane, vino (our regiment for the past week) with rice balls, fried pork, broccoli…a black currant pie for dessert…homemade. God is good. Too tired to write any more.


Valerie said...

Sounds like it was a great experience! Savored every word you wrote and enjoyed it imensly.
As a Mom the fear that came into my head while reading of the Naples experience was imense.
I have been told by fello Italians of what Naples is like!!!!!
Glad you are in good hands with the cousins for now.
I love ya,

Amy said...

I agree with mama! Hope you are having fun! Post some pics from Italy pleeassee!!! Love you!! Miss you!

Robert said...

This entry honestly inspired me! I've told you a million times about how much I want to travel. Reading this just watered that seed! Even if I never see Italy, I feel like I was there with you. I feel like my belly's full of wine & pasta and my arms are sore from hauling logs all day. Thank you for that! Be safe and keep writing. Your words are my dream's life support.

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