Next time someone in the States complains to me about farming on sloped land I intend on laughing in their face. Darcy and Adolfo (owners of Localita Il Piano) are quite literally farming on the side of a mountain. After the bus dropped me off I knew I had about a 500m walk to the farm. What I didn’t know what that it was practically straight up. Here I am with my huge backpack on and my berkinstocks attempting to scale the side of this mountain without rolling back down again. By the time I got to the top (which I was convinced would never happen) my feet were sweating, which caused all kinds of prickly thorns to stick to them, my face was the color of a tomato, and I had drank my entire water bottle.
Once I made it to the house I was treated by Darcy and here one year old son Fafa. His real name is not Fafa,but their older son Ben (4) wanted to name him Alfalfa and then when he was born the nickname Fafa just stuck. Both of the boys are a delight to be with. They have blonde hair and blue eyes, which reminds me of my own family and makes me miss home.
I’ve been extremely lucky to find this farm. Adolfo and Darcy are both informative and inspiring. Most of their land is dedicated to trees. They have over 400 varieties of apples and countless other varieties of figs, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, nuts, and many others I’ve never even heard of. They also have grape vines and a large garden. I wake up around 6:30 and start work from 7-10. After that I have the hottest hours of the afternoon to do whatever I please and then I work another three hours starting at 4. Because the farm is nestled in the mountains, direct sunlight in the morning and evening is mostly avoided, which makes working much more comfortable.
I’ve been doing a lot of irrigating because it’s been particularly hot and dry here this summer and a lot of the trees are suffering. The trees are still young, so their roots aren’t fully developed, making them more susceptible to drought. I’ve also been picking fruit and helping make jam. I also ask an endless amount of questions. In the hot hours of the afternoon I’ve been reading, a lot. I’d started The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest on my iPad and coincidently there was a copy of it left at the farm by a previous WWOOFer. There’s maybe five books and that just so happened to be one of them. I couldn’t believe my luck!
I get to sleep in the basement of the house, which Adolfo and Darcy built themselves. It’s always nice and cool down there. There’s even a full kitchen and a washing machine! The first five days I was at the farm I had the whole WWOOFing quarters to myself. I cherished my alone time in the kitchen and reading, but by Sunday I was ready for some company.
Ian is a Chicago native who studied acting at Columbia College. He doesn’t know much about farming, but he’s enthusiastic and likes the outdoors. It’s nice to have someone to talk to while working in the fields. he’s been in Europe for about three weeks out of the eight months he plans on spending here. It’s interesting to meet someone who’s been here for less time than me. I find myself giving him advice recommending different things to do. I honestly couldn’t imagine being away from home for eight months. I’m still having an amazing time, but I’m looking forward to spending the whole day in my pajamas catching up on Man Men and True Blood!
I haven’t felt a rain drop in over three weeks and I will admit that I’m beginning to crave a good rainy day. There’s something relaxing about a rainy day after weeks of sunshine. It would also make my work at the farm easier because I wouldn’t have to water as much!
To my own surprise I’ve taken a liking to goat milk. Yes, Rachel, you’ve read that correctly. Honestly I think I’ve just been craving a fresh cold glass of milk so badly that I didn’t care what animal it came from. One of the goats at the farm had twin male kids. One was given to Adolfo’s brother and the other I helped slaughter. It was quite the experience. I honestly thought there would be a lot more blood. Since both kids were taken away we’ve started milking the goat and hence the milk. My first class was definitely goat-y, but now I hardly notice the difference. Last night I also had goat meat and it was a bit chewy, but overall not bad.
Today is my day off. I’ve come to Spoleto to be reunited with the real world. I have two more days of work before I traveling to my Permaculture Class. My last stop on this crazy adventure! I’ll try and post again before leaving for Rome and post more pictures! Ciao
We took the train to Rome. Rachel had ordered the tickets for her and my mom and then later another ticket for me once they realized I’d be able to meet up with them, which meant we weren’t all sitting together. Our cars were only one apart so I told them I would meet them when we got off the train in Rome. I had a lovely train ride. It was quiet and I had a whole four person sitting area to myself. I figured my mom and sister would have had a similar ride, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we got off the train they were both so frazzled. I guess their cart had been packed with people. It had been noisy and hot the hole time. At the beginning of th ride I was going to tell them to come move into my compartment, but decided they were probably fine. I guess now I know better!
Rome is probably one of the more interesting cities I’ve ever been too. There are tons of tourists and it’s high action, but at the same time there aren’t any sky scrapers and you can find these quaint little side streets and markets nestled into all of the commotion. On top of that all the tourist attractions are so old, but the city has just built around them making this interesting juxtaposition.
Our first day we set out not exactly knowing where we were headed. We ended up at the Trevi Fountain and then the Spanish Steps. We then wondered down a street filled with nice stores into a huge piazza and then back through a lovely park. This was a lot of walking and Rome is hot. Its hot and humid and you sweat just standing still, which allows the dust to stick to you and it’s almost like thousands of years of history just soaking right up into your pores.
The next day was Sunday and I was so excited because there was a number of markets taking place. When I went to London spending Sunday walking through the markets was one of my favorite things. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the same kind of market. I enjoyed myself and ended up getting some great things, but my mom and sister weren’t as pleased. At least we managed to figure out the buses so we didn’t have to walk there and back. When we got home we were so hot and tired we ended up sleeping till around 8 and then going out for a late dinner. Because of this we were determined to do as much as we could the last day we were there.
We started the day early and our first stop was the pantheon. This was in my opinion th most impressing monuments we saw. It was so big that when I was inside looking up at the dome I got dizzy and had to go outside and sit for a while. From there we walked through a couple piazzas and to an open food market that’s held everyday. There were so many spices, cheeses, meats, and pastas, plus fresh fruits and vegetables. I was dying to have a kitchen to bring them back to and make something. Next time I suppose!
Following the food frenzy we got onto another bus and went to St. peters Basilica. Needless to say it was a mob scene! There were thousands of people wanting in line. at this point it was starting to get hot and we were in no mood to wait in line bumping elbows with all those people, so we walked along the river to the Traverse. This is a quiet little neighborhood with shops and great food. At this point we were again hot and third, but after sleeping so much the day before we forced ourselves to keep going.
We got on a bus and headed to the colosseum. As we were waiting to go inside we were regaled into a tour group. Rachel and I had given my mom shit about taking any tours, but we decided that one couldn’t hurt. I will say it was interesting to hear the history of the building and the games that were carried out within. My only complaint was how long it was. The tour guide was great, but a bit long winded. Within our ticket to the colosseum there was also a tour of another site. Needless to say after one tour we were not about to go though another!
On our tour was a man from Indiana. He was in Italy for a business trip and extended it a couple days so he could come to Rome. That day alone he had gone to the Vatican and toured there and now he was at the colosseum and then he was going on the third tour that followed. Someone asked him how he did it and his reply was a lot of beer and a Vicodin at the end of the day. Some of the other tourists seemed a bit shocked by his response, but Rachel, my mom, and I found it hysterical. When we were leaving he started to follow us and we were like oh no don’t follow us were going home. No more tours for us! He wandered away and we were all convinced he was drunk.
That night we had dinner at a place I had found online. Little did we know there was an afternoon side and a dinner side. We sat on the afternoon side where there was no one. Our food came out cold and our service semi sucked. The highlight was when a man came by trying to sell these talking stuffed animals. When we declined he fished around in his bag and pulled out a priest. To our shock when he turned it on the priest’s robes sprang open and underneath he was naked. The animation was the penis going up and don while he danced side to side. We died laughing! It was the perfect thing to lighten the mood of the dinner.
From Rome Rachel and my mom were headed back to the states and I was headed to Spoleto, which was about an hour and a half train ride from Rome. From Spoleto it was a quick bus ride and then extremely steep hike to my second WWOOFing farm.
**Still no pictures…check Rachel’s Facebook!
The second day I was with my mom and sister we went to the island of Capri off of the coast near sorrento. We took a high speed ferry and got there in about 20/30 minutes. We weren’t really sure what there was to do on the island until we were on the ferry and realized that we should have brought our bathing suits. The island doesn’t have the best beaches because there are a lot of cliffs, but bluffs meant caves that you could go swimming in. If I go back I plan on bringing a bath suit and going to the caves to swim and explore.
When we got off the boat we saw signs for moped rentals. We all agreed it would be fun to drive around the island and see the different sits. Well, when we got to the moped shop and told the guy we were interested he simply said no. At first we thought he was joking, but then we realized he really wasn’t going to let us rent them. We tried a bit of persuasion, but he wasn’t budging. It was a good thing we listened to him though, because it would have been very dangerous to try and drive the mopeds on this all winding roads, navigate, and get a good look at the sites. Instead we ended up taking a taxi tour ride around the island.
The atmosphere is similar to that of block island. There are lots of small shops and restaurants that all cater to tourists. In the winter months, even though it doesn’t get that cold the island still basically shuts down and becomes somewhat of a ghost town. We finished our day out on the small beach near the port, which turned out to be extremely rocky. There were tons of tourists and I think the English speakers outnumbered the Italian speakers.
When we got back to Sorrento my mom and I wanted to check out this gelateria, which was supposed to be the best in the area. Luckily it was really close to there the ferry dropped us off so we only had a short walk to get there. I don’t know where all the ruckus came from, but the gelato was not that great. That night we had an earlier dinner and then Rachel and I went out to a local bar for a couple drinks. Clearly no one was interested in talking to us because there was about a 5 foot radius around us lacking people. The bartender was mixing drinks faster than anyone I’ve ever seen and we could have sworn all th kids were underaged. It was really great to just hang out with my sister and chat since we hadn’t gotten to in a while. The next day we were headed to Rome!
**I took a break from taking pictures because Rachel had her camera but forgot to get them from her. I would assume they’re on her facebook?
After some mild opposition by my mom and sister, the plan was made to go to Pompeii. I had taken a train from Naples to sorrento for 4€ that went right by Pompeii so I that it would be easy and cheap to get there. From our hotel we walked to the train station and then easily got on the train to Pompeii. I will admit, the ride was not as pleasant as the one from Naples. To start it was an older train and on top of that it was crowded and hot and we couldn’t sit down. All the things you don’t want on a train ride we experienced. Luckily it was short and before we knew it we were there.
Getting off the train we simply followed the crowds of people to the entrance. There are several things to do in this area. You can walk around Pompeii as well as four other smaller ruins or hike, bike, drive, be driven up to the top of mount Vesuvius, which is the volcano that erupted, burying pompeii and surrounding areas in ash and perfectly preserving them. Since then the site has been excavated and made accessible and it truly is amazing.
I have a wild imagination, so walking through this once entombed city had my mind racing. Almost everything is made out of stone. The fact that it still stands today is a testament to how well everything was built. As we ready about the history and explored the city it started to come alive right in front of my eyes. Even the roads had marks from continuous wear by carriages. The whole time we were walking around I just kept thinking to myself “Wow, I’m in Pompeii. This is so cool.” Lame, yes, but if you ever go yourself I’m sure you’ll be doing the same! Here are some pictures…
I had no expectations of Sicily. I was looking at it as my vacation away from my vacation. My cousin Linda has been close with my mom ever since they were young. She’s been in Europe for the past eight years and the last time she came to visit the states was probably five years ago. I had spent time wondering how she had changed since the last time I saw her, but it never really occurred to me that I had changed a lot in that time as well.
We arrived in Siracusa around 5:30 and as promised my cousin was there waiting for us. We were brought straight to an apartment that we were lucky enough to have all to ourselves for the week. It over looked a small harbor and was a short walk over the bridge to the small island or Ortegia. Zoe and I knew nothing about where we were. Without knowing any history or landmarks, we felt that we had landed in a non place. This quickly changed when we happened across some maps and guidebooks in the apartment. It turns out Siracusa is the birth place of Archimedes and the area is filled with ruins, temples, and even an old Greek theater.
Our first night my cousin and her boyfriend Bruno took us out to dinner. We walked around Ortegia, which is very touristy, but still beautiful. The roads are small and winding with cafes and restaurants tucked into every alleyway. There are beautiful churches and then because it’s an island there’s beautiful views of the ocean and amazing boats. For dinner we went to this restaurant known for their couscous. Needless to say it was delicious! After dinner we walked down by the water to see the boats and what do you know, there’s a boat from Jamestown, RI. What are the chances?
The next morning we discovered one of my favorite things about Ortegia. Everyday there’s an outdoor food market that was only a 5 minute walk from our apartment. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, fish, cheese, you name it. Zoe and I would browse the stands to see what looked good and then decide what we wanted for lunch. We would eat like kings but pay mere pennies. Well maybe not pennies, but usually around 6€ each for an appetizer, main course, and wine.
After spending a couple days in the city we headed to the country where my cousin has a house. Its tucked in the side of a mountain with a view all the way to the sea. One of my favorite things about traveling is exploring the vegetation of the area. Going up into the hills allowed me to wake up early and pick oranges, lemons, and other fruit I didn’t even know the name of. I saw fig trees, artichokes that had flowered, and even baby pomegranates starting to grow. Next time I come to Italy it will definitely be in the fall. This is when the olives and grapes are being harvested and then turned into oil and wine.
Days spent in the country were relatively lazy and hot. I built some ikea furniture and did some cooking. Later in the day we would go to the beach to swim and nap. My biggest surprise about Sicily and other areas of Italy as well has been the amount of trash. This was especially evident at the beach. In the states, if a beach has trash caught in the grass and buried in the sand it’s usually not a beach that is frequented often, but that’s not the case here. The beach we went to was nice, but there was trash everywhere. There’s trash all along the side of the roads as well. My cousin said that the people don’t realize the value of their land. It’s one of the best things they have and they’re slowly letting it go to ruin. I probably wouldn’t have believed this if I hadn’t seen it myself.
Sunday was the last day we spent in the country. I woke up early and hiked down to the valley between the two mountains where the house was. Running through the center is a river. I had been told there was a waterfall and that was my destination, but I never got there. I did get to the river and even went for a little swim, or I guess dunk is more appropriate. The water was chilly, but being wet made the walk back more enjoyable. While looking for the waterfall I came across wild mint that I picked for tea when I got back to the house.
That afternoon some of my cousin’s friends were coming over for the afternoon. We ate pasta, grilled meat, drank wine, and then vodka, and then rum. My cousin swears that no one ever drinks like that when they have these Sunday get togethers, but then again I never drink on Sundays like that either. I guess it was a truly special occasion. There was dancing and laughing and then there was the accident.
The tiling on the outdoor patio was a bit slippery. Zoe’s shoes were a little slippery too. Needless to say, she slipped and when she tried to catch herself on a nearby chair, the chair broke. She whacked her head and blood started coming out everywhere. In a second everyone was around her going on and on in Italian. To be honest I really didn’t think it was that bad, but what the hell do I know about head injuries. I’ve passed out from pulling off a band aid. No joke. Laugh all you want.
That night we went back to Siracusa. We were there for two more nights before Zoe and I would be splitting up for the rest of our time in Europe. She was headed to Rome and then to Paris. I was headed to Sorrento to meet my mom and sister! We spent our last two days being lazy and making our travel plans. Monday night we went to dinner at what looked like a cute place. The food was pretty good, but the service sucked. There were too many tables and not enough waiters.
Tuesday came and it was time to travel yet again. Zoe and I were both catching buses to Catania. Her destination was the airport and mine was another bus. Almost 12 hours it took to get to Naples. I watched four episodes of dexter to finally catch up on the last season and then I attempted to sleep with little success. I got to Naples around 5:30. Hung around for about an hour and a half until I caught a train to sorrento. It was a quick ride. From the train station I walked to my mom and sister’s hotel. Getting there and seeing their faces was such a relief. I finally felt, for the first time in over a month, that I was a little bit home.
Monday morning we woke up early. The first part of our trek to Sicily was a ride share. In Europe there are many websites to post frequent reoccurring drives so that the driver can take passengers with them and split the cost of gas and tolls. We were really lucky to find Beniot who weekly makes a trip from Lyon to Nice. He’s an architect who lives around Lyon, but does business outside of Nice. Eliza’s host mom brought us to the meeting spot off of the highway at 8am. To our surprise Beniot drove a really nice new BMW. We loaded up the trunk, hopped in, and hit the road!
Originally we were going to be dropped off at a bus stop and then have a quick ride to Nice, because that’s where Beniot worked, but when he discovered we were only going to be in Nice for a couple hours before catching a train he decided to drive us right to the train station. We couldn’t have asked for a better driver and were really lucky to only have to pay 20€ for the ride.
I thought I would like the south of France and even though I was only there for a short time I didn’t get the best of vibes from it. From the train station it seemed dirty, crowded, and disorganized. From Nice we were taking a train to Genoa. Unfortunately this wasn’t a straight trip. The first train we took went through Monaco and was extremely crowded. There were tourists everywhere and we had to stand for the majority of the ride. We took that train to Ventimiglia, IT. We had about an hour to kill here so we went to a cafe. As soon as we sat down it started thundering and lighting with wind gusting and rain pouring. We had a light lunch and a glass of wine before making the quick trip back to the train station.
Our next stop from there was Genoa, IT. It was there in Genoa that we would get the ferry that would then take us to Sicily. When we got to Genoa we first found a small market so we could buy food to take with us on the ferry because we figured things would be overpriced and lack luster. At the market we got fruit, peanuts, and these canned salads that had beans, corn, and tuna in them. Our food for the following day cost us a grand total of 7.44€. Feeling thrifty and knowing we were in a port city we decided to treat ourselves to a nice fish dinner. This was easier said than done. We walked in one direction assuming there would be restaurants only to be pointed in the opposite direction and told the restaurants were where we had just come from. This may not seem that bad, but Zoe and I have both realized we over packed by probably double what we needed. So by the time we got to the restaurant we were ready to fall over and crawl to the table. We kept our composure though and had a great dinner.
From the restaurant we had about a half hour walk to the port. We made periodic stops and took it slow. By the time we got to the port we were tired but happy to have finished our long day of travel. We didn’t know what to expect of the ferry, but we would be on the boat for 20+ hours, so we hoped it wasn’t that awful. Our first impression was of a small cruise ship. There were swimming pools, restaurants, bars, lounges, you name it. There’s the option of having a cabin for the night, but us being the poor college students that we are opted for the Pullmans chair. Our seats were in a room without windows that was similar to a plane, but was much roomier. We were excited to walk around the ship and explore, but after sitting in our seats for about 10 minutes our eyes grew heavy and we were ready for bed.
I’ve never had such a strange night of sleep. I woke up with random body parts asleep. I would readjust and then drift back into another stretch of sleep. All night my mind was buzzing with dreams that would get interrupted and distorted as I drifted in and out of sleep. Finally morning came. When I woke for the last time I didn’t exactly feel rested, but I didn’t feel exhausted anymore. What we realized the next day when we walked up to the top deck was that although the ferry looked like a cruise ship, nothing was really open. Swimming pools were empty and most of the bars and restaurants were closed as well, so instead of swimming and eating we just sat. I preferred the ferry ride to a train or bus ride because we were able to enjoy the weather and hang out on the top deck. It was certainly an interesting experience.
We arrived in Palermo, Sicily around 7:30 and took a taxi to our hotel. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. The ceilings were tall, we had a balcony, and our own bathroom. There was even a computer we could use for Internet. Breakfast was also included in our stay and it was only a short walk to the bus stop where we would be leaving from the following day. After two full days of travel the first thing we wanted to do was shower. We washed and relaxed a bit before heading out for dinner. We didn’t feel comfortable walking far because it was a bit late and we didn’t know the area. After a short walk we found a small restaurant where we could eat outside, which was just what we were looking for. We both got huge salads that were delicious and split some of the house wine.
We woke up around 9, packed our belongings, and headed for the complimentary breakfast. There was a little bit of everything and it was just enough to get us started for the day. The bus we were taking to Siracusa wasn’t leaving until 2, so we decided to walk around Palermo. There really wasn’t much of anything, but we spent 3€ on fresh fruit and olives at a market stand to eat on the bus. The bus ride was uneventful. Sicily has landscape like I’ve never seen before. There are harsh rugged mountains with orchards everywhere. Oranges are in season. I feel extremely lucky to have been in California when they were in season in the winter and now to be here and have them in season again.
Cousin Linda was right at the bus stop waiting for us when we got there. Right from the bus stop we were brought to our own apartment in Ortigia, which is the old side of Siracusa. We’ve found that there are tons of ruins in the city and that Archimedes was born here. We hope to spend the next couple days exploring the city before heading out into the country and spending our days on the beach and hiking. I’m glad to have a place to rest and not have to deal with traveling again for the next week. The next time I make a big move will be to meet my mom and sister! Can’t wait for that. Ciao!
When I got back to Eliza’s I was quick to realize tensions had risen between her and Zoe. Because of this, I invited Zoe to come back to the farm with me for my second week and she agreed. Monday, which was memorial day in the states was a religious holiday in France, so Eliza’s host mom was able to drive us to the farm and some of the family came as well. It was a beautiful day when we got there. It was amazing to see the difference weather can make in people’s moods and the activity at the farm. Instead of sleeping in the house where I had slept the week before, Zoe and I decided to sleep in one of the small A-frame cabins in the woods bordering the lavender field. That cabin quickly became our little home. By the end of our stay we were wishing we could pack it up and take it with us for the rest of our adventures.
My second week at the farm was a lot different than my first week. For starters there were several more people at the farm, including another WWOOFer, Fabian. He was about 25 years old and is really interested in aromatic and wild plants. He was a walking encyclopedia for all things edible. He would go out for a couple hours and come back with a bucket of greens and flowers that when eaten together made one of the most interesting salads I’ve ever tasted.
Communication on the farm got very confusing during the week. You had myself who knew little French and Breige who knew a little more than me. Then there was Frank who wasn’t always around but knew a good amount of French. Zoe was understanding and speaking a great deal by the end of the week and then there was Fabian who knew some English, but whose first language was French. Every day became an extended game of telephone. Edith would tell Breige something in the morning that she would only half understand, but would relay to Zoe, Fabian, and I the way she had understood, which would then get a bit more distorted when translated back to Fabian. Needless to say things got a little twisted.
The best example of this was the last day we were at the farm. Zoe, Fabian, and I had spent our day doing various farm tasks and then were all sitting around the outdoor table around 6 talking and relaxing. In the kitchen there was all this food made. Breige came out and told us that Edith was leaving at 7 but it looked like we were having pizza for dinner. Around the same time three guests showed up for the weekend. Most of the time when there are guests we all eat together. At this point we were confused because Edith was leaving and we thought we may have to serve dinner to the guests. As we’re sitting there contemplating this, Edith’s daughter starts loading all the food up into the car. One by one dishes of food are being carried out of the kitchen and stacked into the backseat. This is when we really got confused because we thought we were now going to have to make dinner for the guests. Finally, after we had just about given up on trying to figure out the situation, Edith showed up and cleared up the confusion. The guests were eating dinner somewhere else and we were free to cook what ever we wanted for dinner. What followed was a simple meal, with good wine, and great conversation. This is starting to be a reoccurring theme in my trip.
The last 24 hours we were at the farm two lambs, nine pigs, and a small flock of turkeys were born/hatched. Growing up on a farm or spending any extended amount of time there, exposes you to the extremely relevant circle of life. Here was this beautiful slice of french farming tucked away in the mountains teaming with life and yet Frank had cancer and we were leaving, but the animals didn’t know that and they would just continue living as long as there was someone there to feed them. I’ve come to realize a person can learn many things from caring for animals and in turn you can’t help but love them.
Animals require great patience and quick thinking. Feeding the pigs in the morning meant figuring out how to get the food in the pens without them fighting each other and then not losing it when they rub their food smeared snout all over your legs (wouldn’t a simple good morning suffice?). They also teach perseverance, because even if you get a little roughed up by the teen pigs you have to pick yourself up and finish the job. Then there’s responsibility. You are the sole provider for these creatures. They look to you for life and you have to be able to make decisions that sometimes you don’t want to make in order to keep them sustained. The list goes on and on, but what I think is most important is finding the balance between being stern and tender. Animals require a firm hand otherwise nothing would get done, but to gain the trust of an animal there needs to be some kind of tenderness.
Edith has mastered all of these qualities and she is an amazing woman, farmer, and business owner. Working at the Student Farm at UMass has brought me into contact with the strongest female farmers and best role models I could ask for. Not being able to freely converse with Edith put me at a disadvantage to using her as a resource. I hope to someday become at the very least conversational in French and go back to Edith’s as a guest. I was glad to have Zoe with me when we were saying goodbye to Edith. She said that she’s happy for what were doing and wished us luck in our endeavors. She dropped us off at the bus stop in her super cool vintage land rover and that was it. We piled into the bus and headed back to Tournon and Eliza.
One of my first nights at Edith’s Breige asked me if I wanted to go looking for mushrooms. One of her friends had told her that all the rain, humidity, and warmth made for perfect mushroom weather. I immediately accepted. I love mushrooms and thought it would be exciting to go on a hunt for them. The ones we were looking for we’re on the smaller side, cream in color, with thin stems. Our first stop was a field that the sheep had recently been on so the grass was cut down low. This was the easiest place to find the mushrooms because as you were picking from one spot you could easily see where the next patch was.
From there we wondered through the woods and into a meadow. Finding the mushrooms in the meadow was much more of a challenge. The grass was tall and sometimes you wouldn’t see the mushrooms until your foot was just about ready to crush them. We didn’t have to pick for too long before filling our baskets. When looking for mushrooms it’s important to pick them when they’re fresh because worms and other insects will move in and those you don’t want to eat.
I also learned that you’re not supposed to wash mushrooms. A quick wipe with a damp cloth is all you really should do. I had the pain staking task of pulling all the stems off and trying not to get more dirt and grass into the ones we were trying to cook. The type of mushrooms we collected were best used in a soup or quickly sautéed with butter and used in an omelette, which is how we used them and boy were they delicious! I could have had an omelette with them every, but as the humidity broke and it got hotter out, the mushrooms shriveled up and stopped producing.
I was informed that during this time of year people come from all over to hunt for mushrooms in that area. I wouldn’t have believed it, but while biking I saw two people with baskets out in random meadows hunting for the little gems. Most of the time these people will dry the mushrooms, put them in glass jars, and then sell them for top dollar at markets in bigger cities like Lyon and Paris. It was really exciting to be part of this tradition and enjoy the mushrooms without having to spend an arm and a leg on them. I hope to learn more about mushroom culture in the States when I get back!
It’s a terrifying feeling to go from a family that quickly opens their home and treats you like part of the family to getting on a bus by yourself with a driver who doesn’t know English. The bus left from Tournon and went right up into the mountains, winding up and up. Clinging to the sides of the mountains are grape vines and fruit trees. The day I left was overcast and cold. I got off the bus in St. Victor. Edith, the owner of the farm was picking me up at the bus stop. She wasn’t there right when I got off the bus and I started to panic. I calmed myself down by saying I could just sleep at the bus stop and take the first bus back in the morning. Mind you, I got to this thinking after waiting for 5 minutes and then Edith pulled up in her tiny green car. She knows about as much English as I know French, which made for a very quiet ride back to the farm.
The lack of conversation made me question my decision to come to the farm. I wondered how I would ever figure out what I was supposed to be doing or where I was supposed to be. Luckily, when we pulled up to the farm I was greated by an extremely enthusiastic New Zealander by the name of Breige (56). That night she had made dinner for everyone at the farm, which was Edith, Corene (a woman who had been living at the farm for almost two months doing mostly all the cooking and cleaning), Frank (Breige’s husband), Breige, and myself. I quickly learned that this was a quieter night on the farm and that the whole first part of my stay at the farm was quieter than normal. Most of this can be explained by the overcast and threateningly rainy weather. Dinner was three courses plus dessert. Not every meal was like this, but almost every lunch and dinner was served with dessert. What’s different was most of the desserts were egg based with little sugar: rice pudding, flan, custards with fruit, etc. versus what I’m used to, which is cookies and cakes. I haven’t quite decided what I prefer, a decadent dessert once in a while or a more simple dessert with every meal.
My first day at the farm was hard. Not because I was asked to do anything that was particularly physically tolling, but because of the language barrier and lack of structure at the farm. I had been expecting there to be set tasks I had to carry out each day, a certain time to be up, and a predetermined amount of work hours I would have to complete. There was none of this. I woke up my first day at 6:30, pulled on my boots and waltzed out the door. Edith was surprised to see me. She slowly explained to me how to feed the pigs using and gestures and broken English, while I tried to understand and pick up on some French words. It was time consuming, but I made it through. From there I was sent to the garden where Frank was working. I was happy to be with someone who spoke English because it made following instruction easier, but I also loved hearing the stories of his travels.
Frank and Breige have spent the last three years biking through Europe, and by biking I don’t mean motorcycles, I mean good old man powered bicycles. This was their third time at Edith’s. It wasn’t in their original plan to go back this year, but while biking through Spain in March, Frank was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Since then Frank has had to desert his bike, which I can tell is probably the worst part of the whole illness for him. At Edith’s he has transformed one whole grass area about a half in acre in size to a garden since getting there in April. Frank’s garden is designed to prevent any weeding from occurring. He’s put down loads of compost and applies a thick layer of straw around all the plants to keep the ground moist and weeds from growing. The only thing I’m concerned about is the straw preventing water from getting to the ground in the first place. I plan on keeping in touch to hear how everything turns out.
That afternoon I picked cherries. I picked and I ate and I picked and I ate. The best part about picking cherries is tasting the difference in the shades of red. The deeper the shade the sweeter they are. My favorite day of cherry picking was when the tree right in the middle of one of the pig pens was abundant with ripe fruit. I had been putting off this tree because I didn’t want to have to deal with trying to keep the cherry bucket away from pig as I was collecting, but the time had come. I left the bucket of cherries outside the pen and decided to collect into my shirt. As I quickly darted around the tree picking ripe fruit I would through the rotting ones to the pig. Each time I would toss them to the other side of the pen so she wouldn’t try and eat the good ones. I can only imagine what this looked like, but I enjoyed myself and I didn’t hear the pig complaining, so I can only call it a win win situation.
During the day at the farm, Edith is just about anywhere but where you can find her. She’s constantly being called by other farmers and workers contracted for different building projects. While I was there she was in the process of building a large aromatherapy conference center and an outdoor bread oven. I was hoping the bread oven would be done by the time I left, but no such luck. Breige got home around 4 from the hospital (she volunteers monday tuesday, and wednesday giving out medication to Alzheimer’s patients) and since she knows the farm so well she knows what needs to be done even without Edith’s instruction. Unfortunately, the first thing she asked me to do was rescue a goose egg that had just been laid. I figured it would be no big deal. All the animals on Edith’s farm were extremely friendly and I hadn’t felt threatened once by any of time. Well the geese would quickly put an end to that. I hoped the fence into the field and snatched up the egg only to be chased by the geese. I screamed running with the egg to the fence and hopped over. Granted it was anticlimactic, nothing really happened, but that was the start of the geese’s vendetta against me. Anytime I was near they would stick their necks out and start waddling towards me hissing. Thankfully they weren’t very fast, but it was enough to keep me at a distance for the rest of my stay there.
I stayed at the farm from Tuesday until Saturday. Almost everyday was spent working with Breige and Frank because Edith was off doing other things. I wasn’t going to complain about this because it was easier for me, but I feel I would have benefitted more from knowing french and working with Edith directly. She has this huge lavender field and other herbs that she makes into different soaps and aromatherapy liquids. She also makes jams with a lot of the fruit grown on the farm. I felt like I could have easily fallen into the rhythm of the farm and spent my summer there going through the different seasons and becoming fluent in french, but I guess there’s always next year.
My second day on the farm Frank let me borrow his bike and Breige and I went to St. Felician. The total bike ride was about 20k. I quickly realized three things while riding.
1. I was out of shape.
2. I really missed my bike.
3. I want to go on a lengthy bike ride someday.
Biking is truly the best way to see as place. It’s better than walking because you aren’t moving so slow and it’s easier to carry gear, but it’s also better than a car because you don’t have the distractions and you’re outside with a full view of the scenery.
While I was at the farm all week I decided I wanted to come back the following week. I had made plans to go back to Eliza’s for the weekend because she was in a play and Zoe and I never had time to catch up before I left. It was good timing because the weekend was very busy at the farm. Over the weekend Edith’s friend was teaching a bee course and the 20 people taking the class were all staying at Edith’s. Not only is it a farm but a type of bed and breakfast with the addition of feeding guests lunch and dinner. Friday night I didn’t get to have dinner with everyone because I went with Frank and Breige to their band practice. They are part of a group that plays traditional folk music. They practice every Friday and then play different festivals at Edith’s and in the surrounding area. It was great hearing all the different songs and instruments. The best part was eating homemade tiramisu with fresh picked strawberries. I don’t even usually like tiramisu, but it was really good with the strawberries.
The next day I helped Breige feed the pigs and then picked cherries for most of the morning. When Edith has guests she uses as much from her own farm and surrounding farms to feed guests as possible. That afternoon before I left I had lunch with all the guests. Luckily the woman sitting next to me knew some English and she kept me clued in to the conversation at the table and translated a bit for others. It was a great ending to the first part of my farm stay.