You Can Milk A Sheep, But You Can’t Sheepa Milk

I have nothing to write at this moment. It has been rather productive to have vented here in the pages previous, and now I feel a bit better about things. Naturally, this is how such impediments work. I have opportunities to go to other farms, including one outside of Florence, one full of foreigners and the like, and I am unsure – I feel as if it may be a copout. Anyway, I will instead now – oop, there are two sheep, and they are eating the apple tree. They sound like old men, bleating so. One has a bell, and the other is always burying his head between the other’s legs. I am told that the male was born blind, that it indeed IS a male (those are testicles!), and must follow the female’s bell around at all times. This is heartbreaking and beautiful. Anyway, I was going to run the average day here for you, okay?

I hear something scratching on the door, which is flimsy, full of cracks that let the small amount of light through at this hour. I wake to the sound of a young girl crying, but by now I know that it is only Ceccio, the loyal dog of the homestead, all long and muddy and black, dirty and ugly. In a moment, my alarm will go off – 5:30am wake up time out here – and before there’s dawnlight I’ve on my jean shorts and black Guess T-shirt that the family has loaned me (it is Italy, after all, and some no-name brand wouldn’t do). I wear the same clothes every day here, and not only are these caked with mud, but they smell like rotten curry. It is the first time in my life that I have really smelled my own B.O., and somewhere some cantankerous old man reading this is mumbling to himself, “about time you ingrates start learning the meaning of real WORK!”

I leave off my hate and shoes and find my way to the bathhouse, which is in fact the only “normal”, sturdy, functioning building on the property, one they opt to use as sparingly as possible. I find this endearing.

Each morning, the patriarch will be on the computer in that building, from where I type this now, only he wears these strange perforated glasses, always awake at an ungodly hour presumably doing rather godly things. I bid him, “buongiorno” in my 5:30 voice, he responding ever chipper and bright, and I manage my way to the bathroom for my basic preparatory duties.

He and I then meet in the main kitchen, which looks like a relic from the set of Mad Max, a descriptor I have used before. There is garlic and ladles and old calendars and sundry hanging whichways from the bamboo-esque ceiling, the raw wooden planks on the floor slanting, heaving, sticking their nails out into the morning sky.

My host waits for me at the table patiently, kettle aflame for my breakfast tea, with some toast crackers and a few different spreads out on the table: homemade orange or fig marmelade, as well as a sort of German Nutella. We greet one another once again and I pour him his coffee, he my tea, and he tells me about the dream he had last night, where Woody Allen orders dinner politely for a young actress while sitting on a couch, repeating over and over, “CouchSurfing, CouchSurfing, CouchSurfing.” Indeed, I have already exerted my influence upon his subconscience. He then tells me of his more “beautiful” dream, where everyone in his family has died, and then he, too, dies, but must ride a horse up to heaven, and instead settles on a motorcycle. He hears another person en route and ultimately finds them in a green field alongside the road, eating rotten tangerines that become fresh when you pull the string from them. I may have misunderstood some of this in the translation.

The patriarch has a sort of Bible Quote of the Day Calendar hanging above the breakfast table, and today’s is about how fornication between two men will send you straight to hell. My morning Italian skills wake screaming on this farm. He finds the corresponding bible passage and reads from it, aloud, for five minutes. I never know what to do, if it is appropriate to continue to eat, etc., but nothing seems to bother him. At the finish, he closes his eyes, and then the bible (am I supposed to capitolize it?), breathes deeply with a smile, and we start to head up to the new house. I slap on some sunscreen and a hat in case my mom is reading this, shake the mud from my shoes as I put them on, and in no time we’re at the site next door.

First thing; I grab a bag of pulverized lime ( calce), and shovel about ten kilos into the mixer (mollatza, I think, more or less) with some water, then turn it on, shielding my eyes from the corrosive cloudburst that ensues. With a pickaxe and a shovel, I load mounds of earth into the mixer, probably fifty kilos at a time, which spins and crushes with its two huge wheels like a mill. I tool around this way for a while, searching for the proper consistency, one that will never fully appease my host, and when I arrive with the wheelbarrow full of the stuff, he mutters, “bene, bene,” with his raspy, smiling voice that reminds me of Jerry Bobrow, only with a slight hint of condescention and restraint.

By now, he’s on a ladder and I am feeding him adobe bricks, perhaps fifty or more per day, constantly refilling the buckets with the mortor I’ve made, or with water he uses to bond it to the bricks, or I bring him a new ladder, or I do whatever else that comes up as needed. Sometimes we will break for a few minutes in the shade, as his wife brings us schiropo, a drink of orange peel, water, and sugar, and it is around this time that we’ll chat of Jesus, Dylan, both, or The Simpsons. Mostly during the day, though, he says in the Italian I sometimes understand, “bucket of mortor, please,” or, “20 forty kilo bricks, please,” and I nod from below, imagining that all of this lifting might help the fastball that I no longer throw. On the worksite, under that brutal sun, I spend the rest of my energy thinking. I think a lot: of family, San Francisco, girls, baseball, screenplay ideas, my future, my travel plans, song lyrics, et al. For some reason I am not proud about, I am always singing Fiona Apple to myself while pondering Jemile Weeks, the new second baseball for the Oakland Athletics, who perhaps I wished I had claimed for my fantasy baseball team. All of this goes on for a few hours, and by 11am the sun’s directly above and we have donned linen around the backs of our becks, sunglasses dangling from cables that prompts him to declare us to be, in English, “the Blues Brothers!” I am so tired by now and I hate the way he smells or the way he gasps and I think maybe he looks a little like a fattened Richard Gere with rotten teeth and when noon-thirty arrives, I’m limping and only responding to him in grunts. I clean all of the equipment with a firehouse and a nylon rag and trouch back to the house for a shower.

There, the water is never warm, and the door doesn’t close, and I like looking at myself in the mirror, covered everywhere with cracking mud because I hardly recognize myself. I use a bar of their soap, which is swampish brown, the color of the stuff I am washing off, and it smells of cheese. I must wash my hands twice more outside to get all of the dirt off before lunch, and after only a week, my hands no longer feel familiar, so dry and tough they’ve already become.

Lunch is pasta, today with a local sausage that leaps with flavor, coupled with, say, marinated zucchini or eggplant and an assortment of sheep’s cheese, most of which was made by a neighborly farmer, or by their daughter. We guzzle chilled white wine from a coke bottle to kill the heat and discuss Abbott and Costello or Berlusconi or all the weird shit that farmers eat in Italy and before long I am in bed for my afternoon nap.

I wake after maybe 2.5 hours rest, and my head is soaked with sweat – it is like walking around all day with wet socks, I am so drenched. Shielding my eyes as I emerge, for the hut has no other doors beyond mine, I sidestep Ceccio, who munches on his dick area with such cloppish fervor that he sounds like a mummy trying to chew on pudding. I could have written “yogurt”, but I find “pudding” to be funnier. Yank. Making my way to the other structure, I try for internet. If one of my hosts is there, I pretend like I’m headed for the bathroom, and will spend the rest of the day either writing emails or reading Pynchon’s V, or a McSweeney’s Compilation that Aaron loaned me from New York, or maybe I am whittling wood with my knife, or doing nothing at all. Dinner arrives by around 9pm, by when I tend to be rather hungry, and it is usually comprised of leftovers and maybe homemade prosciutto, so forth – tonight they are making tripe for me before the new guests arrive tomorrow. By the end, they’ll have brought out a bottle of some wine or liquor they’ve made, including Mirtu, which is earthy, sweet, herby, and delicious. And alcoholic.

By night we all end up on the porch, outside just a few feet from the dinner table, where we talk for a few hours of politics or religion. The patriarch tends to get upset over something – he is rather devout while his wife is a bit like me, skeptical, wry, contemplative over religious matters – and sometimes he ends up shouting. I respect his passion by now, however. Never do I understand everything, and often I am feigning laughter, agreeing to things that escape me, but each day my contribution grows, and I am finally now expressing myself in Italian as I wish to, though I have no other choice. The matriarch lights her Pueblo cigarettes, draws smoke from between the wide gaps in her yellowing teeth, flies landing on the black mole on her dark olive face, and as she nods, her body does, too. She’s always there, ready to guide me along in the conversation, helping me with words, and I find her to be both the stereotypical and atypical Italian woman at once. She makes this place feel like home.

By the time I’m in bed, door and window closed from the buzz of the hungry mosquitos outside, I hardly have time to consider my day, as I’m alseep as soon as I allow myself to be. Maybe there isn’t much to contemplate out here, but stars and fireflys (which, incidentally, don’t blink on this island as they do in the mainland. Fun fact), for we don’t really DO anything or go anywhere, at all. I am starting to consider that maybe this was my initial battle, as a person who can’t sit still, that this is why I’m here, that this is what I’m learning. Tomorrow may be more of the same. I’m okay with that.


~ by nearhelsinki on July 1, 2011.

One Response to “You Can Milk A Sheep, But You Can’t Sheepa Milk”

  1. This ending is way more profound than i was expecting or prepared for. Dont sneak up on me like that. Give me some warning, asshole.

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