Saturday, December 26, 2009

Year-Endings and beginnings

Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas to everyone!
I was lucky enough to continue my tradition of hosting a Solstice party for ten years now (almost ten years...with the exception of when I traveled to Michigan for the holidays). I look forward to it every year, as do many of my friends. It's not your typical Solstice celebration, however. Unlike the originators, we are not anxiously awaiting the sun to shine down upon us - it already does. We are not praying for the snow and ice to melt and bring in the flowers and greenery - we don't have snow or ice, and it'll never be green or covered in tulips and roses (maybe sunflowers and daisies, though!). Nope, for us in this desert it's a bit different. For me, at least, I celebrate and appreciate the winter, asking it to stay a bit longer. We celebrate the upcoming five months until 100 degree temperatures arrive.

So, thank you Sun, for keeping your distance but staying close enough to be warm enough to play outside, to plant, to hike, to walk, to work. And thank you Moon for lighting the desert floor for the animals and people who walk in your shadows.

This year has ended quite differently that it began...and I can't be more surprised...or more happy.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my family and friends...I love you!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

my life as a chicken...

So much for blogging every day in October! Sheesh, I barely got through the first week. I guess I just didn't have enough exciting things to post every day. But October has been exciting for me in lots of ways. The garden is continuing to grow the seeds I planted earlier in the month. I go outside in the morning and watch the sunflowers sprout into seedlings. All the wildflower seeds are coming up; the spinach, kale and chard are getting ready to be thinned; and I can almost eat my lettuce for dinner. I've been harvesting as much basil as possible before the first frost and have been cooking up nice containers of pesto; and making enough tomato sauce to eat pasta every night for the rest of winter. It's been a yummy October.

Oh, and I got 6 baby chickens. The coop is just about finished and I was ready to fill it with chickens. They were about 1 week old when me and Mr. C went to Pratt's and Gordon's Feed stores. Immediately, I had second thoughts. Not only do I have a geriatric dog in her twilight years, a 2 year old bouncy/jumpy/hoppy puppy, but now I'm adding 6 chirping, pooping, eating, sleeping chickens to the household. It's something I've wanted to do for a while and I've talked about it forever. But somehow actually getting them was another story.

2 Road Island Reds
1 Spotted Sussex
1 Americauna
1 Brown Brahma
1 Black Maran

I went to the doctor the other week and she thought that I may be pre-menopausal! I'm only 37, but it's possible, apparently. Tests later showed that I wasn't; I must be naturally bitchy and sweaty at times. But it gave me a scare for about a week, nonetheless. I'm at that place in my life where my "biological clock" ticks pretty loudly, whether I want it to or not, and the thought of babies and having them tends to occupy my thoughts. So getting the chickens has quelled the sound of the clock in my head.

The temperature has been changing and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. The mornings and evenings are amazing, which makes it really, really hard to want to be at work right now. Last Saturday, Mr. C and I took the dogs to the Farm at South Mountain and had an amazing outing. Mellow days like that are one in a thousand, and I cherish them. Perfect Saturdays. If only I could have brought the chickies...

Americauna and Brahma chicks

Curious little Spotted Sussex

Eating and growing...

Jack meets his sisters for the first time

Hanging out with the dogs at the Farm, under the Pecan trees

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Coop progress...

Well, things started off really well. Lots of digging, planting, prepping.
Mr. C and I spent most of Saturday getting the required items for the chicken coop. The ground in my backyard is a teeny bit harder than we thought...it took quite some time digging a darn hole for posts. But, finally, got them done.

I ran around to Home Depot (which I hate going to) and Ace trying to buy the right equipment to fix my irrigation for the garden. It's really frustrating when you think you bought the right item but the size is just a tad off. Spent the rest of an afternoon at Baker's Nursery (which I love)...a local nursery that has just about everything you need for a perfect garden. I explored around, looking at the garden gnomes, the trailing mint, the beautiful fountain...in all my gawking and gazing at such pretty things I bought the wrong plants! Instead of Mint: Peppermint! Instead of Oregano: Thyme!

This weekend I planted Fava beans, lettuce and spinach so far. More to come...
Tomatoes
Kale
Chard
Peas
Sunflowers
Wildflowers
The chicken coop...so far

My garden...3 times the size of last year!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Slowly waking up...

Happy October!

In most parts of the US people are getting ready to slow down, close up shop and recuperate after a busy summer outdoors. Not here. Nope. In Southern Arizona we're opening our doors and windows, shutting off our A/C's, making our Honey-Do list, taking out our shovels, hoes and weeders, planting our seeds, starting our outdoor projects, getting on our roofs, cleaning the gutters, cleaning up the BBQ, hanging our hammocks up in our trees, dusting off the bikes, running shoes, hiking boots and camping gear, filling the bird feeders, throwing the wildflower seeds into the dirt, and sitting back...watching life around us wake up and shake the sleep of the summer from our eyes. Good morning, Autumn.

Part of waking up is opening myself up to newness; shedding my old skin and coming anew...old habits, old memories, old tapes that used to run my life, old hurts that I couldn't let go of. Fall is a time for renewal

My list is long, but doable, now that I have a renewed energy (and an extra pair of hands) to get me through it all. We'll call him Mr. C. We have lots of work to do, Mr. C. Let's get started:

Fall Projects ~
Build chicken coop
Buy little baby chickens

Garden stuff - repair fence, plant fall crops, throw wildflower seed
Mural my wall
Finish rain harvest barrels
Fix roof...shingle repair, new tin roof on porch
Remove/reduce my pond
Remove grass...bye-bye Bermuda!

Plantings - Xeriscape front yard, fix irrigation
Top/trim big trees
Paint picnic table and benches
Walk the dogs
Go to the park
Take trips
Sleep in the hammock
Read
Write
Have picnics

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vegan Month of Food!!!!

October is Vegan Month of Food and Vegetarian Appreciation Month. Yup, veggies get a whole month to be appreciated. First off, I'm not a vegan. I'm vegetarian. I tried being vegan for a few weeks...mostly those few weeks when I ran out of money and couldn't afford the $5 eggs from the Farmers Markets or the fancy imported cheeses. Mostly vegetarian, really. Except for fish. Pescatarian really. Technically. If anyone is keeping track of these things.

So, it all started 17 years ago, and I was 20. I was sitting in the backseat of a rented Renault station wagon with my sisters, in Sicily, coming back after spending the whole day with a great-great-great aunt who lives on a farm in Catania somewhere. She gave us this little gift to take back to the small town we were staying at...a little chicken. A LIVE little chicken...sitting in a box...next to me. Well, the drive was long and me and the chicken had some time to talk, to chat if you will. I did most of the talking, and she just looked over her box and nodded up and down at me, understanding every word I was saying. We bonded. Oh yeah, we definitely bonded. I pet her waddle - I'm sure of it.

You can probably tell where this story is going - we had her for dinner. My little friend who loved me unconditionally (ok, so she had no choice, she was stuck in a box. But really, I think if she had the option she would have stayed and listened...we were that close). I was appalled. I was eating her thigh, her breast, her little body. Everyone around the table just giggled at me.

Well, I'll show them! From that point on, I decided that I would not eat my friends any more. I just couldn't do it, it wouldn't feel right. That, and the fact that I never really liked the taste/texture of meat and I used to sit for hours at the kitchen table until every last bit of it was swallowed because that's what you do when you're a kid living with Sicilian immigrants - eat everything in front of you even if it makes you want to puke it all up later, or feed it to the dog, or hide it all in your napkin. The time was now...I was out of the house and my parents couldn't tell me what to eat anymore. They did, however, trick me into eating horse(!!) that fateful trip in Sicily, summer of 1992. Final straw, indeed!

But, I digress. This month, October, I'm going to commit to writing daily, even if it's just a little, about something vegan...ish. Not sure what exactly. I'm thinking - Vegan Gardening. Don't laugh. I think I can make it work. Especially now that Fall in the desert is here, I'm ready to get out in the garden and transform it. Maybe I'll write about the chicken coop I'm making (ok, I'm technically not making it...I got my friend Chris to do all the work...I'm delegating). The chicken coop is vegan...the eggs aren't. But the eggs will come AFTER October, so I'm safe.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pictures from the desert...

The Arizona desert is one of the most spectacular places on earth. I've grown to love it immensely and cherish every opportunity to just sit or walk and take it all in. Here are some photos from around Arivaca, where No More Deaths' camp is located.










Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mujeres del desierto

I’ve been away from the desert since November of last year. I haven’t gone on patrol in over 6 months. At first, I just needed a break from the work, and I felt tired and overwhelmed. Back in March, my time away rejuvenated me, gave me back to myself. But I still avoided going back to the desert.


I went back 3 weekends ago for the first time all summer. I have to say I was a bit anxious. Why? Because the desert sucks me in, and I am helpless to her demands. She shows me the destruction brought on by our government - the wall, the towers, the migrants’ trails - she makes me a witness to the sorrow and suffering of beautiful people, and to the beauty and miracles, the grandness and greatness of the land. I walk away determined to do something, say something, throw a fit, yell, scream, something. And, this time, I wasn’t sure I was ready yet.


I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it anymore.


Since I’ve been back from that weekend, I've thought alot about some of the women who touched my life without me ever knowing them. I knew them through the stories their families shared, from volunteer reflections and from assumptions of what they must have thought/felt/experienced. The anniversary of those we found have come and gone and I don't want to forget them. I feel like I have to remember them, honor them, and tell their stories in some way:


Lucresia

Lucresia Dominguez, age 35 – from Mexico - body found July 20, 2005


I’m sorry that your husband had left to find work in the US, unable to care for you and your children in Mexico.

I’m sorry that our immigration policies kept you and your children from being able to visit him.

I’m sorry that the only way your children were to see their father was by walking, for days, in the desert.

I’m sorry that the walk was so long and hot; that your feet were sore and blistered; that water was scarce; and that you suffered.

I’m sorry that you were left by the group that led you, alone with your 15 year old son.

I’m sorry that you hugged your 7 year old daughter goodbye for the last time.

I’m sorry that you died in the arms of your son, with no one to comfort him; that he wandered alone for 3 more days before being deported and returned.

I’m sorry you didn’t get to see your husband.


I’m thankful that I met your father, determined to bring you back home, to your land, to your people.

I’m thankful that he didn’t listen when everyone told him the search was futile…he’ll never find your bones in the hundreds of miles of desert.

I’m thankful for the friends that joined him in the search, mostly to make sure he didn’t get lost and die himself, but most with little faith.

I’m thankful that your son had a good memory and remembered where Babaquivori was, which way the sun set when he left your body, the hills, the trees, the shadows the mountains made as the sun was setting…all to lead them back to you.

I’m thankful that strangers opened up their homes, their kitchens, and their hearts to your father as he ventured out, day after day, on the futile search.

I’m thankful that he found the bodies of 3 others on his way to you, ending the suffering of more families.

I’m thankful that the arroyos were gentle, that the monsoons didn’t come, that the shadows guided him; that he had faith.

I’m thankful that, 22 days later, he found your hand; and your beautiful rings still glowing in the sun. And your foot, with the Roxie shoes that told us all it was, in fact, you.

I’m thankful that your family found peace and you have been returned to them.

I’m thankful for miracles, in the midst of tragedies.



Prudencia


Prudencia Martin Gomez, age 18 – from Guatemala – body found June 15, 2007


You left to be with your fiancĂ©e in America – you called him your soul mate.

You were going to surprise him…he didn’t know how much you missed him and wanted him to hold you again.

You walked over 60 miles in the hot, Arizona desert, the temperature an unexpected 110 degrees.

You began to cramp, with a heavy menstrual flow that increased your dehydration.

Your legs gave out, your energy was gone, you couldn’t walk any further.

You were left to rest in the only place that seemed suitable - soft sand under a mesquite tree to give you shade.



They left you plenty of water.
They
prayed over you - having made the horrible choice to leave you there.

They studied the terrain around you, counting the numbered telephone poles not too far away, burning it to their memory so that someone can come back and find you.

They tied a red panuelo to the mesquite limb, a marker for rescuers that never came.

They pulled your long, black hair back so you would be more comfortable.

Good-bye.


We got the call that you were left behind.

We thought you were still alive.

We checked the hospitals, clinics, border patrol, but didn’t find you there.

We started to walk…counting the numbered telephone poles back to you.

We found you, as they had left you.

Your long, black hair told us it was you.

I’m sorry.


>

Josseline


Josseline Jamileth Hernandez, age 14 - from El Salvador – body found February 20, 2008


January is a good month to cross.”

You and your brother have been separated from your mother for many, many years.

Your mother misses you terribly. She cries and suffers to be away from you so for long.

She works hard, 2 jobs or more, to provide for you – but it’s not the same.

You need your mother…every girl needs their mother. To hold them, to comfort them, to caress their hair.

After many years, she has saved all she’s earned. She will send for you and your brother. The distance is unbearable.


The journey is so much harder than you imagined.

You cared for your little brother along the way. He’s only 10 years old.

You made sure he stayed close, kept up and rested.

But your little body couldn’t keep up with the group. You weigh less than 100 pounds.

Your feet and ankles swell, your legs cramp. You walk slowly, slowly.

The coyote urges you on, to keep up with everyone; you’re slowing them all down.

On January 31st, they leave you.


You beg, scream, to take you with them. Not to leave you alone. To go find help. Something.

There is no convincing them.

Your little brother cries by your side, demands to stay and take care of you, doesn’t want to leave you there alone.

You are stronger and wiser than your age.

Your time here is over.


You soothe him and tell him he’s a big boy. He needs to go. His mother is waiting for him.

Be good and don’t let your mother worry.

Tell them I love them.


Missing” posters are distributed to various groups by your family. Convinced you’ve been deported or still walking. They want us to keep our eyes out for you.

The desert is beautiful in February. The rains bring green and lushness to a normally dry and desolate place.

It’s a good day for a hike. Four volunteers head out to re-fill food bins and bring fresh water to the trails.

The map shows a shortcut that can take them to the trails easier. The shortcut is a beautiful hike, with large rocks, deep canyon walls, and hawks flying overhead.

As they come around the canyon wall, they see your shoes, with your socks folded nicely on top of them. You’ve taken them off.

You dipped your sore feet in the water left by the earlier rains and went to sleep.

February 20, 2008 – we found you still there.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Berry dilemma


The one thing that is a "must-do" every summer is to get out of Phoenix and head towards cooler places. Preferably somewhere green. It makes living here a little more tolerable. This summer, I was lucky to be able to take 2 vacations. Italy and Portland. But Portland didn't count. I had to go shopping. To pick berries. And preserve them. Then bring them back to Phoenix. You see, berries don't exist in Phoenix, or anywhere in Arizona for that matter. Really, it's almost bad enough that I'd consider packing my bags and moving to a place with a small berry patch. Everyone needs to live somewhere relatively close to berries. Once you've seen fields and fields of berries, walked along and picked wild blueberries in a city street, bent down to pick and taste the bursting red fruit...once you've seen it and experienced it, you can't go back. You can't settle for the Trader Joe's berries. Even the Whole Foods berries are lacking the sweetness that can only exist when you pick them straight from the bush.

Of course, I make things a hundred times more difficult when I decided a few years ago to eat mostly local and seasonal fruits and veggies. I give myself a 2 state radius, but prefer to eat food grown within my state. My exemptions are bananas and avocados and cherries and mangos, because, well, I can't seem to live without them. How could I walk past the guy with the mango cart, selling mangos on a stick, with limes and chili? I couldn't resist. So what if they're from Chile or Australia or Argentina? I might have a big carbon footprint when I pop a cherry in my mouth or eat a banana, but I'll make sure to offset it by riding my bike somewhere...for a year.

So, I was craving strawberries. I called Flagstaff farmers markets in the north...nothing. I called Sierra Vista farmers markets in the south...nada. I called my forager friends and asked if they found any berry patches in the Valley. Empty. Zilch. No berries in Phoenix.

So, the next logical step was to fly to Portland and pick them. Technically, I'll be eating local and in season. Only it happens to be in a different state. And I had to fly to get there. But that's besides the point. Then, there's the issue of preserving them and bringing them back home.

Luckily, my friend Emma and her family were happy to have me visit them. She and I left the kids and spent an afternoon picking beautiful organic strawberries on Sauvie Island, a small island just off of Porland. It was a cool morning and we had a nice drive around the island before we found the perfect farm...organic, fresh, u-pick strawberries. 2 hours later, 50 pounds heavier, and $80 dollars spent, we headed home to start cooking.


How I make Strawberry Preserves:

2 Quarts of strawberries (or a big pan full of strawberries)
2 cups of sugar
one or two lemons

* clean and de-stem strawberries
* cut in half or quarters
* put about 6 cups (enough to fill a large stock pot) of strawberries in a bowl, little at a time, and begin to mash them. They'll start to produce sauce. If you want the preserves to have more strawberry chunks, then don't mash too much.
* place the mashed strawberries into a large stock pot.
* add 2 cups of sugar
* add one or 2 lemons (to preserve the color)
* cook about 40 minutes, stirring often. Cook until mixture is thicker
* scoop off the top layer of foam. (you can save it/set aside and use it to put over ice-cream!)

* while strawberries are cooking, disinfect canning jars and lids. We used the dishwasher and set it at the hottest setting.
* Be sure to not touch the lids by hand. Use tongs to remove and place on a clean, dry towel. Dry lids.
* When the Strawberry mixture is done cooking, and still VERY HOT, pour into HOT canning jars. The canning jars AND THE STRAWBERRY PRESERVES should be hot, so they seal appropriately.
* Close the jars and place UPSIDE DOWN for at least 5 minutes.
* Turn right-side-up after 5+ minutes. If you hear a POP, then the jars are sealed! If you don't, then you need to re-do that jar.
Heading over the Sauvie Island bridge to pick some strawberries.

Emma and I picked 4 boxes of strawberries. We definitely have enough to get us through the summer. Then some!


Step 1: washing and de-stemming the strawberries. They look so pretty!


Step 2: this is after about 30 minutes of cooking the crushed strawberries. Almost ready for canning.


Step 3: Emma is putting hot preserves into the clean, hot jars.


Jars and jars of strawberry preserves. It was actually really easy to do, only it took all day to finish.
It might have made more sense to just buy them from someone, but now I can say I know how to jar!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Italy Part Three: Sicily

As I sit in the airport, waiting for my flight that will bring me back to Sicily, I notice the people around me, waiting…impatiently…and I realize I’m among Sicilians. First, there are the group of incredibly obnoxious boys and men who complain loudly to each other and to anyone that would hear them, that the delay is entirely too long. They’re wearing the trademark Mafia sunglasses - but I highly doubt the Mafia would have anything to do with these loud and incredibly annoying bunch of boys. They go on and on for more than the one hour delay to Catania. Then, I notice the young boy who is accompanying his grandmother home. He makes sure she has a comfortable seat while he stands in the long line, occasionally going back to her to see if she is OK, if she needs anything. And the others, too. Even the strangers seem to be taking care of this elderly woman who is too old to stand and wait. Someone goes to get her espresso from the machine (yes, there are espresso machines instead of Soda machines in the airport). Another woman, a stranger, volunteers to walk her to the bathroom before we board the plane. Yup, I begin to realize that I’m about to visit a place that isn’t so strange after all, but feels oddly familiar.


I spend 11 days in Sicily, total. Almost all of it with my family: my cousin Giuliana and her partner (il fidanzato) Alfonso, my Zia Maria and Zio Angelo, and my little cousins Giuseppe (Peppe) and Roberta, and some days my cousin Gabriella and her husband Nunzio.


Most of my days here are spent eating, relaxing, tagging along with my cousin to work, exploring the nearby towns and cities, and eating some more. I should say something about the eating habits of the Italians in general, and the Sicilians specifically. The most obvious difference is the time difference of when people eat. In the North, lunch is around noon, dinner about 8:00pm. That was about the same in Tuscany; dinner around 8 or 9:00pm.


In Sicily, lunch (pranzo) begins at 1:00 and continues through 3 or 4:00pm. During this time, all stores close, workers go home, and meals are prepared. Prepared. That means that meals are cooked on hand. And I don’t mean sandwiches or a light lunch of salad. Pranzo consists of a Prima Piatta (first course) which is something simple…sliced cheese and olives, then the main meal which can be pasta in one form or another. Or a vegetable dish. You finish your lunch with a cup of espresso, rest, run errands, then return to work. They work until 9:00pm, and then come home for dinner. Dinner (cena) is typically eaten at 10:00 or 11:00pm. The course is similar to lunch in that there are 2 or more courses, and pasta is one of the courses. Meat is eaten more at night than during the day, accompanied by wine or beer. We chat, play cards, then go to bed…around 1:00am.


Food - the love of food, the appreciation of food, the careful preparation of food, and the cultivation of food – is obvious in Sicily. You see evidence of this in every town. From the large daily markets spotlighting the regional specialties, to the small fishermen bringing in their catch to feed the local community, to the numerous corner stands and vegetable trucks selling cantaloupe and watermelons from the area, and to the hundreds and hundreds of square miles of olive trees dotting the landscape. As I walk down most streets I notice a sweet, slightly familiar smell – the smell of Fig trees. They grow like weeds here. And they’re incredibly huge. You see them growing out of old brick walls, in abandoned yards, in the corner of a busy intersection – they’re everywhere, and they give off this sweet perfume that is uniquely Mediterranean.

I spent some time at the 3 major cities – Catania, Siracusa, and Palermo - the 3 points that make Sicily the island shaped like a triangle. Of these cities, I spent the most time in Catania, 3 days, and fell in love with the architecture of the place, the old buildings housing immigrants from Africa, Asia, India, the countless museums and churches, and the markets. Catania is situated under the shadow Mt. Etna nearby and you can see evidence of the mountain by its black rock beaches nearby. The beaches are beautiful and the water is clear. During the day, I’d eat granita with briosche (a type of french sweet bread), Orancini (deep fried or baked rice balls stuffed with ragu, spinach, cheese), drink coffee and wander the streets.


Siracusa is an amazing old city, with streets so narrow you could almost touch the walls with your outstretched hands. The history of this place is incredible and the water is spectacular.


I spent the least time in Palermo, but it was the one place I wanted to visit the most. I was there only a few short hours, but I characterized the city as nothing short of chaotic and incredibly loud, to say the least. Palermo is a city of immigrants; situated on the port closest to Africa, there are many immigrants from that region, as well as a healthy population of Muslim and Indian immigrants. Although there are hundreds of churches and other historical sights, it seems like Palermo hasn’t had the time or the money to preserve these spaces. They’re scattered among the traffic, the busy streets, and modern buildings popping up everywhere. I’m told this is the best city of all of Sicily, I wish I could have seen it that way.


The heart of Sicily is where I spent most of my time - the center of the island where there are rolling hills, olive trees dotting the landscape, towns atop mountains surrounded by walls or old palaces. My parents are from Nissoria, in the province of Enna, population 2,000. Enna, the highest town atop a mountain in all of Italy, stands close by. Leonforte (the Strong Lion) is the town where my cousins currently live, only 10 km from Nissoria. It is beautiful and quaint and quiet.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Italy Part Two: Siena

After spending 3 beautiful, relaxing days in the north of Italy, I take a train down to Siena, Tuscany, where I will be for the next 4 days. To describe what Siena is like is to describe a living museum; a complex system of narrow cobblestone streets, Italian gothic arches, a maze of neighborhoods, churches, museums, theaters, small shops, gently rolling hills, Cypress trees, a round and simple medieval 13th century piazza, all abuzz with the sounds of tourists, children, street vendors, scooters, and sparrows flying overhead.


I could have picked a quieter town. One not as overwhelmed with tourists. But as I was standing at the train terminal in Ventimiglia I couldn’t make up my mind as to where I wanted to go. Siena was the first train out that morning…so I bought my ticket and called the tourist office to find me a small room that day. And it’s a good thing I did. Siena may be a city full of tourists, but it is also a city where people all over Europe come to study, to learn, to play and to live. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I ran into a group of French Erazmus students, studying there for a year, only 3 hours after my arrival and would be stuck (gladly) with them for the remainder of my time there.


After finding my room – a very overpriced and large affitecamere (room in a house) – I ventured out to the main Piazza…Piazza del Campo. I bought an Espresso and a gelato, thus beginning my daily habit of eating and drinking lavishly for the next 2 weeks, and sat on the Plaza to people-watch. People-watching is a great past-time of mine. I love doing it. I love watching families, lovers, kids and friends play and talk and mingle about. I can do it anywhere and I think I’ll always enjoy it. After some time I came to realize that Italy can be a very difficult country to travel to alone. Traveling alone, in general, isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s something to do only when you’re sure you can handle it. Good thing I’m a pro at this, or else Siena would have sent me on a tailspin right back to my therapist. But no, for me, I just sat back and wondered how I would manage here for the next 4 days.


I started walking around, getting used to the winding, narrow streets all leading out to the walls surrounding Siena or to the Piazza sloping in the center of the town. Just outside the crowded streets and buildings I see a park nearby and walk toward it - I naturally tend to travel in the direction of green space and gardens – and find myself in front of a large gated entrance to the park. My Italian has not come back to me at this point, so I’m struggling to read the sign…is it public? Is it private? Can I walk right in? Just then, I hear 2 young students speaking and laughing as they’re coming into the Park. They’re carrying boxes of pizza and bottles of wine and rum. I ask them if they know if the park is private and they ask me if I’m Spanish. So far, no one in Italy has confused me for an American. Instead, my broken Italian with the Spanish words and apparent Spanish accent has confused just about everyone I meet. The park is public and I am quickly invited to spend the evening with these 2 wonderful and funny and incredibly generous French men. And with about 10 of their French and Italian friends.


There is something to be said about Serendipity, or Coincidence, or the Universe knowing just what you need at the time you need it. I don’t know how it works, or why it works, but it does. Maybe I just notice it more than others, but it happens all the time to me. I find people that come into and out of my life in a ways that are always meaningful. Meaningful not only to me, but also to them. They have enriched my life just a little as I think I have enriched theirs.

So for the next four days I start my day with coffee, gelato, a walk in town, visit a church or 2, then head to a friends house where lunch will be made, cards will be played, and an excursion will take place. That, followed by dinner and drinks. Or, maybe a free concert at the Parco di San Matteo. Or, some live jazz at the International Jazz school, conveniently situated in the heart of Siena.


After a few days I switched to a cheaper hostel, took a day trip to nearby San Giminiano, and wandered the small walled, mountain village where medieval knights and kings once sparred for control of the walled city where the long-gone Etruscans built their cities and lived on the land. Oh, and I did that while drinking espresso and eating gelato…of course.


I was definitely getting prepared for the next, and biggest, part of my trip – Sicily. Luckily, some of the students I spent time with were from Sicily, Sciacca and Capo d'Orlando. They prepared me what was to come by singing me traditional Sicilian folksongs or teaching (re-teaching) me how to play Scopa or Briscula, old Sicilian card games that I used to play with my Grandfather when I was younger. Finally, and the most notable, was when they sat me down and reminded me that I will never be a tourist in Sicily. Not as long as I have parents who were born there…I’m simply going home to be with my people for a bit. So, after 4 glorious, restful, happy days in Siena, I packed my bags and did just that – I was heading back to my homeland.


Eating gelato...daily


GELATO!


French friends...





Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Italy Part One: Ventimiglia



Started my trip to Italy with 4 days at the eco-village of Torri Superiore, near Ventimiglia, Italy. After hours of flying, then taking a train for 6 hours (which should have been 4 hours), then arriving in Ventimiglia too late to catch the necessary bus to the town of Torri, then finding a hotel to sleep for the night...I celebrated my birthday...finally. At 11pm on June 12th, I had my dinner of Gnocchi and pesto and a large glass of red wine! The next morning, I catch the first bus to Torri and arrive to an amazing, old, restored village where 10 families live and many visitors come to relax, learn, study, work and enjoy the surrounding area.

For me, I sat and relaxed. There is a beautiful and clean, cool river that runs just below the town. Every afternoon, I would head down there and take a swim in the river. This river is amazing...there are big rocks where you could jump off and into the water. The water was clear and deep. Fish everywhere and big frogs that you can hear at night. I would swim upstream, past one small cascade, then continue up to the next cascade and then swim through this small canyon wall until I reach the final cascade. Then, I would sit back and float downstream. Until I hit a rock, or the water calmed enough for me to get out and dry off on the big rocks. I did this every day...for 3 days. Beautiful.

The meals are communal, so we all eat together at 1pm, then again at 8pm. We sit and talk and get to know a bit of how our lives are outside of this place. Lucky for me, it has been easy to meet people, so far. My Italian is less than good (its pretty rotten, actually). So, Ive been able to talk in Spanish and they respond mostly in Italian. Its a good understanding we have!

The food is mostly vegetarian and produced from the nearby farms or the small garden that Torri has. The surrounding area of Torri has over 3,000 olive trees, which have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Now, about half produce fruit. Everything here is terraced, so you can see olive trees all along the mountains, and, in the mornings, its shrouded by fog.

Its a good way to integrate myself into this country. Meeting and seeing people in the North and how they are, their accents, their language. There is a French air about the North, the italian accent is different than I know, but the people are nice and helpful...which, to me, is important!!

River in Torri

Farmers Market in Ventimiglia

France - Italian border

Village of Torri Superiore