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Tag Archives: Italy
On the 23rd of this month Richie and I celebrated one year on the road! 365 remarkable days! If there’s one thing that has characterised the experience for us, it’s the people. As a tribute to the places we’ve been and the friends we’ve made, I offer a gallery of faces: each one beautiful and unforgettable in its own way.
These are people with whom we’ve couch surfed, Wwoofed, played, partied, wept, worked and dreamt. Thank you, each and every one of you, for the inspiration you’ve offered us; the chance to mingle our life journeys with yours.
Thank you… شكرا… спасибо… σας ευχαριστώ… gràcies… 谢谢… tak… merci… მადლობა გადაგიხადოთ… תודה… grazie… ຂໍຂອບໃຈທ່ານ… با تشکر از شما… mulțumesc… ¡gracias… teşekkür ederim… diolch i chi… Ake Issrebeh Moulana… tanemmirt…
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The rain comes down and we do not run for cover: not Richie, Giovanni nor I: we’re in the garden planting plugs of capsicum, aubergine, tomato and cabbage into beds that have humped backs like camels and are as hairy as Cousin It. The shawn grass we’ve piled on top of the beds shields a treasury of seeds: garlic, onion, spinach, alfalfa, buckwheat, corn – a cocktail of life… pure vegetal goodness
Richie tears a packet of borage seeds open with his teeth, prodding the tiny specks into the earth with soily fingers – here, here, there, over there. He scatters a pile of seeds underneath the leaf beat plants that have remained in the soil since last summer and are as thick and mutinous as an oasis of miniature date palm, seed heads drooping like sprays of dates on the stalk.
The sky is caught between smiling gold and the blackened blue of bruising. The lights in the village are shaken by the thunder until they burn a furious shade of cocktail-peach.
There’s lightning on the mountaintop and I’m cackling because Giovanni is laughing loud and it’s nice to be in the garden, planting plants, and letting the rain soak our backs. Before long we will be inside drying off, packing our bags for Greece, sending one last wave of emails rippling out across the globe.
In twenty four hours Richie and I set sail for Igoumenitsa, and that will be the end of Italy, for now.
On our last night in Busso Giovanni promises to cook two bunches of agretti that he bought at the market the previous day. From a sealed plastic tupperware container in the fridge he produces two small inferior black truffles to show me; he and the dogs found them early that morning on their pre-dawn excursion. There’s every hope, I tell myself, that the scaly black eggs will arrive on our plates this evening, shaved over a mousse of polenta or a creamy risotto blanco.
A bottle of white wine is in the fridge chilling. There will be four of us tonight, like there was on the first night we were here, when Giovanni prepared a meal of sautéed wild chicory (prised from the lawn at the edges of the driveway), dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, served with fried eggs and shaved truffle, and fried polenta bread cooked on top of the stove in a cast iron pan.
Giovanni’s friend arrives with broad beans. He plonks them unceremoniously on the table. We’re invited to eat from the pods. They’re delectable: crisp, bitter and green. We snap-unlock the seams of the pods and throw the skins onto the table. “Good mulch,” says Richie, chewing reflectively while he gazes at the growing mound of skins: white and wooly on the inside, apple green on the outside. Broad beans will be one of the first things we plant in our garden, when we have one again, along with asparagus, artichoke, basil, strawberries, and agretti. Wonderful agretti! Pride of Italy!
When we arrive at Giovanni’s on the 24th of May our bodies are in Italy but our minds have set sail for Greece. We’ve stayed overlong in Italy, or so Richie keeps telling me. By my account, we’ve stayed exactly the right amount of time – neither too long, nor too short. Italy had been good to us.
As we pull up in front of Giovanni’s imposing stone farmhouse on the outskirts of Busso, I realise there’s still one experience I’m holding out for: Italian home-cooked food.
In spite of its central position in the country, and proximity to Rome, few people who visit Italy have ever heard of Molise. One of the smallest and most sparsely populated provinces in Italy, Molise is home to 400,000 residents, and one third of the country’s endemic species of flora and fauna, including small populations of wolves, bears and chamoix. Its three national parks encompass an area of 3,350sq km, making Molise a green and pleasant place to escape the noise and congestion of Italy’s major cities.
When Richie and I arrived in Italy on the 12th of April we had never heard of ‘Molise’, and when we exited the country on the 30th of June, we’d spent a total of almost half our time there.
This is the story of how we ‘discovered’ Molise…
After seeing the high standard of work Richie was turning out for his Permaculture Diploma, Angiola, our host in Rome, suggested we visit Molise to stay in her family’s villa, explore the countryside, and make some suggestions in the garden. We weren’t sure if we were being invited to have a holiday, or to implement a permaculture design. Either way, the enticement of free accommodation in a restored stone stable was enough to tempt us into the heart of the country – to the very navel of Italy.
In Campobasso, Molise’s capital, we were met off the bus by Angiola and her sister, Maria-pia. Angiola was on her way back to Rome but invited us to stay as long as we wanted, so long as we spent the first few afternoons of our visit helping her sister and brother plant 200 pomodoro (tomato) plants in the garden.
The variety of pomodoro that Maria-pia and Michelangelo favoured was a native of Montagano (the the closest village to where we were staying), and was without doubt “the best tomato in the world.”
Unfortunately for Maria-pia and Michelangelo, not even “the best tomato in the world” will grow to a ripe old age if the conditions for living aren’t right. On arriving on the scene in Faifoli Richie and I were greeted by the sad spectacle of over two hundred pomodoro seedlings wilting with stage fright under a relentless blue sky in a dry barren patch of recently rotovated earth. It was tomato genocide!
I like Rome. The people are daggier than in Florence and an air of lusty decay hangs over the city. Paint peels, horns blow, and people grow green things on their balconies in defiance of acres of concrete, stone and asphalt. As I stepped off the bus in Piazza Vescovio, a green elliptical square in the north of town, I sensed that Rome is a city that is content with its place in life. After millennia of growth, expansion, flourishing and revolt, it’s happy to sit back and let the party come to it. And why not? It deserves it.
Angiola, our host, met me off the bus in Piazza Vescovio. Richie was arriving a few hours after me, fresh from a stay on a Tuscan farm with a fellow permaculture enthusiast, Elena. Angiola had a largess and charisma that matched her native city. Scriptwriter, filmmaker, art historian and heir to a crumbling farm estate in Molise, Angiola was magnificent.
After falling in love with Angiola I fell in love with the bedroom she was offering us: large, eccentrically furnished and abundantly serviced with chairs and desks – this was going to be an ideal place for Richie to finish his fourth diploma project and for me to catch up on my Florentine reading: Vesari’s The lives of the Artists and Mary McCarthy’s Stones of Floerence and Venice Observed.
Like all travellers who have spent long months living out of a suitcase, I luxuriated in the novelty of unpacking my ‘things’; finding spaces in the cupboards and drawers to lay my threadbare garments, whiffy hiking boots, journals, books, writing materials and precious MacBook.
“In the smoke of the twilight, on a milk white steed,
Michelangelo indeed could have carved out your features.”
– ‘Jokerman’ (Bob Dylan)
It took me five days to befriend Florence. Not because it’s an unfriendly place, or difficult to like. It isn’t. It’s just that sometimes it takes a few days to warm to a city, and for a city to warm to you. You can break yourself on the history, artwork and culture of a place, and still the city demands more. It’s waiting for you to let your guard down, to catch you unawares. When all the dust has settled on the ‘sights’; when you’ve queued for hours; busted your guts to get an uninterupted view of ‘Primavera’; and still possess an open and curious mind, then and only then, will you be worthy to walk the stones of Florence…
Even in the rain Florence is lovely. Within two hours of arriving I found myself strolling beside the Arno, umbrella in hand, watching pewter clouds empty their contents over heads that didn’t seem to mind a bit. It’s a charmed life being a tourist in Florence.
My stroll along the Arno brought me to the courtyard of the Uffizi where I came, unsuspecting, on the sculptures in the Loggia de Lanzi: an open air museum. Wreathing in and out around the bases of the statues I wondered how the tourists and school children clustered grape-like around the feet of the Titans could carry on such casual chatter while rape, battle and subterfuge were going on above their heads.
On day two I hit the ground running. It was the national week of culture and entrance to state museums was free. Within the space of three days I’d checked the Galleria dell’Academia, Uffizi, Medici Chapel, Museo di St Marco, Bargello, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and Santa Maria del Carmine off my extensive list of ‘things to do and see’.
Like God on the seventh day (except this was my fifth), I rested: I ate breakfast, read in bed, did an hour of meditation, caught up on my journal, washed my hair…
By afternoon I couldn’t take it any more: as long as Florence was ‘out there’ and I was ‘in here’, I couldn’t be happy.
I slung my camera, my city map, my notepad and my reading book into my bag, grabbed the umbrella with no handle that I’d pulled from a bin in Padua, and took to the streets, in search of life and colour. I wanted perspective. I wanted height.
I made for Piazzale Michelangelo, but not without stopping at my favourite gelateria on the south side of the Pont alla Carraia: pistachio and tiramisu mousse (in honour of you Kay, and Holly).
The bus to the lookout was approaching. I jumped on to save my legs, relishing my place by the window, watching as scenes of city life dropped away – the Via Romana and the gate to the city; the long green gauntlet of lime trees marking the route to the lookout; the vast ochre and dun villas lining the Viale Niccolo Machiavelli; and the cool green olive gardens on either side of Viale Galileo.
Richie and I have been known to attempt rash and zany things, especially whilst on the road. A whiff of adventure, a challenge, a dare, and we’re off, scheming of ways to reach B from A; testing the mettle of our spirits and the imperviousness of the soles of our hiking boots.
If they were made for walking, what’s the point in standing still?
It was during a particularly low moment during our stay in Barcelona that we decided to intercept Richie’s parents on their 18-day cruise of the Mediterranean. We were lonely and could do with a merry rendezvous. On the 14th of April Kay and Steve would be disembarking the Queen Victoria in Venice. Why not surprise them there, and spend a memorable 6 hours walking the streets; lagoon water lapping at our toes and the taste of gelato in our mouths.
Reaching Venice on the 14th left us with a window of 4 nights to get from Figueres (in the northeast Spain). We considered flying, then thought better of it. Why not hitch?
Dino and Amanda are the type of hosts that every Wwoofer dreams of: fun, sociable, passionate and accommodating. What’s more, they cook great food and live in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited!
Right from the beginning, when our Wwoof Espania membership came through in the post and long hours were spent pouring over the host list, I knew I wanted to stay with Dino and Amanda at Can Col. They’re Wwoof profile said it all: “young couple living in a 17thcentury renovated farmhouse in the lower Pyrenees… surrounded by woods and silence for many miles around… we make our own bread, pasta, game sausages, pâtes, marmalades and jams… and we grow our organic vegetable terraces from which we eat all year round.”
After arriving in Figueres, we were met off the train by Dino, Amanda and their two dogs, Rita (mother) and Lucy (daughter). It was a wonderful reception full of tongue kissing (from the dogs) and excited yelps (from the dogs also).
Dino (Italian) and Amanda (Catalan) spoke brilliant English, and it was nice to be able to talk freely about their lives, as well as our adventures on the road.
After several peaceful miles driving through fertile valleys we began the ascent into a rugged uninhabited mountainside, covered in a forest of holm oaks, chestnuts, walnuts and wild apple trees. Great ridges and crusts of limestone jutted out like stern eyebrows.