Tag Archives: Market
When you’re travelling some days turn out scrambled and others sunny-side up. Our day in Almaty was going the way of the former: scrambled. The apples, we were told, were no longer on the trees, and the co-ordinates we’d been given for the wild apple forests were more than a day’s walk away, beyond the reach of Almaty’s public buses and the elasticity of our rapidly shrinking budget.
In the Sayran Bus Station we picked up a weak wifi signal, slapped out the laptop, and stared in befuddlement at a Google Satellite image. N43.22.11’, E77.40.36’ was a nameless collection of bunched green ridges, gullies and veins of rock. With a little over 24 hours remaining on our Kazakhstan visas, finding Malus sieversii would be like looking for a needle in a haystack with the added diversion of a ticking time bomb resounding in our ears. Admitting it hurt like a shot in the foot. “Sorry guys it’s off the cards”.
Our timing in Kazakhstan had been off from the start. By the time we entered the country on the 14th of October half of our 30-day Kazakhstan visas had already elapsed. It was our fault really, a foolish burst of optimism that had made us think we could dance our way around Russian visa red tape in Tbilisi in under three weeks. The two unscheduled weeks in Astana waiting for our China visas was the final undoing. We’d gone about it all wrong, and as a result, we’d be entering China sans the precious Malus sieversii seeds. Continue reading
Saturday morning in Argokhi. There is work to be done: water butts to fill; pigs to feed; floors to sweep; tea to brew – but there’s no hurry. I sit on the steps cracking hazelnuts, listening to the sounds passing up and down the lane on the opposite side of the above-head-high metal fence. I hear ducks squawking, the lazy turning of cartwheels, neighbours fussing, the crank of the timber grape press, and the occasional sound of apples falling from the tree. It’s mid-autumn. Every warm day between now and Christmas is worth its weight in gold.
Working on Momavlis Mitsa (Future Earth) farm in Argokhi has ameliorated the discomfort of waiting for visas in Tbilisi. Instead of sitting like ghosts in some disembodying hostel, milking the wifi and kicking stones down Marjainishvili on the way to the Metro, we’re working outdoors, using our lungs and hands to lift things, fix things, bake things, grow things.
In the garden we’re asked to do things we’d never do at home, in our own garden: pull weeds, hoe earth, turn soil, plant monocultures and raise new beds without mulching them. I bite my lip as Inken, the 18-year-old longterm German volunteer, instructs me on how to break the ‘crust’ that has formed on the surface of the soil due to successive phases of watering and sunshine. We work the hoe forward while simultaneously walking backwards down the aisles. I wonder if I’m disturbing the roots of the small plants, and why there are no bugs or worms in the soil.
When Giovanni deposits us at the train station in Campobasso, huge clods of clay are stuck to the underside of my boots. I feel like a bunyip. “Look at the state of you,” Richie laughs, as passersby and early-bird commuters gaze in horror at the state of my boots. No self-respecting Italian would be caught dead looking like this.
“Take a photo of me with the train for Julian,” I demand, posing in my grungy boots. The train is a tiny one-carriage affair. It’s a fun ride. I wish my nephew was with me to enjoy the journey, chugging across the mountains of Molise on our way to the sea.
In Termoli there’s enough time to grab some bread, fruit and cheese before jumping back on the train, bound for Brindisi via Foggia. Richie listens to his new Smokey Tentacles mix as the train trundles through a flat landscape of wheat fields and wind turbines. We spot the first trullis – Puglia.
The man who drives the complimentary shuttle bus from the centre of Brindisi to the port customs office looks unimpressed when I press a postcard into his hands.
“Will you post it for me? I ran out of time,” I say, smiling apologetically. He takes the card begrudgingly from my hands. Before he can say ‘no’ we bolt for the ship. We’re late and we only just make it in time.
The boat sets sail from Brindisi at 7pm. I’m elated. In seven hours we’ll be pulling in to the port at Igoumenitsa – my first taste of Greek life.
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.