Two falls ago I headed over to Europe and backpacked, visiting friends I had met from a previous trip. I planned it as I went. I’d get to a friend’s place and barely plan the next leg before I left his or her home. Stressful, but very rewarding (if everything goes somewhat smoothly and you don’t get mugged, stranded, or lose your passport).
Let’s focus in on one particular travel leg though…
I was sitting at a desk in a cold Swedish guest room, firing off emails to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in Italy. Luckily, within a few days, I got a response from a young couple needing help with their olive harvest. Perfect, I had a place to stay and volunteer for two weeks.
My time in Italy had come and I found myself swerving through the Tuscany hills on a night bus. I almost never reached my hosts because for one, it was pitch black out; two, stops weren’t being announced in any way; and three, the only Italian I knew was ciao, grazie, prego and scusi. As my anxiety rose, I began asking everyone around me whether or not each stop was the town I needed to get off at. Blank faces stared back at me.
Thankfully, an elderly man resembling the Dos Equis icon looked at me, nodded, and motioned for me to get off when he did. I followed suit and almost accepted his invitation for a drink when a tiny, two-door Fiat whipped around the town square. A man-bunned blond jumped out and yelled, “You Manny?!”
Long story short, I will never forget my experience with that family. I planted beans, chopped wood, spent a lot of time avoiding a bloodthirsty rooster named Geronimo, ate Italian homemade cuisine every day, scooped a large bucket of harvested honey into jars, maintained an old vineyard with the most beautiful Tuscan landscape as a backdrop, played inline/roller hockey for the first time in Empoli (the last place I thought I’d play), and more.
I could go on and on describing my experience with these amazing people but the reality is… I have more schoolwork to get to.
Seriously though, I wish I would’ve stayed longer. I decided to head home after my two weeks because I had little money left and I found a relatively cheap flight.
But what if I asked to stay on for as long as they’d have me?
What if I was still there today? … I hope I’d have learned a bit of Italian by this point, speaking sloppily in the cobblestone alleys of Florence every weekend–debating which vino to get with my sandwich at the hole-in-the-wall deli.
After my grunt work in the vineyard, maybe the family would’ve trusted me to help with its next commercial batch, making me a connoisseur of wine. I’m no sommelier, but being around Italians makes me want to be, badly. By the way, I brought home and still have the family’s Antico Podere Di Olena L’ATTESO 2003 red as a token of my time there.
Perhaps I could have stayed longer and my life would’ve still snapped back into place by the time I theoretically came home next. Maybe my life would’ve drastically changed… Nonetheless, I am where I am, and I’m grateful!
p.s. The title of this blog, “A Traveller’s Harvest (So Serene),” is a song I wrote while staying with this Italian family.
I think it’d be fun to sporadically introduce track titles from my upcoming album through stories like this one…
Ciao ciao ciao.
(Blog Challenge #3: Rewrite one important moment of your life and theorize where you might be today based on the change you make)