As I was waiting in Toulon to take my train, I sat in a cafe for close to 3 hours killing time. I kept sneaking up to the bathroom to steal toilet paper for tissues. The third time I finished upstairs, the cafe was pretty empty, and the guys working there in white suits and ties were singing loud French songs. I walked down the stairs and heard they had started a new one: “Starrr spreddeh zeh nooooose… I leeeeeaviiiing tudday…..” Oh! My soul jumped in its skin and I don’t know what came over me. I was at the top of the stairs, and by the time I got to the middle of the beautifully banistered staircase, I broke into song, my arms wide out: “I want to BEEEE a PARRRRT of it! NEW YORK, NEW YORRRRRRRRRRK!” The men behind the counter polishing glasses were dumbfounded, smiling. Bravo, they clapped, a lovely voice. I am sure they were equally impressed with my perfect Midwestern American diction.
Archive for October, 2008
I spent most of yesterday finger painting with the kids. Only with brushes. So…regular painting. No one understood my abstract art.
Then we played a French card game about driving or something. I won.
So then, the kids just up and left with their mom and went to Marseille. They have a lot of time off for All Saints week and won’t be back before I leave. Very sad. Antonia pulled me aside and handed me all of her marbles. She told me that it would be my responsibility to give one to every WOOFer who leaves the house when she is gone.
Last night we went to the closest town and drank at the pub. For the first time in my life, I was able to drink all of the beer in a single bar. The four of us drank maybe four beers each and the place ran out! Ridic. So then a car pulls around the corner and it’s Felipe (wearing a green trench coat and smoking his pipe, he looked like some latino detective on, like, CSI Columbia or something) with Jean-Mathieu and two new WOOFers, Cyrus and Rebecca. I got up to greet them, but Cyrus ran across the road and began violently throwing up from car sickness. See Julie, if you stayed you would have found a kindered spirit.
Today I took Cyrus and Rebecca for a tour of Lutina. We checked out the pigs and the drying house and saw a crew of guys sorting their chestnuts through a machine. They brought in 2400 kilograms of chestnuts today. When I told one of the guys that we were American, he asked me (please pardon my likely incorrect spelling) est cé Obama vè gagne? Will Obama win? I said absolutely he will, and the man cheered for Obama as we walked away.
This may be my last post from Corsica. I could use a thousand clichès to sum up my time here. I could talk about the ‘breath-taking’ ‘rolling hills’ and the overwhelming mountain and ocean views that render one ‘speechless.’ These things exist and are likely how these types of clichès get started, but the real beauty of this place is in the simplest things: afternoon clouds rolling into the valley and the ensuing fog, the taste of fresh figs and roasted chestnuts and the stillness–the space that finds its way into the gaps between your thoughts, should you choose to let it in. An interruption of incessant mental clatter. In a word: peace.
Until I return: bonna serra, Corsica.
Well, dear readers, I have another Of-Corsica moment for you. I was sleeping on the ferry to Toulon at four in the morning on a long couch in the lounge when the loud turning of the motor slowed, stopped. Are we here already? Mmm, ten hours on a boat sure went by quickly–gasp. It was still dark outside, no lights on shore in sight. We were in the middle of the sea. The lights in the lounge dimmed and the boat (again, another giant cruise ship) rocked. Violently. The curtains swayed as the waves outside, untethered by the motor pushing the boat, crashed one side of the Titantic, then the other. I felt nauseous and said a Hail Mary. Seriously, people. I was 89% ready to call Zack and tell him to call the proverbial embassy to make the funeral arrangments.
Zack and I ended up in Bastia, a port town, spending the night with a Corsican administrator, named Michele, whose apaprtment is neslted near the ruins of a catheral-turned-apaprtment building. Laundry on lines was strung everywhere and pipes ran together on the outside of the buildings of exposed brick and old stone. We rushed the next morning to my boat, which was cancelled (surprising? not quite), and spent the day wandering. We stood on the main round-about by the sea as traffic passed us in all directions. After a particular period of egregious romantic affection, an old man, slow and knowing, canes himself past us and says, “On en laisse un peu pour demain alors?!” (You gonna save some of that (meat/lovin’) for tomorrow or what?) He walked on, cane tapping, smiling and apparently so pleased with young love.
My other titles: ‘Too many WOOFchefs in the WOOFkitchen’ and ‘Too many WOOFs and not enough Corsicans’ just weren’t that catchy.
Yesterday was great. Felipe and Jean-Mathieu let me catch a couple of the pigs that needed to be mooved into the nurseries. This entailed creeping up behind the pig, grabbing her front leg and quickly tying a rope around the leg. Needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway because I am verbose) there is a lot of thrashing involved. In the struggle, one fell down, taking me with her, and we were both covered in shit pudding.
Today was not as great, work-wise. We built a three meter fence. We built a three meter fence and it took three hours. I’m pretty sure an armless man would have given us a run for our money today. No matter where you go in the world: six people building a fence is two people building a fence and four people watching. And I got stabbed in the ass by a rusty nail when I jumped out of one of the nurseries. Shit pudding, indeed, dear reader.
Ok, enough complaining. Here are the things I meant to mention this week but failed to do:
- It rained too much yesterday for us to work so I sat inside drawing pictures with the kids. They asked me something like forty thousand questions in a language I barely understand. I drew a giant dolphin flying into a giant bear with regular houses below them. And a turtle aligator.
- Paul and I went to Cortè to get boots and he told me about a dream he had. It went generally like this: ‘I fight three men. They bad men. Gangsters. They want to smash my face, but they don’t know I can break their face. One is Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise? Tom Cruise. But I know I’m not really fighting them. I’m fighting something in me.’
- I swam in a 50 degree mountain river. SO COLD.
- I cinged my hair and eyelashes setting a brush fire.
- I told a super awkward joke that no one got. At Paul’s house, Julie was talking about how at Christmas time at Spaggio they would play Christmas music and get more tips. I said, ‘Oh, at Murky we didn’t play Christmas music but I would get bigger tips by going shirtless and wearing a Santa hat. “Would you like a latte ma’am, because I work out a latte!’ No one laughed and everyone at the table shuffled awkwardly while I continued my faux muscle flexing.
I’m down at the Campana’s house on the first rainy day since I arrived at Lutina. Unfortunately, I’ve come without my journal, so some things will surely fall through the cracks here.
I’ve been living out every ten-year-old’s dream the past ten days: driving 4x4s, using heavy farm equipment, feeding and wrangling pigs. On Monday I helped Jean-Mathieu, Paul and Felipe put a handful of pregnant pigs into holding pens we built earlier in the day. Pigs are smarter than you’d think. Stronger too. It took all four of us to snare each pig by the snout, tie a rope around one leg, drag the pig into the pen (this took at least two people) and close and secure the make-shift gate. It was like ‘Hey Dude’ with more swearing and fewer boy problems.
Julie and I stayed over in Bastia (about an hour and a half from Lutina) two nights ago with a Corsican government official. We woke up at 6 am yesterday to make the ferry, only to learn that the Bastia-Nice ferry was cancelled. So we got Julie a ticket for a later ferry to Toulon and spent the rest of the day drinking coffee and eating cheese and dark chocolate. It’s hard being me.
I got back to Lutina late last night after saying goodbye to Julie. And (surprise) without my interpreter, doing just about anything that involves speaking to anyone has become prohibitively difficult. There were about six words spoken in english at dinner last night. They were all Antonia learning colors. So…red, blue, green, pink, yellow and orange was just about all I understood at dinner. I understood ‘are you sad that julie left?’ because I picked up ‘Julie’ and ‘sad’ and at one point told the Campana’s friend that Cincinnati was 100 kilometers from Columbus. Is that true?
This is what I used today, on the giant rolling mountains of Rapaggio, the land that we are clearing. We are hacking through bushes and the guy in this photo is doing nothing compared to the brush we are dealing with. In fact, don’t even look at him. Wait for the real photos to be posted. We get geared up in heavy pants that can apparently withstand a chainsaw accident, knee pads and bright orange suspenders and helmets with ear coverers and a huge face screen to protect from all the flying debris. It is like pumelling through outer space but you are wacking bushes to pieces, not constellations in your space ship.
Outside, a strange cowbell or wind chims late into this evening and a fog has settled almost to eye level on this stratified village. Life is vertical here, with the few houses stacked ontop of one another cut into the hills. I sat this evening on the couch with my French cross words and Antonia; the family’s daughter, seven, crawling around acting like the dog. I made great kid jokes with her about Shir Khan, the boxer puppy, having suddnely grown long hair and looking like Antonia. Her brother, Francesco, 5, came in and they wanted to play a game they had invetned called La Reine – the Queen. Great, I thought, as I settled onto the couch. What are the rules? Who gets to be the Queen? I heard the living room doors slam by Francesco and the 2 dogs, Mascarella, a black herding dog, and Shir Kahn scramble in. Antionia tackles the black dog by the waist and Francesco runs around screaming at everyone. Oh, my subjects, I thought. Donc comment on joue à la Reine? I ask. So how do we play this Queen game? I am mostly igorned; they scream and keep running in cirlces with the dogs. Antonia pulls Mascarella down. A moment of linguistic clarity happens. This game is not La Reine – the Queen. It is L’Aréne, the Arena. As in gladiators. And dogs. Of course- ica.
We began work on the farm the morning following our arrival. Work isn’t hard, but it’s tiring. Right now and for the next week, we are clearing brush under the chestnut trees to make them easier to collect once they fall. So we make piles and set them on fire. It’s the best!
The farm is run by Paul and his friend, Jean Mathieu. Paul is the marde. He’s like Batman without the issues, Superman without the cape, or a less green not-so-ragey Incredible Hulk, only, you know, French. Jean Mathieu is reticent and, frankly, a kind of scary French guy. He has two kids who are, at the time of this writing, acting like puppies and rocking out to Gregorian chant.
Luch on the first day of work was amazing. Lasagna with homemade bread, olive oil, the freshest tomatoes I’ve ever eaten, ham from the pig’s leg in the kitchen, and local cheese on figs picked earlier in the day. If I could choose between eating that meal again right now, or being punched in the face by celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck, I’d choose the lunch. After lunch, we had chestnut liqour and a siesta…it’s hard being me.
Friday was Hubert’s (pronounced with a soft H and T) last night. Hubert was another WOOFer, a 60 year old Danish male nurse who lives on a 6 hectacre plot of farm land in Denmark. Hubert began dinner by announcing, as the wine was being poured, that he had never been drunk. Ohhhhh boy. My end of the table was like the premise for a culturally insensitive joke: an Italian, a Canadian, a Scot, a Dane, and an American. So what was the topic that united us? Fraser, our Scot, asked if we knew how to figure out our porn name (according to Fraser it is your first pets name and your mother’s maiden name, making my porn name Mindie Milsom). This got us going; the wine did the rest. Pretty soon we learned that Hubert’s porn name was ‘Lookie Hyning.’ Hubert kept repeating it, almost unintelligible through his laughter.
I thought porn names were middle name and street name (making mine Tyler Kingston, but our Canadien would be Kate State Route 55…so we went with Fraser’s format). We asked Hubert what his middle name was and he said, ‘Maria.’ We laughed of course. Why Maria, Kate asked. ‘When I was in circus’ he said in his ESL, ‘some time we…we do a…what do you call?’ He said something in German to Natalia, our German.
‘Performance,’ she replied.
‘Performance,’ Hubert repeated.
‘We do performance for the children. I wear woman’s spandex with…’ He is beginning to laugh uncontrollably. ‘With sequence and stars,’ he gestures a very low cut bust-line, now laughing and crying. ‘And white gloves,’ he blurts out through laughter, motioning that the gloves were elbow-length. Tears are now pouring down his face.
‘But why MARIA?’ Kates said.
‘Oh,’ said Hubert, regaining his composure, ‘I don’t know. It was a family name on my father’s side.’
In the morning we said goodbye to Hubert as he left for Denmark and we left for Isle Rousse, a coastal town in Corsica. For almost two hours, we wound through mountain roads not wide enough for two bicycles to pass one another comfortably. It was like Mario Kart without cool stuff like mushrooms, stars and lightning, and with car sickness in their place.
We spent all day in Isle Rousse swimming and lying on the beach. I befriended some dogs, ate Corsican-style mussels, forgot to weigh my fruit at the grocery store and swam naked.
One thing that I’m not sure is ok is the Corsican symbol: a bodiless Black Guy Head. Paul told me during the week that the Black Guy Head represents the invading Moor tribes from super long ago. Apparently, unlike the rest of human history, the white Corsican dudes totally put the hurt on some black dudes and then named baseball teams after them or something. And made the region’s symbol a conquered Black Guy Head. Not sure that’s ok.
Ok, until next time, thanks for reading, and thank you to Justin, Rebekah, Casey, Luke, Michael and Jordan for posting! Au revoir!
We have the weekends off from working on the farm, so we took the winding roads the width of a bike lane up and down and around to a train stop, abandoned old stone homes everywhere, to a coast town called Isle Rousse. The photo is accurate, only not in the 70s as shown. There were two old dogs that slept on the beach, turned around and around in the sand like our dog Roxie at home and then flopped down in the sun and laid there for the whole day. Zack though the yellow one was dead at first, but whew it was not. At one point I set my towel next to the old dog, to feel a little closer to home. The waves just kept lapping softly, the mix of European tourists from everywhere filing by, sun burning strangely in October. Zack and I built a sand castle and as he dug way down to start a moat for the castling device, he found a silver ring. No telling how long it had been there. I used the occasion to ask everyone on the beach if they had lost one – a great ploy to talk to strangers when normally this isn’t done. No one had. Our castle withstood the waves but not a toddler wearing nothing playing with his mother.