Thursday, November 12, 2009

Culture Shock and Culture Shocking


I cannot write right now, really, as I am very very jet-lagged and mixed-up from all the memory of velocity and my current, alien state of staying-put. But. I want to thank everyone for the kind messages and wishes for a safe journey home, and assure you than Matthew and I are very physically here, even if our brains are still somewhere over the Atlantic.

In the next few weeks I am going to be putting up posts regarding advice for WWOOF hosts and guests, reflections upon the farming methods and infrastructures which we experienced in the last eight months, a review of the restaurants we visited and the hostel that we stayed at in Barcelona, as well as general tips for people planning to backpack through Europe. Plus our own little aftermaths here in Boston.

Happy Thursday!

Monday, November 9, 2009


This is just a wee little hola to say that we are happily and hungrily in the good city of Barcelona. A night of good food with friends and a red-eye busride south brought us to this lovely little hostel, Apt. Ramcat, full of a cat and poppy motif and friendly, quiet people.

We have spent today with Gaudi, and I must say that he is an excellent traveling companion.

Anyhow, we are on our way to tapas in the Old Quarter. Have a good night!

Over and out,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A tiny little sprout.

The end is very near.

Garlic is all planted, their sprouts, les poussees (named after pousseur, "to push") sticking up hopefully from their bony bulbs, thrusting out new, long roots into the dirt that we planted them in two weeks ago. Most of the onions - red and white and yellow - are planted as well, tucked into their plastique by many hands - WWOOFers, pros, and apprentices alike. It's been raining, and my throat is a tad bit sore, and my nose a bit stuffed after running around yesterday picking the last of the beans, planting more bulbs, and shoving stakes and flinging mud onto the plastic to make sure that it doesn't blow away. all of this while being rained on, both torentially and lightly. Matt and I looked like we were wearing cement shoes, only they were made of mud, weighing us down dopily and making it quite difficult to leap over a vegetable bed with success.

Since I began writing this post on Tuesday the ground has become more and more waterlogged and it is impossible to put out a foot without becoming completely drenched. This is both an annoyance and a vehicle for epic mornings, full of bareback and high speed tractor runs down the highway and mad dashes to pick and shave the roots off the last of this week's celeriacs. In short, a lot of fun, though it leaves you looking and feeling like a sad water rat after awhile. The best part is coming in for lunch and having piping hot soup and chicken - ooh la!

Apart from the good social and down and dirty life that we have been living here, the Toulouse area has been a great place for us thanks to its climate. The autumn here comes pretty close to resembling the Eastern Woodlands', what with rain, colors (though typically dull) and cold nights - truly cold, where you can't sit watching stars for longer than a handful of time. We even experienced the kind of cold that goes right through you, completely disregarding your skin and bones, wool and down, when some friends took us out for a day at the Pyrenees. We arrived at a good time, during the second week of October, allowing us to experience the major undressing of the trees and the seed-harvest and reaping of the corn. Heavy-duty field work and frost have turned the corn patch into stubble and the shriveled tomato plants into nursery beds of spinach seedlings and fennel.

As the days pass Matt and I both think more and more about our homecoming. It will be something else entirely to be living in Boston after such a prolonged ramble throughout eight different countries and a whole lot of homes. We are very excited to see everyone and I wonder often about the ways in which culture shock will hit us hardest. I know that we will find ourselves suddenly in a world full of Christmas songs and holiday commercialism, which will be strange after being in a place where Halloween isn't celebrated in the slightest and Christmas itself is treated far more subtlety. But perhaps it will be the small things which strike us most, and I can't begin to consider what will be most affecting.

Anyhow, we are about to off to the home of one of the apprentices, as he and his girlfriend will be treating us to a massive cheesy dinner full of fondues for all and wine for those that partake. It will be a good a way to begin our farewell to France, and a welcome event of warmth after a day of wet wet wet harvesting and AIMAP box packing.

Before I go I'd like to give a hearty hello to Pete, a good friend of Matt's Grandma and a devoted reader of Beauty and the Cheese. Thanks for your support and I look forward to meeting you in a few weeks!

Talk to (and See you!) real soon! (We return to the continent on the 11th!!)

Up up up! Image thanks to

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bon soir from a mouth full of grape seeds and fingers full of garlic - and KIWI!

Just a quick hi from our new, and hopefully (! - ?) last, European home: a CSA (known in France as AIMAP) in the south of the country, near Toulousse.

Our good friend Chelsea just sent an email asking about where we are, what we have most recently learned, and what this place is like generally. I will use this forum to respond.

The countryside is gorgeous, with highways lined with plain trees with bark that recall sycamores, and our countryside surrounded by fields of corn and newly reaped stubble and rock, yappy dogs, young horses, chickens and, if you are lucky, one lone peacock.

One of the highest truths that I have learned in my time abroad is that nothing in western Europe comes close to a flattering comparison with the conflagration of October's Eastern Woodlands. But autumn is beautiful here, and in other ways surprisingly and strangely similar to those spent in Wisconsin and New England in recent years.

Namely, we spent our first two days here mashing, pressing, siphoning, drinking, pasteurizing and bottling cider made from the 48 different varieties grown in our farmer, Phillipe's, orchard. Oh, the amber mellifluous. Cider for breakfast, lunch and dinner, covering our pants, sticking to hair, and scenting our hands (already apple-colored from handling the hot bottles) sweetly.

And today filled us up with another smell likewise reminiscent of places like Overlook Farm and Potomac Vegetable Farms down in Virginia - garlic! Loads and loads of bulbs, beautifully feathered, splashed in violet, dusted in dirt, which we pried and broke with our hands into what the Spanish call dientes - teeth. (The French word, gousse, translates less attractively into "pod" or "legume.") Each little clove - a clone of its mother - will be planted into the earth, quietly and slowly sending up a sprout which, come spring, will break the surface and meet the sun. It will gain in strength, eating sunlight and sending it underground, eventually growing a new bulb, plump and swollen with moisture and bite, which will be harvested in high summer.

Today also found us in the grove of espaliered kiwi trees! A frost is predicted for this evening, and Matt and I worked with our two fellow WWOOFers (hailing from Wales and England) and two of their friends, picking the last of the hairy fruit. This was incredibly pleasant - beautiful weather and enjoyable company. The kiwi are still very hard and sour - in a word, unripe - but after being in storage with apples (whose natural and constant respiration of ethylene gas aids the maturation of other vegetables and fruits) for a month or so they will be soft and sweet with the kiwiness of the kiwi.

The computer is acting up so I will sign off for now. Love to everyone. As I just wrote in an email to the Warrens - Matt and I definitely have a count-down going to November 11th, and while we are certainly enjoying ourselves this side of the Atlantic, America feels better and dearer all the time.

With love,

Monday, September 28, 2009


Today is nothing but a grey watercolor wash in the sky, with muted grass and sheep just beginning to stir, and our last day in Ireland.

We are taking a bus from Cork City to Dublin, another from Dublin to London's Victoria Station, and then a last to Amsterdam - !

We will then proceed to visit friends in Breda, Holland before returning to Paris for a few days. And then we WWOOF at our LAST FARM before trekking back to Barcelona, and then flying HOME!

Unfortunately I can't write anymore now. Thanks to all the comments and emails regarding the last post. Love you all!

Jenny and Matt

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reflections on Ol' Ireland

Dear readers. I apologize for being so long in writing, and wonder if anyone is still out there?

We are still in Ireland, caught up in the middle of a delightful morass of gorgeous days. This is one of the best - puffy with white and wide cloud shadows, ultramarine inbetween, green and smooth and sheep-mown and voluptuous below -

I wrote to my father that this part of Ireland reminds me very much of Wisconsin, the driftless region along the Mississippi. The first time that I woke up here I thought that that was where I was - in the midwest, mysteriously redeposited, and I was confused, but glad.

Before going into particulars, I would like to begin with an explanation of why I've not written. The underlying reason is The Future. Both Matt and I have been very preoccupied with searching for people to stay with in Amsterdam, arranging dates to be in Paris, and attempting to find farms to WWOOF at in France. We must still find a place to fill out our last few European days in Barcelona...

And this is not to mention how consumed we have been by the sorting through of the excess of opportunities regarding 2010 farm apprenticeships, internships, academia, living arrangements, etc!

And of course, weeding a place like this:

the raised vegetable beds

Or, triumphing in a place like this -

the pond garden

Plus, attempting to resurrect some semblance of correspondance with the people back in the Old Country, which is in no way Europe, but indeed America. And not only with the people, but with the zeitgeist itself. It has been very strange to be on this lovely property full of Time magazines and cable TV, to try easing myself back into a little bit of knowledge about what is going on in the States, and seeing that politically everything seems in quite a tangle and the recession is still on (though getting better, at least for some?). Part of me is glad to be in Europe in a time like this, though after much thought, the current events also encourage me to return home.

* * *

There is always such a fine line between August and September, and I have actutely felt this line for many of the days that we've been here. School beginning, the air sharpening to a crisp, pungeant companion. The silence brought on by autumn's arrival.

Sometimes when I am in the vegetable garden, spreading rotted manure or weeding, I can feel the preparations into autumn, eventually into winter. There is literally nothing to be heard, the atmosphere stagnant but for its clean chill, and only occasionally is there the flutter of one bird, or the gust of a sparrow flock.

It is dragonfly season. Sitting around the pond having tea, we watched them hitch upon each other, flitting, darting, curling their tails. When I go walking around six, just at the crease of afternoon and evening with Cosimo, they fly above me and swallow up the midgets (this is what the Irish call midges).

Maile asked me if I am constantly happy and meeting with good adventures at every turn. I realize that I have been incredibly optimistic in these blog posts. As travel tends to be, these months continue to be concentrations of life. Very exciting, rather over-whelming, full of human drama and joy and longings. I miss "home" (in spite of the allusiveness, for me, of this word, as I've been such a transplant for so long, between Milwaukee and New England, finding that word in people oftentimes moreso than in places) - I miss that concept, that aggregation of places and friendships, and I miss it far more than I thought that I would. I think part of the isolation is due to the difference in this sort of travel to the sort that I had done before. Though I've lived in a few different places, it was usually for enough months to establish some sort of a community, to become involved and see fruits of labors.

Thinking back, we have left many legacies. Potatoes in Alpine France, Coffee stains in Italy, lettuces in West Cork and a corrugated iron roof in the Mediterranean. But when we left France the potatoes and their leaves and stems were still in the ground, and we hardly got a chance to witness the absurd miracle of the roof that Matt and Isaac erected down south.

On the other hand, we ate cheese from the milk that we kneaded out of goats and had soup from the lovage that we harvested with Francoise's gorgeous Opinel knives from the Savoie, and here we came upon surpises of potatoes while turning the soil up, after weeding it faithfully, which gave gumption to a good omelet and now fill the kitchen with their small and plump bodies.

Being in Ireland has leant itself to a wealth of revelations and contemplations. Brilliant books, old friends, new friends, the grace of an immaculate landscape, the change in complexion after days of rain. And being on this small holding has been a welcome respite, a cloister of flowers and plans, and I think that when we'll be in Amsterdam on the 29th, and America in November, our time in County Cork, and our 180-some days (and counting) on this continent and its islands will have helped us be ready for it.

With that, I will leave you for now. It is too rare a day (as Jane Austen would put it) to spend it inside.

With love,


These, and more pictures, can be found here.
Also, I have finally gotten the chance to upload some of the various little films that we have taken, which can be viewed here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Again, little time.

Just wanted to let you all know that we still exist, and that we are still doing so in Ireland. I just had a really, really lovely week with the Taylor family up north in County Donegal, and I highly recommend to anyone the music festival in Kilcar that they put on every August. It was beautiful to spend time with so many pub sessions, a tatooed harper, various cliffs, waves, surfer children and, most of all, very good friends all sidled up by the turf fire.

Speaking of turf, while in Kilcar I read an editorial in the Irish Examiner and learned that peat bogs are basically carbon sponges, as they retain ten times as much carbon as any other land area (including forests). These fires are so ubiquitous in Ireland that when we were driving home from Donegal the whiff of them would visit me inside our stuffy rental car.

Anyhow, we are quite ready to move on to our next farm, and while there it seems that I will have much more time for blogging. It is only a 45 minutes' drive from where we are currently living, but worlds apart, and Matt and I are looking quite forward to it.

I really wish that I have had more time for the blog, but I have not given up on it! And I do hope to breathe some new life into it in the next few days, once we are resettled and proper.

Take care,

Friday, July 31, 2009

Buckets of rain, Buckets of milk

As the rain "lashes down" on this amazingly grey and blustery day I figured that I would share some of the work that we are doing.

With Gerd and Renate on a rare, few-days' holiday, I have been the sheep milker and tender, which is pleasant with such well-loved, clean, kind sheep. Renate is their usual shepherd, and they certainly are "one-woman sheep," leading to a bit of kicking and recalcitrance in the sheep house/milking stand. But I think that we are all coming to a bit more of an understanding of each other. It is amazing, the difference in different sheeps' udders. These sheep are far more full of milk, are milked only once a day, and take me about ten minutes to finish off. I get most of it out in the first five minutes or less, but spend quite a while trying to knead and punch out the rest. (When I say punch I refer to an imitation of what lambs do when they milk their moms - hitting the teat in a way with their nose to urge out more milk.) I am getting used to them, though, their pink pink teats and varied attitudes, and it will be too bad when I have to hand them back over to Renate tomorrow.

In the grand tradition of my friend Emily I have also nearly triumphed in a skirmish with a terraced herb garden, attempting to uproot and unscrew the legions of morning glory vine and grasses, while trying to preserve the poppies, cosmos, thyme, chives, rosemary and marjoram etc in the process. Some nasturtiums and poppies unfortunately ended up in the weed pile but the compost will be all the better because of it, and the slugs hopefully more pleased to be in the pile rather than the garden.

Matt has been doing various grunt work involving the digging of gravel and the strimming of polytunnels and will be doing hedge trimming once the weather clears.

In the polytunnel many bushels of beans have been picked and mold removed, tomato offshoots pried away and grape vines trained to the piping. There is quite a lot of mold in there, reminding one of the importance of ventilation, which perhaps could be utilized quite a bit more in their polytunnel. Most of the polytunnel onions and garlics have been harvested and crocheted in baling twine for storage in the winter cow house.

Lettuces have been stepped up from their initial germination flats and more seeded, along with a flat of fennel. Next week we will be transplanting the bigger seedlings into the greenhouse where the peas used to be, and harvesting and freezing ever more beans, and dealing with a big onslaught of new guests and their children for "children's days."

Our friend Angela has left, leaving us with more time alone, which is both good and sad. And a calf was finally born! The day after its birth it escaped into a nearby wood causing much anxiety and confusion, but happily the rascal was found and now enjoys a pasture with its mom and aunt in our backyard.

That's all for now. I am going to return to the pile of National Geographics, farming literature, and wool at the house. Take care and love to all,


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A home!

Well, a home until August 25th at least. Matt and I officially decided that we will be here until then.

I will write more later today or tomorrow, but now I have to go weed an herb bed. Take care!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oh goodness gracious.

Hello everyone,

I can write with a bit looser of a belt as Matt and I just bought library cards and can thus use the internet for free, every day if we want. (More like once a week, though.)

We will definitely be staying through the beginning of August, so if you can write real quick, and want to, I can give you our address if you would like.


It has been so wonderful to be able to sit in meditation twice a day with Gerd, a co-owner of the farm who has been meditiating for the last 26 years, and Angela, their charming and chatty guest who is full of fantastic stories from her native Switzerland, as well as her many Asian travels.

I have done a bit of meditating in the past but it has been far too sporadic to ever become something especially rewarding or even peaceful. In the last week it has been immensely pleasing to get incrementally (by the smallest centimeters) better at simply being, and "nothing more, nothing less," for an hour a day.

After meditating in the morning (each session lasts half an hour) we have a fantastic breakfast of porridge, toast, fresh milk, bananas (sometimes, !!) and a great medley of various pastes and jams. The breakfast is rife with conversation about nearly everything under the sun, from the habits of the Swiss Army to the Irish Catholic Church to linguistics, et al, et al. We have several similar principles and thoughts and many different ones, and interesting insights and experiences from our varied backgrounds.

The work, as Gerd might say, is Vanderful (so different from wonderful), full of flowers and stringbeans and weeds and fertile ground and funny dogs and wonderful meals inbetween. Yesterday was especially satisfactory, with Matt planting a cherry tree and strimming (weedwacking) and shoveling and me transplanting herbs and calendulas and tying up renegade peas and weeding and weeding and weeding. Renate (Gerd's lovely spouse) and her gardens are just so great, full of color and knowledge and flavor.

I have to go look up some books. Take care, everybody!


Oh, PS! Those of you who are interested in organic farming in a big enough of a way should look into books by LR Miller and his publication, "The Small Farmers' Journal." He is so incredibly inspiring, encouraging, and a very great light for the American organic community.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hi everybody!

We are still in the neighborhood of Bantry, on a retreat center/farm that is run by two good friends of Tim and Sandra's. It is good, with pregnant cows, a jumping pony, a cat with a boxer's jaw and some very nice dogs. And so many nasturtiums.

Thanks to everyone who wrote helpfully about places that we could look into farming on or living in. We hope to stay here for the next few weeks, and then look forward to seeing some very good friends who are about to be in the neighborhood.

Bantry is very charming...not as touristy as Kilarney, quite tiny, with plenty of friendliness and pubs all over. Last Sunday we went to the last night of the Chamber Music Festival, and it was fantastically Kronos Quartetish in sound and completely fancy in look, taking place in the rich, bayside, gardened and marbled and velvety Bantry House. The last piece was played with candlelight coming down from the chandelier. Mmm.

We unfortunately cannot post any pictures because I lost our card reader. (Shortly before losing our phone, though happily that found us again, through a very kindly Irish medium.) In lieu of actual pictures, I can quickly tell you about a few of the colors and patterns around us lately...

But sounds: the gong at the beginning of sitting meditation (did I mention that this is also a meditation center, right here on this farm?), the horseshoes against the road as the farmers' daughter takes her pony out for performing

There are windmills that turn in the valley beside us, and all we can see are the very fingertips of the blades as they go slowly round. The ubiquitous nasturtium are going to seed, their little plump lumps begging to be pickled in a caper kind of way. The thyme is struggling to take a stand in the herb terraces, and the calendula is bursting and crowding in orange and yellow.

And the rain. When first we arrived in Ireland there was very little of it, but now it is with us several times a day, streaming down the sides of the polytunnel (in American English "hoop house" - like a greenhouse made of plastic), thumping rooftops, huddling the sheep.

And the sheep are everywhere, just as you hear that they ought to be in Ireland.

Anyhow, I ought to run. I would like to leave a longer message, with reflections on our just-passed four month anniversary here, but there just isn't the time. Soon I will try to be in town and use a computer at a cafe, but for now, we miss and love all of you, and oddly, being in Ireland makes us far more homesick, I think, than we were before. But we are still happy to be traveling.

With unedited love,

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

SOS and Hullo!

Hi friends!

Well, here we are, in west Cork County, listening to "world music" in a cafe in Bantry town, hustling through emails and wwoof postings and water and about to hurry back to the farm to do more "bits and bobs" of bee keeping, tidying up, cooking, dog petting, sheep admiring, et al.

Again, unfortunately, I have no time to write, but can list off a few more things. The farm is perfect, with its roof teeming with grasses and flowers and ghosts of guinea pigs, and the dogs are that sort of dog in the Disney movie "The Shaggy Dog," and Tim is the only bee keeper in Ireland to study and survey bee populations and Sandra is a social worker when she is not riding the horses and weeding the onions et al et al.

Ok the major IMPERFECT thing about this farm is that we unfortunately will only be able to stay through this weekend, as there were booking miscommunications and forgettings and assumptions and, well, we might be between a rock and a pretty hard place very soon, so if anyone has a suggestion about a place that might need some pretty able folk such as ourselves, please don't be shy and hollar to us good and loud!

In any case, we are very happy and better at doing all kinds of things than we ever were before, and we are healthy too and all of those other things.

I will write SUBSTANTIALLY as soon as I can - no internet at Tim and Sandra's, and town is a long walk or a less long bike ride from the homestead, so I don't know when next I'll get the chance to connect and scribble but hopefully it will be soon.

Miss you all and thanks for the various kindly messages that have indeed been received. Hopefully we'll be somewhere for long enough to be able to actually receive LETTERS - so lucrative!

Much Love and Rain and Green,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The beginning of the island life

Ireland. Ireland, Ireland Ireland. 

Growing up I often felt extreme jealousy of the obsession of my church and schoolmates with all things and orange, shamrocks, fonts and unfortunate attempts at a Gaelic inflection. Ireland seemed very nice and quaint and lush but, well, nice and quaint and lush could be found in Wisconsin if you looked hard enough, and why brag about being Irish when I am primarily German in ancestry and hardly know anything but a meager polka to take pride in. 

Ok. Now that I am here I am, I do believe, far deeper in love with a place than I have been since we arrived in Europe, and more comfortable, trusting, et al, of the general populace and environment. 

I will give a few reasons before handing the laptop back to our barber, Paul, one of Matt's relatives whose hospitality, as seen below, is overwhelming us constantly and standing as a perfect example of the unexaggerated kindness of the Irish. 

We arrived a week and a day ago, taking a ferry into Rosslare, traveling the sea in the night and waking up early to see the sun blinding the water, a pure white lighthouse on a lonely rock, its light doing a two-step on the ship, guiding us into the port. At customs we had the sweetest official ever, who gave us a 90-day stamp and assured us that we could extend our stay if we talked to a police officer, and gave us hearty wishes for good travels. He was the kind of person who, if he didn't actually have pictures of his kids in his office, you could imagine them and know that he was a good father. 

We took the bus to Tipperary and wandered about a bit, gathering some canned sardines and strawberries and filling up our water from a natural spring, talking a long while with Mrs. Ryan, as well as a visiting Catholic nun, before being invited into a pub for a drink. 

So, that was us, just a few hours into the island and already four pints down, all paid by our kindly benefactor, a bartender on his day off. 

We had a devil of a time following the trail trail which we were attempting, the Ballyhoura way, and it began to rain on us as we tried to remain cheerful, with very pained soles, shoulders et al. Amazingly, a woman who owns one of the only campings in the area saw us as she was driving home, pulled over, and asked us if we wanted to sleep on her land for the evening. We told her that we weren't very well off financially, and she said that she and her husband would try cutting us a deal, which they did. And so, we got to sleep in a lovely place overlooking the Majestic Glen of Aherlowe (pictures soon forthcoming). 

(I wouldn't recommend adhering to that trail, though the towns that it claims to follow are amazing and if you were interested I would offer you a simpler, more reliable route.)

And, that was only our first day. We have had our trials, specifically in Matthew waking up in a puddle after a freak rain storm, but happily that was when we were at the camping and we were able to use their driers. 

I will write more soon, but I don't want to hog Paul's computer for long. Take care, and really, come to Ireland and visit, okay? You'll be so glad that you did. 


Sunday, June 14, 2009

We are in Cambridge, entering into our last full day here. Living in university housing, eating crumpets and Indian food, stretching our muscles, resting our muscles, and most importantly walking along the river and punting along the river and watching musicals and children's stories with our dear friend, Erin.

So much has happened in the last few weeks, but of course so much has been happening since we left the relative calm and habits and cold of Boston in March.

It feels good to be in English-speaking lands again, to worry a little about pronounciations and some different nomenclature and phrases, but generally to feel confident in being with old friends in the only language you have ever been accustomed to.

Cambridge is a very pleasant place, and I am enjoying it, the strawberries and raspberries and street performers who sing as African choirs or small Reggae outfits or don a gown and recite very old verses in front of a church. It is interesting, 800 years old this year, and Darwin, one of its students, is 200 now. In the zoology museum are displayed his finches and box of beetles, slides of whatnots, and first, old texts, alongside a massive skeleton of a land sloth and downstairs from a dozen stuffed birds of paradise.

On June 11th, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the priests and worshipers and blessed sacrament were walked through the street, the followers behind singing sad atonal hymns behind. The bells ring with a rapidity I'd never heard before, impossible to match in whistle or hum, a bit mad.

We have been walking, smelling along the river the disposable barbeques sold at the co-op and in town the hot sausages for sale at wagons peopled by vendors with striped shirts and straw hats, and through a fair on the green dirty smoke from steam engines that you could ride on the grass for a fee.

We also went punting, more or less gracefully (if not always steering so clearly as Erin) through the waters tread by moorhens, along the route of ducklings and mothers, with other punts with other students, a baby beneath a black umbrella, and jocular British families. When we stopped to picnic we came upon an unruly gang of geese, thick necked and orange footed, hollering at the river, the ducks, their comrades and finally us, though we had luckily finished our meal by the time that they began their saunter close, honking and craning and distracted by the bits of bread that Erin threw in a diversion.

I always forget how peaceful it is to be on a watercraft down a gentle river. Erin said we ought to have been reading poetry and turning parasols in our hands, but we were happy. It was like the feeling of drinking champagne with something salty even though you are not doing either, which is also how I feel while reading Hemmingway (which I do in the mornings here, and feel fantastically thirsty and hungry and generally content with his words and characters and stories of Paris in the twenties, in cafes and pages and Ezra Pound's flat).

Tomorrow, per Betsy's suggestion, we begin our hike through the Cotswolds, and at the end will ferry the Irish sea and finally arrive on that island of which I have heard more stories and presumptions than I have about any country other than America. I look forward.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Paris, is perfect!

Yes! It is true!

What are we doing?

Staying with the winner of France's equivelent of the Pulitzer, playing snakes and ladders (but the Strawberry Shortcake version) with the sweetest sunniest girl, getting all windy-like from Notre Dame's roof, eating croissants (duh), seeing Chagall on ceilings, buying Hemmingway books from the store that he spent his time at always, as well as suspenders with flowers on them.

Oh, Paris, how will we leave you?

Matt suggested that we wwoof here in September, and my dear friend Anja suggested that I propose a green roof on Notre Dame. So our questions are answered.

The chunnel tonight, Cambridge tomorrow,

With thoughts of arugula-covered gargoyles,
Jenny in a happy hurry (across the street from Quasimodo et al)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Ridiculous Announcement!

Here are links to more Festa pictures, as well as snapshots from Cascina del Finocchio Verde.

In other news, Matt and I are still confused and amazed and delighted to share the article published in Italy's national democratic newspaper, La Repubblica, about Mario, Cascina del Finocchio Verde, Isa,! It hasn't been published online, but I put photos of it on Facebook. It is written by one of our number one heroes, Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, a fantastic movement that encourages, promotes, and supports local cuisines and producers throughout the world, and puts on an amazing event bi-yearly in Bra, Italy, called Terra Madre, which brings these cuisines and people together from their homes in Siberia, Sierra Leone, and Wisconsin alike.

Oh, my god.

Also, we have made some wonderful friends in Luke and Cayla, who reign from the suburbs of Boston. While I am so happy to be in Italy and am sad to be leaving on Saturday, it has also been really good for us to be able to speak fluently with peers, discussing Anna's Taqueria and the disappointments of Boston's "Wonderland" T stop.

In our time here Matt and I are have become fairly expert milkers, pretty good shepherds, amateur cheese-makers, and enthusiastic wine tasters (well, Matt was already). The baby goat, christened Pistolino (a name which I will leave for you to translate), is getting bigger every day, the dog that we thought was paralyzed is beginning to walk (!!), the kittens' eyes are open (from the mama named Obama), and the wild strawberries are ripe ripe ripe and fill us with sweetness at pasture.

Love, Jenny

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mario, il Re dei Formaggi

A GRANDE and Victorious Ciao from Cascina Finocchio Verde!

Matthew and I just returned the big Festa in Murazzano. Throughout Italy, the 2nd of June is celebrated as the Festa della Repubblica, commemorating the anniversary of Italy's 1946 vote to be a republic, rather than a monarchy, after the fascist rule of World War II. It is Italy's version of the 4th of July, and as a result I saw, for the first time on our trip, an Italian flag on display.

In Murazzano people might consider the state and beginnings of La Repubblica, but what they do most is celebrate this national day off with a lot of food. Here, in this haven of sheep pasture and terraced vineyards, the party is centered around pecorino and wine instead of hot dogs and beer.

The highlight of the festa, at least for us Cascino Finocchio Verde folks, was the cheese competition. Mario has won first place two times in the past, and had high hopes for this year. So, we packed up all the cheeses, including fresh and aged caprino, decorative fig leaves, roses cut this morning and wool (for me to spin a web to lure in customers), and set up shop at the market.

As I mentioned before, Mario makes an awful lot of Murazzano cheese, and so do a bunch of other farmers and artisans in this area. The Festa filled us to the brims with this lovely, slightly aged, tiny-wheeled cheese, married to a wonderful medley of locally made, artisinal products. Murazzano con rose petal jam, salsa verde, pane (so fresh, Mario would say), endless amounts of wine (my favorite being a very syrupy, mellifluous one made from raisins rather than fresh grapes), and even a honey-flavored beer, made by a very bee-focused co-op.

As you know, both Matt and I love open air markets, especially ones full of artisanal products that are espoused to bottomless glasses of wine. This was our first (and perhaps last) opportunity to explore fully an Italian market. We enjoyed sampling hazelnut cookies and lavendar honey when not lingering around the food tent or spinning wool at our table. I was pleased to be a very small part of the market with the wool spinning, as children, adults, and other vendors would stop and stare, in the same sort of way that I tend to admire lovely displays and fantastic foods. A few people chatted with me (or at least attempted to) about watching their nonne, grandmothers, treadling spinning wheels when they were young, and a British tourist told me that when she was in university she took a class that required her to spin the wool from the top of the banister, a very intimidating, nerve-wracking, and brilliant way to learn to never let your ply grow so thin as to let it break.

Anyhow, as the market wore on, we drank more wine, became fully sick of cheese (even Mario said he'd had enough by the end of the day) and looked at some beautiful and creepy churches. The anticipation surrounding the announcement of the winners fermented and grew in the brain and belly and Mario became especially cheery and sociable. He bought me a honey beer and left to change into his fancy t-shirt, which reads, in Italian, Make love to the shepherd! The Americani held down the fort, with Luke's fantastically garish American flag baseball cap and Cayla's fluent Italian, while Mario and Isa attended the awards ceremony. After a few minutes I left to watch it as well, and took some fairly bad but adorable pictures, though I didn't comprehend that Mario had won FIRST AND SECOND PLACE until I returned to our stand. (He managed to nab the top two because he submitted two different wheels for the tasting.)

Needless to say, everybody was happy, tired, sated and sleepy, but we still drank more wine with dinner (one with pasta and another with dolce), as well as ate a hazelnut torte that Mario receieved in a barter, and slept all night before waking up to get some more milk for more campione, champion, cheeses.

Viva la Repubblica! But really, Viva il Finocchio Verde, sheep, Mario, Isa, and WWOOFers Americani.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Birthday! And, Revelation.

First of all, yes indeed, it is Mr Matthew's birthday today. Hooray!

Secondly, I realized while napping/pondering before lunch something important about farming. I was thinking about how everyone has their own way of doing things, and how I could visit a million different farms and definitely learn, love, and or hate something at every place.

This is fairly overwhelming. Thoughts stormed around my cloudy sleepyhead...I have so much to learn, I must apprentice somewhere, Maybe I should apprentice in two places, or three, or keep WWOOFing, or not grow vegetables or, or, eee....

But then I realized that if someone is a good farmer, they love and tend best they can to the living things that are all around them. Like a parent. And certainly every parent is Exceedingly different from the next, and people have children successfully even if they don't intensively study how to nurture and guide and care.

I do not think that farming is as intrinsically linked and realized inside of us as the potential for parenthood, but I do think that everyone can live harmoniously in their landscapes and forests and gardens by being, observing, thinking, and especially, loving.

Well, I will work at many more places and learn many more things, but I think that this little nugget may be a strong and faithful one. I will leave this entry as a mere wee sketch, for lunch is a-happenning and I am missing the prelim birthday talk. Love you all,


Friday, May 15, 2009

Wrapped in Cheese Paper and Tied with a Bow

Today, with the help of Isa wearing her winter capello, and Andrea, who was so thoughtful and careful and smiling, I spun a lumpy little round of wool. Mostly steely colored, with flecks of white, we wound it over the wooden spindle that Betsy gave me upon my leaving Massachusetts. I have wanted to do this since I arrived in Europe, my hands tracing the motions of the wind and the pull, and to do this, one of my most loved activities, makes my heart grow and my way of being softer.

Needless to say, being here provides me with much of what I so love - my favorite fiber, meadowsides, other great, green, upright and patient patches of nettles, lacto-fermented soft goat cheese, and the closest we have been to being a part of a Family since we left Massachusetts.

We are in Italy's Langhe region. To paraphrase Mario and Isa, our most wonderful hosts, it is the footstool to the Alps. Such wonderful, wee rangy hills surround our own knoll, and before us and to our side we see the mountains. We are close enough to Mont Blanc to see it in amazingly orange and hazey purple repose at sunset, and the other mountains gently appear and vanish, surprising me and comforting me in turns with their felten, far-off statures.

I am still attempting to adjust to the Italian lifestyle. And to being a milkmaid. And shepherd, and night owl. My tools are coffee, our Rick Steves phrasebook, the dictionary, Il Piccolo Principe ("The Little Prince"), Matthew (no pun intended), and my notebook. A staff for the pasture, tin pails for mungitura, my udder-sore fingers for the harvesting of lemonbalm in the pasture and a zappa for furrowing in the giardino. And, the arnica oil that Francoise gifted us with upon our leaving the Herberie du Saleve in France. Oh, how I thank the earth everyday for arnica oil. (Hers is accented with wintergreen, so my nose is most pleased as the arnica penetrates into my muscles.)

We are living at Cascino Finocchio Verde, The Little House of the Green Fennel. Mario, who is possibly the most jolly man that I have ever met, is a cheesemaker who makes traditional formaggi of Italy with the milk from Finocchio Verde's sheep and goats. Murazzano, ricotta, caprino and more, served to us twice a day at the end of il pranzo and la cena. He also spends a lot of time in the garden, kitchen and stable, and in various chairs inside and out, rolling and smoking cigarettes. (At the milking stand, after every meal, in the cheese rooms, he is found with his corduroy cap and a cigarette dangling.) Isa, who is married to Mario, makes a torta di ricotta - CHEESECAKE - every Friday, which I hold in my mind's eye to the same height of my grandmother's. She milks, pastures, makes cheese and launders all of the dirt and manure and oil and winestains out of the place every day that she is here. Half of her week is spent in the big city of Turino, where she takes care of her mother and works as a medical librarian.
The flow of milk carves out our days, stiffens our fingers, and often softens my dreams into visions of lactation and easter baskets and fertility goddesses. After we eat breakfast, warm with milk and biscotti and piccola tazze di caffè, Mario and Andrea (pronounced An-DRAY-uh) smoke, and we make our way to la casa, the stable. There we make ready with flakes of corn and oats and fava beans to feed and milk-dry the many sheep and goats. The dairy animals consist of the endlessly clever white, brown, and tawny Alpine goats (including a tiny, tiny baby that was born on surprise on Mother's Day), and the sheep, a landrace of the Langhe, white-wooled and filthy (as sheep ever tend to be) with massive, and coincidentally Roman, noses. When all is molta veloce, it takes about an hour. With Matt and I more time is spent, though we are far more helpful than when we first arrived, our pants being less soaked with misdirected milk and our thumbs and hands more adroit. When we are doing well our feel for the coursing of milk is conversational and occasionally even fluent with the udders and teats of the mamas.

After milking we all go to pasture, baa-ing and whistling and shouting all the way, using staffs to make our arms longer and calling the sheepdog, Dago (named after the region of Italy from which he hails), to help herd. The pastures are managed impeccably, as the peccore and capre cycle through them in a very healthy manner, keeping the grasses, briar, and other wild plants (what the Virginian Joe Salatin deems a "salad bar") grazed just right. This means that there are relatively few edible plants that are going to seed (after which the plant is too hard and nutrient and protein-poor to be desirable), and the green growth is well-nibbled but not deccimated, as will happen when animals feed too long in one spot.

Then, lunch. Oh, lunch. It does not even make sense to call it lunch. We have Il Pranzo. And when we have pranzo we eat salami and panceta (akin to bacon), cured by Mario in the wintertime from a friend-raised pig, with Andrea's brick oven baked sourdough bread, wine from another family friend, and pasta.


Squiggly, stuffed, or flat, of such an infinite amount of types and accompaniments, like sardines, chitlins, nettles, pesto, oil, red sauce or sundried tomatoes.

There may also be a course of cooked vegetables or insalata, or veal or raw beef (so, so tender and pink and postcard-thin), and of course, the wooden plate on which is displayed the most beautiful white and round cheeses. And then, dolce, which is the torte di ricotta or strawberries or panna cotta, which tends to be a full moon of heaven on earth, either as-is in tandem with chocolate mousse, or dappled with orange peels. One day we had caffe with a CANNOLI, homemade.

Then we sit. And talk. (Or, as is more common, we sit. They talk. We listen and try real hard to understand. Our vocuabulary grows and our accents try to keep up.)

Then, maybe we will take a nap, or peel boxes of Sardinian artichokes (carciofi) down to their hearts, leaving our hands purplish black. Sometimes I study Italian, or stitch at my gingham apron, or think.

The evening milking happens somewhere between 5:30 and 7. (Nothing Is Scheduled Here, in stark contrast to the places where I have worked and volunteered at America. Even those in France were a more exacting. Here, if dinner ran especially late late last night then you sleep in. If lunch was so, so tiring with helping upon helping, it is okay if your wink of afternoon sleep ebbs and flows until you suddenly resurface and find the sky deep in sunset.) Pasture again, up the hills and through the briar, and back again, where little activities like table setting and water boiling fill up the space between homecoming and mealtime. Dinner is less extravagent than il pranzo, yet it is often just a hair short of midday's indulgences.

We sleep and sleep, and wake up in the morning. Tired, looking again for caffe. Figuring out how to make it right in the wonderful, yet tricky, little metal presses that abound in Europe.

And thus ride our days. There are nuances and regualrities, Italian beebop and the Beegees and Manu Chau on the stereo. Terra cotta, so many dogs, two cats named Hilary and Obama. Horses, cowboy comic books in Italian, the smells of leather, the warmth of new milk.

Monday is Matthew's birthday, and also marks the arrival of another American couple. Boy Howdy!

I hope that all's well in hearth and home, and that those of you who celebrate it had a wonderful Festa della Mama last Sunday. I will write more soon. Take the best of care, and know that we are nostalgia - we are homesick. But also so happy, cozy and warm, and also learning every day - things like how to say elephant in Italian, and how to get the sheep to their proper place on the milking stand, how to ride a horse and how to make ravioli Just Right.

Love, love love,

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day and Kittens in the home, Italy on the horizon

Happy May Day! This holiday, so tiny and rare in America, flowers like the wysteria, lillies of the valley (traditionally picked from the woods and sold and shared on May 1st) and lilacs into a big French day off for everybody. Barbeques, bike rides, long walks and rides in old sports cars abound.

We are doing well, having spent our morning harvesting fifteen trays of lovage that are currently in the humming dehydrator in the cellar. Lovage, a lovely neglected herb in America, was distributed in the sixteenth century as an aphrodisiac, and has been used for thousands of years as a digestive aide. It also makes a brilliant soup, of the sort that we have had the honor to taste many a time since being on Mount Salève.

Sadly, this is our last post from here. It has been so wonderful, and we both have much more to share and will do so from France. Matt (who wrote most of the entry on our Easter adventure weekend) plans on contributing a few posts on the food that we have encountered, and both of us are gathering so many ideas on agricultural whatnots that we are also interested in telling you about.
For now I leave you with the newborn kittens who are mewing and suckling in the wicker basket beside me, hands that still smell like lovage (somewhere between parsley and celery yet very distinct all the same) and a new knitting project. See you in Italy!
With Love,

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Far Off Thoughts that are also Near

Hi everybody, hope you're well. This post is about people other than Matt and I (though an entry of hitch-hiking Easter adventures is coming soon). First of all, my grandmother is in the hospital, and although she is doing alright she is away from home and and any good thoughts going her way might make her heart a little warmer.

Also, I just received this email from WWOOF Italia. It served me by humanizing the effects of the recent earthquake, and thought that it may do the same for you. (Matt and I are going to Italy on Saturday, but the farm that we arranged to work at a few months ago is near Bra, which is in the north of the country and quite far from Abruzzo.)


The following farm needs help urgently after the terrible earthquake that hit Abruzzo at the beginning of the month:*La Canestra, Contrada Aglioni, via San Rocco, 40, Capitignano, 67014, L'Aquila....

Our farm is situated in a small village 30 kms from L'Aquila the area devastated by the earthquake this month. Luckily we are all fine but the farm and buildings, although still standing, are unsafe and damaged and we are having to live in tents until the extent of the damage has been assessed. The earthquake was followed by bad weather and this has also severely impaired being able to work and has caused floods and other problems with planting crops and looking after our livestock.We are having great trouble carrying out the work on the farm and are very behind and badly need help constructing fences and shelters for the animals, in the hope that the weather will improve and the emergency passes soon.Obviously anyone who wants to come will be sharing our primitive (temporary!) lifestyle with us, as said before we are living in tents and have constructed an outside kitchen, we are able to use a bathroom in a safe area in one of the houses. However we will do our very best to accommodate people in the best possible way as part of our little community, preparing and eating good meals together in spite of the difficult conditions.

For more information visit: & the blog


Love y'all. Keeping you as safe and sound as I can in my thoughts,

Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter Weekend Hitch hiking et cetera stories

We had a very beautiful, if stormy, French Easter Weekend. It began with the sprawling, bustling, amazing market of Millau. The markets in France, as covered in this blog previously, are something to make you you drool with food-lust, scratch your head in wonderment, and generally fascinate you by the culture on exhibit. The market in Millau, on a blustery Friday morning before Easter was no exception of course; in fact the impending inclement weather and holiday perhaps made it all the more bustling with much more hustling than usual. There we bought our rations of whole wheat bread, the strongest goat cheese we have ever tasted (packaged in perfectly suitable black disc form), and various other vegetables that would help propel us through the labrinthe of Montpelier, and the strange sprawl of Nimes.

But first we had to actually get to Montpelier; a good 120 KM away from where we stood looking at the ominous rain cloud drifting slowly over the mountain behind us. Sometimes when you hitchhike you feel like your thumb is an amazingly minute detail compared to the power of an atmosphere created by inclement weather or, adversely, the immense beauty of an area. When it rains, you want to think people will be more inclined, due to pity, to pick you up but it is not so. Instead people seem ever the more quick to careen past you, either just to get home or to not have soaking wet, somewhat odorous travelers in their car. We were lucky on this day though (for not the first or last time) as we managed one ride all the way to Montpelier from a kind young man named Francoise. He was traveling to Montpelier where he lived and went to school for an apparent job interview, having been visiting his family for the religious weekend. After 2 hours of stunted conversation, and traffic jams we reached the Millionaire Club Park where he had his job interview. What followed was simply two former city kids trying to escape from the urban but not quite urbane clutches of a strange, bloated Mediterranean city. Montpelier was to us dirty, overextended, and generally not interesting. We reached the train station and took the first train as far as we could affordably, to Nimes. Nimes seemed pleasant at first but outside the historic city center, in which the likes of Hemingway had lived, was an all to mundane and un-pedestrian-friendly suburban area. After our first attempt to find a camping spot resulted in the crunch of broken beer bottles under our feet we decided to stay at a cheap corporate hotel just off the highway and out of the rain. The next day we set to walking and hitch-hiking in the pouring rain until we were picked up by...

...our lovely, beautiful new friends, Zsuzsa and Peter, who pulled over to shake our hands while we were very wet with our thumbs up on the side of a very busy and seemingly unforgiving Holy Saturday road. Zsuzsa works in Brussels for the UN and Peter is apprenticing with a horsehoe maker and fitter. They plan to return to their native Hungary to farm. Zsuzsa reminded me of my dear friend Laura Geraci so much that I nearly had to pinch myself. Peter fed us chocolate and apples and bread and said he wanted to drive us all the way to Geneva.

They took us to see the Pont du Gard, a HUUUUUUUGE ruin of the aquaduct that the Romans built sometime in the first century AD (or thereabouts). We discussed our similar aims and dreams while walking around and atop the ruin.

There are many Roman ruins all over Europe, which is handy since Rome isn't on our itinerary. We were especially lucky to be taken under the wing of Zsuzsa and Peter on their trip, as we didn't even know the aquaduct, which is featured on the back of the 5 euro note, was so close to our route.

After they dropped us off, leaving us with pockets full of apples and hearts that were completely warm and rosey despite the wet and cold weater, we were immediately picked up by a very sweet couple returning from a Spanish holiday. It was the wife's birthday and she played the best Joan Baez album that I've ever heard, Gracias a la Vida. As we listened to her gorgeous voice accompanied by the ethereal and dreamy and perfect Veracruz harp we drove for hours through orchards and vineyards and cover cropped fields, windmills a nuclear power plant and lots of Easter traffic.
When they dropped us off we found an apiary (in this case, a small clearing populated with many, many bee boxes, where the bees make their hives and honey), set up tent, and slept a good long sleep until waking up to an Easter morning full of marzapan and jambon (cured ham). We received two last rides, one that took us a mile to a rotary, and another from a nurse and a geologist, who drove us into the ALPS, the real live Alps with snow on them. (They also took us on a small sidetrip through a very tiny 13th century village that many Easter-celebrating-relaxing folks were also touring, full of gorgeous old stone buildings, a big waterfall, more tulips than you could imagine, et cetera. Our drivers left us at the mouth of a favorite hike and we scaled some mountain before settling down beside a trout river, eating more marzapan, getting friendly with a grandmother who was also hiking through the wood, and dreaming for many, many hours.
Gracias a las personas who pick up hitch hikers!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc was first made known to me by Percey Shelley, whose poem by the same name was the sunshine of an otherwise dull class in my freshman year of university. We saw the mountain for the first time ourselves this morning, while tending to peppermint, and I can attest to the hugeness of feeling that such a grand sight offers. The beginning of Shelley's poem follows...

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark - now glittering - now reflecting gloom -
Now lending splendor, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters, - with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume
In the wild woods, amon the mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

Bonjour from the mighty, minty, magnolia blooming Alps

I am in the room with this view.

We hope that you all are well, having had a good celebration of the arrival of spring and the whimsicalities of eggs. We are here, in the most charming house of Francoise, a grower of herbs, and Bernard, an engineer who works in Geneva designing watches. It is very quiet and exceedingly pretty, with imperial views, hundreds of birds, massive amounts of fromage, or cheese, and of course the damp earth and many medicinal and cullinary herbs.

We had a rather intense journey here that turned one and a half weeks into what felt like three, but being in a place where I can see Mont Blanc when the day is clear, and a feast of other formidable peaks even when the clouds are out, makes it all worth it. Our travels were good, but hard, full of lessons learned and sore feet.
In the days leading up to Easter we took slept in a limestone cave, traversed a slice of Middle Earth [as Ed and Kira wandered over another part of it in New Zealand], read four books, ate canard (duck), and walked among people with olive branches, rather than palm leaves, in their hands on Palm Sunday. We also made friends with two tres gentil Hungarians who insisted upon our joining them to see the Pont du Gard, which is a fantastic Roman Aquaduct that is huge and hardly believable but somehow actual. On Holy Saturday we slept in an apiary and woke up to eat an Easter breakfast of bread with honey, butter and ham, and ate marzipan shaped like cherries. After a long wait we got a ride from a geologist and nurse that took us, most unexpectedly, up from the comparatively flat area of Crest to the suddenly Swiss Sassenage. We were still in France, still in the proximity of houses with Terra Cotta roofs, but suddenly in sight of snow, with popping ears and a very steep climb to our sleeping place, a lovely swath beside a river where men in shiny waders patiently and artfully hunted trout.
In the days following we took trains and walked through the mountains and valleys and cow pastures and horse paddocks to here. We are exhausted and satisfied and about to eat dinner, which by the smell of it promises to be perfect.

Following are pictures of the Limestone Plateau in the Cevennes National Park, where we had the priviledge sleep in one of the cliffs on a very rainy evening. The land is magic, completely and truly so.

More pictures and words to come soon. With love, Jenny

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Goodbye, hello, inbetween


I just forgot how to spell that.

Last night here. Tomorrow a train from Argeles Sur Mer to Perpignan to Millau, by the beautiful national park of the Cevennes. Don't know much about it other than it is Drop Dead Crazy Gorgeous.

Love everybody. I want to sing out specifically to my friend Ginny who has just left the wilderness and Jessica and Adam in Guatemala. Hoping you all are in good spirits.

I want to make some specialized posts on Catalan gardens and This Farm Here and other things but for now a list of what I leave behind:

Four of possibly the sweetest, leanest, loyalest dogs in the world. A countless array of cats, such as Mrs Cheese and the white shaggy one who looks like he'd be a snob but isn't, who always sits by the fire. The fire. Water in showers that's sunboiled for me. Vegan dinners that are delightful if not as filling as I'm used to. Fresh fruit. So much fresh fruit. The lemon trees orange trees nectarine trees. The baby olives. George, the rooster, whom I believed respected me until today when he spurred me twice. The hens, especially the brown one who is the goofiest.

The way that Freya moves like a deer, and how when I look at her I feel I'm seeing a white deer in a winter forest. The way that Ben is like the clock in London. The way that Obe puts his head in my lap, how I nicknamed him Thumper.
Namua's mother-in-law, knitting and discussing thriller novels.

The feeling of death all around this place, and the light, of a candle everlit, of the half moon, of the sun after three days of rain.

Cat in the lap,

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pictures! Real, honest to goodness, high quality Pictures!

I am immensely enjoying writing this blog, despite slow internet connections and the surprising and unfortunate abundance of poor image quality when I upload my pictures. Happily, I just put several of me and Matt's photographs onto my google account, which is accessible to any and all as long as they're willing! Three albums so far - Barcelona, Rural Spain, and France.

Hopefully I'll get a bit of a beefier entry in before we leave here this weekend. Enjoy your night!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Small tour of a French Market

On our first full day at the permaculture farm we had the privilege to accompany our host, Namua, to the market in Ceres, where she sells used English books. She doesn't have a surplus of vegetables, and even if she did it is apparently quite an ordeal to get a vegetable selling license, especially if you have a small volume. So she helps all of the British ex-pats (of which there are quite a few) enjoy their fill of crime, mystery, and the odd recognizably-decent tale.

Céret is a charming little town about twenty minutes' drive from where we are staying, in Laroque des Alberes. The market takes place along one or two quaint rues in the middle of town. The stalls and asphalt are lined by plane trees, which also border the highways and all of the other buildings and town squares that I've seen here. There's also a castle, just like in our village.
It is a very interesting market. I am used to markets being heavily discriminated by the goods sold. For instance, in Arlington, Virginia, we sold vegetables and eggs at a food-only market, with very strict rules as to what counted as legitimate market food. On a near sidestreet vendors had a flea market that came off as being a whole different story. The market in Ceres is interesting in that it is vegetable/meat/flea/prepared food/toy/crafts market. You can really go there and get just about anything you could (or couldn't possibly) need. Carvings of owls, magical boxes, massive leeks, whistles that sound like birds exactly, eau clairs, knives, pickled duck - you name it, you got it. Following is a handful of the sorts of foods and faces we encountered. I also took a tiny video while walking through the market, which is on youtube.

The jars stacked and casings laid in baskets contain some of the most perfectly preserved meats that I've ever tasted, and I got to taste them many times, as the vendor kept smiling and cutting perfect half-moon slices and quietly explaining to us how they were made as we contentedly ruminated. (Matt partly understood, and I grinned back and questioned Matt en Anglais.) In the end we got some wonderful, inexpensive sausages that are so incredibly cured that we're keeping them on a shelf in our room until resuming travel in twelve days. We found in Spain that sausages of this sort are a superb and worry-free source of protein and salt while scaling mountains.

At so many of the stands, folks were more than happy to cut off a piece of food, hand it to you and engage you in conversation. Many of them asked us where we are from (a byproduct of our attempted French accents), and upon learning that we were Americans often gave us encouraging smiles. (One woman was especially delighted, laughing and repeating "Americans! Ah ha ha!" and happily filling our paper bag with organic dates that were still on their branches)

More pork delicacies, as displayed at another stall...

This man sold us such a lovely little jar of honey. In American farmer's markets I've been hard pressed to find non-filtered honey, which is unfortunate as I long for chunks of wax and pollen and propylis. He gave us just what we wanted - gorgeous clouds of bee goods in a beautiful sunny nectar, as well as a cheery face.

I hope that you can properly see the old-fashioned scale used to measure spices at this quaint stand, where one can buy a wee little veil of saffron for 25 euros and most other cooking spices and minerals for a farm more manageable price. (Surprisingly they didn't have salt, but we did manage to buy an excessively large bag of black pepper, as it only came in two sizes, as well as some the verde - green tea.) They make soaps, too!

This woman provided us with our lunch - a big pan-sized bread inlaid with cheese and ham. For a good price, too, with service as pleasant the beeman's and sausage-maker's.

You should come here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Primarily thoughts on the thoughts on Americans

We live here.

Here is France, a country immediately different from Spain. One crosses the border and finds terraces similar to Spain's, but on taller mountains and occupied by gnarled, clipped, clove-like stubs of grapevines, rather than the vast orchards of a few days ago.

I admit that I felt a bit ominous about FRANCE, where there's nary a Freedom Fry and the language is high-pitched and too cute, or at the very least too nasal.
So they say, and so, in spite of my striving toward open-mindedness and my yearning for time spent submerged in other countries, to see a country as a person rather than the child of a fairly anti-French America, I ended up wondering, somewhat privately, somewhat unconsciously, oh, I wonder if I will like them.

My thoughts, private and public, after my third night in the country:


Mediteranean France is a land of smiling people who greet you and use so many hand gestures and apprciate your feeble attempts at the language. There is a lot of pride here, as witnessed in the hitched ride that we were graced with that took us from Catalan to the French mountains, as our driver's daughter asked isn't French beautiful? And as witnessed at the market that we attended this morning in Ceret, where people were so proud of their sausages (dappled with pistachios, dyed with blueberries, wrapped carefully, hanging amazingly) and cheese (in the widest of wheels) and dates (still attatched to branches) is wonderful to be in a place where food and drink are so honored and loved, and where people look so healthy amongst the butter and red wine, foie gras et cetera. (Not making any political statement on foie gras at the moment, but mentioning it because I did indeed see a lot of it at various stalls this morning.)

This evening we did indeed have our first discussion involving anti-Americanism that was very impenetrable and fairly uneducated on the side of the anti-American. But! The arguement was not even given by a French person! Rather, it was from a British ex-pat (whom we happen to be working for. And whom is very educated and interesting.).

I think that Matt, myself, and Libby, another WWOOFing American who is staying here as well, held our own quite well in a discussion that was impossible to progress in. [Here I wrote a lengthy diatribe on the breed of anti-Americanism discussed but deleted it due to ramblings and thoughts that could probably be better fleshed out at another time of day.]

I have to admit that this evening made me very homesick for friends and family who are American, who are very beautiful and thoughtful and imperfect and loving and loved. I don't quite agree with Obama when he says that we should not change the way we are, because I think that everybody has something (if not many things) that could, and often times ought to, be changed. America certainly has a lot to improve upon. But I do think that there's so much that is wonderful in the US, and many things that have plenty of potential. We ought to "keep up the good work," as Garrison Keillor is fond of saying. Everyone should. What we shouldn't do is think that we've got it all figured out, or proclaim that we are the best. Neither Matt, Libby, or I are proclaiming anything of the sort - indeed, we are in Europe because we believe that there is much that we can learn from the traditions and cultures presnt here. Some people assume that all Americans are that way, though. Of course, some Americans believe the same thing about the French.

Next time that I write I would love to share something of travel and the weight of a pack and the taste of our travel food. Until then, bon soir, and see you soon. Thanks for reading and for all of the kind comments left regarding the journey and the writing.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My hair is mussed from an olive branch

Buena dia, again. Due to a pleasant hiccup, we have woken up once more in Cadaques. We have some time in the Internet Cafe while we await a fully charged phone and camera, and the opportunity to post a bit fuller of an update.

We spent a relatively sleepless but gorgeous night in an olive orchard just outside of town after having a bit of difficulty finding the trail out. The orchard was ridiculously bucolic, even more so since our time spent inside was during the gloaming and sunrising hours. Such soft gilding lining the branches of trees which may be centuries of years old. The olive trees grow on terraces, and part of why we couldn´t sleep was because we nestled into the incline of one such terrace and were sliding downward throughout the night. But, oh, the stars and the gulls and the sounds of the city far away made it worth it. (In the orchard we were also scared speechless by screaming cats, which didn´t click in our heads immediately that they were cats and nothing more. This little terra-cotta town is teeming with four-pawed calicos and whites and browns and blacks and all kinds of other gorgeous, leen cats and now we know why - they mate all night long in the gardens.)

Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon at Casa de Dali. It was amazing...for 40 minutes we got to be houseguests in Dali´s intimate quarters, view his studio and stuffed bear, owl, and swans, examine the eggs of all shapes and sizes that sit upon rooftops and mantles, and marvel at the odd genius of the master, all for 8 euros (student price). We took several pictures, but the USB ports at this cafe are filthy so we´ll wait to add pictures until France. You should know, however, that the orchard that we slept in was next door to Dali, literally, so he most-likely tread where we slept. His swans, which he brought to Cadaques as they do not exist in Spain, flew and nested there.

To go back a bit of a ways....
Our journey thus far has been amazing. Our flights went off without a hitch, except for a bit of humorous luggage issues in Barcelona that were righted after some wayfairing in the airport. Isabel and Fernando made us feel like family and gave us bread and olive oil for the road (both of which make you kiss your fingers in contentment). Barcelona showed us nothing but kindness and amazement - such a wonderful city of Gaudi and music and lights and friendliness. The trails have been gorgeous and challenging, our packs have made us sore but stronger, and we are smelling alright, due to marvelous sea breezes and good food. Matt and I are proving to be good travel partners, living with eachother´s various nuances and smoothing out the more extreme sides of our personalities.

Time´s about up and we´re going to check our emails quick. Take care, and we´ll write soon.
PS Due to time and keyboard restraints, I apologize for weird grammar or spelling or punctuation marks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

La casa de Dali

Hola! We are in Cadaques, Spain. It is on the coast. There are sea breezes. This used to be Dali´s home and we are eating yoghurt, sausages with names more interesting than ¨sausage,¨ writing from an internet cafe, loving cafe con leches, etc. Matt is smiling. I am a little dehydrated but drinking water. We will be in France by Friday if all´s well. That is all for now, no time, love you!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Open windows, bright clotheslines, pollen

Buenas dias, family and friends. We Are Here.
We are here, after two exceptionally pleasant airplane trips, four bottles of wine of two servings each, one Cadbury candy bar, one long and perfect view of the Pyrenees from a window seat, two train rides, one bus ride, and a walk to where I sit, a wonderful apartment in the Carmel neighborhood of Barcelona. I hear construction across the street - sawing scraping sqeaking. Children, vespas, buses, birds. The loudest, most frantic birds, thrusting out tightly curliqued phrases over the roofs. Buildings are girdled by the tshirts bedsheets washcloths pants baby clothes pillowcases and towels of everyone. There are flowers in pots on windowsills and pots on balconies, blossoms in overgrown lots, sides of sidewalks and the swaths of parks.

Isabel and Fernando (and their cured pig leg) live here. When we arrived Isabel kissed our cheeks twice, offered us everything (the keys, the drinks in the fridge, a clean well lighted place) and then we sat down and ate sausages of the countryside, cheese, and wonderful oranges. As we ate, she and her son, Marc, told us the history of Spain, recounted their trip to America when Marc was small, asked us about America, discussed politics, descriped Catalonya, suggested places for us to go, gave us a map, unfolded it and introduced us, and pointed us on our way to el Parque Güell, which is perfect and surprises you everywhere you look. I could stay there all day. I could write a dozen novels there and so many books of poetry. It is perfect, with columns and cupcake chapels and benches made of rocks and stalagtites and mosaics.

We came back to Isabel and Fernando's expecting to stay up until dinner, but Fernando didn't finish work until 10 (rather, 22:00), so Isabel offered us food that Fernando had prepared earlier, and we ate (wonderful vegetables, fabulous chicken), and then we slept through the night.

Some things that I have learned: Barcelona is so very Catalan, and not so much Spanish. In fact, the idea of Spain itself being "Spanish" is ludicrous, according to Isabel, as there are so many cultures in this country. This also means that my puny amount of high school and college Spanish aren't getting me especially far, here. Also, Barcelona is officially anti-bullfighting, according to City Hall. It still happens, though.

Matt just woke up, so I'm going to join him for capaccino and buttered toast in the kitchen, and then we're off to explore the gothic quarter, old town, bakeries, and hopefully a market. I have posted more photos at my facebook page, and you can see them even if you do not have an account.

Con amor,

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Greetings from Massachusetts!

Welcome to our friends and family from Jenny...

& Matt

This is the blog that we will be writing in from now through November to chronicle our farming adventures in Spain, France, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, and any other places where we may end up.

For those of you who know one of us but not the other, please accept a hearty handshake and howdy do. Our story: the two of us became acquainted at Overlook Farm in central Massachusetts in May, and as the summer progressed discovered our mutual interests in organic living and Europe. After spending enough time together to realize that we could spend eight months farming in Europe we decided to go for it.

We will write in this blog as often as we can throughout our journey. Tonight's post will be a bit longer than many that will follow, as we are not yet dealing with the monetary or time constraints of Internet Cafes (European computer labs) and other surprises (the birth of a lamb, the need to catch a bus, etc). Our future posts will also be different from this one as they will feature photographs of recent adventures and discoveries (holy cows, magnificent cheeses, new friends, etc).

Our departure date is March 11th, 2009, meaning that a few nights' time will find us flying across the ocean, rather than sitting in a room surrounded by camping gear and new sandals. We will arrive in Barcelona around noon on the 12th, jet-lagged and hopefully a bit bright-eyed, and will make our way to a midwife and her partner who will be hosting us for our first three days on the continent. We look forward to seeing Gaudi's architecture and very old houses and saying mas despacio, por favor ("speak slower, please!").

After Barcelona we will be working on two farms in France. The first is an olive farm in Laroque Des Alberes, in the Pyrénées-Orientales region of the country. To those of you who do not know France's geography, this is a few kilometers from the sea and a hop skip and jump from the Spanish border. We will be there until April 5th or so, after which we will travel to the Alps to work on an herb farm 20 minutes' drive from Geneva, Switzerland. We will spend the remainder of April tending, gathering, drying, and packaging herbs. May will find us at a sheep dairy in Italy, which also runs a small restaurant where Matt (an excellent cook with a degree in culinary arts) will be spending time in the kitchen. Both of us will milk the sheep, make cheese, and hopefully play with as many lambs as possible.

Our next three months will be spent in the UK, though we are not yet sure of our exact itinerary, except that we will travel to London on June 11, and will leave the region after three months. We plan on spending the majority of our time in Ireland, but look forward to seeing Britain and Scotland as well. We look forward to seeing American friends who will be visiting the UK this summer, as well as seeing our friend Erin, who is pursuing her doctorate at Cambridge, and some of Matt's relatives, who operate a peat farm in County Kerry.

Our September and October will be spent in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain. We will be spending time in Paris with one of Jenny's family friends and continue farming, most likely assisting with the grape and olive harvests. On November 11th we will again find ourselves in an airplane, flying home. We have not yet decided what we will do upon our return to the states.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, is the organization that we have used to find farms to work at. We are also members of the Couchsurfing community, through which we found our Spanish hosts. To keep this post from getting too long-winded, we'll refrain from writing too much about these organizations, and suggest that you go to their websites if interested in learning more. You can also email either Matt or Jenny for more information. For those of you who would like to know about what we are packing and the sort of gear we're bringing, as well as resources we have used, please feel free to ask about these as well. If enough people are interested we could put up an entry of helpful websites and books.

We look forward to sharing our experiences with you. If you have a suggestion, new address (we write postcards!), or will be in Europe this year (!!), please either email us or leave a comment. Take care, and if you ever feel like sharing a story from your lives, please do. We will miss you!

With Love,
Matt and Jenny

Below, pictures of us in Boston