Old posts from 2009 – cut and pasted into here for reference, from Facebook Notes
May 5, 2009: I am living in a trailer outside with no heating…but it is warm out and i slept very well last night. it is pretty much summer here already, it seems. the country is very beautiful. there are many rolling hills, all very green, and many vineyards as well. today i spread fertilizer (manure pellets) and then changed the screws and bolts on a tractor-attachment, ate lunch, and had a three hour nap. they dont seem very demanding at all. the family is very nice. it is a mother and father and young daughter of six, but there are many more children around – daughters at high school who board there during the week, a song and daughter who live in the area and who drop by for lunch etc. there is a tractor obviously and i am hoping i get to drive it. it is very very remote here, i feel a bit isolated, but it is beautiful and warm and jean-pierre and marie have been so welcoming.
there is a bhuddist retreat just next door here, apparently it is world famous, the dalai lama has made a visit. apparently you can take classes so i might drop by and have a look.
tomorrow we are planting squash.
one of the best things about living here is that every meal is filled with produce from their fields (they grow fruits and vegetables). everything has been delicious, even the plain lettuce with oil and vinegar. it is all organic, and they also eat very little meat.
Hope italy/caen/charlottetown/beaumont hamel/hamilton are going wonderfully!
May 20, 2009: I really wanted to post a little update to say that I have finished my time at La Ratisse, the farm I have been working on in Bordeaux, and am on to my next adventure. I have spent the past two and a half weeks doing all sorts of things. I have been planting tomatoes, squash, melons. I have been picking kilos and kilos of sweet peas. I’ve been getting to know and, for a short time, been a part of a family that has gotten very close to my heart.
I went to the Bhuddist monastery for two days of ‘Mindfulness.’ It was half an amazing experience just to be in the midst of real live monks and nuns, and secondly I had a great time there experiencing their practice.
I have a tan.
I’ve been going running with a Dutch boy who lives next door.
My time here has been difficult at times. I’m not sure why. It has been hard to adapt, hard to feel motivated all the time. In the end though I’m very grateful for this experience, for having gotten to know Marie, Jean-Pierre, and all their kids. I’ve had great conversations with them and have had a great time playing with Eléonore, their six year old daughter. It has been nice to break the solitude by going running with David, the Dutch neighbour. There is a Bhuddist monk who has been living in the caravan (RV) next to mine for the past week and a half to write his autobiography, and I have enjoyed speaking with him as well. What an adventure it is to get to live in a trailer on an organic farm next to a Bhuddist monk! I have learned that it is possible to be a monk, living without sex, without money, and still be happy, normal, and a great person. Maybe it seems obvious, but I feel lucky to have been able to meet someone like that. Jean Pierre has a daughter who lives nearby, Hélène. She invited me and Louise, her sister who still lives at home, over to her place one night to hang out. It was a nice night out, a very good time. Jean Piere and David go to Ju Jitsu twice a week, and for something to do, I’ve been going with them!
Tonight, as it was my last night, Jean Pierre and Marie presented me with a departure gift – a hand made bowl with the name of their farm inscribed on it, filled with chocolates. It was so sweet of them.
To be honest, the experience has been very difficult at times, but in the end I am glad I’ve come. I really love the idea of WWOOFING, and am glad that there are people who are so open and welcoming in the world. The Martin family has really been what has made this experience good.
Very good wishes from Loubès Bernac, France!
the Martin family’s blog:
August 17, 2009: This is my enormous update of my travel log. I don’t expect you to read all of it! But hopefully some of it will be interesting.
When I left off, I was up to my ears in sweet peas near Bordeaux. We are now almost three months later.
My trajectory brought me diagonally north-east from Bordeaux to the very middle of France and the countryside near the town of Saint-Amand Montrond. There I met the lovely Angèle, Clément, Lison and Nèle and fellow Canadian WWOOFer Laurence. We planted squash, watched our poor squash be pelted by egg-sized hail (which also broke the car’s windshield), planted squash again, weeded shallots (getting pricked by numerous thistles), and strung up tomatoes. We also went up to Orléans and met Angèle’s family. We saw two great bands live: Chet Nuneta and Sylvain Sanglier.
I continued pretty much dead east, into the Alps near Lake Geneva. I rode a 4 by 4 to the top of a mountain to Michel and Béatrice’s alpage, which is the French word for a dairy cheese farm in the mountains. The view was magnificient: we looked down from a bird’s eye view onto a little village called Chatel, framed on each side by other medium-sized mountains (ours was a respectable 1800m). Then in the background rose the massive, snow-capped Dents du Midi, Dents blanches, and the Mont Blanc. The ‘dents’ really did look like rocky lines of teeth. At the alpage, my duty was to help with the milking of the cows every morning (at 6:30am) and night. I had the biggest challenge of my trip- and one of the harder exeriences of my life – geting over my fear of being kicked by a cow when I knelt down to milk her. On my third day I received quite a had kick and it made me want more than anything not to have to kneel down next to one again. I kept doing it, though, and I wasn’t kicked again. Through my two wweek stay, it slowly got easier. I am glad to have gotten to feel close to the animals, who are beautiful and intelligent, if frightening.
I headed due south, a four hour TGV ride to Le Pradet, a subub of Toulon, an hour east of Marseille on the south east Meditteranean coast. I was back to familiar territory: a vegetable farm. Téiki worked like a dog – all these organic farmers do – making vegetables grow in the hard, dry soil. It never rained. It was stinking hot and sunny every one of the 11 days I was there. So it was glorious for the beach, a fifteen minute walk away, and hard for working. Suzanne helped Téiki farm and also studied as a jazz singer and actress. They brought me to Marseille one day when Suzanne had an audition. I conveniently left my wallet in the car when they dropped me off downtown. I borrowed a fireman’s cell to call them to rescue me.
I’ve found the organic farmers at all three vegetable farms where I went in France to be really interesting, warm people, living simply and humbly, following principles they believe in. It is really a career I would consider if it weren’t for the back pain! There is a peace that comes with their way of life, even if there is little money.
Téiki, Suzanne, their friend Ghani and I went to see an amazing bassist and singer from Cameroun called Richard Bona. Suzanne was very interested in music, naturally, and we listened to a lot of soulful, honey-voiced singers after working in the fields – Abbey Lincoln, Ella Fitzgerald, a Nigerian called Asa, the British Adele, and Richard Bona.
After two months in France I had a feeling that it was time for Italy. I worried that I would wear out my desire to travel before I even got to that country. I loved my experiences at the farms in France, but WWOOFing is also solitary and I wasn’t sure how long I could carry on. I still feel that way, where I am right now, to be honest, but in the end I always decide to keep going. I was attracted to Italy bcause of the reputation for warmth – big familiies, passionate conversations, a high respect for art. I’ve also been trying to learn the language. As it has happened, I’ve really only been to two places in Italy so far. These two places have been pleaseant, very interesting, and kind of crazy. They’ve left strong impressions. They are both well off the beaten tourist track.
I left France on a train from Nice to Genova. As I had been warned by Tèiki and Suzanne, as soon as I crossed the border, nothing was on time. In fact the train left Nice one and a half hours late. I moved down the coast from Genova to Chiavari, and took a bus inland, up into the Appennine mountains to the Anidagri centre. This place was part agri-tourismo, part vegetable farm, and most importantly (and completely surprisingly to me) part spiritual centre. The group of people at Anidagri was insular and slightly stressed, but foremostly very kind and welcoming. They live a lifestyle that I would not choose, which includes the following of a master, Paolo, a practice of open love, and a belief in past lives and an apocolypse in 2012. However, I was able to respect them as people. They were all so nice, and they did not force their religion on other people. There was also a large number of other WWOOFers, from all around Europe and the U.S. On our days off, we headed down to the beach at Chiavari and took a bus further up into the mounains. When we went down to the beach, we missed the last bus back up, went out for dinner, and drank wine on the beach. Then we slept, shivering, huddled next to one another beside the hull of a boat. When we worked, we helped build a house, made compost out of hay and manure, painted, washed dishes, tended the vegetable garden, built a stone pathway, and babysat some Italian kids. There was also, at Anidagri, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve eveer seen. In the nearby forest, there is a tall watefall that descends into a clear turquoise pool amid an opening in the trees. It was practically a mass of sunlit green arching over a patch of calm, flat blue, with a jet of white falling into it. Other Wwoofers and I swum in the icy water most days, after working or after having gone running. One night we went down when it was completely dark and looked up at the stars through the breaking in the trees, hearing the splashing water but not seeing it.
I took a night train down to Naples. This train left at midnight and arrived at 6am, and I nicknamed it, while sitting cramped in a tiny corridor between the toilets and the exits, hell-train. All the seats and main corridors were crammed with people, and so I was in my little corner all night, with people going back and forth to use the washrooms and to smoke in the passageway between the cars. From Naples I headed again into the mountains, the Southern Appenines this time. And that brings us to where I am right now: the tiny, mountain-top village of Carife. I am living with the Minieri family: Michele, Rachel, Sam, Gaia and Esther. Two great Australian Wwoofers are here too, Craig – who the non-English-speaking Esther has nicknamed ‘Crackers’ – and Michelle. Michele produces olive oil and grows vegetables that he preserves in oil. I’ve learned how they do this, cooking zuchini in vinegar, drying them, and covering them in oil with garlic and oregano. I am also looking forward to pruning the olive trees, since I’ve never seen an olive tree up close before, coming from Canada, and it seems like quite an iconic tree in literature and folklore. I was also amazed to see fresh figs and fig trees in Le Pradet.
The village is populated mainly by elderly people, it seems, and they generally sit outside their houses and talk, or more often, silently watch other people go by. It’s a bit awkward, and pretty funny. I am probably the only tourist-like person the town has ever seen. I feel like I’m in another planet.
My Italian has been coming along slowly. I can now have a basic, slow conversation. ‘Non ho capito,’ meaning ‘I don’t understand,’ I can say very well. People speak quickly and with all the passion and excitement Italians are famous for. At first I had a hard time telling if they were angry or not. This applied particularly to my host Michele. Rachel and the kids are incredibly multilingual. Rachel speaks perfect English, French and Italian, and the kids speak perfect French and Italian. The kids are adorable and have often made great company for me here in the secluded village. Michele speaks only Italian but this hasn’t stopped him from trying to have long conversations with me about philosophy, politics, and agriculture.
That’s about it. I miss you all and send much love from Carife, Italy. Take care,