30 August 2011

Give Me Variety or Give Me Death

multiple choice question:

having thrown myself back into exercise with the hyperactive vigor known only to newly divorced yuppies and jack russell terriers, this week i:
a. did several runs that were painfully long, painfully fast, or both, and agreed to another attempt on the art loeb
b. slapped some road tires on the deutschbike and rode worlds
c. joined the meatnecks for a little bit of crossfit
d. swallowed my fear/pride/avarice and registered for the swank
e. found a soccer team to play for (be still my heart)
f. all of the above

it's going to be an interesting autumn.

17 August 2011

Your Opinion Wanted

I spent the entire flight from ATL to AVL with my nose pressed against the window, marveling at the green, sun-kissed splendor of MY mountains. Then I had a bite to eat at the Root with some of my favorite fellas, and this morning I luxuriated in the old routine of real toast, American-style coffee, and a good book, followed by a quick, cool (!) North Slope loop. Damn, I love it here.

Without even realizing it, I scheduled my trip to save me from the last hurrahs of summer. It's sort of sad because I do love the busy season, but the BMC is closed, camps are over, school is back, and the crushing heat is behind us--traffic, work, and the forest will all be a lot more chill from now until leaf season. Basically there's no downside to being back, except that my beloved CK has packed up and moved back to her lame state.

Cheesy admission: the song that most frequently gets stuck on repeat in my head when running? Coldplay's "Don't Panic".
We live in a beautiful world
Yeah we do, yeah we do
We live in a beautiful world
Oh, all that I know
There's nothing here to run from
And there, everybody here's got somebody to lean on.
No clue what the song is actually about but isn't that so Brevard? There's a reason why we're all so happily mired here.

So here's my question: is the purpose of travel purely to serve as a pleasant reminder of how wonderful the place you live is? Or am I missing the point entirely? Please discuss.

15 August 2011

Last Post Over the Puddle

After the Bosco kerfluffle we were very relieved to be mobile and independent again. We hopped a ferry to Sicily, a mode of transport I highly recommend if you find yourself in southern Italy and want to watch the sun set over Mount Vesuvius and the Mediterranean.

Palermo struck us immediately as dirty yet beautiful, sunny but mild, poor but over-the-top friendly. Shopkeepers were always giving us samples and freebies, passersby offered us advice when we looked lost, waiters practiced their scant English on us, an elderly couple shared their thermos of coffee with me on the train. Everything is cheaper in Sicily and we felt like we'd stumbled on some kind of excellent secret--we saw not a single native English speaker the entire time, just a lot of Italians enjoying their vacation.

We did the obligatory historical things, visiting a beautiful Byzantine cathedral and catacombs cluttered with centuries-old corpses. We went to the smooth white beach by the crystalline blue sea, along with half the city residents, all of whom were doing their darnedest to turn their skin the color of dried tobacco. Only a few blocks from the apartment Jamie discovered King Ferdinand's old hunting grounds, converted into a lovely park with lots of trails where we could run and observe the prostitutes that hang out there.

And of course we ate, and ate, and ate. Crudo and pistacchio paste and magnificent cherry tomatoes and canollis and marscapone pizza, and huge plates of whole bass and swordfish steaks and octopus and prawns all grilled up right next to the table by a fat dude smoking a cigarette.

So there you have it. Three weeks in Italy, many a cornetti and cappuccino, lots of train rides, some historically relevant sites, some sub-par beer and excellent wine, lots of yardwork and aimless walking, and a lot of great hang out time with a couple of my favorite family members.

The Events Surrounding Our Departure

The strange little tale of Bosco Merrone ended on a vaguely sordid note. We finally worked up the courage to tell Salvatore that we were peacing out early, and he seemed unruffled. We enlisted his lecherous friend Frederico to drive us to the train station and when he wasn't making overtures to Chrissy, he was grilling Jamie on why we were leaving. She gave him most of the truth--we wanted flexibility to explore and didn't have it at Bosco. He insisted that something negative must've happened with Kumar, an accusation that was both appalling and hypocritical. The Israeli girls said they'd received some forewarning, which as you might expect made them uncomfortable when faced with the not-as-advertised situation. We hastened to tell them that Kumar had been the perfect host and had never done anything inappropriate. The whole affair smacked of classism or racism and left us with a bad taste in our mouths.

Imagine our shocked bemusement when WWOOF Italia sent out an email the very next week. "Attn: Bosco Merrone has requested its removal from the list of farms and therefore is no longer taking WWOOFers."

We were dying to know the full story but resigned ourselves to only ever knowing one side of the weird pas de deux. What happens in the middle of nowhere stays in the middle of nowhere.

13 August 2011

Because My Mother Won't Stop Harrassing Me

Sicily: words later, pictures now.

Sunset over Naples as we embark on the ferry ride to Palermo

Awesome beautiful beach at Mondello

Dramatic Norman/Byzantine cathedral in Monreale
View from our apartment. It's not conveniently located but is super luxurious compared to previous accommodations.

08 August 2011

And I Said to Bouffy..."WTF"

Suddenly it's our last night and we are filled with melancholy at the thought of leaving. Kumar has inexplicably dubbed me Butterfly and shouts it whenever he needs my help in the kitchen. It may be my favorite nickname ever.
We have been joined by two Israeli WWOOFers and we delighted in giving them the Bosco 101. They seem like really cool girls and talking to them made me realize how starved of English I've been. We've met so many people and I'm always the sullen silent friend...I'm not the most outgoing person but I do like talking to new people. Well, off to Sicily, another place where no one speaks English. God, I'm so American.

07 August 2011

Our Friend Dark Horse

we were killing some down time on the veranda with our various instruments of internet retrieval when big dirty antonio set goblets of gelato in front of us. we cheered in surprise and delight, and chrissy and i mouthed "dark horse" at each other. after we'd finished he returned with a bottle of something cloudy and cold. he refilled our goblets and grinned when we oohed and aahed over the milky homemade limoncello. full of surprises, that antonio. the next day he taught chrissy how to ride the 4-wheeler and chuckled at her timid seven-point turn. he always shouts at us to stop harvesting bamboo and come drink coffee instead. after work one day he gave us a chilly bottle of "belgian" beer. made in italy, he explained condescendingly, pointing at the label. he drinks only real german beer. we split it in the sunshine.cooking with dark horse

Party on the "Farm"

This is a long one. Apologies.

Weekdays at Bosco Merrone are quiet, hot, vaguely disappointing. It's only the five of us, using up the supplies brought in from far-off stores, J and C and I washing dishes, reading, browsing the Internet, fighting the temptation to scratch mosquito bites. Work for the week consists of harvesting as many bamboo stalks as possible, pulling them free of blackberry thickets, stripping them of leaves and shoots with sickles, and dragging armfuls up over-grown horse paths back to the house, where presumably they will one day grace the roofs over the pool and patio. Every day, harvest bamboo and wash the dishes from every meal. It's thankless and there are few distractions. We consider our options and plan a premature departure for Sicily.Then suddenly Friday comes, and with it people. Mario and Gino and Nadia and Rosa are back, and Salvatore and his wife, and other friends besides. They all smoke and laugh and try to force Chrissy and me to form sentences, and bring in huge bags of exciting groceries, and cook. Meals always start after nine and the three of us finish toweling off the last wine glass at eleven thirty. On Saturday the gang (who of course stayed the night--where better to have a weekend-long party than a B&B?) dress their wrinkled bronze bodies with tiny swim cover-ups and then lounge and smoke and opine. Directed by Salvatore, we engage the disheveled yard in an epic battle: weeding, sweeping, washing, hauling, raking, killing spiders. It is hot and exhausting and satisfying, much better than endless bamboo, and we are rewarded with an excellent lunch of fried anchovies and eggplant pasta on the terrace, with eight of our closest Italian friends. And Kumar, of course. Dark Horse is gone for the weekend, so the guests can laugh about his watermelon addiction without him hearing.

We once again wash dishes and finish the day's work and "clean" ourselves in the pool because the water isn't working in our cabin. Then we read and nap and put on dresses, then are drawn back to the house like moths by the sound of karaoke blasted over the hills.

Yes, Italian karaoke. Soulful, boisterous, sincere. Suddenly, Bosco Merrone has a fully fledged festa on its hands. The gang has multiplied to maybe twenty, but because everyone is a noisy Italian, it feels like forty. We (even me) are persuaded to sing a round of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and then, after a gut-busting and wonderful dinner of Neapolitan pizza, fried risotto balls, ricotta calzonitas, and assorted cakes, the DJ throws out some Italian pop songs and it's Club Bosco. We dance our asses off, then are promenaded around by old men to samba, salsa, what have you. Except Jamie (beloved by all for her red hair and excellent Italian), who is monopolized by Marc Antonio, a nineteen-year-old whose mama wants him matched up with my cousin.

Cooking goes on until midnight and cleaning until two, and we fall into bed pumped to have been included.
Sunday brings another solid morning of yard work, and then suddenly it's all hands on deck for Sunday dinner, where huge families of paying customers materialize, demanding ice and spoons and bread in their incomprehensible language. Waitressing nightmare. Course after delicious course pass through our hands and I long for a taste. We are pinned for three hours straight, and then we are ordered to sit down and eat, and we gratefully comply. Lasagna, flank steak with delicious peppers, mussels, fried dough balls of anchovies and zucchini flowers, huge bowls of grapes and plums and the ubiquitous watermelon. Wine and anise spirits and espresso and more dishes to be washed and then we collapse with fatigue, at seven at night.

Jamie and I rally briefly to run hill repeats on the wicked kilometer-long driveway, where we can see the sun set over the mountain range. On Tuesday we're taking a night train (and ferry) to Sicily and I don't regret leaving early, but my biggest issue with WWOOFing here--the utter lack of real Italian experiences--was totally obliterated by this weekend. Forty-eight unalloyed hours of working, eating, laughing, singing, in some obscure hilltop lodge two hours from anywhere--what more could I ask?

04 August 2011

Life on the "Farm"

With absolutely no idea of what to expect, we boarded the train to Naples. There we found that no trains went to our intended destination on Sunday, so we arranged for a ride with our proprietor Salvatore and took a train to a dusty little village about 20k away. Weighed down by a truly appalling amount of luggage, we watched with dismay as an average-sized Euro car pulled up with two jovial old men in it.

There was nothing to do but laugh uproariously, and so we all did. Gino and Mario, our friendly chaperones, packed us in like sardines with two monstrous suitcases and assorted duffels and purses on our laps. The whole way to Bosco Merrone, Gino taught Jamie to say Neapolitan phrases with gusto and cheered every time she said "Atza!"--wow!

Atza indeed. We climbed out of the nondescript valley into hills surrounded by bigger hills. The road was shaded by hazelnut and olives trees and only the occasional villa dotted the green landscape. Once at Bosco Merrone, a sprawling ranch house cluttered with shady patios and sweet neighborhood dogs, we joined Gino and Mario and their wives for some caffe and they coached us on pronouncing aglio and oglio. They were cheerful and noisy and profane but they suddenly departed, with kisses and promises of dinner at their house.

Turns out the owner of Bosco Merrone lives in Naples and our welcomers were only friends. We sat down with some trepidation for dinner with our only companions, the two men we'd be working with for the next two weeks.

Kumar is a diminutive Punjabi Indian who has worked in Italy for five years and is applying to move to Sacramento. His English is not bad but spoken in an accented rush that requires several repetitions. He cooks, cleans, and fixes whatever may need fixing in the ramshackle villa. Antonio is a hulking chain-smoker in stained clothes who only speaks brusque, monosyllabic Italian through his mustache and missing teeth. He scared us at first, but showed a bit of a smile when we played Scopa, an Italian card game, with him after dinner. We have named him Dark Horse.

The first full day, we arose at our leisure and made ourselves toast in the big house, and ate leftover carrot cake that was wonderfully light and fluffy. Then the five of us set to work scouring and rearranging the industrial kitchen. It was deeply satisfying work, with a great view of the mountains and an audience of feral cats. Refreshed by a cool breeze as I scrubbed and organized, I almost lost a sense of time and place, until Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" music video came on the TV.

Then a heaping lunch of spaghetti and Antonio, with no warning and a secret smile in his eyes, started showing us magic tricks with his cards. Chrissy and I have agreed that this stereotypical stoic will by crying and friending us on Facebook by the time we leave.

I promise there are lots of pictures but this stupid website is not cooperating right now.

Gorging Ourselves in Rome

One of Jamie's coworkers from her internship in Florence took us out to dinner with one of his friends, a fastidious Roman with all the arrogance one would expect. Ricardo drove us to a town south of Rome, and I relished the liberated Italian driving style that up to then I'd only witnessed as a pedestrian.

Dinner was a casual affair of plastic plates and paper tablecloth, but the food! Antipasti was a platter heaped with salami, prosciutto, magnificent mozzarella balls, lima beans, cold cuts, and crusty bread. Groaning, we somehow forced down a series of delicious homemade pasta entrees with mushrooms, tomatoes, and boar sausage. For dessert Ricardo showed us a tiny bar known locally for its warm sugary cakes and the dirty name given said cakes.

The next dinner was an about-face from the previous night's rustic fare. My cousins' parents were treating Chrissy to dinner, so we chose a little seafood place nearby because it received fresh, pungent deliveries every day.

It was a meal of decadence--we told the flirtatious waiter to take good care of us, and he complied. Plate after plate of antipasti arrived, amazing tartare and carpaccio, grilled octopus, slivers of squid with fennel, and a frightening platter of massive raw shrimp crayfish, and shellfish. We did the best we could and were rewarded with a plate of lightly fried fish, then little scoops of creamy risotto with calamari and shrimp. Somehow several bottles of crisp white wine disappeared...then Prosecco...and dessert came. Towers of fresh fruit surrounded cunningly-made sorbet bowls--walnut gelati was frozen in walnut shells, chestnut in chestnut shells, bitter orange sorbet in orange rind, and passionfruit in passionfruit shells. Of course Chrissy received a slab of tiramisu with a birthday candle in it, and we finished off with champagne and bittersweet chocolate. Reeling from drink and food, we made it home and counted it an excellent last night in Roma.And now we've done a complete 360 and are sunning on the porch of our tiny cabin in the hills, watching "Dark Horse" Antonio rumble by on his 4-wheeler. When he turns off the engine, the countryside is silent but for the wind.

01 August 2011

Life at Bosco Merrone

Drinking homemade limoncello on a veranda in the absolute middle of nowhere, Italy. That may sound idyllic and romantic but this is the absolute first instance of us doing what we expected to do on 'the farm'. Suffice to say the owners may have slightly misrepresented their establishment on the WOOF website. However, there is Internet, cute dogs, and the villa is surrounded by stunning green mountains. Gotta have my scenery fix.