Hey City Girl, Whatcha Doing?

Within two hours of breakfast, I managed to smash a thumb and punch myself in the face with a tree.

So begins my first official morning in Casa Rosi, an organic family farm in the town of Sovicille, part of the greater commune of Siena, Italy; part of the Chianti region of Tuscany.

The fruits of our labour this morning. Who knew this petite Chinese girl had so much power in her? Maybe by the end of this I can actually do a pull-up. (Well, a girl can dream.)photo 3

I arrived Monday morning (yesterday) via BlablaCar from Rome, and was welcomed at Piazza Gramsci warmly by a tall, tanned man with wild dark curls dusted with age, an ear-to-ear grin, and a Clark Kent get-up. “Buongiorno Andrea!” I beamed through a sleep-deprived mental fishbowl as I threw my backpack, straw hat, and hiking boots into the trunk of his car – my only possessions for the entire month of June. (I’m still kicking myself for not buying one of those nifty weight-reducing travel backpacks.)

Tuscany is, of course, as beautiful as everyone says. A barely awaking Siena, already swarming with tour groups marching for battle with their sun hats and camera-phones ready, was beautiful in passing. What truly enchanted me was the scenic ride up a winding dirt road to the countryside, and the absolutely magical home of my host farm family.

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Because I was exhausted, and I seemed to have brought the downpour from Rome to Siena with me, my first day was completely mellow and involved quite a bit of napping. After settling in, I was treated to a delicious three-course lunch courtesy of Monica, Andrea’s wife. I was thankful that their son Teo, who is only two years younger than me, is very good at breaking awkward silences and including me in their conversation. If only I understood as much Italian as I thought I did… After a long nap, it was pouring rain, so we decided to stay indoors for a little house cleaning. I wiped down every unique painting hanging on the wall of their house, appreciating them in the process.

My favorite part of the house is this painting: a Picasso-style reinterpretation of Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters.” After spending a semester in Barcelona, living meters from the Picasso museum, it’s hard for me to resist his charm; and Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite artists. I found the painting clever and tasteful, so I suppose I had a good feeling about this family from the first second. It was also a good clue when my host mom began singing, “We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine” as we pulled up into the driveway.

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This piece, proudly decorating their dining room, was apparently created by the same family friend who painted similar-style works on the outside walls of their medieval stone house, which was built in the late 1800s!! (And here I thought my home in San Francisco was old.) I am definitely taking mental home decoration notes for the future.

In the evening, I received a gracious (and stomach-bursting) invitation to dine at the farm of Andrea’s sister. It was much larger, as the farm also sold products commercially and was a part of a larger co-op.

I saw huge bulls up close! I had no ideas cows even came in that size. The smaller baby kindly ignored me as I made dumb human mooing sounds at him, but his adult friend looked very grumpy… and tried to lick-slash-eat my hand with a giant grey tongue that was about the width of my palm.

I was surprised to discover that the dinner was actually a large reunion, with farmers and friends from all around the region, including a couple visiting all the way from Paris! I also met another WWOOFer on the cusp of his next adventure. He was actually a serious academic of environmentalism, unlike me… a city girl just trying something new.

And try something new I have. Within my first 48 hours here, I saw fireflies dancing in the starlight for the first time. (Yes, I just said that. Quite cheesy, I know, but I’ve also eaten quite a bit of delicious goat cheese.) I tried two kinds of pasta I never knew existed, and a diverse assortment of wine: classic Chianti wine, some french Rosé, two kinds of Tuscan white, Vino Santa, as well as some home-brewed pistachio liquor. Who knew you could make pistachios into alcohol?

On the other hand, I felt a true moment of city-girl panic when my entire host family left for Siena to run errands, and I was left alone on the farm with nowhere to go and, really, no way to go. I tried to go for a walk, but as soon as the first buzz of a monster bee – man, that thing was huge – echoed in my ear, I wanted to run home, hide under the covers and never come out.

At one point today while pulling weed vines off a stone wall, it occurred to me: I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to volunteer on a farm as someone who seriously hates bugs.

How ironic is it that just over a week ago, I was telling fellow couch-surfers in Budapest that, “There’s not a lot I’m afraid of, but I’m freakin’ scared of bugs.”Well, I guess I’ve always wanted to be on an episode of Fear Factor.

After the umpteenth multi-legged creature scuttled across my hand, I think my heart gave up on reacting. After almost losing my shit when upturning a rock unearthed a centipede longer than my hand, and spending a good fifteen minutes enraptured by an eerily beautiful lime green spider, I decided that I’m about 1000000 times their size… and what doesn’t kill me just makes me itchy. (Case in point: my butt has been itching all day from a mysterious bite.)

Well, so begins my first rural adventure. Some background about WWOOF: it stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.” I first got the idea from the same friend with whom I explored Morocco. She had a friend who WWOOF’ed in Italy for a few weeks during the summer, and had nothing but good things to say. Impulsive Shirley decided: I like free food, I like free lodging, I like wine, I like Italian food, let’s go to a farm in the middle of Tuscany miles away from another hint of civilization and see what life brings me.

So far, it looks like I’m in store for good company, delicious organic food, awesome picture-perfect landscape, hilariously awkward conversations due to my broken Italian, and lots and lots of bugs.

Ciao for now! And the adventure continues.photo 1

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