The Temptation of Eric

&66& I am realizing that, irrespective of where I work or live, waking up very early does truly lead my mood into the sour. Here at Borgo Pignano, I wake at 5:30am, and the rooster tends not to caw for at least an hour past. Even now, and 5:30, he crows. Come on, man: get your shit together. At the start of this stint, I would wake, looking for Mara, she so quiet, stringy-haired, given to the flexibility of time, and together we would go to the laboratory. I’d stuff herbs into glass jars or wash old bottles, or water the herb garden — wait, is Rufus Wainwright singing backing vocals on this David Byrne song (‘Au Fond du Temple Saint’)? If so, what a thrill, and yes, it is certainly him! I want to tell my co-volunteers in the room with me right now but I know that no one will care — and somewhere along the way, she’ll turn those herbs into soaps, oils, creams, or liquors. She’s a mad scientist in her little lab, and only at the mention of my beer brewing tendencies do we become friends. Quickly, the silent powers of the farm transfer me into the kitchen, something based, I admit, on my own interest. Upon morning and for two hours, I’m doubled over, plucking fennel root from the ground, clearing blackberries, atering chard. After an hour’s break for a breakfast of tea and bread with honey — nutritionous, I know — I arrive in the kitchen by nine. I’m at first given a few thoughtless tasks — peeling, cleaning, scrubbing, chopping, or somesuch, swimming in a kitchen full of maybe ten people. As we near lunch, however, and the crowd thins out, my responsibilities increase slightly. So far, I’ve made apple crumble, stuffed zucchini flowers, and roasted eggplant. They respect me for what I tell them I am: San Francisco’s Foremost Soup Magnate. Anyway, they respect me, and I spend the day joking around with a marvelous Australian couple or the British-Italian head chef, or the eighteen-year-old kitchen aide who doesn’t, thankfully, speak a word of English. I finish by lunch, which is announced around 1pm by the sustained blowing of a conch shell. Lunch, as mostly everything here, tends to be vegetarian, and I have a big mouth in contrast to this fact. So much zucchini, after all. We eat buffet-style outdoors, overlooking the valley, everyone together, and then fall asleep wherever we wish — in our teepee at the bottom of the woods, oh-so-far-away; in the hammocks in the clearing adjacent tothe guest pool; in the erstwhile school on the couches or the floor — and from there we all mill about, doing this or that until the conch is blown once again, this time for dinner. Nights here tend to be social: last night they made pizzas, in fact bringing in professionals from the city just for us, following which a few of us gather in the school, having sprinted through a black forest, being pounded by a thunder storm, whose lightening mercifully offers a few momnts of illumination as we trounce through the darkness, to watch the 1932 Tod Browning film FREAKS, which is completlely heartbreaking.  OTher nights found us picking wheat in the fields, drinking local beers of chestnut or such, and yet still, we’ve had wine tastings, Greek dinners (cooked by a visiting Greek CouchSurfer), and concerts. This concert was poolside, and of course this pool is indescribably beatiful, one reserved only for the clientele who, coincidentally, stay here (when they aren’t busy running the world).  Unfortunately the musician, a silverhaired ponytail with a giant lyric/chordbook before him, played Lionel Richie, Pink Floyd, and other generic covers with only a modicum of skill.  We drank wine(and some Scotch, in m case) for a number of hours, and on the way home, one of the kitchen workers, a GuatemalItaliano named Chris, he with his headbanging dreadlocks, trips in the woods and fractures his faces, then sleeps on it, unawares, before being rushed to the emergency room in Volterra, then Sienda, by morning.  Whoa. 

Life is dynamic here.  The workers and volunteers here seem to get on swimmingly, from Johanna, the stablegirl with the lovely country Irish lilt, to Tess, the nanny from Maine who shares in my taste for crude, overintellectual cinema, to Elisa, my former collegue from San Francisco who was the who who invited me here from the start, though she herself doesn’t seem to gel with Zak, the Miami Jew baker in charge of all the volunteers, who lives with Davide Meisenholder, the absurd-looking Italian with the Mario Moustache who works part-time as a cinematographerworldwide when he isn’t operating all the heavy machinery here.  He has an overwhelmingly noteworthy DVD collection and laughs at you with frightening eyes, not dissimilar to a conincidentally-named friend back home.  For a place with such immense acreage such as this Pignano, it takes a mass of people to run things, and that they have, people always coming and going.  Not as much Italian being spoken as I’d have hoped, but indeed there is some.

The relationship here with the guests and the villa herself is no less than weird and disappointing.  We’re mostly charged with avoiding the each at all opportunity, being the unseen force, an invisible pack of lowerclass hippies (nearly perfect with my own self-deprecating self-image, eh?), and accordingly they mostly ignore us, and I am happy to ignore them, too.  Some of the girls who have been here long enough — Tess, Elisa — score gigs by eventually chatting up the kinder families, getting paid gigs, even to travel around, as nannies.  Awesome.

The owner, I am told, is an obviously WEALTHY man, and is indeed from San Francisco.  I met an old fellow, whose house sits, fenced-in, square on the property, who refused to sell out to the villa, having lived here for 60 years.  He also encourages me with crude hand gestures to sleep with all the young girls working here, being careful not to leave any babies.  His Tuscan accent is hardly decipherable.  I’m very happy working here, working in the kitchen, ignoring the hierarchy, remembering the level of difficulty back in Sardegna, reminding myself to enjoy things, that not everything is a challenge for the future, that I am an adult, and that my decisions and behavior do not dictate anything more than they do the present moment.  It is hard work here, but the weather has been merciful, and the beauty is everywhere, and is to be found, above all, in the mirrors after I have brushed my teeth.  Wink!

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~ by nearhelsinki on July 20, 2011.

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