Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Escape Plan, Daydreams & an Unwanted Bathroom Visitor

It may be a little early, but post graduation plans:

1. save every penny
1.5. go see the Grand Canyon (because that's the only thing on my list that can't be completed outside the US
2. sell everything I own
3. clean my room and vacuum my way out so I don't leave footprints in the carpet (I have suppressed OCD)
4. buy a one-way ticket to the west coast of Africa
5. pack up my Kiwi, some clothes and books and sneak a jar of Nutella on the plane
5. buy a motorbike and get to the other side of the continent (with a sidecar for my pooch)
6. Get a real job. Maybe.
7. Buy a house in Africa
8. Convince Stephanie and Nate & Kelsie to buy the houses on either side of me (they're the only ones I think could be persuaded)
9. Live happily ever after.

In my daydreams, this happens. All day long while I pick olives.

Actually, not really. Usually I'm wondering when we're going to eat, if it's worth it to try and get sun on my neck instead of just my arms and forehead, if I will beat Ian or Joe to the olive branch I've been eyeing to rake next, what I read in One Thousand Gifts this morning, what I read in Whatever You Do, Don't Run last night, how long I can wait to find out what Mma Ramostwe does with her depressed, mechanical fiancee in No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, when we're going to eat, how many words I know in Italian besides curse words, if there's a more efficient way to tie my hair back than two braids, if the bites on my arms are from spiders, and it my armpit hair is as offensive to everyone, who is too polite to say anything to my face, as I imagine.

This might be too personal to share, but this is the twenty-first century, and this is the internet! I never need to see your faces twisted into contortions of disgust at my overindulgence in sharing personal information. You came. You might regret it. I can only imagine Angela's face and it makes the following all worth it:

For some reason, as soon as I started down the hill tonight, I had to go. And I mean, go like I'd been holding it in all my life and was now so old and had so worn out my bladder muscles that I couldn't hold it in any longer. That kind of "go". So I found the best cover and some perfectly acceptable flora to take the place of toilet paper.

But it was feeding time for the horses and they knew to expect it from me. Just as I gathered the last of my flora toilet paper, I was spotted.

"I simply cannot go with you standing there. Please, would you mind? Come on. Vamos!" This horse only spoke Italian and had no intention of leaving me alone but I could almost hear her,

"We're both women. I'm hungry. Why in hell are you hopping from foot to foot like that? What's than in your hand, is it edible? Do you have more apples for me?"

Though I might be female, I've nearly mastered the art of peeing in the bushes. No fire ants, foreign flora, snakes, or other wazungu going in close proximity? Why, what a treat! Except this horse refused to leave and indeed waited right next to me until business was done (not without nudging me and sticking her nose in my face).

As I worried she'd push me over en medias res, I started laughing and have to say that it was one of the most enjoyable bathroom, er, field experiences I've had.

Confession? I can't wait to shave tomorrow! Do I hear the call of No-Deodorant December?

Nope. Definitely not.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Olive Picking

Viola, the boxer

view from our first tree this morning

Our host Lucio was a travelling photographer in another life and has, of all things, a Leica M6 and a Canon 5D! I haven't been shooting much because we go out at sunrise and come in when it's getting too dark to work. Today's the first time I took any photos while picking olives.  Bad photographer. But my feeling is it's the last few days we can pick olives before the season ends and that's what we're here to do. I'm going to bring my camera out from now on and see what I get but it's so big I knock it on the trees and always have to clean it. 

I'm envying the new Nikon 1 a friend introduced me to! It's small!

The other night I thought I'd mastered the art of starting a fire and sat in bed with the lights out talking on Skype (Ian went to sleep and unfortunately we're sharing a room yet again). My eyes started watering and it smelled smokey so finally I turned on the light and to my horror realize the stick on the stove was smoldering and had an orange glow. We were slowly going to die of smoke inhalation. With surprising dexterity at a strange lock, I threw open the windows and frantically waved the smoke out with lavish gestures. Ian never woke up and hasn't noticed the lingering scent of smoke. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

If I Had a Friend...

I'm beat.

For the first time in...a wicked long time, I collapsed on my bed with my shoes on and nearly fell asleep at 5:15PM. My body aches, my pants have fresh olive oil on them from kneeling on some strays; and crumbs, olive tree bits and dirt are clinging to my socks. It took us all day, but we picked 13 cassettes (crates) of olives for pressing.

We started working at 8:30AM, stopped at some point to have sausage and pork liver sandwiches (I gave my liver to Ian...) and Sicilian cannolies for dessert, then continued until after sun set which is around 5. Maybe not the best idea in the world, but I zipped off my zip-off pants and wore shorts most of the day to bare my soul and leg hairs to the two unknowing men we worked with as well as our hostess's Roman parents. Take me or leave me! Shorts was a bad idea only in that my legs have so many scratches I can either shave around them in patches... or wait until they heal and resist the urge to blind everyone with their whiteness again. It's so good to be working outside and to eat by a fire. I never used to like sausage, but apparently I wasn't hungry enough. Not sure what it would take for me to eat liver though.

If I had a friend here, as I'm imagining now we would...

- trade back rubs
- brush each other's hair (I used to think this was weird until I got used to it)
- rant and rave about how wonderful the warm night is (because, ideally, we'd be near the equator)
- have coffee
- eat chocolate/dessert
- read out/share things we've learned today
- listen to Ray LaMontagne
- watch Madagascar and eat digestive biscuits with Nutella (and double dip)
- pray
- challenge each other
- plan a crazy adventure after college
- look up YouTube videos
- find something to laugh hysterically about
- pile into the car and go to Wegmans or to look for something to do
- walk around town
- cook something
- read in the same room (some people think this is weird, but if we're really friends, it's weird if we don't)
- go to church and inevitably end up at Javas
- (in a perfect world) enjoy the smell of Lady of the Night coming in the windows

We would talk about God and life because at the end of the day, that's all we have. And chocolate. We'd probably need some chocolate too.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ciao, Italie!

We've made it- at long last, to Montanare, Italy. It's beautiful here and the sun has shined all day yesterday and all day today without a cloud in sight. I feel as though we made a sneaky escape from the rain and it just hasn't found us yet. 

Today Lucio, one of our hosts, took Joe (another WWOOFer from London) down to the olive mill. We waited for hours because even though Lucio had scheduled to come and press at 2, they weren't ready for a while after. Joe and I attempted to find our way to Cortona but since the road we were on only seemed to stem off into driveways, and Joe gave up rather quickly, we simply returned to the mill to await our fate. 

Also, for your entertainment, today everyone weighed themselves on the olive scale. Literally. We'd look over and see other people taking turns too so it wasn't just us. Joe and Lucio went and before I got on Lucio guessed and when I stepped on... well, it's been a long time since I've seen anyone's eyes bug out as much as his did. "WHOA!" His jaw dropped. I weigh a couple pounds more than Joe and a few less than Lucio but he did guess nearly thirty pounds underweight. I'll chalk it up to the fact I have definitely gained some muscle but should probably pick up running again...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bad Laundry & 4,000 Marches

In the sink, in the bowls...

Clean laundry? Maybe someday. 

This is all I my legs have to give. I'm ready for a shave and dry clothes!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Day the Washing Machine Won

There I was- the mothball sweater, filthy pants, frizzy hair, bare feet- my back to an ancient and dilapidated French house of mold and rot, my nemesis before me: the washing machine.

Part I
Last time we met, the unilingual unit that Satan must have left as he fled from my coming presence, held my laundry hostage- locked and blinking, ERROR 2.

Part II
Today, I thought I was so smart hooking up the hose to the water tank that stood up the hill and selecting a cotton setting that it was with confidence the door was shut. Then something I couldn't understand appeared which forced me to hike 1 kilometer back to the house to translate it (door open, close door) and try again. Oh, but that wasn't all. Happily, it locked my clothes in and with complete horror I realized no water was gushing in to free my clothes of two weeks (or more in some cases) of sweat and dirt. Disconnecting the hose and turning on the hose valve resulted in black sludge spewing all over my hand. Ferocious was I as I hiked up the hill and climbed onto the water tank only to see... absolutely nothing. The tank was empty except for the remnants where the bit of sludge had rushed out to meet me at the bottom of the hill. Undeterred, Luna (the small dog with growing dreadlocks) and I set out to follow the pipe to it's source hundreds of meters across the mountain of crumbling terraces. There was nothing clogging the filter, and no beaming water pump for me to fiddle with to fill the water tank. There was nothing I could do.

Part III (or a continuation of the prologue)
I'll admit, I let out the most horribly girlish scream I've heard in a long time. So awful was it that I almost didn't hear it at all (the last time this happened I'm told I screamed as my horse-for-the-semester-in-Tanzania "Rafiki" careened down an airstrip at full gallop).

The electricity pierced out of the locking mechanism attached to the washing machine's circuit board and I leapt off the log shaken and furious.

So I did what any independent and tenacious young woman would do after a day full of this: I called my dad. Unfortunately, I was still shaken from being shocked and feeding the cats when I called so he had to try and make out what I was saying amongst my panting, opening the van, shooing the cats, pouring the food, and crinkling the bag.

"Dad, I was trying to manually disengage the- Hey! Get. Out. Of. There! Freia! And then it shocked me and- no, I didn't have shoes on, but I was on a log- well, the machine is outside and is attached to (crinkle, crinkle) get out of there Achilles! Well, I don't know what it's attached to, and it shut down and my laundry is stuck inside and it's getting dark and I have to feed the rabbits and now it's unresponsive and, do you think it's dead? I don't know what to do!...I am looking at the circuit board. You said the circuit board! Well if you meant the fuse box- I don't think there is one. There's just these wires in a pile...oh here they go, I'll follow them. No, I don't have shoes on and the house is far away. I pulled apart the circuit board on the washing machine. Well, hold on, I'll follow all these extension cords until I find an outlet... there's a tan box in the field, it looks like a fuse box! Oh dad, all I wanted was clean clothes today."

Sadly, this is not far from how the conversation progressed. I triumphantly, hesitantly unplugged the fourth and final extension cord at the fuse box, a hundred yards away from the washing machine.

Epilogue (the part where I tell you what I've done since then)
I've accomplished something in life: I cooked rice without the fire alarm going off and the security company calling. A real win in my book, truly. How many women get to stand in front of the alarm code box with headgear for ear protection, timing the 1:06 between each wail of the siren while your mother pours through her file cabinet to find the security code to make the noise stop? Not too many are as handicapped at rice-cooking, or should I saw were handicapped! Not only did it not go off (and not just because this "house" doesn't appear to have one) but I didn't burn the rice while making mashed potatoes.

After all of the washing machine theatrics, I came in to find my fire (the first one I successfully made by the way!) from the morning had nearly gone out, and Ian had returned from his hike up the 4000 Marches in Vallerague, watching yet another movie. "Why don't you go outside and get some potatoes for dinner?" He might as well have said, "make me a sandwich, woman." I told him no, thank you. "No?" He questioned from the floor, as if I were defying his kingly orders. "No." But in an effort for peace, I did make mashed potatoes and coaxed the fire back to life.

My third and final feat of the day: Convincing my Nook to download all of the books I've bought and suddenly feel giddy and delighted because of it (plus, I also have the house to myself!) The best thing in the world is in my imminent future: to climb into my sleeping bag with my Nook and begin reading Alexander McCall Smith's series: "Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency)," a fictional tale about Botswana's only female private investigator. Or, I could begin "Whatever You Do, Don't Run", an autobiographical compilation of an Australian tour guide in Africa. Or there's "The Brothers Karamazov", by Dostoyevsky or "One Thousand Gifts", by Ann Voskamp or...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Ulgh. These aren't coffee beans, they're raisins. Chocolate covered raisins. What kind of sick joke is that?"

Sniffs himself, "Whew! Jeeeez."

"If they don't have good food there, I'll eat a French person. They deserve it, they're so rude here."

A string of Ian's announcements. He has been my sole companion these past 7 weeks. As of next week, I will be accepting sympathy cards in Italy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Little Life

the view from the house we're staying in

four crates of potatoes we dug this morning

making flour packets for beignets de oignons 

market at night

I know. They're boring.

We work outside a lot and whether I be in the earth or the flour, my hands are never clean enough to carry a camera so a lot is lost. Also, my brother refuses to be in photos anymore or take any of me so there's not much to see but soil and rotten tomatoes. 

This morning was the first morning in three weeks I've woken up to....sunshine! The sun rises late and makes a short walk between the mountains, shortening the days here. 

I asked for more toilet paper this evening (after holding it a while!) and was handed a flashlight. "Oh," I said lifting the flashlight from his hand. Paul replied, "We thought we'd make all our WWOOFers read the book How to **** in the Woods". Lovely. I took the flashlight and the van key, in my head thinking, "Agh, Tanzania. This is perfectly fine in Tanzania; not South France. I could be there by tomorrow." All I had to do was dodge the feral cats in the garbage cans and get the toilet paper out of the car, not actually find some leaves and a clear spot in the woods. We've seen badgers on our walk back to our house and I'd rather not meet them under such circumstances. 

We ate cold sea snails yesterday for lunch. They look like fancy sea snail shells you'd pull out of a tide pool except they're on your plate waiting to be slurped out with a sharp, two-pronged fork. After thoroughly inspecting them and trying a couple, they suddenly became an abomination in my mouth and nostrils. Add that to the list of things I don't like to eat. #1 pig skin #2 pickled beets in vinegar #3 sea snails. Now you know what I will politely refuse. 

P.S. I took my third shower in almost two weeks last night and discovered I am no longer disappointed by what I have to bring to the table of No-Shave-November. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

No Shave November! Top 12 Reasons Why NOT To Shave!

It's No Shave November! 

If I could, I would show you how No Shave November has been affecting my legs (and armpits! egad!) but alas, I have thin leg-hair and a despressingly short amount of armpit hair. I had to go look for a few extra reasons why women shouldn't shave their legs to broaden my knowledge. I stole several from one source. No shame. 

#1. It wastes water. British women apparently use 50 billion litres a year. 
#2. Ingrown hairs. It's unnatural for your leg hairs to be swiped off. 
#3. It turns men off ("As they teach in the women's groups, rape can be prevented IF you are prepared. So the next time the guy in the shiny metallic short sleeve shirt starts eye balling you at your local club hot spot, just hike up your leg on the bar and give him a taste of his own medicine. Hair medicine that is. But really, what guy is going to rape you if you have more hair on your legs than he does?")
#4.  It can cause drastic changes in existing relationships with men. ("Nothing will usher in an exciting night like your boyfriend thinking he's petting your dog, only to find out that it is your knee cap." Another excellent point.)
#5. It saves boatloads of money. (If you're savvy and buy 8 razor heads at a time, it only costs $19.87 at Walmart instead of $21.94. Or, you could save all that money for something useful and beneficial. Like a book.)
#6. It's liberating. Why not go without shaving just to watch the reactions of women? Especially older women. It's a double whammy sometimes because A) you have no stockings on B) Your legs are wildly hairy
#7. Discover where the hair actually does grow on your legs. In case you do shave again, you know what areas you need not waste blade sharpness on. Like the backs of my knees and flabby calf muscles. I don't need to shave there.
#8. It's an act of cultural defiance. Be more original than wearing black clothes, no clothes, etc. 
#9. It's an easy way to make conversation and friends with a feminist. As an efflorescing, hopeful photojournalist, I'm all about finding ways to connect with people.
#10. Just because you can. 
#11. Shaving when it's cold causes gooseflesh and shaving with gooseflesh leads to shaving off a little bit of skin with every follicle. It's terribly irritating!
#12. Your legs will never know such bliss as the day you do shave again. Because sometimes, it just feels nice and you can always grow it out again! 

If you think just taking a shower is nice, try this! Step 1: let your leg hair grow out; Step 2: break down and buy a new razor; Step 3: Put a saweet playlist on that includes "Hey Soul Sister" by Train; Step 4turn off the lights in the bathroom. I'm not responsible if you don't have a firm enough grasp on your bathroom layout and you end up in the toilet or on the floor; Step 5: Use hot water and I'd recommend bracing yourself for Walmart beforehand and buying Organix's Passionfruit Guava shampoo); Step 6: SING AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS WITH PATRICK MONAHAN (Train vocals) and shave to your heart's content. Be warned, the hair builds up rather quickly and must be rinsed often. The last time I performed a Great Shave, I had hairy knees at a wedding. Good luck!

The End

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Montpellier & Market

Chateau d'eau de Peyrou, Montpellier, France

my tour guide Miriam at one of the oldest medical schools in Montpellier, France

from inside shop Bienvenue la Ferme, Montpellier, France

WWOOF house

French market

trompe l'oeil- only 3 real windows and one door, Montpellier, France

On Wednesday we went to Elizabeth's shop in Montpellier. I'd only been cleaning the pumpkins for a few minutes when yet another old lady began speaking to me in French. After shaking my head and mumbling something about English she said, "Oh! English?" And said hello to me and asked where I was from in pretty good English. She wished me the best on her way out and later Elizabeth received a phone call asking if I'd like to go on a tour of Montpellier. So a few hours later she came for me and I breathlessly followed her as she rather quickly walked all over and told me about statues, gingko trees after Hiroshima, Saint Roch and his dog, and pointed out examples of trompe l'oeil. We didn't even introduce ourselves until our walk was nearly over. 

Yesterday, we woke up at 5:45AM to head off to a town to cook oignons beignets at a market all day. They were rather tasty little things. I was chastised for taking a picture of an Afghan lady (who didn't look Afghan and spoke fluent French), quickly learned to count back change for the first time in my life (any sort of math and I are eternal enemies!), had a fresh chataigne et chocolat crepes, ate roasted chestnuts (chataignes) and improved on my French. Then again, anything more than knowing oui and  Of course, for some reason I was the one speaking with customers most, second to Elizabeth, and I speak no French. Actually, I spoke no French. Nothing like trial by fire for language learning. The thing that stuck the most was something like "safi cinq" and only because the safi sounded just like the safi in Swahili. 

I have a new appreciation for people who work at markets and apparently this was an easy one! Fourteen hours of work and it's an easy one for them!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


We went to Marseille. The setting of one of my favourite books and movie, The Count of Monte Cristo. It poured and poured so we spent a lot of time at the bus stop and looked at Chateau d'If on a map, wistfully. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Life in La Clede

Toulouse- Montpellier

we stay in the house on the right

You know that song by Ingrid Michaelson, "You and I"? Oh, let's get rich and buy our parents homes in the south of France..." Maybe let's buy them a summer home here, if we ever get rich and if Ian and I ever agree on anything again. 

We arrived Thursday night by train to Montpellier and took a bus ride into the mountains of Pont d'Herault. Thankfully the bus driver alerted us that we had arrived because Ian was paying no attention, as usual, and I was shooting video of the record-breaking rainfall outside, as usual. 

Due to the unbelievable amount of rain that fell, we were trapped inside making pumpkin soup, bagging flour for a special onion mix, and the like. The first night we slept in a honest to goodness Mongolian yurt that had been assembled, where else, but upstairs in the main house. Lest we be washed away on the street or the house slide off the mountain in a landslide, we didn't venture out much. 

We are however now staying about 1km up the road, up a small hill, in the future house of our host family. They're living in a small, old house down the road while they fix up the place we're staying in. It will be so beautiful when it's finished! 

Yesterday we cleared a tomato field, today I planted leeks with Elizabeth. The cat Freia and I are best friends now. While I was planting and singing along to myself, she hopped on my back (which I thought yesterday was an act of hostility for ceasing to pet her!) and rubbed her face against mine. She's lucky to be on this side of the river because...

There was this strange lady who lived across the street with twenty cats that became thirty cats and then one day they bought a single bag of cat food and left. The cats have obviously run out of food and are starving so they ventured into the road and today alone two were hit. When Paul came in he told us several of the cats had dragged a body into the shed and were eating it. He threw it over the bridge. Not long after, Elizabeth and I came down from picking leeks and found one of the cats had been hit but was still breathing and clearly in a lot of pain. When we came back with a pitchfork, one of the cats was already making a move to drag it off.

 I feel really bad for the cats but Paul and Elizabeth certainly can't take on feeding them all. Like a champ, Elizabeth hit the cat on the head a few times to kill it before tossing it into the river. At first, she didn't want me to watch (or was relieving me of the task) but my feeling on these things is that it has to be done regardless and someday it may fall upon me to kill the cat, or whatever. I might as well try to learn from it.

It's really impressive how self-sufficient they are here. We use "dry" toilets, which is gross to explain for most people so look it up if you must know; drink filtered water from the mountain, wash clothes in washing machine that I suppose you could say is hooked to the mountain instead of the water line, compost, recycle, and turn off all of the lights when we leave. We also discovered their daughter Jesse was named for the same reason I was and she loves reading. How could you not?

I got my hands dirty today, woke up to the sun shining over the mountains, and did not fall in the dry toilet again this morning. I've decided I prefer living near mountains but not in them- you can't see the sun rise or set on the horizon and it's not warm enough up here. Everyone thinks I mis-convert my celsius to fahrenheit when I tell them my favourite temperatures coupled with the fact I love humidity. 

Elizabeth is such an excellent cook. Every meal is scrumptious. More to come! When we have internet. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Life in a Bag

I've been saving this post for a dull day and save from the abhorrently vile, unidentifiable smoked fish I found in my exorbitantly over-priced caesar salad, there wasn't any excitement. FYI, tomorrow we go to Montpellier to meet Elizabeth, one of the members of our WWOOF family! We'll be there for 3 weeks at which time we'll make our way to Cortona, Italy for the end of the olive harvest.

For your entertainment and education, this is what I've packed:

contents of Osprey bag

contents of camera bag

To be perfectly honest, hauling 60 lbs/27 kg of gear around is not something I will ever repeat. How photojournalists do this professionally is completely a mystery to me. For the first few weeks I couldn't figure out why Ian had packed so much more efficiently than I had. Then I realized I packed for living in the bush, not multilingual, older versions of Rochester and New York City.

And so, baring my soul...


sleeping bag
water bottle
pocket knife/leatherman/swiss army
small backpack
large pack
pack cover
laundry bag (invest in a good one!)

visa (if needed)
student ID
driver's license 
credit card
immunization records 
yellow fever card (not on immunization record)
airline tickets
e-mail/fax/letter stating VISA will be available upon arrival if not sent before
airline frequent travel cards/numbers
telephone and addresses at destinations
medical insurance cards
credit card phone # (in case of theft)
*copies of all identification: passport, medical insurance card, insurance card, driver's license, immunization records, etc. 

a book or two (in addition to the nook...)
pen and pencils
change purse
addresses for letters
photos of family (digital or printed)
playing cards (not necessary)
plastic garbage bags (can double as cheap pack-covers)
business cards
watch+ alarm
spork (invaluable in any environment!)
sewing kit (I also recommend bringing someone who knows how to sew)
ziploc bags
sink stopper
laundry soap 
laundry line/paracord 

extra batteries for flashlight
outlet adapters

Blackberry + charger
  charger (wall plug + cable)
  charging cord
  headphone splitter

28-75mm lens
2 batteries
lens cleaner
UV filter
polarizing filter
2 hard drives
card reader
CF & SD card case

mac + charger

hand/face wipes
bar of soap
nail clippers
razor (unless you're just going for No-Shave-November or trying the No-Shave-Africa route)
razor blades
towels (hair and body)
chap stick (go for Carmex)
make-up case: including tweezers to keep away the unibrow, some tan powder, pieces of an eye-lash brush, bobby-pins, and mascara (shameful! shameful! I have a (not unwarranted) fear of being invited to a nice event and having to show up in jeans with unbrushed hair so I thought I'd be ready). 

malaria pills
steripen (Ian's insistence)
small first aid kit

rain coat
fleece jacket
under armor/long underwear
hat for warmth
belt (in case of internal encounters with pathogenic microorganisms)
sweat pants (I only wish I'd packed them on other trips! Worth the space.)
6 shirts (button-downs are ideal)
4-6 t-shirts
2 skirts/dresses
2 pairs long trousers/jeans
1 pair of shorts
spandex shorts
underwear for a week+
socks- tall and short
shoes- sandals, black flats, hiking boots and running shoes (but if you'll be in a warm area then run barefoot)
swim suit (though a sports bra and shorts can suffice)