Tuesday, June 28, 2011

This is Francesco Maccarone.  The first time I saw him was when i was ordering a coffee in the morning, and he was leaning against the bar with one elbow, reading the newspaper and chatting with the barman about soccer.  We met later the same day when i was searching for a good pizza in the plaza outside of his house, and since we have become good friends.  He teaches me Italian, among other things, such as how to make pasta from scratch, where to find the best pizza in Tropea, and the importance of calling your mother every day.  He teaches me Italian proverbs that are useless but beautiful, the correct way to use a moka pot, and that above all else "la vita e bella", especially when you smile.

We speak for hours about farming, native american spirituality, riding horses, music, family, and dreams of flying.  Last night he told me the story of his grandfather, who was orphaned at the age of six and traveled alone on a boat from Naples to America to find his seven older brothers and two sisters who had left Italy when times were rough.  By the time he was sixteen he had found a brother and sister in America and three brothers in Argentina.  He returned to Calabria with one brother and they each got married to a pair of sisters from Tropea.  Francesco's grandfather was a gifted gardener, and bought a farm just out of town where he planted olive trees, fruit trees, and vegetables, and had four children.  Carmine was the only boy, and is Francesco's father.

As I sit and write, Carmine and Francesco are at the very same farm, working hard on last minute details to prepare it for summer guests who will begin to arrive in a couple days.  There are lemon trees, oranges, mandarins, olives, grapes, chickens, cats... a stable waiting empty for a dream of horses, and a crumbling old farmhouse that was built by Francesco's grandfather.  Carmine chose to study law and so never learned the art of gardening from his father before he passed away.  But Francesco is passionate about the earth, the farm, and growing his own food.  He is confident that his grandfather's blood runs strong through his veins and that with a little bit of determination, genetic intuition and experimentation he will succeed in reviving his grandfather's legacy, coax the farm into flourishing once again, and one day be able to feed his family and friends entirely from this plot of land by the sea.

Francesco wants to have eight sons and two daughters, with strong names like Cesare and Constantino, so that his grandfather's name, Maccarone, will not be lost.  He wants to teach them all to garden.  He wants them to be rich in food and family.  He wants them to smile and thrive.

On the surface this friend I have made is your stereotypical Italian youngster, who wears Armani and Hugo Boss cologne, smokes cigarettes and loves driving his car, eats dinner late around a big family table and goes out every night to make trouble with his amicis.  But he is also a true Calabrian with deep pride and passion.  He dreams of riding a horse through town, values family over all else in the world, and understands the urgency and importance of putting his hands and heart in the earth.

This afternoon I will meet Francesco at his grandfather's farm and help him to plant his first tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers in the ground.  Whether or not they whither or thrive the first time around I have no doubt that over time a grand garden will flourish and that dreams of hearty happy children playing in the olive groves will come to fruition.  What an honor to get my hands dirty today, and take part in one fleeting moment of this beautiful story of family, land and love.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Solstice Rambling

Tropea has a distinct smell that I catch a whiff of from time to time... like dust and fire and sea, like moon sand and smoke...a little gritty, a little sweet.  I dream massive amounts of dreams in my bed up on the hill. Most of them come and go like ghosts before I can grab on to remembrance, but I clearly recall when, two nights ago, someone looked into my eyes and said, "The key to falling in love...is LETTING yourself".  Today I ate two ice creams, both chocolate, and held tiny kittens in my hands. There were four of them, each with completely different eyes.  One pair mysterious dark moons, one pair wide and curious, one pair with egyptian slants, one pair so sleepy they could barely open.  I wanted so badly to take one home with me...the playful fuzzy one with large curious eyes.  But I bought a basket of bright red strawberries instead, and will do my best not to go back tomorrow or the next day.  Today is the first day of summer, the first day I haven't needed a sweater at night.  As I rode my scooter down the hill under the stars I felt warm breezes brushing past me, and something in their texture felt like home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Here I came to the very edge where nothing at all needs saying...and every day on the balcony of the sea wings open fire is born and everything is blue again like morning."  -Pablo Neruda

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tropea. Calabria. Italia.

Where to begin?  I have been without a good internet connection for the last couple weeks and so have fallen behind on posting anything lengthy or very descriptive of my time here.  I arrived in the little paradise of Tropea about two and a half weeks ago, and cannot imagine another place where i would rather spend a month of summertime.  Tropea is a tiny village sitting on top of a cliff right above the sea in the region of Calabria in southern Italy.  The sea is calm, vast, turquoise, and crystal clear.  I rented a little apartment up on the hill above town before arriving and could not have chosen anything better... i have my own little home, complete with a tiny kitchen, cookware, a real shower, a moka pot, flowers, a hommock, and a beautiful terrace covered in grapevines that overlooks the village and the sea.  It is the perfect size for me to throw down my yoga mat and practice, cool and shady when the sun is too hot, ideal for a glass of wine and aperativo at sunset...

Just as exciting as my little home, if not more, is my scooter. I am in love and definitely want one of my own when i return home.  Zipping around on my piccolo motorino is the funnest thing i've discovered in a long time.  It is a quick and exhilarating ride down the hill into town and then down to the sea, and usually by the time i have done my practice in the morning, sipped a cappucino, felt the wind in my hair on my little scooter ride, and immersed myself in sweet blue sea water, my heart is as full and happy as a humming bumblebee with a sack full of pollen. 

If these simple drops of pleasure were all I had been given I would be completely satisfied.  But of course there is always more.  This is the play and the promise of beauty...no matter what we have or don't have, there is always more.  For me, the unexpected gift of this journey has been the people i have met along the way.  For one who so deeply loves solitude and solace, I am not always seeking interaction with people i pass on the street, but it seems that when you travel alone these random connections with strangers happen easily and naturally, and i have been blessed with a beautiful flowering of aquaintences and friendships in this little village.  Tropea is one of those little towns where everyone knows everyone, and already it is impossible to pass a few blocks without seeing a friendly familiar face.  I was somehow lucky enough to meet a few very good souls within my first few days here, who of course introduced me to more good ones, and I feel as though i have been embraced by a sweet family of hearty and passionate Calabrian angels.  Southern Italy is a rough region riddled with problems and economic hardship, but the strength of the heart and the value of family and community that it has cultivated is unparalled.  It is truly beautiful, and reminds me daily of how grateful i am for my own family and friendships at home.

Speaking of which, I got to spend a whole week with my dear friend Emily, who came to visit me here before returning to work at an Umbrian winery.  It was a week full of delicious food, too much wine, laughter, dancing and random adventures.  This world feels spectacurly small when friends are never far away.  

The sun is dropping into the sea like a huge golden ball as i write these words, and the boats are returning to the harbor after a day of watery luminescence.  Who knows where they have been, who knows what the fish think of it all, who knows what the moon has done to prepare for her nightly appearance, who knows what tomorrow will bring....

Friday, June 17, 2011


It seems I am always searching for it, but does it ever last or is it as fleeting as a drop of gold before the sun drops below the horizon?

Friday, June 10, 2011

A favorite

You are the daughter of the sea, oregano's first cousin.
Swimmer, your body is pure as the water;
cook, your blood is quick as the soil.
Everything you do is full of flowers, rich with the earth.

Your eyes go out toward the water, and the waves rise;
your hands go out to the earth and the seeds swell;
you know the deep essence of water and the earth,
conjoined in you like a formula for clay.

Naiad: cut your body into turquoise pieces,
they will bloom resurrected in the kitchen.
This is how you become everything that lives.

And so at last, you sleep, in the circle of my arms
that push back the shadows so that you can rest--
vegetables, seaweed, herbs: the foam of your dreams.

Pablo Neruda