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.