Monday, July 24, 2006


I write from a foreign computer, an awkward screen, but the words are still mine. There will be no photos. I am here at the Tenuta da Spannocchia, out in the middle of the province of Siena in Tuscany. A morning of 6.30am wakeup, hay and wood and I have taken a break for lunch and siesta.

We left Milan far far behind and arrived, after about 5 minutes of driving up a windy dirt road, at the Tenuta da Spannocchia, an old castle on a hill surrounded by silvery olive trees, fields of wheat, bright yellow expanses of sunflowers, and snorting pigs, clucking hens and baaing sheep all in the distance. Truly isolated. Within half an hour, my mother and I were already plotting our escape to the seaside. This place couldn't contrast more with Milan in terms of pace, sunlight and natural splendour. A nice respite to work hard and relax.

Our first day here was spent in Florence, trying to transition into country life more effectively by feeding our need for the city. Luckily having reserved the Accademia and the Uffizi ahead of time, we minimized our wait for anything and maximized the art and culture. The Accademia, while crowded, has art that leaves you enthralled. The masterpiece of the museum is Michelangelo's David, and although I had written about it last year, I was not prepared for the monumentality, the light streaming in and gleaming on the white marble. The slaves that led up to the renowned Florentine sculpture showed more of Michelangelo's working method, freeing the figures from the stone. And then the David. Quite a man. Tall, confident, displaying strength of spirit and hiding the lance and stone behind his back. Quite beautiful.

Contrasting to the later madhouse and hellhole (if only in temperature) of the Uffizi, we headed to the closeby Museo San Marco to see a plethora of works by Fra Angelico... such delicate devotional pieces. That man had talent. I can see why he spent his days painting instead of praying... his work holds such delicacy and reverence. Power. The best part of the museum was wandering through the second floor complex of monks chambers, each of which had a little painting on the wall... and some had paintings hidden in the floor (discovered when doing restoration) which were quite beautiful to glance at peering at mirrors implanted below the floor to reflect the hidden treasures.

After a long hot day, we returned to our farm in the hills, past the sunflower fields for a nice dinner outside and chitchat with the interns who have been slaving away in the tuscan sun (sorry, i needed to slip that in somewhere).

Which brings me to this morning, up at 6.30 to the birds singing, chirping, squaking outside the window and a cool breeze, and out at 7.00 to cool even cold air and a rising sun. I was headed out to the wheat fields with Joe and Nick to load hay onto a truck. I worked with pitchfork and some sort of claw device to drag bails of hay. Now I know how cows feel, sweating, covered in hay, swarming with flies. As Carly would say: Bella. It truly was nice, sweating into my eyes, working hard, loading hay, unloading hay. Throw away the desk chair and computer, for this week at least, I would be in these fields doing whatever. I may not be the strongest person in the world, but this type of work for some reason makes me happy. There is a comradery amongst the interns, grogging about early mornings, hot sun, cheering for lunchtime and water, making fun of the Italian way of doing things illogically and slowly. Fast forward two and a half hours and I was in the woods throwing logs into a truck with Nick, who by this point had lost his shirt (not really, he took it off loading hay). Hot stuff, this work. Picture me watching a tractor go down the road to the field where I am standing, guy on top of a pile of hay with a strawhat on. Priceless. I'm covered in scratches, my skin is a bit tingly, but I am smiling. I still have three hours of work to go today and 4 more days of early mornings, but hell, it's beautiful out here. I'll write when I can.

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