Monday, September 29, 2008

Days of many goings-on

A couple weeks ago on our way to the farm, we were sitting at a train station bar drinking beer and waiting for a bus when a woman about our age walked into the bar. The bartender informed her that there were other English speakers in the place.

The woman was from Ireland. She had moved to Italy to be with her sheep farmer husband. We had known her for about two minutes when she asked if we wanted to get together on our day off.

We've hung out with her and her husband the last two Fridays. Here is her husband Robbie shearing a sheep.

He has about fifty sheep and makes cheese from the milk. I liked it but Rowan didn't like the smell.

We also went to look at a tower. It is part of the "Giro Delle 5 Torri," the "Tour of 5 Towers," which spans the area and links five local landmarks.The smaller holes in the building, not the large ones in the center, were where archers could position their arrows to defend the tower.

The weather was beautiful that day, and has been quite nice throughout our stay here.Following our day off, we had to go into the vineyard and dig holes to put new plants where some of the vines have died.The work was somewhat boring, and I didn't have my watch with me, so we listened intently whenever the church bells chimed so we knew what time it was.Rowan continues to be fascinated by every single bug we see.That evening, Mauro and Pia went out for Mauro's birthday, so we had to watch the little kid for a couple of hours.After dinner, Anna, the grandma, found a hedgehog in one of the dog's mouths, so she rescued it.The next day, we had to clean out a small pond. Mauro was going to suck all the water away, but Anna stopped him because she insisted on saving all of the little fish first. Rowan and she then spent hours scooping fish out of disgusting pond sludge.

Afterwards, we went to a lunch party at the house of some family friends. They had lots of animals.Dinner was served in several courses, but it started with a mind-bogglingly big loaf of bread (this man is cutting half the loaf).The rest of the meal included some wood-oven fired focaccia, a soup, then some soupy pasta (tortellini in broth, says the woman), then a beef roast, then some cow neck fat (which few people ate), then some barbecued meat, then spumante and dessert. They also pulled out some liquor, including homemade whiskey.We then went home and bypassed dinner. We had spent three-and-a-half hours eating that day.

Friday, September 26, 2008

In which we acquire a new traveling companion

Walking along the road one evening, we encountered Homer Simpson, suitcase at his feet.We were quite surprised, since Italy is far from Springfield, but we asked him to join us on our adventures.

He helped us in the garden, and was amazed by the size of the tomatoes in Italy.While gardening, we also familiarized ourselves with some of the difficulties inherent to organic agriculture.The rest of our day was spent picking the leftovers of the earlier pinot noir harvest to make juice.Although pinot is sometimes refered to as a "finicky" grape (a Google search for "pinot noir" and "finicky" returns 9,920 pages), the pinot field looked much better than the dolcetto vines. We ate several of the grapes, and felt very upper-crusty while doing so. In the house, we also munched on muscat grapes.


Today we traveled to Acqui Terme. The name refers to the hot thermal water that flows out of the ground at certain points in the city. In one of the pedestrian areas is Piazza Bolente, which translates as "Boiling Plaza." In the center of the plaza are several fountains that constantly spew hot water.

The locals believe that the water conveys healthful benefits. People sat around with cups drinking the water. Other people walked away with jugs of the stuff. My fingernails grew an inch after running my hand through the water.

Lastly, Rowan wants me to put up animal pictures for her mom. This is Pluto. He is currently feeling certain male desires, so he likes Rowan a little too much.They also have a couple of black cats.So far, they have not caused us any bad luck. Let us hope that the string of good luck continues.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Goats and Grapes

On Monday, we spent over six hours picking dolcetto grapes, which produce a somewhat sweet wine. The people we are staying with have named their two wines after their two children, Luca and Daniele. Daniele is the dolcetto, and Luca is made from barbera grapes, which produce a wine that tasted, to us, similar to a syrah, or a shiraz, if you happen to be Australian.

We worked with a group of four Romanian girls, only one of whom spoke English or Italian.

It is not a difficult job, but somewhat boring. We used scissors that looked sort of like wire cutters to clip the bunches of grapes and pile them into crates, which we later gathered with the tractor.

In the end, we had a pile of crates filled with grapes. Here are the fruits of our labor.Today, we went to a place where the grapes get processed.

We dumped the grapes into a big contraption that turned them into juice.It spit out the stems into a giant pile.Rowan worked cleaning the empty crates.Afterwards, the men stood around discussing the sugar content of the wine, which partly determines the alcohol content.After we finished with the grapes, we went home and cut up fruit for the mostarda d'uva.The name means "mustard of grapes," even though it is nothing like mustard. Rowan didn't know this and called me crazy when she saw me eating it for breakfast. I informed her that it was just fruit and hazelnuts, and then she also ate it for breakfast. Yes, we are some wacky Americans in Italy!

Tonight, we cook and jar the stuff. (Pictures will follow in the next blog.)


Some random notes:

This is Mauro, one of the farm owners. Rowan started calling him Mario by accident, and then I started doing it. We think it is partly because of this red jumpsuit, which makes him look like a certain video game hero.
By day, he is actually a high level dude at Sun Microsystems, so he was talking to other business folk on his Blackberry while he did farm stuff.

Rowan saw this house. I think she wants me to build one like it for her.Lastly, this is for Marion. Rowan says, "Hi, Mumzie!"

Kitchen chaos

Last Sunday, we had to prepare a meal for 80 people. A lot of them were city folk who came down for a day on the farm. Many had children, and they got to pick grapes and make juice and jelly.

The meal was quite an endeavor, since a lot of the people were rich and we were serving a four-course meal with some fancy stuff, like risotto with salciccia and porcini mushrooms.

The grandma, Anna, prepared herself with an ample supply of cigarettes.She also loves coffee. This is her. On the left side of the photo are some lasagna noodles that they made themselves.Rowan got to serve, and I got to wash dishes. For almost 12 hours. Because the rich people need a clean plate for every course.The kids got bread and Nutella for dessert, but it was difficult to pry the Nutella away from Rowan.We then slept, because the next day would also be filled with activity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Back to the basics

We are staying at a small organic farm in the Piemonte region of Italy, a little ways south of Asti (known for its spumanti and muscat wines).The farmhouse is beautiful, but rustic in some ways. For example, parts of the house get heated water from a wood-fired boiler. If we have no guests staying in the house, we don't start the fire, so we don't get warm showers.

So far, we've trimmed strawberry bushes so that they don't produce fruit until later in the season.We've also worked a lot with tomatoes. We've picked them, sorted them, cleaned them, sliced them, cooked them down, processed and strained them, and bottled them.We've done the entire process except plant and grow them.
We've also stacked wood.The farm is beautiful and the owner is very nice. We are enjoying the experience quite a bit, despite the look of concern on my face in this picture.We are continuing to have difficulties with the Indonesian process, so we are planning on staying here an extra week. As far as we know right now, we should now be starting in Indonesia at the very end of October.

Friday, September 12, 2008

We're going to be millionaires!

We've finally received job offers from EF Surabaya. We are still double checking the paperwork and everything, but we think we're going to say yes.

Our pay will be millions and millions of Indonesian rupiah a month.We begin orientation on October 13, with school beginning on October 20.

Unfortunately, the 13th is the birthday of Rowan's host dad, Gianfranco, and we will miss it. But we promised to send him many gifts from Indonesia, since we will be millionaires and can afford such things.

Millin' around in the city

We took a trip into Milan, or, as they call it here, Milano (not to be confused with the cookie; believe it or not, the city streets are not paved with deliciousness, as we would find out).

We took the train into the city. Despite being in a small town, we are just around the corner from the rail station, which has been an excellent gateway into the broader Italian countryside.

After exiting the train station, we almost immediately bought some graniti. I got mint again; this one was a slightly less radioactive shade of green. I must say that I'm sort of becoming addicted.I immediately enacted a one granite a day rule to prevent myself from slurping down several as the day progressed.

Beverages in hand, we entered the Castello Sforzesco. The castle was controlled for several years by Napoleon after he captured Milano in 1796. The castle was used as barracks and for other purposes, and Napoleon ordered the outer walls torn down.

We strolled around the castle for awhile before heading to the Duomo. (The pictures on the website look surprisingly similar to some that I took. I'm not always creative with the camera, I guess.)
The Duomo is a large cathedral in the Gothic style dedicated to the worship of this guy named Jesus. Perhaps you've heard of him; he now has a website.The church also featured the crypt of a deceased cardinal. His casket is glass, so you can see his decayed body.We exited the church and went in search of food. We wanted pizza. Rowan balked a little bit at the price of pizza at the nice restaurants in the area, and everything is generally more expensive in Milano.

So we ended up eating at a place that is a sister restaurant of the Italian fast-food pizza joint Spizzico. We were both very disappointed by the food, and spent the rest of the day lamenting how disappointed we were.

We wandered around town before ending up at a large and amazing semi-indoor shopping plaza.Amidst the fancy restaurants and the stores selling Louis Vuitton bags and Armani suits was the fanciest McDonald's I have ever seen.
We considered continuing our day of substandard eating by ordering McFlurries. We actually entered the restaurant, but we didn't buy anything.

We should have.

We left the plaza and plunked ourselves down at a very nice looking restaurant that had dishes of very nice looking gelato. But we didn't order gelato. Rowan ordered a frappe, basically a milkshake. But it seemed a little heavy on the milk, a little light on the shake. I ordered a frulatte, basically a smoothie, but this one was also a little heavy on the latte, a little light on the fru.

Now completely discombobulated by our inability to search out good food, we started imagining things, such as the streets being filled by giant letters of the alphabet.Seeking some respite from big-city life and the heat and humidity that had hung over the day, we walked to the train station and then headed home.

There, the food is always good. We were soon greeted by a big steamy bowl of delicious risotto. Buonissimo!


To see more photos from the day, visit this webpage:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Some notes on language, with random animal pictures

Rowan speaks Italian, but I entered the country knowing little more than pizza, lasagna, and grazie. I still don't know much, but I'm learning a few things.

First of all, some things here are easier than in Barcelona. For example, I don't have to turn on my ordnador and type in my contraseña to access my correo eloctronico. Here, I turn on my computer and type in my password to access my email.But other things are very difficult. The pronunciations and spellings are very different from what I'm used to. For example, ch produces a hard "k" sound, and c produces the "ch" sound. They spell Jamaica as "Giamaica."

Because of the different spellings, words I would recognize in speech because they are similar to Spanish are hard to catch while reading. For example, the verb to teach, which is enseñar in Spanish, is spelled insegniore in Italian.
Also, pluralization is very different. In America, we might order an Italian-style grilled sandwich, a panini. But here, panini is plural. The singular is panino; the plural is formed by changing the last letter, not by adding -s. As another example, dog is cane; dogs are cani.I've already mentioned the Italian's love of food, but I've realized how much they love it by not knowing a lot of the language. When we visited one of the grandparents and a great aunt, I kept hearing forms of the verb mangiare. It came up so much that I thought it must be a word of great importance. And it is; Rowan informed me it is the word meaning to eat. I wonder if a foreigner listening to English who only knew the word eat would have a similar experience in the U.S.
My last note is not limited only to Italian. I am always fascinated by the way that titles of books and movies are translated into foreign languages.Above, The Catcher in the Rye is translated as The Young Holden. The central metaphor of the title is completely lost, and I don't know why they felt it wouldn't translate.

In Spain, The Dark Knight was translated as El Caballero Obscuro, roughly "The Obscure Gentleman/Knight." Perhaps not a bad translation, but it lacks the perfect pun of the original, though, obviously, that would be nearly impossible to do, like when people translate poems that rhyme into another language and still have them rhyme.
Unfortunately, I think I will leave Italy before I am no longer lost in translation, but the experience is an interesting one.

After all the sun and walking, we are Como-tose

Today we went to Como, a town built on a large lake.
Our first activity after getting off the bus was to buy tickets for a boat ride. The weather was fantastic and the ride was quite nice, except that I was treated to about two hours of Rowan saying, "Do you think that's George Clooney's house?"

After the boat ride, we ate lunch at a restaurant right on the lake, where the pigeons kept us close company.
Rowan ordered a "Canadian" sandwich (it had smoked salmon), and I ordered a cheeseburger. Apparently, we were feeling very North American.

Then we walked toward this thing.I don't really know what it is.

Then we went into town to look at a large church.Outside, this guy was working on a giant painting.Before we entered the church, we were greeted by this sign.The pictures seem to translate as "no Scottish terriers," "no ice cream cones," "no cigarettes," "no radio-controlled graphing calculators," "no large-breasted women," "no skinny white guys in wife-beater-style tank-tops," "no mini-skirts," and "no short-shorts."

Before we got on the bus for the trip home, we got some graniti, which is Italian for "slushie drink." Rowan got some mix of strawberry and kiwi, and I got mint. It was tasty, but mine was a radioactive green in color. It dyed my tongue green. You can't really tell here, but that's why I'm sticking out my tongue.Then we got on the bus and went home. And ate pasta. One can only avoid Italian food for a little while here.