Dear Weeders and Whackers,
Sorry I’ve been a little out of touch lately. Will you forgive me if I tell you it’s because I’ve been farming? Farming makes you tired. The last thing you want to do after seven hours of farming is update your blog. In fact, you rarely have the energy to shower more than once every three days. Forgive me? I’ll make you a risotto if you say yes.
A little while ago, I became a member of WWOOF Italia (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The program operates on the premise that volunteers can obtain free room and board in exchange for manual labour on any of the organization’s estates. I’d heard through the family grapevine (hi Ric and Louise!) that there was a gorgeous castle in Tuscany that took on WWOOFers for the vineyard there — they had me at “castle.” A train ride, three bus rides, and an hour-long walk later, I found myself in the middle of wilderness nowhere, with nothing but grapevines and olives trees and my home for the next three weeks: Castello di Potentino.
The castle has been around since at least 1042 (for more on the history, go to: http://www.potentino.com/index.aspx?site=125&page=359), and is full of musty books, four-poster beds, tigerskin rugs, Templar crosses, tapestries, squishy couches, fireplaces, and bottles of freshly picked lavender on every tabletop. The castle is run by an English (not, to many people’s great surprise, Italian) sister-brother duo, Charlotte and Alexander, and it is made even lovelier by their sweetheart of a mother, Sally.
The days go a little like this:
Between five and five thirty in the morning, we WWOOFers ease our way into the new day. The espresso is set hissing on the stovetop and without any real appetite we fill our bellies with yoghurt and granola. By six, we head into the vineyards, the rows and rows of green rustling in the pre-dawn breeze. We prune or de-bud or weed until eleven, though by eight the sun is already pouring onto the fields and the work moves from tired silence to polite chatter and the occasional curse as someone, having just pulled out a weed, goes flying.
We tumble into the kitchen around noon and under Charlotte’s or Alexander’s direction, we help cook lunch. The afternoon feast lasts about two hours and is followed by some well-deserved rest time (also laundry time, reading time, or baking-more-granola time if you can manage to stay awake). Everybody moves sluggishly in the afternoon heat, and even the tiniest incline seems cruel. Then, once the hottest hours of the day have passed, we’re back in the fields for our final two hours of work.
The castle’s at its best in the early evening and everyone is as exhilarated as they are exhausted by completing another day’s work. The walk back is my favourite part of the day: the mountains in the background are slowly turning blue, the small sheaves of wheat are bleached white by the low sun, and the poppies scattered on both sides of the path shine like glass beads.
Dinner is really just a way of showcasing the castle’s two specialties: il vino e l’olio extravirgine di oliva — for the record, I think we’re consuming almost as much of the latter as the former. Everyone relaxes by the archways overlooking the tree-covered hills, and when even the twilight has melted away, we set aside our debates and discussions to go marvel at the fireflies. Nighttime is nothing but stars.
From Potentino with love,