Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Scissors are in the Chicken!

Day Thirty

I'm at the point of not being able to stand it here any longer. This has occurred only recently since Rosa has apparently gone bat-shit insane. We picked up the new WWOOFers on Monday and ever since she has been out of her mind. There have been less chestnuts in the fields now that we have been picking every day, and it is hard to do anyways because the rules are constantly changing. Some days you are told to not pick up the small ones, and other times "all sizes are good." Then we are told that we should pick all that are bitten because the "animals eat only the best." Yesterday, however, Rosa returns in a panic. She returns from the factory looking as though she had just returned from a fight with a badger, and tells us that the man did not pay her for ANY of the chestnuts because they were so awful. She says, "The man said that 70% were bad, and he not pay me." She then proceeds to give us a lesson on what is a good chestnut and what is a bad chestnut- a class that is about 3 weeks overdue by this point. I bring up the fact that she told us to pick chestnuts with the holes, and the small ones and she denies it adding, "one is okay, but not all."

Later we remember that on Tuesday she made us separate the good chestnuts from the bad, and that she had brought the whole bag of bad ones to the factory. We suggest that perhaps this is the reason for the lack of payment- maybe he opened up the bag we had set aside of bad. She doesn't acknowledge what we have said, "They do this at the factory, I do not decide. Massimo had gone before and then they were also bad" Really? Then why the fuck is this the first time we are being told about it? If they have been not getting paid for THREE WEEKS of chestnuts, why NOW are they deciding to tell us what's wrong. I am fuming at this point.

Today we picked and she got mad because she "is older and slower and she picked a whole bag [her]self, while [we] have only picked three for five of [us]!" Keep in mind this "full" bag was only 1/4 of the way full, and most of the chestnuts looked JUST like the bad examples from the day prior! Jess confronted her about her chestnuts and she told us that hers were not as small as the others, and that a little bitten is okay because it is hers. She had also told Jake earlier that if we didn't want to pick chestnuts we could go home. That had me roaring. I am always up for that game - someone wants to threaten me with going home, I'll fucking leave. She needs our help far more than we need hers. Rosa does not even feed us half the time, there is no heat, she refuses to let us put the firewood under shelter so it s always wet and we cannot make fires, we cannot take showers because we can't heat the water- I really don't even know what we are getting out of this anymore other than a fucking headache and a large dose of rage virus. I would much rather be lost in the beautifully majestic Positano than here right now.

The only redeeming thing about being here is the other WWOOFers. They are all really funny, and we're all so different with completely different life experiences that we have loads of stories to share with each other. For this reason, I love being here. It is also a comfort knowing that we are all about at wits end with Rosa, and that it's not just me who thinks she's lost it. It's sad to watch, like seeing someone half-way effected by anesthesia or something, but more than sad it's fucking annoying.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shall We Go?!

Days Twenty-Six & Seven

It was 5:40AM and Rosa was honking the horn. She was going to Avellino to pick up a new WWOOFer, and had agreed to take Jessica, Jake, and I to the bus station so that we may spend the day in Napoli. It was pouring, and it certainly did not help Rosa's driving any. We had picked up another WWOOFer the previous day, so even though we were leaving town we knew the two of them could have the day to bond and settle in.

We had decided to spend the day in Pompeii which would be the first time for all three of us. Luckily, we brought umbrellas because Rosa's statement that, "it never rains in Pompei!" did not hold true. It was pretty crazy being there, especially envisioning what it must have been like to live there. There was one part where we could stand in the streets and see Vesuvias towering overhead, and imagined how terrifying it must have been to see lava and smoke pouring out of it in 79AD. Gah, blows my mind.

It's amazing how much a day hanging out in ancient ruins can take out of you! We had originally intended upon spending the rest of our afternoon in Napoli, but between the rain and the exhausted legs we were all traveling upon, we chose to return to Montefalcione. I FINALLY got some gelato in Avellino at a small cart near the bus station 1 Euro! Ugh. I wanted more, but Jake said no :((((( Anyways, we continued back to the house to find it completely dark and us locked out. Jessica called Rosa who said that she would be there in five minutes (which, in Rosa-time, is actually about an hour). She eventually returned with Mar (from Spain) and Robby (from South Africa) and we all exchanged pleasantries as we helped carry items inside.

The following morning, it was rainy so we would not be picking chestnuts. Instead, we went to a small building that is used by the family to host events, teach organics, and I suppose was once used as a banquet facility. Our job was to clean the kitchen that hadn't been used in 5 years (and hadn't been cleaned when last used). The flat-top was COVERED in rust. Absolutely covered- and I took it upon myself to remedy it. A bottle of coke, some steel wool and about 8 hours later (in shifts, of course) it is now good enough to cook on! There is still some black on it from where it hadn't been cleaned after use, but 98% of the rust is gone. I told Rosa that every time she is going to cook, she should scrub it down with coke first to be sure no rust has returned (especially if she is going long periods of time between cooking). The fry-o-later is a different story, though…This was Jake's task and it was messy! There was about 3 inches of congealed oils on the bottom of the machine, which still needs some work.

It was really great doing something different, and Jake and I both acknowledged how weird it was to be so excited for a deep clean. Something about it sparked pleasant memories that I didn't know I could have for a kitchen again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Too many puppies...

Day Twenty Three through Twenty-Six

Since finding El Dorado we have not had to go to either of the first two farms Jacob and I went to. This is a very good thing because not only do I loathe the other two farms, but I absolutely love this newly discovered one. It has everything I like about the first two minus everything I hated. There is even covering to protect from wind, but not so dense that you cannot move. It has a slope that makes it easier to pick, but not so steep that you can barely stand. Plus, the chestnuts here are significantly larger, and there are more of them. This farm is so large that despite going there every day, we are at a different area every time.

Massimo has started bringing us there by tractor which is both awesome and terrifying. It is awesome because we are riding in a freaking trailer but terrifying because he hits trees and almost dumps us over multiple times per trip. Two days ago, Rosa rode with us- poor lady- and kept yelling (In Italian) "Let me out! I want out! I WANT OUT! I AM AFRAID!" with a death grip on my knee. Keep in mind she is a grandmotherly type of woman so it's not like watching a friend where you can laugh. It was like watching an old woman fall down the stairs- it breaks your heart. Finally Massimo stopped and let her out, but the rest of us stuck it out. It was beginning to rain and I would personally rather move quickly and risk danger than be stuck in the rain. Call me crazy.

That morning, Rosa brought us to Montemilleto to buy some new wool clothes at the market. It was pretty awesome, and they had a lot of various things for sale. Pigeons, for example, and also veggies, hats, clothes, books, plungers, you name it and it was probably there. Jake and I walked away with a total of 5 sweaters for 11 Euro. BALLIN'! Needless to say with, "the wool on the skin," (as Rosa constantly says) we have been very warm and cozy every day.

However, yesterday was a different sort of day. Rosa had said that we would only have to work a half day which was already awesome, but even better was that she was bringing us to her walnut farm in another town! We didn't begin working until 10am, and when we arrived we were greeted by six of the most adorable, ratty, sweet baby puppies you'd ever imagine. Momma pooch was tired and annoyed, but stuck around long enough to be sure we weren't a threat. No problem, though, because Papa pooch (who more-so resembled a fucking wolf) didn't go far and kept a good eye on us. Each puppy was missing a bit of fur here and there, except for two who looked fully intact. One, a little girl pup whom Jake and I named "Chuck" and another tiny one who I named "Piccolo" (Italian for "tiny") because it was the smallest of all the puppies. We picked walnuts for a few hours which was fun and also disgusting. Walnuts come in this rotting fruit that you need to peel away to get to the nut- luckily a lot of the fruits were dried and just broke away. We collected about two bags of walnuts before eating our picnic of cheese, bread, fresh tomatoes, and hard boiled eggs under the hazelnut trees.

After saying our goodbyes to Chuck, Piccolo, and the rest of the puppies, we all piled in the car and made our way back to Montefalcione.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Do you guys say 'beezy?'"

Days Seventeen through Twenty Two

We have reached the point in the journey where keeping track of days is not only pointless, but physically impossible. For one, we don't have a lot going on so a day by day play by play is kind of stupid and boring; for two, instead of wasting time every day regurgitating the factoids of every day, I have been spending time studying Italian more thoroughly.

Sunday morning, Jacob and I were the market goers for Rosa. We both wanted to go so sure enough at 6:25AM we packed into the Skoda as follows: chestnuts and all sellable goods in the seatless back seat, Rosa in the driver seat, and Jake and I in the passenger seat. Now, you are probably wondering how two humans can fit in the front seat of a tiny car, so I will describe it to you more thoroughly.


Needless to say, it was not the most comfortable two hours of my life- but we made it to Naples, and we made it alive. It was a crazy day- we weren't aware that we would actually be helping Rosa DO anything so when we were taking orders and making change and speaking in Italian, it was pretty overwhelming. Of course, many people got frustrated with us, and some we had to direct to Rosa to answer their questions, but that would have happened even if we knew the language- it is her product and no one knows it better than her.

After the market, we met with her son and sister and went for some amazingly delicious Neopolitan pizza followed by, of course, gelato. It was the perfect end to one of the most mentally invigorating days I had had since arriving in Rome.

On Monday a new WWOOFer arrived from California named Jessica. She has been in Italy since June going to college and recently graduated so she is hanging out in Montefalcione for a few weeks checking out the area (and obviously picking chestnuts). It is pretty awesome having another girl around, and seeing as I never get along with girls it's pretty remarkable that I enjoy her company. She speaks Italian very well and has many resources that she is letting us use in order to improve. All in all, she was pretty much the perfect addition to our group. However, Wednesday was Felipe's last day here so we only had a short group bonding experience Tuesday evening.

We all went out to Enjoy Pub where we received many skeptical looks, but were quickly redeemed by the language skills of Felipe and Jessica. We began attracting a crowd including an old man who insisted on buying us drinks (something he never fulfilled, mind you) from the bottom of his heart, and a young man named Jean-Luc (what kind of Italian name is Jean-Luc?!) who insisted on getting in Jessica's pants (another thing left unfulfilled, might I add). Three beers and a shot of Jagermeister each later, we wandered home to continue the festivities with a Brazilian card game called "Sweden." If you have ever played "King's Cup," you have played "Sweden." Eventually we ran out of wine, which was probably a good thing because by that time "Black Out Jen" (as we call the drunk alias of Jessica) had arrived and we were comparing the sizes of our hands while Felipe and Jake were busy proving each other's manliness. It was a great last hoorah with Felipe, though it was something pretty much all of us would be feeling the next morning.

Wednesday morning was a rough one for Black Out Jen- physically, for Jake, though it was purely emotional. It was the morning of Felipe's departure, and it meant that the bromance was about to end. Luckily, though, Felipe left behind some clothes that Jacob has been able to wear so it is as though he is permanently in Felipe's embrace. Ha. No, it's not really that gay, but almost. Only a little gay I guess. However, we did move our room to Felipe's old room which is sweet because now we have our own bathroom and porch-side shower. My allergies are also SOOOOO much better than they were in the other room. This day was not much fun in the chestnut world, but we did come across what Massimo dubbed, "The El Dorado of Chestnuts," that we would be picking at for the next few days. These chestnuts were ENORMOUS. As big as the ones I saw with Rosa that time I went to the large tree with her and her sister. "Chestnuts of Gold," Massimo claimed, which I translated to Jacob as, "MON-AY!"

We are slowly (it feels, anyways….Jessica says we are fast) learning Italian. I can now say a few choice phrases about the weather, my day, and what I am doing. It is rough understanding us I think, but I am finding more and more similarities to French and it helps a lot. Mostly in verbs, but it is something at least. Every day, Jake and I write a sentence about our day in Italian and even when I dream I am trying to speak Italian. Felipe told us that the first night we have a full dream in Italian will be when we know that we have become fluent. I am very excited for that day. Rosa is letting us go to Naples on Monday which is exciting- after that only one more week until we make our way to Positano.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Inner Workings of a Serious Loser.

Sometimes I get in this self-hating mindset where I wonder what I'm doing with my life. Top of my list of gripes are usually: I have few friends, I don't have a college degree, I don't have a husband or child or settled down family of my own, I prefer knitting to going clubbing. It makes me feel like a loser. Like one of those people you look at or casually remember and go, "oh yeah...her." But this is the first time that I have had that feeling while on a long-term adventure across Europe. When that feeling morphs into one of, "If you feel like THIS makes you a loser, then wow, you really are one," you know?

Let's attack my mind for a minute, which is normal considering what this entire post is about...First gripe: Few friends. Well, you can do the whole "quality over quantity" bit, but I think the more relevant fact is that I have spent the last like...two years straight with my best friend, including that fact that we're, I don't know, traveling the world together? Also, I feel like if I had a college degree, it would be kind of a waste if I were spending my time gallavanting around Europe all willy-nilly (which would be financially difficult if I preferred clubbing to knitting), and finally, nearly impossible if I had children.

So when you go back over the reasons why I feel like a loser, it makes sense that I would feel more like one for wanting to be "normal." Being all settled in, tied up in a pretty bow, would mean that I wouldn't be spending the next four-five months exploring the world and doing whatever the fuck I want. I mean, I just decided that I want to go to Belgium for my birthday. Belgium. For my birthday. Who does that? Well, I'm sure people in Europe can do it more reasonably, but the point is that if I wanted to see anything in the Eastern hemisphere, I could be there within about 24 hours. And I think that's pretty freaking awesome.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Day in Napoli

Day Sixteen

Despite the long period of sleep each of us got, none of us were in the mood to be awake at 8:00AM. There was no coffee, no food, and it was foggy enough to be intimidating, but not enough to complain. Massimo came downstairs and asked if we were ready to go. He was dressed in a suit because today he was to accompany a friend to the hospital. The previous day, he had told me that he would drop us off at the chestnut field, leave for a few hours, and return to pick us up. I already knew it would be a lazy day. Only moments after seeing if we were ready, he yelled to me through the door, "Katy!" because this is what he always calls me, "Katy! Or if you like, you may go to Napoli. The weather here is no good, but in Napoli- much better." Not wanting to be the only one with a day off, I turned to the boys, "Napoli?" I shrug, "YES! We much prefer Napoli!" Felipe exclaimed. And that was that.

Massimo drove us to the bus stop in Montefalcione where we were to catch the bus to Avellino and then to Napoli. While we are there, we make friends with heavy accented Italian woman who is apparently from Boston, and a short, slick haired Englishman. They picked our brains about Obama and the dealth penalty which made me a bit uncomfortable. I tried to avoid the whole thing because I figured being undecided would be in my favor- I was later told by Felipe that no matter what I should just say that I love Obama and I will have friends everywhere in Europe. Good to know.

We board the bus and about two hours and a transfer later we are in Napoli. For the first time in our trip, we were both okay with not having any idea where we were or where to go. There were three of us, and one of us knew some Italian so all was well. We wandered around pretty much all day, stopping for a some espresso and then moving onto a pizzeria. In between, though, we passed through a very large and crowded market. We weaved in and out of the screaming Neopolitans; "Prego! Prego!" trying to force their welcomes, but mostly just intimidating us. We saw many clothing vendors (Bras for only 2 Euro! If it is there next time I am buying like 7! Bras are almost $30 back home!), pescherias (which I like to translate as "fishery" but in the context of "witchery" rather than a "hatchery"), and butchers galore. Sitting atop the cooler of one butcher were three large pig heads as though they were trophies. My immediate though was how badly I wanted to bring one home to make head cheese. It was then that we decided to get some lunch- we thought it would be the best idea ever to EACH get a pizza at the restaurant since we were so hungry, but it was pretty unreasonable on our parts. The pizzas were enormous, and I still have no idea how we managed to pack all three of those away in our bellies.

We decided to walk off our pizza babies, and headed towards the archeological museum but were blocked by about 25 polizia and even more up ahead. Uncomfortable, and with my inner voice screaming, "GTFO! GTFO!" Felipe made us keep walking. I say made, but obviously I had a choice a. listen to the voice and stay behind, getting swallowed by the mob of people and separated from the only two humans I know or b. go with my friends. I decided that if it were something that bad I would rather be in danger with my friends than in danger alone- so I followed. Turns out it was just some guys hanging over a balcony a few stories up in protest of some labor dispute. I still do not see the need for that many guns and protective vests if that was all. We finally convinced Felipe to keep moving, and continued through a maze of narrow streets coated alternately in street art and gang tags until we came across a gelateria where we proceeded to eat mass amounts of the ice creamy goodness.

Bellies fuller than we could have imagined, we spent an hour at an internet cafe before heading back to the bus station. On the ride home, we watched Mount Vesuvius in the distance as the clouds surrounded it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"It is a beautiful day for picking chestnuts, no?"

Day Fifteen

I hit the snooze button at 7:45AM and took the extra 10 minutes to not only accept the fact that I was still tired after getting 10 hours of sleep, but also to mentally pump myself up for the day of chestnut picking that was inevitably ahead of me. We had been dreading our daily ritual so much the last few days that I though, hey, maybe if I realize that I will definitely be doing this and remember how much fun I had the first day….maybe… won't be so bad. I say "so bad" as if I am experiencing the difficulties of a migrant worker or a slave, but as Jake, Felipe, and I would discuss later, it is more like a mosquito bite. It's not terrible, it's actually not even remotely close to being anything unbearable, but you still don't enjoy it- and after awhile of scratching, it gets pretty freaking annoying. You could always put on an extra layer, use some bug spray, or whatever, but it's not annoying enough for you to care enough to change the circumstance. It's like that with chestnuts- we don't get so aggravated with it that we would take the time to leave, but it's still not our favorite thing in the world.

Anyways, we get up and head to our usual farm where the chestnuts eagerly greet us in mass quantities. This is a good thing, because it means we can scoop them up more quickly and fill our bags faster. Massimo brings us each a sandwich and says that we will be eating there and continue working because it is supposed to rain, and he would like us to keep working until the rain begins. We eat our sandwiches, pick some more bags, and he comes down again. This time, he is bearing three more sandwiches, some bananas, and three beers (they actually sell them in three packs…perfect!) and tells us to eat some more, take a break, and then pick one more bag each. Fair enough- except that we had already done so much picking that it was no longer quick and easy. After an hour and a half of picking, and having only filled half a bag each, we called it quits.

Once we returned to the house, we watched as the sky suddenly transformed from clear and beautiful to dark, grey, and ugly. Within the hour it began raining…thunder and lightening even! Jake and I played cards in hopes that it will subside long enough to go get some ice cream, but first needed to check with Massimo on whether or not they accepted debit cards. Massimo's English is much worse than Rosa's- but it doesn't hurt any. In this case, he thought we were looking for a bank which works because then we could get cash and there would be no problem. He had heard us talking about ice cream and drove us all over Montefalcione on a search but all supermarkets were closed ("oh, they are always closed Thursday afternoons." I can't imagine that ever being normal). The gelato bars, still open, were not serving gelato because, as Massimo says, "it is like winter here now." Seriously? LIKE WINTER? It's no less than 50 degrees a day and you get some rain….that's winter? In the mountains? Of Italy? I'll take it! Even if it means no ice cream!

We thank Massimo for carting us around and return home. I don't recall what we had for dinner, but more than likely it was pasta related and delicious. We stayed up talking as usual, but still called it an early night- about 9:30PM.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"You like my cooking ways? Ah HA! I am a master chef!"

Day Fourteen

Mother nature played a big ole "gotcha" on us this morning by greeting us with a rainstorm harder than we have seen since arriving in Europe. Relieved, but still remembering that I needed to do the dishes from last night, I got up and set to work. By 9:00 the buckets of rain had ceased and the sun was beginning to peak its way through the fog. Massimo came downstairs and mumbled something to us, and we followed him outside to the garage.

Our task today would be to peel labels and plastic seals off of old wine bottles that we would then wash out, fill with wine, recork, and seal. It was quite a process, but a relief to be doing just about anything BUT chestnuts. We took turns cleaning the yard, cleaning the bottles, and destroying spider webs for a good long while before lunch. It was then that Massimo served us pasta with peas and some of Felipe's sausage that he had bought at the market on Sunday. We were told to take a short break, after which we would be allowed to use the internet for a brief period before returning to work.

We awoke from a brief nap to more rain and wonderful news that we would not only be allowed to use the internet but that we would also be taking the rest of the day off! Jake and I used our time to research some hotels in Positano, a small and beautiful town on the Amalfi coast, and made some reservations for early November when we are in between farms. It was exciting making plans but not in an obsessive way that we had been making them for the past year. It was like planning a vacation, and it was wonderful. Felipe came out to join us around 6:00PM, and we cooked ourselves a small feast quite reminiscent of the night prior- fire roasted potatoes with onions, chestnuts, beans, bread, however we also added hard boiled eggs, mozzarella, and finished off the evening with some gelato.

While it was a great movie, it was probably not wisest to watch Zombieland on such a full stomach. Bluhhck. But yes, it was pretty good. We tidied up the dining room and kitchen, calmed the fire, and got tucked into bed. Although I love my time here very much, I am also looking forward to Positano. I feel like if I keep getting days off I am going to get fat from all the pasta, but I hate picking chestnuts on the same farm. I am hoping that sometime soon they will take us to one of their other farms where we will be able to have a plethora of chestnuts to pick. The one thing that will never get old is the scenery- especially with the ever changing weather. As we were surfing the web this evening we even had a thunder and lightening storm! We will see what the weather tomorrow will bring, but I would certainly not object to some fresh, dry, warm rays of sunshine- that's for damn sure.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The winding roads

Day Thirteen

The fog still hung in the sky like damp laundry as we awoke. A simple breakfast of cereal would do while we waited for the rest of the house to get moving. Around 9am, Massimo came downstairs and announced that we put on our boots, grab our gloves, and head to the Skoda (which now has an actual back seat!). We drive along the windy roads of Montefalcione to a small farm that Jake and I had not yet been to. It had four large chestnut trees- two at the top of the hill and, of course, two at the very bottom. In between was a large downward field of baby chestnut trees which, upon sight of them Jake's first reaction is, "I feel bad for the poor souls who come to this farm 10 years from now." And with that, we began picking. Slipping in mud, sinking in, and plucking handfuls of chestnuts into burlap bags was the ritual for this day until about noon.

This day, Felipe was originally supposed to climb one of the largest mountains in the area. Massimo had misunderstood and thought that he just wanted to be driven there, not knowing that Felipe really just wanted to hike it. After clarification, Massimo still drove us to the mountain to take a look and so that we may measure the distance. Up and up we went through a couple of different villages. The higher we climbed, the thicker the fog became until it was practically smothering us. We could barely see in front of the car, it was so thick, until we broke through the other side. It was as if we had gone so high up that even the fog didn't dare to follow. From there we could see farms of other chestnuts, apples, sheep, cows, and more. It was beautiful and never-ending….until it did, of course. We came to the point 3/4 of the way up the mountain where the road simply ended. "Up there is the path," Massimo says to Felipe, "If you run into any people- good luck." He laughs, having warned us earlier that, "The people up here not friendly- they be alone." We step out of the car to drink from a cold water tap that comes from the top of the mountain, and filed back into the Skoda, and down the way we had come.

Upon returning to the house, we took a break for lunch. Massimo had said that he would prepare lunch, only if we promised to eat the beans for dinner. "Of course!" we replied, and he began preparing a delicious feast of penne pasta with red sauce, italian (the real deal!) sausage, formaggio dolce, and bread. Stuffed to the gills and ready to fall asleep, we took a short rest before heading back out to our usual chestnut farm. We were all sore, restless, and sick of chestnuts so it took a bit longer than usual to fill the two bags. it also doesn't help that there are three of us, and only so many chestnuts to pick when you go to the same farm every day. Frequently bored of the task, I took several opportunities to plop down into the leaves and simply admire the view. Watching the scenery was much more enjoyable then pawing for chestnuts.

Stopping only briefly to drop us off, Massimo took the Skoda and went to bring our daily chestnut collection to the factory. With the closed gate sounding of freedom, the three of us began building a fire for more chestnuts. The boys also constructed a tin foil package of potatoes and onions that we were then going to eat with the beans and rice. As the fire was roaring, the food was cooking, and the wine was flowing, we began sharing music with one another, alternately playing songs from back home (USA, Brazil, and UK) that we enjoy. It was funny how much music Jake and Felipe had in common, while most of mine was boo-ed off stage. We ate and talked through Massimo's return home, and stayed up until almost midnight talking about the world, wars, government corruption (you don't know corruption till you've heard about Brazilian government), and eventually our individual game-plans for the zombie apocalypse. The bird clock on the wall chirped midnight and we all realized that unless it rained the next day, we were going to be screwed if we did not go to bed soon. And with that, we did.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"My juices are the best!"

Day Twelve

Our first rainy day in Italy is more beautiful than those we encountered in Ireland and France. Of course, it could be because we had a roof over our heads or because it also meant a day off from chestnut foraging, but whatever the reason, it was a good day. We awoke at 7:45 as usual, and prepared a breakfast with the leftover potatoes from the previous night, proscuitto, and poached eggs. Rosa had come down and told us that she would be leaving for Napoli with her son and sister and that we would check with Massimo about our work for the day- her only request was that we clean the dining room and kitchen at some point. No big deal- we clean those right away with a quick sweep and mop and return to our room to wait for Massimo to come downstairs. I take a quick nap, as I am still exhausted somehow, and Jake reads. The whole day went a bit like that- Massimo left for a few hours, and then returned. Then he left again and Jake, Felipe, and I shared some formaggio dulce, red wine, and sausage while watching Ricky Gervais on Felipe's computer until Massimo returned. We enjoyed our lunch of beans and rice, and sat for a bit.

It was then that I had enough of being cooped up, and demanded to the boys that we go explore. We wandered throughout the village, picking up some condensed milk and cocoa for Felipe to make some Brazilian candy, and began searching for the "Dream Bay Disco Pub & Internet Cafe" which apparently doesn't exist to the knowledge of anyone in town. However, I notice the sign every day when we return from picking chestnuts. I mean, c'mon….Disco Pub? That's something you HAVE to find if there is a sign for it! I have a feeling the little Italian children just didn't want to share the coolest place in town.

When we returned from our rainy walk, Massimo announced that he would not be preparing dinner- he was too full, and we had too many beans left over. We were to eat those if we were hungry. Felipe proceeded to make his Brazilian candy as Jake and I began to build a fire in the fireplace. Once Massimo retired for the evening, the three of us roasted chestnuts, ate Brazliain candy, and munched on bread with olive oil as we watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on Felipe's computer. It was a great night full of wine, food, and comedy, and we certainly hoped there would be another day like this quite soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Would you like some garbage?"

Day Eleven

We decide to wake up at 7:30AM today so that we may actually chew our breakfast before beginning work. Felipe and Rosa had left for the market at 6:45, and Jake and I had been instructed the previous night to speak with Massimo about work in the morning. We eat breakfast, check the laundry, practice Italian, and otherwise get ready for the day before meeting with Massimo to begin work. He informs us that we will be riding in the tractor today, and he is not kidding. We load up into the trailer, and ride to the chestnut farm.

Business as usual, of course. Chestnuts, chestnuts, and more chestnuts. It has only been one other day of work, and they are already all I see when I close my eyes. I find myself discovering patches loaded with chestnuts and my only thought is, "JACKPOT!" About noon we break for lunch, and Massimo cooks us left over rice with beef and rosemary served with wine and mozzarella. I'm telling you, this never gets old. I could literally spend the rest of my life eating this cheese.

We rest for several hours- reading, learning Italian, and often times sitting around looking at the surrounding simply because we can. Around 3PM Jake and I go out, hedge trimmers in hand, to the fig tree that we tried picking the previous day and hacked away at the brambles and thorns that had been causing us so much grief. Fritz sat nearby, watching, playing, munching. Poor Fritz. Lucky Fritz. Both really- he doesn't know that his life is any different from the average dog. In Italy, the dogs are treated as dogs. They live outside, never inside, and get attention when you want to give it. Because of this Fritz gets so excited every time someone is around him. He has fleas, so he does not get much attention- but I also think this makes him less needy. He jumps around and play bows at you as if to say, "I would really love it if you would love me, but I don't expect you to." He is a sweet dog, and reminds me an awful lot of Zoey. The "lucky" part is the fact that with his kibble he is also served all of our delicious leftovers, as well as any apples, grapes, and figs that he can scavenge. That dog doesn't have it TOO rough.

Around 4PM, Rosa calls to me and says that her and her sister are going for a walk in the woods, and would I like to join them? I agree- I could use to get out of the house, and her sister does not speak English so I could eavesdrop and try to learn a few words. On the drive, I heard a few that I knew. Cat being pretty much the only one. We get to a field of grapes that Rosa explains is hers, as well as the next grape field over. We hike through the woods- Rosa with ease, and myself stumbling clumsily behind her. She is a small woman with a large mission- she soon explains that there is a large chestnut tree at the top with the largest chestnuts on their farm. Of course. I volunteer my downtime to pick chestnuts. Not to worry, though, because these chestnuts are really something else. Almost as big as my palm, I can only pick up 3 at a time whereas earlier I could fit about 7 or 8. We continue to pick as I see yet another field of grapes ahead. "Are those grapes?" I ask, just to be sure. Rosa responds in a way that makes it difficult to tell whether she is jealous of this owner or just being honest and says, "Yes, but those are not mine." We wander back through the forest, which, like all Italian woods is full of over-productive spiders. You can literally pass between two trees and get a face full of web, and walk the SAME place 15 minutes later with the same results. There are webs everywhere- the spiders are lovin' them some chestnut forests.

We got back to the car and went to a small neighboring village where I had my first Italian gelato experience. DELICIOUS. However, I will give America one prop: our cones kick so much ass in comparison. Oh well, I would rather have delicious ice cream than a delicious cone….or I could always get a dish. It is getting close to dark and we return to the house. Rosa announces that dinner will be ready at 8PM and Jacob and I retire to our room to play a bit of Rummy. Dinner is fantastic and different- pressure cooked cauliflower (or "garbage" as Rosa mistakenly called it) with olives, oil, and reduced wine as well as leftover rice and tomato sauce, boiled potatoes, hardboiled eggs, and bread. Rosa's son has been teaching Jake and I Italian which is pretty remarkable. He is absolutely brilliant. He can speak both English AND Italian…..and not only that, but he is also able to teach us with ease. It's awesome.

Despite having a very easy day, I am incredibly exhausted- however it could have something to do with the two Benedryl I took before dinner. My allergies are under control while digging through the molded leave of the chestnut farm, but lock me in my bedroom and it's like sneeze-fest 2010. Which reminds me that on this day, in Montefalcione, Italy, it is the only time in my life that the date will be 10/10/10.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's Never Been a Better Day to Be a Badger

Day Ten

Our morning begins at 8am when Jake and I quickly get dressed for the day and begin talking about breakfast. As he heads to the kitchen to begin cooking some fresh eggs over mortadella, I take a moment to open our doors to the porch. Taking a deep breath and closing my eyes, all I can smell is fresh, dewey, Italian air. All I can feel is the light, yet brisk, breeze. All I can here…is roosters. I open my eyes, and yes, the mountains are still there. I join Jacob and Felipe in the dining room- Jake with our plate of delicious goodness, and Felipe with his morning coffee. We hear Rosa's sing-song voice dancing down the stairs, "Helloooo! Good morning!" before she begins the quest for boots, gloves, baskets, and water bottles. Jake and I swallow our breakfast whole (something we hadn't had to do since leaving home…I would later say, "We eat too fast for France, and too slow for Italy") and are on our way. We drive in the little green Skado to a gated area where we then spend that next 4 hours picking chestnuts. Looking under leaves, into badger holes, and through spider webs all while hearing the delicate, though intimidating, thud of chestnut pods dropping a few inches from your head. Every now and then there would be lizards or strange bugs skittering along your path, but all in all it was rather lifeless in the area.

Not to fret, though, because as soon as you feel bored with the monotony of harvesting chestnuts, you simply look up and realize, "holy shit, I'm in Italy." You then real into a series of thoughts like, "my biggest concern for today is filling this bag," and, "the most danger I will get in today is possibly falling into a badger hole," and, "no matter how tired or sore I get I know for a fact that in a few hours I will be fed wonderful Italian food and have a warm bed to sleep in." We continue picking until we retire to the house for lunch. Massimo joins us for our meal this time, and Rosa brings us a heaping pot of pasta with red sauce (and of course, wine, mozzarella, mortadella, proscuitto, and pane). We stuff our faces almost to the point of explosion, and as Jake and I get up to take care of our plates everyone yells, "NO! There is more!" Jake and I exchange bewildered looks. More? How can we possibly eat MORE?? We are then told that it is Italian tradition to serve lunch in two parts. First, the pasta, and second the meat. We indulge in a bit of beef that Rosa had prepared with red pepper before returning to our room for a rest. At four, we leave again. The first stop is a small field where Rosa asks us to check for walnuts. No, no walnuts, but there are grapes! Oh, and figs! Oh, and apples! Rosa is picking figs off the tree and telling us to eat them. One after another, after another until there are no more ripe figs on the tree. I would say we ate about 6 each before we continued on. Then we picked fallen apples to bring with us, and also some grapes to eat as we worked.

Next stop was back to the chestnut farm where I almost fell into a badger hole as I wandered through the ferns and trees. As I continued to recover from my CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A FURRY AND TERRIFYING DEATH (okay, maybe it wasn't THAT bad), we continued to pick two more bags before Rosa squeals that we must pick more figs before sundown. More figs!? Yes, but these are for market. Feeling both relieved and depressed by this statement, we hopped into the Skoda and returned to the house. We are given several flat baskets and sheers when we head to the back yard. Fritz is frolicking behind us as we make our way to the fig trees and begin putting them into the baskets. "Watch Fritz!" Rosa exclaims between Italian swears at the dog, "He loves to eat the figs!" And it is true! Not only will he stand behind you, face between your knees as you pick the figs, but he will also sneak over to your basket and snag one before you are even able to notice. It's okay, though, because once he has one he will lay off in the distance, munching on it for about half an hour. Battling prickle bushes (Or "spikes" as Felipe calls them), we pick about 4 baskets full of figs before finally calling it quits around 5:30.

Rosa prepares dinner for us and, as per usual, it is delicious. This time it is rice with tomato sauce with the usual accompaniments. Next it is my turn for dishes as Jake does our laundry in the bathtub. Let me explain a little something to you about Italian bathrooms. And by explain, I mean share information because I honestly do not understand most of what happens in these mysterious rooms. For one, the showers rarely have curtains. I don't get it. Secondly, there are always TWO toilets. Now, the first one is a regular toilet with a regular flush, but the second one is a seatless potty with a sink faucet on the back. Huh? The only thing I can determine is maybe one toilet it for pee and the other is for the deuce? I honestly have no other ideas. However, here the onesey toilet has the washing machine plugged into it so it is off limits so you must always use the deucer. Let me tell you right now that I have a deep fear of one day taking a poop (we all do it, people!)….it can be anywhere in the world….and the flusher not working. That fear has never been so close to fruition as it is on a daily (or okay, sometimes bi-daily) basis here. And this is why: to flush the toilet, there is a button on the wall. This button is unreliable. In order to flush you must repeatedly press the button for approximately 5minutes before it will begin flushing. Having to pee is such a stress knowing that I am going to be unable to flush and will have to yell to Jake to come do it for me.

After laundry and dishes are done, Jake, Felipe, and I head out on the town. If you have ever seen this small village you would understand how hilarious that statement is. We hike down our road with zero street lights and up to the top of the mountain to one of the only two bars (and only four businesses) in the village for a beer at Dragonfly. Felipe is ecstatic because the volley ball game is on and it is Brazil vs. Italy. He buys the first (and only) round and we relax for about two hours talking about our countries, politics, our theories on education, food, and joke about life in general. By 10:30 we realize how tired we are and make our way back to the house- after all it has only been day one, and if what Felipe told us is correct, we will not be having a day off until we leave the farm.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Is Okay?"

Day Nine

It was 9:00AM when we decided to begin our morning. As a B&B it should be obvious that breakfast is included, however, I don't really think what we were served technically counts as breakfast. There were two types of cereal- frosted flakes and some kind of half granola type. In addition, there were packets of "toast" which were basically just dehydrated bread…and some jelly. We ate as much as we could stomach, given that the jelly smelled like my feet after an afternoon trek through Paris, and were on our way. We had been told that we could leave our bags until we were ready to travel, so we did this and made our way toward the center of Rome.

I love Paris, really I do, but I have never in my life seen anything like Rome. You cannot walk two steps without running into an ancient bit of wall, or a fountain, or a monument. It is incredible. An archaeologists dream. A historians heaven. An explorers Holy Grail. We walked all around the Colosseum, ancient digs, and so forth for a few hours before it was time to leave for Naples (or as I am going to refer to it from this point on…take notes here, kids….Napoli). We arrive at the train station confused as all hell because we cannot figure out WHERE to buy our tickets or even who to or how to talk. We eventually find a mysterious kiosk where we purchase our tickets for 25 minutes from the current time and begin boarding. We were not given a seat number so we were very confused and just plopped down into the most convenient looking place. About 10 minutes later we were booted to a crowded hallway which apparently doubles as a 3rd class seating area. No biggie- except when the frickin' snack cart needed to come through. Not to worry, about two hours later I recognized the downtrodden, depressing, trash covered streets of Napoli that I had read about in Eat, Pray, Love and we had arrived.

Again, confused by language and all else, we found our way to an English speaking tourism desk where we were able to learn about the bus to Avellino and where to get tickets. We sprint to the bus and Jake asks the driver if 1) we are in the right place and 2) if we can stick out luggage in the back. The man is CLEARLY annoyed and says yes to us as though we had some kind of deficiency and we toss our bags up back and climb aboard our double decker chariot.

Anyways, we are on the bus to Avellino and once we leave Napoli it is beautiful. Sitting atop the double-decker bus it felt like we were flying through the mountains. Until, of course, we get to our stop. We make our way off the bus with the others, and head to the back of the bus for our luggage. As I go to see if maybe there is a button to open the hatch, the driver starts to close the doors! Instantly, obviously without thinking (or was I?) I leapt back onto the bus- half in, half out- and yell "Luggage!?" Everyone is staring at me and the driver opens the door I happen to be wedged into and yells something in Italian. I look at him and again yell "Luggage! Door! Baggage Hold! Luggage!" and someone tries to help me out and yells something to him. Still perplexed (having apparently forgotten our annoying presences merely 20 minutes before) he shrugs. Still hanging in the doorway I point emphatically to the back of the bus and yell "LUGGAGE!" and the whole bus goes "OHHH! BAGAGLIO!" and the door is opened. I yell "Grazie" to the bus driver and nod to the audience for their assistance repeating "grazie" over and over as I step of the bus. By the time I get down, Jake has our "bagaglio" and said two words, "good call."

Annoyed at the previous situation, and pondering what would have happened if a) he had driven away with our luggage or the less catastrophic b) what if he had driven away with MYSELF and the luggage we began searching for a convenient place to await Rosa's arrival. After much bickering we chose to wait at the bus stop and pray that the angry bus did not happen to come back by for a repeat encounter. About 30 minutes later, a little green car begins flashing its lights and honking at us. It is Rosa! She pulls into a small driveway near the stop and opens up the back doors to reveal a seat-less back seat where she places two small cushions. "it's ok?" she says, and we reassure her that yes, it is fine. Let me say now, you have not experienced reckless driving until you have been sitting on a cushion and unseatbelted in the back seat of a small Italian woman's car. It's not even that the driving here is reckless, it is just a lot of very windy roads that these people have been driving their whole lives. As we were tossed back and forth in the back seat of the small green Skoda, we were able to see the lights of each small village in the sides of the mountains as we passed.

We arrive at the farm and are greeted by a very large gate. I immediately think of the last words Jacob's mother told us, "If you see a big gate before you get the the farm- get out of the car and run." However, this was definitely not a gate to fear. We enter the property of Rosa and Massimo and are greeted by a Zoey-sized dog named Fritz who jumps around and plays until we go inside. We are shown our ENORMOUS room where we can open the doors to the porch at any time to not only see the property of these folks but also the gorgeous mountain range and scattered villages. Rosa announces that she will let us settle in and she will have dinner prepared in 20 minutes. Jake and I spend that next 20 minutes making our beds and chasing the bugs of our sheets. "They see the clean sheets and just love them!" Rosa says, "But no kill! They are harmless" as she scoops them into her hands and releases them on the porch.

Dinner is served and it is Rosa, her son, Jacob, myself, and Felipe- her other WWOOFer. We are having a basic dinner- pasta with peppers and onions cooked in wine, pane (pronounced pah-nay…this is bread in Italian), mozzarella like you have never tasted, slices of mortadella and proscuitto so salty and delicious that is impossible to replicate anywhere but here, and Rosa's homemade wine, which she says, "is quite strong- but very good so only a little is needed." We talk with Felipe over dinner and learn that he was born in Brazil, of Italian heritage, and has been going to "uni" or "university" in London. He is like us where travel is what he loves to do, and although this is his first farm he has already been here for a month.

Once dinner is over, we head to bed. We are to get up at 8am the next morning for our first day of chestnut picking, and must catch our rest after a long day of exploration.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Day Eight

We awoke on and off for the next several hours. Here, being on a highway, or there, being in the middle of the Alps winding up and down large cliffs with nothing below you but tiny village lights that look far enough away to be fireflies. I will tell you, there is nothing like waking up, and in that slumbered state of fogged mind seeing that you are on your very own Peter Pan ride except you are not in Disney World you are on a stupid bus with a first class ticket to DEAD if your driver falls asleep. But all was well, because the next moment we were at an intersection with an arrow pointing to the town of "Gray," to which Sleepy-Jake responded, "NOOOOOOOO!" when I awoke him to show him the sign. We would have gotten a picture if a. sleepy-eyed or b. it hadn't been 1:30AM but unfortunately, dear readers, it was c. all of the above.

The daytime ride through Italy was beautiful. You don't grow up in Maine without seeing the mountains, but I will tell you I have never seen anything like this in my 21 years of existence. Gorgeous rolling mountains surrounding every side of you- cliffs and green grass and clouds that look like God Himself painted them into the sky for you. And the farms! Sheep and goats and cows and acres upon acres of vineyards. Fields so enormous that you regularly see men and dogs combing the land with rifles to scare of anything that might have intruded. Hours, hours, and more hours later we finally arrive in Rome. We spend the next hour roaming around, trying to find any sign of the direction we must be going. By this time, Jake's compass has eaten shit. "North is wherever you want it to be!" it explains as it spins on it's axis every which way, "your guess is as good as mine!" We had only recently found my compass/rape whistle/money hiding combo gadget so we at least had that to assist my handwritten directions to the hotel. We begin going, what we were told was, south west but had no idea what street it was. In the two hours we had been there, there were zero street signs. Not even a "WRONG WAY" in Italian. Nothing. The sun was beginning to set, and I was becoming angry. My punishment to Jake for even existing during my anger was to force him to carry the Orangina bottle he HAD to purchase at the rest stop rather than water. I know, some punishment, but it was the best I could do in the situation and it had to be done given my rage.

As we are walking, and everything around us is either pigeon or smelling of day old pee, I stop in my tracks. I look upward and raise my arms and say outlaid, forcefully, "If there is a God…this is the time to get me to believe. I really do thank you for getting us here alive- it was swell of you. But now? We are wandering the streets of Rome. The sun is going down. We are doing everything in our power to find where we need to be but we need a hand. PLEASE. Just give us SOMETHING. ONE street sign is all we ask. It doesn't even need to be the right one. JUST ANY SIGN. PLEASE." I sigh. Sulk my head. And we keep walking. We turn a corner and low and behold- a street sign. The correct street sign. I grab Jake's arms and point and say, "This could entirely be a coincidence, but we need to at least say thank-you." And proceeded to spend the next ten minutes expressing our gratitude in various languages.

The rest of the way to our hotel was easy from there. We made it there just before sundown where our B&B host was absolutely wonderful. He gave us a map with detailed instructions to neighboring restaurants, book stores, the train station, and more. After a couple of much needed showers, we hit the town for some dinner. We indulged in gnocchi, carbornara, caprese salad, and vino before returning to our hotel to pass out. Let me also point out that this B&B was 10 Euro CHEAPER than our little room in Paris- MUCH nicer…and had free wifi….AND free (gross, but free) continental breakfast. Ohhhh, Roma.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Bus Ride From Hell

Day Seven

On our way through Sexy-Town, Paris the previous day we had noticed a four story, three building complex of a discount store called "TATI" where we had decided that we would stop by and look for some cheap clothes. We figured we would want to have some coats and maybe some extra pants so this was our first stop on this day. We found a really nice thick coat for Jacob, who swore on all things American just two months ago that he would NEVER need a coat because he is physically incapable of being cold. I, on the other hand, was told and made to purchase the "sensible, light-weight" coat despite my constant complaints of being freezing even in the hot Maine summers. What is wrong with this picture? Anyways, not wanting to break the bank on clothes we called it good for the time being. We then headed to the Bus Terminal in the outskirts of Paris by Metro to begin our long wait.

We arrived at the terminal starving and thirsty and entered a large mall in search of lunch. I immediately recognized PAUL, a chain patisserie where I had eaten on a layover to Arles last year. They had a restaurant so Jake and I dropped our bags and took a seat. We were very confused because the servers would go to some tables, but not others…take some peoples orders, but not others…..bring some tables menus….but…not…others. We finally decided to get sandwiches on the other side of the restaurant and just eat inside. Our logic was: Both are owned by PAUL so you should obviously be able to eat your pastries in the seating area….especially if no one is taking your order or otherwise acknowledging your existence…right?…..right? Well, wrong. It is apparently the worst thing you could possibly do because we were rapidly chewed out by a fast-talking French woman who huffed and puffed and waved her arms around till she blew our house down. With that, we packed up our things and left.

Once we arrived in the terminal, we checked in and waited around for a few hours before the bus arrived. There was a group of officers and a drug sniffing dog which we figured was a part of the heightened security in Paris. The group seemed overall cheerful, and the dog was ADORABLE. It was constantly wagging it's tail, checking everything out, but clearly not on the job yet. It was playing fetch and jumping back and forth. In a moment of stupid passion in mission my own dog, I decided it wouldn't be any harm to take a picture of the adorable dog. After all, I was not taking pictures of the officers, a victim, or drug cartel…it was just of the dog. right? right? Wrong again, dumb ass. As soon as the little, annoying, orange laser at the end of my camera lit up to capture the image Jake whispers, "Kelly……" and I look up to see ALL eyes on me. Not only is every member of the squad staring me down, shaking there heads, but one is headed my way. Immediately I hold out the camera and show the man the picture, the delete button, and the picture of my sandwich showing him that it had been removed. Luckily I had recovered so beautifully from my idiotic move that my only consequence was being mentally judged by hundreds of people, and received a few dozen disappointed, angry, and degrading looks.

Soon all was well because we were boarding the bus! We had bought some snacks at the market because there was no way we were going to be able to make a 23 hour bus ride without ANY food. Of course they would let you eat on the bus, it is inhuman to think that an entire group of people can go without food for that long and NOT kill the bus driver. There are little trash bags at each seat, it must be for wrappers, right? RIGHT? AMIRIGHT!? Wrong AGAIN you stupid Americans! NO FOOD ON THE BUS (luckily this time it was not us getting yelled at, it was a poor little Spanish girl). The driver queued up some stupid movie and we began to sleep. Three hours later was our first pit stop where we were then given a 1/2 hr pee/food/leg stretching break before we would return to the bus and watch (ready for it mom???) The Titantic. We watched the ballad of Jack and Rose through the finish and then eased into yet another short slumber as our bus slowly chugged along.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Day Like Any Other

Day Six

This day began like any other- oh wait…no it didn't because our day began in PARIS FREAKING FRANCE. We woke up with two missions for our day:

Mission 1: purchase bus tickets

Mission 2: get the etching of a quote off Oscar Wilde's grave for Bridget.

We headed first, on foot, toward Metro station Blanche where we would find the Eurolines bus ticket sales. However, to get TO the sales we must first walk by Sexy Time, Sexodrome, Lingerie & Gadgeterie, and seventeen billion OTHER sex shops. Eventually, blinded, we made it to the Eurolines ticket sales office which was just shy of making the district.

We walk in and Jake says, "Deux Roma" which to anyone who knows France would go, "huh?" because he literally just said "Two Rome." The man says, confused, "Deux billet?" Jake looks at me and makes his confused face (something I can see vividly in my mind now because he has done this frequently) where he shrinks his head into his neck, pushes out his bottom lip- eyes open wide- and shrugs his shoulders as if to say "Okay, Kelly, your turn!" So I jump in and say, "Oui, deux billet pour Roma, s'il vous plait." He asks us for some information and I stutter out the answers. Eventually he has assumed that because we are American we have no idea what he is saying (mistake number one mon frere!) He takes our scratched debit card and asks us to right down the security code and I immediately say " cinq, neuf, cinq." "PERFECT! Very good!" he exclaims in French, he continues in French to essentially say, "Amazing! You DO know French!" to which (also in French) I explain that I only know a little bit. He assures me that I know plenty and explains that although he does not know English he DOES know three other languages. Impressive, I do say. We leave the office with me feeling proud as a panther with two bus tickets for Rome and head to our next destination.

After stopping at the market to pick up our 5 Euro lunch of baguette, chevre, and olives, Jake and I continue on to the cemetery. We wander and wonder about everything inside because it is not like any cemetery we have ever been to. Each lot represents a family with it's own like….miniature church or castle or sometimes both if the family is rich enough I suppose. Upon finally reaching the tomb of Oscar Wilde we are bewildered by the coat of lipstick encompassing it. I mean, we both knew it would be covered, but something about seeing it in person was just bizarre. We spent half an hour (after the half an hour of just standing and appreciating) searching for the quote to no avail. Depressed and feeling like a disappointment, I instead drew a small heart on the base of the tomb in some hand-me-down grass-covered lipstick for Bridget.

Once we completed our failure as friends (because it is clearly our fault that the tomb had been refurbished…but I still feel like a failure!) we began our third, secret, mission….find foie & escargot. Escargot? Apparently IMPOSSIBLE to find in Paris. In the TWO times I have been there, I have found TWO restaurants serving it. The first was in a sketchy-ass part of town and the second we were refused service. Yes, I am being truthful..we walked in, asked (in French!) for a table for two, and were told to leave. We later stopped at a small restaurant with a sign that said you could get an appetizer + entree for 12 Euro. BINGO! We see that on the menu is not only foie gras, but also rabbit. DOUBLE BINGO! We take a seat and place our order. Our waitress was absolutely wonderful, and after talking for a short period in French, we all switched to English. She was very helpful, and recommended some places in town for escargot (even though we STILL couldn't find them) and complimented us by saying we are eating "very French food!" The foie was amazing, obviously, but the rabbit? TO DIE FOR. It was half a rabbit stewed or braised or SOMETHING awesome because the meat was literally falling off the bone. It was served with a mustard sauce and carrots with a side of rice. Jake and I annihilated that dish even though we were past the point of full. We can both honestly say that it was the best meal of our lives….combined.

Full bellied and jovial as ever, we returned to the hotel. We did not care that it was only 4pm because we had been up very early and had wandered over a majority of the city. We celebrated the end of a beautiful day with a dinner of Tiramisu, Madeleines, creme brulee, jambon et fromage, and a bottle of wine all from the local market. "A night in? IN PARIS!?" You ask angrily, "Yes, because we were in Paris and can do whatever the fuck we want," I reply bluntly. T'was then time for the big sleep, for the following day would have a lot to offer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day of rest...but not really...

Day Five

We awoke much refreshed having decided the night prior that we would be staying in Paris a few days. We decided that we would pick up some food at a market and eat it in a park or a river if we came across one. Immediately (because duh, Paris…) we came across a patisserie and got a fresh baguette. Next we stopped at a supermarket and got some salami to munch on with our baguette and also an ENORMOUS bottle of Orangina. Queue the 7 km walk around Paris where we are stumbling upon National Monuments left and right. It was kind of a misty morning, and I wondered if it might rain- with that I observed around me to see if my knowledgeable French company were carrying umbrellas. Nope, Nada, Zero…not only was no one holding an umbrella, but no one carried backpacks, purses large enough to store an umbrella, or briefcases. I was relieved and figured that, at the very least, if it began raining we would all be screwed. NOPE. It starts down-pouring, and in the time it took me to blink EVERYONE around us was equipped with an umbrella. EVERYONE. Not only did they suddenly have these umbrellas out of nowhere, but I couldn't even catch a straggler digging an umbrella out of the portal or wormhole that they managed to find it- the umbrella just appeared.

Finding shelter under a large tree, Jake and I rested and began eating our salami sandwiches. By the time we had finished, the rain had subsided (and the umbrellas had vanished to an alternate dimension in search for more rain…) and we continued walking. In the distance we could see the Eiffel Tower, and although Jake and I agreed that it was not a safe time for a visit, I let him stare it her in the distance for awhile. As we continued walking we began marveling at this very large building to the right of us. It was ENORMOUS with intricate carvings on the outside and Jake asks, "Is that the Louvre?" to which I obviously reply, "No way. It's just a government building or something." I say "obviously" in that last sentence for two reasons. 1. Because I am brilliant, have been to Paris, and am otherwise worldly so anything I say just IS obvious and anyone who hasn't already thought what I just said in their own minds…is simply just a moron and 2. Because it clearly was not obvious seeing as it was, in fact, the Louvre and I had just made an enormous ass of myself. We ogled and drooled at the marvel of the Louvre and took the next few hours merely wandering about it's gargantuan campus of pyramids, mazes, and gardens. Eventually, we made our way to a small pond where you could see pretty much every architectural wonder of the city. Behind us was the Louvre, dead ahead was L'Arc de Triumph, and to our left was the Eiffel Tower. All we were missing were Bastille and Versailles and it would have been perfect (okay we could list things on and on, but you get the point.) We rested our legs for a bit at the pond, soaking in the beauty of Paris, before heading back to the hotel.

A block or two down the road from our hotel, we decided to stop for dinner. It was a small cafe and we took a seat outside. Our waitress only took Jake's order before fluttering inside- catching us both completely by surprise. We had just assumed that I would order mine once she returned…no big deal….but she returns with Jake's order and it. is. huge. His bowl of pasta was so large I could have bathed in it had I felt so inclined. We had also ordered, what appears to be a very popular dish here, called "oeufs a mayonnaise" which are hard boiled eggs with housemade mayonnaise drizzled over them. You are probably saying, "holy shit that is gross," which brings me to the following series of questions:

1. Have you ever had deviled eggs? (if no, discontinue quiz)
2. Do you like them? (if no, discontinue quiz)
3. Do you know what is in them? (if no, proceed to final answer)

MAYONNAISE! Ding! Ding! Ding! Yes, they also have paprika or cayenne and maybe some tobasco and a bit of mustard but they are essentially EGGS WITH MAYONNAISE. So if you like deviled eggs, this is basically just a fast and easy way to make them without the piping bag, food processor, and hours of labor. AND you can just say it's French.

Moral of the story being we had a beautiful walk, followed by a delicious meal, followed by a great night's sleep. Hard to believe that we would have another wonderful day so soon after.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Legacy of Sugar Dog Disco

Day Three
The next morning was nice- we spent some time exploring the boat and hung out on the sun deck, relaxing. I, for some reason, made a joke to Jake about how I would dive into the ocean, catch a fish in my teeth and fly out of the ocean back onto the boat with ease (it was early, don't judge me) and we then proceeded to compose Sugar Dog Disco's first single entitled "Sushi on the Sundeck." Lyrics have been completed, and soon we will have our first demo for the general public. Just wait. You will pee with happiness. After our great composition, we went to the gift shop and looked for some information on campsites in Cherbourg, France. This is the name of the town we were going to be docking in. There were some really cool ones, and we decided that we would camp there a week before traveling to Paris and onward to Rome. We also found it both convenient and wise to acquire a French dictionary and immediately began studying.

Farm in Cherbourg, France

We docked in Cherbourg, France around 4:30PM- an hour ahead of Irish time. It was pouring, and our other foot passenger friends (the douche from NH, a couple from Canada, our French pal, and another Frenchman) were all headed towards Paris. For two reasons 1. we did not have the available funds and 2. we weren't fans of our present company, we chose to continue on to the campsite and spend the week in Cherbourg. We discovered that the campsite was actually 3.5km outside of Cherbourg in a small town called Tourlaville. The walk was a bit rainy, but quite pleasant as we passed farms and fields aplenty. Upon arriving at the campsite we discovered that it had closed on September 3o. Shit. We did, however, have info on another site just up the road so we continued. Low and behold…A rape van pizza van! I had mentioned my love for this pizza to Jake & co. upon returning from France the first time. Starving, wet, and freezing we decided to order one for dinner (also upon discovering that this next campsite was actually just a trailer park). I completed the order FULLY IN FRENCH with ease and 10 minutes later we were returning to our first stop. We pitched the tent under shelter of the reservation office and began eating our marvelous ham pizza and bottle of rose wine.

Rape Van Pizza and a bottle of wine...Mmmm!

Day Four
Sleeping. Was. Awful. The wind howled all night, and the rain blew against the tent viciously. Jake and I both slept an hour an a time before finally calling it quits at 6am. We packed up the tent and got ready to head out when I saw the shadow of a wolf against a trash can. Scratch that, now I see the actual animal and it is not a wolf but an ENORMOUS doberman without a collar. I freeze. I had been prepared for murderers or homeless people but NOT huge dogs that could eat my face! I grab Jake's arm and point as a second large dog runs past the entrance of the camp. We are both silent and frozen in step until we then see a man holding two leashes walk by. I have never in my life gone from such terror to such relief in such a short period of time. We continued to pack quietly for the next half hour and set out toward Cherbourg. By 8:30AM it was STILL pitch black, and I was half convinced that the sun had burnt out overnight…I mean…how would we know? We are in the middle of freaking Tourlaville with no access to internet, newspapers, telephones…something like that could happen and we would never know!

8:30AM in Cherbourg...still dark as night!

Luckily the sun rose as we reached the Harbour just in time to create a beautiful rainbow over the town. As we reached the train station, we saw our French pal waiting outside. Exchanging smiles and nods, Jake and I entered the station and proceeded to the ticket counter where I AGAIN ordered our "billet pour Paris" with French eloquence. Proud of myself, and with adventure still pulsing through my veins, Jake and I decided to "see the town." We followed the rainbow a bit, were ambushed by pigeons, and watched the sunrise fully before finally boarding the train to Paris.

Rainbow over Cherbourg, France

We arrive to Paris having had no chance to figure out where we are staying. Since we were obviously unable to stay the week in Cherbourg, we thought perhaps we would stay a week in a hostel in Paris. Awesome, right? Well, first we would need to FIND a hostel. We ask around, and in one had any idea where or what a hostel was. Instead, we decided to start checking prices of hotels. One reason I LOVE Paris is that almost every hotel has their prices listed in the doorways. It saves the uncomfortable asking of prices and helps you narrow down quickly. After a few duds, we found ourselves checking into the EST Hotel right down the road from the Holiday Inn where I stayed last year. Keep in mind, folks, we found our way there solely based on my wonderful memory. I somehow remembered exactly where my hotel had been! Simple marvelous. After checking in, stressing out, and some wandering we went and enjoyed a crepe (ordered in French by Jacob!) and a delicious pizza (also ordered in French by Jacob!) at a nearby restaurant called "Maya."

Yes, more French pizza...

Curled up in bed, and intimidated by what the future may, bring we Skype-d with Karen and Joe about a potential plan. Things had been so non-stop that we weren't really sure we would ever figure out how to actually slow it down and enjoy all the traveling we were doing. Thankfully, the level heads of the group were able to help us form an idea. We then decided that we would stick out Paris for a few days and take a bus to Rome on Wednesday. While it was still an intimidating plan, tried our best to realize that having this plan would make things easier. Finally relaxed, we hit the hay and prepared for another long day.

Yes. At last. An entry.

Words. Here they are. Coming at you full speed. "Where the eff have you been!?" You may be asking impatiently, though with understandable rage, "You have been gone a WEEK and STILL no updates!" Well, I apologize dear readers but being a world traveler is more difficult than even I, an above average genius, could have predicted.

Day One
Follow me, if you will, to September 30, 2010. I have just gotten off my plane at the Dublin airport to realize that it is FRICKIN' FREEZING. The plane has landed an entire HOUR early and it is only 4:20AM. After six hours of wandering, Jacob and I realize that we have been heading NORTH instead of south…btw NO ONE has EVER heard of the Ferry Terminal. Eventually, we give up and decide that we are going to do to the airport and just buy the cheapest ticket Ryanair has available. What? You can only buy them online? Awesome. Plan C (because we are really trying desperately here): Get to France ASAP. We found a campsite in Wexford which is only 20 min north of the Rosslare Ferry Terminal. 7:30PM we are in Wexford and it is PITCH BLACK. We decide to get some dinner (Sausage, Egg, and Chips…aka 'French Fries') and make our way to the campsite. What? It's closed? We have to camp in a sketchy playground? OK! We pitch the tent and pretty much DIE because the wind is blowing so hard that it sounds like footsteps. 15 minutes later I freak out and tell Jake that there is no way on Earth that I am sleeping there and we pack up. Luckily we had passed a hotel on our way to SketchVille, Ireland, so we agree that as long as it is less than 150 Euro we would stay. Price? 80 Euro. AND she felt so bad for us that she threw in breakfast for free.

Wexford, Ireland

Day Two
Because no hotel in Europe believes in providing clocks, we slept through breakfast. Not to worry, though, because we still had PLENTY of food from our wonderful sponsors. We wandered briefly before going to the train station and purchasing our tickets for Rosslare Harbour. We realized that it would be about 6 hours before departure, but did not really care. Instead, we decided to lay out some undried clothes we had washed the night before, crack open our books, and hang out a bit. Three hours later, bored out of our skulls, we decided to wander. Although it was not at all fun lugging our bags around the town, it wasn't any worse than the day prior. We stumbled upon the "city hall" aka "ancient fucking castle" and took some pictures.

Wexford, Ireland

After about an hour of walking around, we decided to retune to the station, do some painting, play some ukulele, and essentially just relax. I have been reading Eat, Pray, Love and have been doing my best to take her advice and just RELAX. It's a lot harder than you think. She talks about how Americans are just naturally go-go-go, and how none of us really realize that relaxation is something we all deserve- it isn't something that must be earned. I am not even halfway through, and I would already recommend it to everyone. I would love for my mother to have some extra time to read it because I think it would be very meaningful for us both to be reading this together while apart. Even though I am now further away physically than I have ever been from her, I feel like we are now much closer. I know she will never be able to understand how and why I love traveling so much, just as I will never understand her passion for being a nurse, but I feel if we can understand the power of that passion then we essentially are the same. I know I have her with me every day, and if things are hard and Jake and I are having a difficult time, I look down at my arms and I remember home and my mother's love (we not only got matching tattoos right before I left, but we also made bracelets together that I wear every day).

Anyways, we finally get on the train and about 30 minutes later we are in Rosslare. We had the intentions of going to a grocery store to pack up on food for the boat, but Rosslare is essentially a harbor and NOTHING else. We waited in the lobby a few hours before finally boarding only to find that the room with our seats was locked. We had been following this young, French (I believe) man since Ireland and found that he was also going to be in this room. A French woman came up and was infuriated that we couldn't get in, so she stormed off. About an hour later she returned with a crew member who opened the door. And there we were: Jake, myself, the French woman, our French pal, and three other guys. We soon find out that one of them is from New Hampshire, and he turns out to be a douche. He is here on his trust fund "getting life experience." The other two are from Germany and have been driving throughout Europe. The German boys are super friendly and mostly played Backgammon atop their lime green camping mattresses while we played rummy.

Photos from the Ferry

The French woman approached Jake and I and spoke with us for awhile. She told us about her travels to Brazil (where she had almost been murdered FOUR times) and how she had always wanted to travel to America. She told us that she was very happy to speak with us, but wanted to know if we had ever been aware about the rule that no one with AIDS is ever allowed to enter America as a tourist (let alone immigrate). We were not aware of this. She said that it had always been her dream to visit America, and that she hoped one day she would have that ability- but that it obviously would not happen until that rule changed. She asked that we be sure to tell our friends, just to make sure others in our country were aware of this- because at least if our citizens were aware it would be okay with her. We told her that we would tell our friends, and that it had been great speaking with her before we left the room for some dinner. Dinner was gross- that's pretty much that. When we got back to the room, we set up our sleeping bags on the floor of the room and got ready to sleep. Pretty much everyone else had the same idea and we turned out the lights.