Sunday, April 19, 2009

One


It is gray and drizzling outside; somehow that feels appropriate, like the tears streaming down my face. In the distant trees a cuckoo bird sings. The sheep I’m watching continue grazing, oblivious to my farewell emotions; Mina my collie companion sits on her hind legs looking up at me, waiting for the next cue. I reach inside my work-jacket pocket for a tissue and pull out a dingle-berry. (God has a great sense of humor.)

During this morning’s milking, I assisted Pasquale in snipping the dried turds off sheep. One must have inadvertently slipped down my coat when the ewes wiggled uncomfortably under the shears. Pasquale offered an explanation for their grooming complaints, “Ship say, ‘Leave my shit alone.’” (1. Feces jokes are international. 2. Pasquale has a great sense of humor.)

--

When I was a child, I asked my dad, “Who do you like better, me or my brother?” In Zen style, my father answered, “Who do you like better, me or mom?”

There is no single place, single experience, or single person to love. It is all part of the whole, the amazing, magnificent, incomprehensible One.

--

Yesterday I got my wish; I watched a birth. It wasn’t the ewe delivering her lamb as I envisioned; it was the farm cat delivering her litter. For three hours, I was memorized by the mother and her rat-looking kittens, all knowing exactly what to do during the momentous event. Mom made her nest on the bed-spread I began my Ca’Mazzetto journey with a month ago. How appropriate it should end there.

And so it does not really matter if it’s a sheep giving birth or a cat, if it’s brother or sister, if it’s Albareto, Coccorano, or Santa Barbara. The church bells will continue to echo within me long after I’ve departed and am in the company of loved ones at home. It is all One in this divine universe we are blessed to be a part of, the one we call life.

On this final journal entry, I wish to thank you for sharing in these adventures. But mostly, I wish to thank you for being one with me.

Yours,
brig.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cheese Please




This is like playing with Play-Dough, only better; Play-Dough tastes terrible.

After the morning’s milking, Pasquale and I carry the 25 liters of fresh sheep milk to the restaurant where Marjatta will make CHEESE!! (Let it be known that I *love* CHEESE. I love eating cheese but I even like saying cheeeeeeeeeeese. I’m convinced that’s why Americans in their brilliance chose the glorious substance to incite a photo happy face.)

The milk is warmed to 36-37 degrees Celsius (a number for the ignorant wwoofer; members of the Sardinian Cheese Making Clan have a temperature gauge built into their pinky finger and need not be concerned with the trivialities of reading a thermometer). At this point the magic potion is added: rennet.

Rennet is found in the stomach lining of a lamb where it coagulates the mother’s milk into a digestible solid; similarly, rennet will coagulate milk for man into a digestible cheese and likewise rennet will coagulate Brigit’s tea when she mistakenly pours rennet laced milk into her previously digestible beverage.

As the rennet reacts with the warm milk it transforms into a large curd of custard consistency. Marjatta uses a whisk to break apart the curd and allows the milk to separate; the curds sink to the bottom of the pot and the whey floats to the top.

I dive my hands into the whey; it is still warm. The curds below feel like Play-Dough. I’m instructed to slowly collect the curds and create a log on the bottom of the pot. It’s rather a fun task. Once formed, the curd-log (not to be misspelled nor mispronounced) is lifted out of the whey and placed into a perforated cheese mold.

Repeatedly, the curd is pressed within the cheese mold; the whey is drained and saved for making ricotta. Eventually, after the curd has been pressed and flipped, pressed and flipped, it is put aside to drain further for several hours before it is salted and stored in a cheese cellar.

I’m tempted to eat it immediately but must wait patiently (or not) for a minimum of one month while the young cheese dries. In the meantime I eye a previously made pecorino and say “Cheese please!”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Gravy Train





Food - the foremost concern in farm animals. Food – the foremost concern in man retaining farm animals.

It is known that man - in his domestication of farm animals - is able to produce a higher yielding product than nature would on her own. Case in point: The chickens at Casa Lanzarotti do not sit on their eggs. Once delivered, they run off to feed themselves. Hence, there is little chance of a chick ever hatching; the chickens are bred to solely produce eggs, not to mother.

Similarly, the sheep at Ca’Mazzetto are bred to produce milk. Naturally, to produce milk they must produce a lamb but many of the ewes do not care for their lambs; they prefer milking by the machine. Why? I’m guessing because A) the milking suctions have no teeth and B) because the milk parlor is where they get fed their favorite food.

Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, the ewes eagerly await at a ramp that leads up to the milking stations. The collies are also at the gate, cleaning the queued sheep by gently eating bugs off their wool; the sheep do not seem to mind the nuzzling.

Twenty-four ewes at a time enter the gate, each in its own unit. The sheep place their heads in the feeder which is full of delicious (and nutritious) grains including oats, barley, and fava beans. A bar secures each sheep’s head in the feeder and the entire unit moves placing the sheep’s udder at the ideal working level for the milk-man (i.e., Pasquale).

The milk-man reaches around the tail and the dingle-berries to check for milk; if present, he attaches a pulsating suction to each of the two nipples. To test, I stick my finger in the suction and indeed - no teeth! The milk is collected via tubes and sent through a filter to a holding unit. To taste, I pour off some milk and indeed – delicious (and nutritious).

Frequently, a ewe will kick and fidget prior to being milked; chances are, a clever adolescent lamb has snuck into the milk parlor and is helping himself to a free meal since the ewes are secured and unable to escape.

Tonight we have an Australian family with two wafer-thin freckle-faced curious little girls. They cannot take their eyes of the sheep, especially the sneaky lambs.

“Come now.” The father prompts them along.

“Ah Dad! Do we have to?”

“It’s dinner time.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Communication





“No, no!” I mutter while turning my head and closing my lips tighter to the kisses my Italian dinner date is imparting on me. Still with my seat belt on, I attempt in vain to move back a bit.

“How did I get in this predicament?” I ask myself. But I know very well; it started yesterday - with lack of communication.

--

Angelo is a friend of the family. He’s been here a number of times purchasing lambs. Yesterday he came unannounced for lunch with nine of his friends. They were trekking the countryside and wanted to fuel up for the walk home.

Pitying my overworked host, I offered cleaning assistance. In the kitchen, Angelo bantered with his owner friends. Occasionally Marjatta would translate: He could use wwoof help like this. Could he borrow my services. They are laughing, I’m laughing, and the next thing I know, I’ve got a dinner date, tomorrow night, at 7:00pm with Angelo.

“This is not a good idea.” I tell Marjatta. Neither of us speak more than a word of each other’s language.

I direct my efforts to Angelo “Io no parlo Italiano. E tu no parla Inglesi.”

“Si, ma manga no?” (Which I believe translates to “Yes, but you eat no?”)

“Si.”

“Perfetto. Domani sera.” Tomorrow evening it is.

--

My Italian tour guide is lovely. This is what I hoped for - a local to show me his native soil and then perhaps pizza.

Before dinner, we walk along a bike-path where families push strollers and joggers exercise. There are fields on either side and in the distance, Angelo points out five castles; we explore one. Our communication has not improved since yesterday but we are proficient at gesturing and flipping through my English-Italian dictionary.

At the small family owned pizzeria everyone is friendly and everyone knows Angelo. We order fungi pizza and an ensalata.

Before dropping me back home, we drive through the country side and stop to walk through a tiny village on a mountain top. Above me are stars and an old church bell that rings 10pm; below me are cobble stones and windy narrow streets; in front of me are old buildings perched at different levels. It is quintessential old town Italy.

Angelo parks the car on a hillside to take in the lights of Valfabbrica and then.. he advances. “How did I get in this predicament?” Yes yes, I know – lack of communication.

“No no” I say again. “Casa per favore?”

At the farmhouse door, we say good night. I feel bad for my friend: my evening’s hopes were met; I’m not certain his were. I wish we could communicate; perhaps he thought the international “language of love” would be sufficient.

“Domani sera?” he asks and gestures dancing.

“No. No grazie.”

“Va benne. Buona notte.”

At least, we communicate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Letting In Light



It’s a beautiful day to be working outside; the sky is blue with just enough puffy clouds to provide passing shade and a constant supply of imaginary creatures when looking up from our “strawberry patch”. Fantasy animals above are easier to spot than strawberry plants below.

“What strawberries?” Jen and I asked each other inquisitively while standing over a “garden” full of one foot high grass. It’s apparent why we were asked to weed. To fruit, strawberries need light.

Above us Bob is in the middle of an overgrown olive tree. With pruning shears and a hand saw, he cuts away dead branches and bad growth from the center of the tree, creating a bowl shaped canopy of healthy leaves. To fruit, olives need light.

During my life, I have likewise pruned my own set of weeds - negative attitudes, undesired ways of behaving, and fear based mindsets - in an effort to bring in light and allow for new personal growth. I am often disheartened as it appears to be a never ending job; one weed is pulled and another one grows or worse yet, the same one comes back!

Ca’Mazzeto’s four hundred olive trees have been on this land for over a century; with care and pruning, they will continue to produce for a hundred years more. Similarly, strawberries are perennials; with care and weeding, they too will continue to produce for years to come.

We work diligently for days pruning the trees, as did the wwoofers before us, as did the farmers prior to them, as did the ancestors before that, every year for the life of the tree. If we can prune repeatedly for a plant, certainly I can prune repeatedly for me. How great is that!?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Brains and Bells



I compare three heads in a baking pan: a piglet’s, a lamb’s, and a chicken’s. The chicken’s head disappears; it is in the mouth of Bubul. The piglet’s and lamb’s heads are moved to a platter; it will disappear in the mouth of a guest.

While the lamb’s brain is the size of a baby’s fist, I do not believe they are estupido, as Pasquale claims. When I take the flock out to graze, I’m convinced that in their baa-baa-ing they are communicating: “Hoorah! It’s the inexperienced wwoofer. Quick, down the tractor path to the newly seeded barley patch.”

How do I know this? Because this is what they try each time I open the barn door. My flock runs for the forbidden zone. I hear their bells get fainter in the distance all the while I run behind them yelling “ALE!”

Pasquale’s herd never tries a stunt like this and he has 280 members in his group while I tend merely 70. Then, to bring his flock back from the fields, he simply barks a few commands and THEY come marching back to HIM. It’s amazing! Whereas to bring my clan back, I run, clap, wave, beg, plead and sometimes even carry the refusing animal; many look up, give me a sheepish grin, and return to eating.

Over dinner, a guest asks the significance of the bells. I listen from afar as I too am curious. Of the 350 sheep, my 70 sheep are predominantly the bell-wearers.

“Bells are on naughty sheep.”

“Really?” she exclaims. “We have 6 children and they all wear bells too.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Wish



I’m exhausted. We all are, including the four dogs that can’t even muster energy to continue eating. They’re simply laying next to their heap of Easter Sunday lunch discards. By the looks of it, the thirty one restaurant guests would likely lie down too, only Pasquale is keeping them somewhat erect with a final round of grappa.

The week of preparation is coming to a close. The eighteen dish, eight course meal has been cooked and eaten; the dishes have been collected, washed and put away. The linens will need to be laundered, the stainless steel counters cleansed, and the floor mopped; but that can wait for tomorrow.

Right now there’s only one thing I really want to do this Eater evening: take out the sheep.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy


“I’d like to see a sheep giving birth” I made my request known to Pasquale.

“Difficult. You must wait..” he pauses and lets out a breath as to signify how exhausting the wait is, “..all day. I show you ship killed. Is easy.”

Evidently, in the sheep farmer’s circle of life they’re one and the same but for a budding shepherdess, they’re still at the opposite ends of the spectrum; I passed on his kind offer.

There have been a number of births (and deaths) at Ca’Mazzetto but I seem to come 10 minutes too late. As a consequence, I’m always on the lookout for a sheep on her hind quarters grunting; thus far, I’ve only been witness to the “other” delivery.

I enter the Nursery to check on Perfetto and mother, bringing with me gifts of grass picked outside the barn. Mom is delighted over her fresh greens and Perfetto is delighted over its standing-still mom. I depart the peaceful sanctuary and AHHhhh! This is NOT what I wanted to see.

“Mi scusi!” Pasquale apologizes while wheeling the knife further into the sheep’s throat.

When I was a kid, I’d watch Wizard of Oz from the corner of the hall, peeking when I thought it was safely out of “I’ll get you my Pretty!” harms way. Behind the hay bales I hide but occasionally stick out the camera to do the viewing.

Once past the squirming of the four tied together legs, I find watching the butchering surprisingly similar to watching the Operation Channel. And so, I keep peeking.

The client purchasing the meat is on the premises assisting. Pasquale skins, wedges, cuts, drains, and hangs the carcass. (Maria.. What’s the word for dead sheep body?) Bubul the dog patiently sits awaiting refuse. Slowly I leave the dwelling of my bunkers and before long I am holding the lens up to the animal’s belly as the innards are being withdrawn.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Pasquale looks at my documentation efforts and laughs.

Bubul is a happy dog. The client’s Easter is a happy occasion. And the Wizard of Oz is a happy ending.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Prayer to Saint Francesco




(1:30 PM; Wooden Pew; Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi)

Blessed San Francesco; Ciao. Brigit here.

Well, I made it. It’s been a difficult trek getting to Assisi but I guess you already know that. I’m thinking that’s part of the Pelegrino mantra – “a challenging journey”. I’m told you did your pilgrimage with a smile; that’s why you’re a saint and I’m not. On that note, forgive me for calling my borrowed bike a Pezzo di merda. And thank you for providing me with the embankment to fling myself off of when the brakes failed; that was better than the alternative: flying straight off the hill.

Is it in bad taste to start my prayers with a litany of requests? .. (receiving answer) .. Perfetto! Can you do something about my new set of owies? I have a couple hematomas, cuts, bruises, swollen back and a general feeling of “I’ve been thrown off a bike”, which I guess I have. On my journey back home, I’ll continue to walk the bike down the steep parts but maybe if the chain could stay on during the cycling parts, that would be great.

I really liked the supporters you placed on my Giro when I finally got back on the bike after the crash. I felt like a Maglia-Rosa cyclist with all the fans cheering me alongside the country roads; the chickens, ducks, and geese made a racket. I’m not sure what the farmers in their three wheeled vehicles were yelling but it was encouraging. And the village dogs that chased me indeed made me pedal faster.

By the way, your church – err - cathedral is nice. I could hear the symphony of bells at noon while eating cold pizza in an olive orchard outside of Assisi. That was sweet.

You must have many friends; do you know there is a line to see your tomb? I bet you’re never lonely.

Okay; va bene. I must go now - hike and bike! Thanks for listening.


(12:30 AM; Roll-Out Bed; Ca’Mazzetto, Coccorano)

Blessed San Francesco; Ciao. Brigit here again.

Thanks for guiding me safely with no bike calamities on the way home.

You know what was my favorite part of the day .. (No offense. You’re crypt is magnificent) .. On the final climb up to Coccorano, seeing my sheepies graze while looking over the town of Valfabbrica. My heart just sang. Thank you.

Please look after my loved-ones back at home, please say “hello” to Little Stephen and Abigail, and Grazie for this day. Nightie-night. It is an honor to have walked in your footsteps.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

350


“THIRTY FIVE sheep?” I seek confirmation; it seems like a high number.

“and thirteen butchered ones.” Pasquale continues.

Although Ca’Mazzetto is a dairy farm, they are not opposed to selling their livestock for meat. In fact, it is a necessity to keep the sheep count somewhat constant. To yield milk, ewes need to yield lambs; and with approximately 350 sheep at Ca’Mazzetto, a given year may see 300 new lambs.

In Italy, Easter is indisputably the most popular time for a cuisine of sheep or lamb. The farm has been “gearing-up” for the send-off: flock troublemakers indubitably hear their owner’s threat of “Easter is coming!”

“So you just sold thirty five sheep and thirteen butchered ones for meat?” I ask again.

“Si. Si.” Pasquale finally replies.

“That’s a lot. Is that good?”

“No. Three hundred fifty is better.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Perfetto



Abigail is dead. We found her floating in the bathtub this morning.

Once again, I find myself searching for answers.

“I reckon you might try not naming lambs with people names.” Erin endeavors to lighten the moment.

Kent, Erin's fiancĂ©e, continues in her efforts, “That’s farmin’. You’ve got livestock and you’ve got ‘deedstock’.” (I quite fancy the Kiwi pronunciation of “dead”.. “deed” sounds more pleasant.)

Out in the grassy field, I recall my checkered fuzzy friend while watching the flock of sheep peacefully graze. The dichotomy of life is manifested: around me, flies buzz yet butterflies flutter; overhead, a loud jet rumbles yet birds chirp; next to me, an unsightly shrub desiccates yet underneath it, a white Primula blossoms; and in the air, a cold wind blows yet through the air, the warm sun shines.

It’s all here, the yin and the yang, the black and the white, the dark and the light, and everything in between. Deedstock through livestock, it is life and in being so, it is perfect.

I pull up my pant leg to examine my wound. The last of the scab falls off. Comparing my two legs, there is smooth skin on the left and a raised scar on the right. I can say with sincerity, I have the perfect set of legs.

--

Approaching the barn through the back entrance, I step over Bubul, the smallest dog, devouring what remains of a recently slaughtered Easter lamb. Inside, Pasquale is milking sheep while entertaining a lovely French family and their three wide-eyed boys who are staying at the Agritourismo.

Per Pasquale’s sign-language, I quickly shut the door thereby sparing the innocent youth from witnessing the outside gore. Nevertheless, our efforts are fouled! Bubul backs in, wagging his tail and dragging his dinner: four spindly legs attached to a blood stained wooly coat.

Adressing the family, Pasquale is quick, “In the nursery.. new lamb! Born today. Go.”

I don’t know the gender of our latest creation nor what its life will entail, but I do know that it is and will be perfect. So per Erin’s wise suggestion, I’ve named it Perfetto.

Benvenuto Perfetto.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Like Father Like Son














For generations, sheep herding was transferred from father to son on the steep slopes of Sardinia. In 1964, Giovanni broke this tradition and moved his Sardinian milk sheep and his Sardinian family for a new future; he left his homeland and purchased farmland in the hills of Italy.

Pasquale is one of the five siblings that will inherit his father’s sheep and 120 hectare farm. In the meantime, the farm continues to produce pecorino and ricotta cheese from the sheep milk. To feed the sheep, the farm cultivates wheat, spelt, barley, maize and oats. To feed the family, Marjatta runs an Agriturismo and feeds the guests.

It’s a lot of work, every day, all year round; yet the couple is jovial and humorous.

“Will you pass the sheep to your sons?” I ask Pasquale while we’re painting the walls in the restaurant.

“Oh no.” he answers with conviction. “I love my sons.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

News


On TV, the boys watch soccer and music videos; their younger sister watches Simpsons (dubbed in Italian) and Hanna Montana. They are on holiday and I feel the same.. I’m watching sheep!

“You should check your email” Erin, my fellow New Zealand wwoofer, suggests. “There’s been an earthquake.”

“Earthquake!? Where?”

“Here. In Italy. Check your email “ Erin advises again. “Your mates will want the news.”

--

The Evening News:

Today, Monday the 6th of April, Bree took the "ship" out to graze – again. All sheep present and accounted for, minus the “feeble beast” that gave Bree so much strife yesterday, buckling every few feet on the way home.

The ewe did not make it out of the barn this morning. She gave birth to a black and white lamb: Abigail.

This concludes our earth shattering news coverage.

Reporting live from Coccorano, Buona Notte, I’m Brigit Otero.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tomorrow


“No! I forbid you to die on me.” I speak English to an Italian sheep. With my walking stick I nudge the feeble beast encouraging her to keep-up with the flock on our return home. Her knees buckle.

“I’ve had my quota for the day” I explain. She falls again and takes the opportunity to eat dandelion. At least she knows a good thing when she’s down.

Eventually, we all make it to the barn. Hot and thirsty, the sheep line up for a drink at the bathtub. In the corner, Little Stephen still lies. A few flies have settled on his head. THIS I cannot watch.

I scour the barn and find a broken shovel. Finding a location is easier: under a baby olive tree, next to the barn, looking out on the valley and the grassy fields where the sheep and I were this morning.

“Tomorrow” I say, “you’ll be out with your friends.”

Today


Marjatta catches me running from the barn.

“Brigit, could you please place these bulbs?” She hands me a large bag of irises to plant on the side of the hill.

I’m thankful for the manual labor and I swing the pix-axe with purpose, unwilling to pause for fear of another cry. Pasquale spots me as I’m completing the task.

“Bree, do you want to take ‘ship’ out?” I have never taken the ship nor the sheep out without professional guidance. This is what I dreamed of many years ago on witnessing the Sheppard Girl in Italy. I am overwhelmed with joyful anticipation.

As I rouse the sheep out of the barn I glance in the direction of Little Stephen already knowing: Even his belly is still now; his head lies back much in the same way we found him 10 days ago when he was born early and abandoned.

The sheep meander to the grassy fields. Mina the collie joins the action but is quickly bored as the flock settles to graze; she pretends to be chasing something and darts around me. Three little stephens snuck out with the bunch. They continually communicate “baa” with their mothers and the mothers continually communicate “BAA!” back.

I pick up a long walking stick like I’ve seen on the pros and put on my sunglasses.

It’s going to be a good day.

Yesterday




Yesterday was the first day I did not take pictures of Little Stephen; I simply could not. While still tiny, every day prior he had been growing. Yesterday he appeared smaller, unable to rise to his feet.

Today I took pictures. I took loads of pictures. I’m afraid they will be his last. I can’t focus the view-finder; my eyes are blurry. His mother is circling me, unsure as I am as to what transpired to her baby buried in hay, wedged in a corner and the feeder. Sheep walk over the miniscule bundle as they go to eat.

There is life in the bundle but just barely; his little belly struggles on inhalation as he lays on his side whimpering in synch with each breath. His tail is so filthy it blends in with the brown floor he lays on.

I had seen a large sheep laying on her side like this once before. “Is that normal?” I asked Pasquale yesterday.

“Yes. Normal. Tomorrow she dies.”

Tomorrow is today.. I start sobbing harder. I take one more photo and run out of the barn embarrassed Pasquale might find me in this pathetic emotional state. Damn lamb! How could he do this to me?! My mind plays a melodramatic scene: If he survives, I swear I’ll kill him. “Good with lentils” Pasquale jokes.

But even as I say it, I know he won’t survive.

Yesterday, ironically, his adopted mother came into milk.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Text Messages



SMS Received On My Italian Number:

Hi Dear I’m trying write you in english. yesterday I arrive at assisi at 18:30 very tired. fortunately i found a small chip hotel where sleeping. Today a stay here one day more for my foots :-) & I have something to do and j want to speak with FRANCISCO:-)


SMS Sent On My Italian Number:

I am SO proud of u Lucia. I know Francisco is proud of u 2. Congratulations my amici. I knew u could do it. Rest & enjoy ur time in peace. Health 2 u.


SMS Received On My Italian Number:

You are so lovely :-) your words are like a big cheese cake for my mind.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hope







I load my backpack: bread, cheese, apple, jacket, rain gear, sunglasses (I am hopeful), water. Ah.. forgot the water! I reach for an empty Cola bottle.

After a week of work and rain, Marjatta insisted I take a free day. My injured leg is sufficiently scabbed together and I am excited to walk a piece of the revered Franciscan Peace Trail. Mina, the youngest collie, leads me out; this is welcomed guidance as my navigational skills tend to be par with that of a lost sheep.
Once the collie returns to her regular day-time job, I go off course. But lost sheep tend to flock together and I encounter another hiker asking *me* for Franciscan Peace Trail directions.

Lucia is a young Saint Francisco pellegrino (pilgrim) from Roma. On this consecrated journey, she is traveling by foot for 16 days, 350 kilometers, carrying a large florescent green backpack and propped up by hiking poles. She wears several wooden devotional crosses, two around her neck, wrist, and camera. Frequently grimacing Lucia limps when her feet move inside the worn-out tennies. Her toe is black.

We stop at a farm to ask for directions. The postman pulls up, joins the conversation and offers us a ride to the destination town of Assisi.

“No. I cannot” Lucia explains. “San Francisco buried in Assisi. I walk to San Francisco.”

We continue together, cross rivers, pass fields of white flowers and spot quintessential Italian villages in the distance. At the point when I turn around to head back home, Lucia has completed 11 of today’s 27 kilometer sojourn; her remaining 16 K are daunting. She speaks in faith as we part way “I hope arrive in Assisi. I say Barack Obama. ‘Yes I can.’”

--

Back at Ca’Mazzetto, Pasquale reports on the status of Little Stephen. His adopted mother is attentive but because she did not come to term with her aborted lamb, she has no milk. Nonetheless, the pair keeps trying.

“Is there hope she may yet produce milk?” I ask.

“Yes. We hope” he replies.

I unpack the backpack and remove the sunglasses from my face.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Name Calling


Like a proper parent, Pasquale had interrupted sleep the first night Little Stephen (I gave in a “little”) was adopted by his sheep mother.

Hours before the sun rose, one of Ca’Mazzetto’s horses jumped the wire fence and caused havoc outside of the barn. In the folly was the demolition of Little Stephen’s and mom’s hay bale quarters. It is likely that the mayhem caused the lamb to panic; with the hay bale structure disrupted, Little Stephen ran to hide. And because mom remained tied in the remnants of the quarters, she could not pursue her child.

The anguish over the loss of her baby resumed again. She cried and cried.

All of the bedrooms in the Farmhouse are on the same side of the house. Speaking for myself, I remained in slumber-land and am quite confident that the rest of the human inhabitants followed suit - with the exception Pasquale. Try as he wished, he could not escape the cry of mother and son and thus entered the farm-land in the twilight hours to reunite the desperate pair.

In the reasonable morning hours Pasquale reports last night’s incidence to me. “Pezzo di merda!” he growls referring to the horse.

Pasquale is teaching me my best Italian; “Pesce di merda” I repeat.

“No no no. No repeat. No good. I go mute.”

“Pesce di merde” I practice again.

“Pezzo di merda” he corrects (as he gives in a “piece”).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Birthdays



“Bree, give me Little Stephen” Pasquale instructs from over the Neonatal fence. (He pronounces my name like the cheese – I take it as a compliment; as for Baby Stephen, it’s “Little Stephen” from the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band).

In the distance, I hear a sheep desperately crying.

“Her lamb is dead. She aborted” Pasquale explains as he throws Baby Stephen in the desperate mother’s direction.

Stephen tumbles; the sheep walks right by him. “I should put the dead lamb’s skin on him” Pasquale says more to himself than me. He throws Baby Stephen once again at the sheep’s feet.

This time she notices the infant. Baby Stephen gains his bearing and immediately looks for a teat.

The pair is placed in private quarters made from hay bale walls. Pasquale checks on them sometime later, “A happy couple. Good mother. She accepted.”

As far as Baby Stephen is concerned, he now has a mother. As far as the mother is concerned, it’s her baby’s Birthday.

--

Seventeen years ago today another sweet mother delivered her first baby in Finland. Baby Joonas was three weeks early; expecting a later arrival, Pasquale the father was still in Italy. Marjatta took a taxi to the hospital. She thought it was a funny April Fools.

Today Joonas plays soccer and like many teenagers, eats pizza, drinks Coca-Cola, and wears the hood on his sweatshirt. Amelia his sister decorates the cake. We all sing “Tanti Auguri” to the tune of Happy Birthday.

I just love Birthdays!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Back End









I have a bum fascination. I catch myself checking-out the rears of the wooly beasts in the community. It’s indicative of age, health, and happiness.

The dead sheep in the neonatal room was Baby Stephen’s mother. Her back end was disgusting: matted, crimson brown, and rotting. It is obvious she was sick and laying on her hind quarters during the last part of her life.

On the other end, Baby Stephen could use baby-wipes. Infant lambs produce mustered colored waste that runs down their tail and back legs as their digestive systems are not yet fully developed.

Teenagers have the most appealing tushes. Full of energy, these youth keep a clean bottom by prancing around, rarely taking a seat to soil their fuzzy fanny.

As sheep mature, they display various stages of dingle-berries. The more senior the sheep, the more the berries grow into pinecones.

In the nursery, I watch lambs nurse. This is certainly my favorite rear view. There are few things cuter than the blur of a small white tail as it flutters in happiness from underneath its mother’s coat.

It is evening. I’m feeling as filthy as a middle-aged sheep (mercifully minus the dingle berries). I walk back to the house to clean up.

The shower is less than two feet in diameter and enclosed by a curtain that characteristically does not keep the water off the floor. In a novice small-shower move, I drop the soap; the shower curtain attaches itself to my wet body and run-off spills everywhere.

I’m still ginning. After a month of sitting on my bum on the shower floor with my leg propped up on the bidet, hand washing with a hand towel, THIS now is glorious! I’m standing; I’m showering; and if I had a tail, it would be fluttering.

Monday, March 30, 2009

In Neonatal




Placing a fresh batch of hay on top of a soiled hay bale, I make myself a “clean” seat in the neonatal room. With me are three preemies, four milking mothers, and one dead sheep. I wonder how long the sheep has been dead. The two stronger infants climb over the corpse; drool still runs from her nose.

Since my arrival, I regularly check on the progress of the littlest preemie, Baby Stephen. Sheep are not named at Ca’Mazzetto but as it was uncertain if the abandoned lamb would survive his early birth, I thought to give him more of a fighting chance and thus named him after someone who’s passionate about life.

The largest lamb with a brown freckled face chews on the shoelaces of my Sorrels; I offer an index finger. The second lamb follows suit; he gets my pinkie. The two infants suck my fingers while Baby Stephen remains in the corner with his head cocked back. At least he’s not shivering like he was when I first met him.

Not surprisingly, with no milk the finger-sucking is appealing for only so long. The lambs look for a real teat but get head butted when entering mom from the front and kicked when entering mom from the back. I pin the unwilling mother between my legs, grab Baby Stephen and place him in the milk vicinity like I’ve seen Pasqual do.

“Bravo!” Pasqual says when Baby Stephen successfully attaches to a nipple.

“Aye Madonna!” he curses when the mom urinates on his leg in protest.

Knowing the drill, the older infants scurry to the secured mother - free milk with no kicking and no head butting. Ah.. but I know the drill too! Being bigger, they’d push my little friend aside, so still with mom between my legs and Baby Stephen underneath, I hold the freckled lamb with one arm and place the second lamb on top of the mother. No free lunch for these two.

“Bravo!” I say as Baby Stephen eats.

“Aye Madonna!” I curse as the freckled face lamb urinates on my arm in protest.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Barn





The Ca’Mazzetto Barn is an E-ticket Fun House. It’s my favorite ride on the farm; it’s where all the 4-legged action takes place: feeding, milking, mating, birthing, nurturing and even dying.

This house is the home for the several hundred sheep and lamb. There are various rooms and passageways, gates and fences, stairs and platforms, bathtubs and hay dispensers, pens and nurseries, corridors and feeding stalls. On the floor sits hay, feces, mud and urine. On the metal beam ceiling hangs string, like stalactites in a cave.

The sheep move through this maze without so much as a floor map, occasionally spurred on by a dog or Pasqual yelling “Ale! Ale!”

My first task: figuring how to enter the barn. There is an array of openings but all seem to be blocked via a sheet of metal, barricaded door, or wood piling. Wisely, I deduce that if the sheep can use the dogs for guidance, so can I. Bubul the smallest dog leads the way. My canine friend jumps on a wooden frame, over a wire fence, on to an inverted palette, through a wall opening and into Room Function x_(y^2 ) (Maybe in a few weeks I’ll have construed what the room functions are but at this point, it remains a variable in an unsolved equation.)

There is a brief moment of silence upon entering the premises; hundreds of beady eyes look up at me. The moment is over and the background music comes to the foreground in forte! Every pitch of “bah” is heard. A number of sheep “jingle” from the bell around their neck. Bubul barks. Few sick sheep cough. And the head-master gives orders to move. The concerto sounds like this:

Bah Bah BAh BAh bbbaaa bbbaaa Jingle Jingle BAAH bark bark bah “Ale! Ale!” bah bah bah cough cough BaH BaH “Ale! Ale! Bastardo.. ALE!” Baaaaaaaaaaah.

It’s pure magic and worth the price of admission.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Three Moments


Years ago when traveling through Europe, we traversed a valley. Down below, a young women bundled in layers of wool tended a flock of sheep. She held a large stick to move them around as they grazed the grass lands. Next to girl was man’s best friend - her companion and fellow worker - the header’s sheep dog.

The moment was captured on film by my traveling companion and my best friend but already the picture was forever imprinted in my mind. I could be that girl..perhaps in another time, another life, but I could be her.

--

On my computer in Santa Barbara, there is another picture. The moment I saw the photo last year, I down loaded it from the Agriturismo Ca' Mazzetto website. On my desktop, the Coccorano hills of Italy make home to a flock of sheep; the working dog takes refuge from the sun under an olive tree. Every day I would look at the picture. I could be there.. perhaps one day.

--

This afternoon I completed applying primer to the repaired sections of the restaurant wall. Slowly I walk to the stables where the clamor of the evening feeding and milking can be heard. Pasquale opens the gates of the barn and the flock of sheep hustle out to the fields and into the evening sun.

In this moment I knew.. one day is here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mind Reader


Holding a bucket of concrete-putty substance in one hand and a bucket of patching tools in the other, my host darts up the path to their “restaurant”; he plans to repair holes in the old farm walls before the arrival of the Easter guests that will be dining there next month. I’m thinking it’s a never ending job and am rather embarrassed by my bedroom thoughts upon arrival. (I wonder if he read my mind.)

Trotting on the path behind his owner is one of Ca’Mazzetto’s four dogs. And limping behind the collie am I, unable to take my eyes of Pasquale’s left pant leg that is tucked inside his striped sock; it’s adorable.

But even before the sock, Pasquale endeared himself to me last night when we were introduced; he asked if I was a vegetarian. (I wonder if he read my mind.) The girls were at dance class and he was making dinner for the teenage boys; they wanted sausages.

On my personal menu, dinner was an assortment of vegetables and salads, various breads, seasoned spelt with carrots, and the crowning glory: farm made pecorino cheese, farm made fresh ricotta, and farm made olive oil.

Clearly I’ve come to the right place.
(And you don't need to be a mind reader to figure that out.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reality


I’m scared.

This is not at all like I pictured my new wwoof quarters. And why is it when apprehension is involved I’m always cold? I sit in what is to be my room for the next month - zipped up in my down puffy jacket and fingerless gloves - trying to find comfort in the little that is familiar. The hole in the bed cover and the hole in the wall do not make me feel better.

Nervously I crack peanuts from Leonora’s parting gift when she took me to the Borgotaro train station this morning. God I miss her. It is evening in Valfabbrica now and outside the wind howls. The driver who picked me up from the final bus station reported snowfall last night.

The room is sparse. There is a single lamp and a roll-out folding bed which currently doubles as my desk and chair. My mind wanders to where I was this time yesterday - in front of a cozy fire, in the company of my dear friends. Boris invited Sarah, Maria and me to his home for our departing dinner. We discussed quantum physics and parallel realities. If I were a Master, I’d jump into the alternate reality of last night. I crave warmth, comfort, and love.

And that is it. Even as I write the word – love – it becomes clear to me that the weather and the accommodations have little to do with how I am feeling. Unaccompanied, by myself, alone, I sit in anxious solitude waiting to meet my new host family who are currently not here in the house.

I take a fresh look: three rolled towels are carefully placed next to my bed; dried lavender is tucked in the corner of the room; a small red petunia sits on the window sill and a single picture hangs on the wall. It is of a white-bearded man gently carrying a white-wooly sheep. How could I have missed all that before?

I’m pretty certain this reality will be just fine; I just needed a change of view.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Last And The First



It is my last day at Casa Lanzarotti. Tomorrow morning, I leave the crutches, I leave this farmhouse, I leave the chickens, I leave the cows, I leave the valley, and I leave my friends. Tomorrow morning I depart for Camezzo, a new farm, new livestock, new countryside, and I’m certain – new friends.

Still I am sad. I’ve never liked good-byes.

In the last few hours I’ve written and re-written my last few stories. Each one remains on my laptop unfinished as if defying the inevitable end of my Casa Lanzarotti journey. Like me, they’re reluctant to reach some concluding finale.

The story ideas now seem exhausted.

On Friday I had my last bread day. On Saturday I had my last clean-the-mouse-poop-in-the-lab day. On Sunday I had my last “free-to-just-be” day. I find comfort in routine and yet I know my life yearns for continued growth and experiences. It is not finished.

It is time to go.

Maria runs into the house from her morning chores crying “The sheep! The sheep!” I’ve heard this before. Only now, on this last day in Albareto, our pregnant sheep has her baby, correction, babies: twin black lambs. The mother cries her loud protective “BAH”; the first lamb cries his tiny confused “bah”; the second lamb cries his tiny confused “bah”; and Brigit cries her tears of emotions.

It is my last day at Casa Lanzarotti; it is our lambs’ first. Welcome my little friends; it is a good life.

Being At Home






“I could live here” Leonora sighs as she enters Casa Lanzarotti to take me to the hospital. Had she been a farmer in the Mezzadria Era, she certainly could have. But as was the case with most sharecropping tenants, she probably would have lived in the loft, above the stables, with several other families. Her rent for these quarters would have been half the farm’s yield.

Italy abolished mezzadria after the Second World War. Thereafter, the landlords were required to pay farmers in currency. As a consequence, many rich-in-property owners parceled off their land to generate cash. This was the case in the Lanzarotti estate.

Iris and Gian-Luca purchased the decaying farm house and the considerably smaller surrounding land in 1990. Fortunately, the home had not been “modernized”. What remained was original and our new owners would work for nearly a decade returning the structure into a faithfully restored Casa Lanzarotti.

It took Gian-Luca five years to merely recreate authentic windows. Duplicating the original construction of the 1800’s in 1990’s, involved milling lumber from local chestnut trees, drying the wood for three years, and hand manufacturing each window frame for the following two years.

The year that Elvis lived here, Casa Lanzarotti was enclosed in plastic tarps. The boys woke up on winter mornings to find their sleeping bags covered in ice. Today, Casa Lanzarotti is sound and cordially welcomes guests throughout the year. Thanks to the hosts, the content visitors feel at home.

Further up the street, Boris invites Sarah, Maria and me to visit. “I could live here” I sighed on entering his dwelling. My recluse friend has created a beautiful home for study and meditation. The feeling of peace permeates the open great-room. Clean lines of Asian and Tibetan art compliment the warmth of the Italian villa. We’re served tea and homemade fruit tart in front of a modern fire chimney. Wrapped in a mohair African blanket on a black leather couch, I sit with my leg elevated, Sarah draws, and Maria sings. Thanks to our host, we - the content visitors - feel at home.