How did I get here, traipsing around the countryside in Italy?
As I said in my first email, in the back of my mind I’ve been planning this trip since I was 4 years of age, always asking my Italian grandmother how to say this or that. She came over when she was about that age from the Italy/Switzerland border. Evidently there may be some famila d’ Ravenello (means radish) in Milano.
But the funding for this trip came directly from the sale of Mr. Hoodoo, my 1960 VW Transporter (double door walk-thru panel van that I kept stock/original 36 hp, 6 volt battry.
Half the money from the sale fortified my cabin and allowed me to purchase the final pieces and parts to finish the lavender project at Rosalie Ranch (my 20 acre spread purchased w/$$ mom left me on her death.)
The other half went to creating this incredible life experience/trip to Italy.
I have been taking lots of notes and feel like I could write my own handbook for the novice traveler to Italy.
I have been researching this trip since the dog died in early February. I’ve listened to Italian in my pick up every single mile I have traveled since then, pasted words in Italian on every little thing in my tiny cabin (and still I cannot speak it – but I surprise myself when I do get my point across out in the country villages where English is not spoken by many.) I have had so many coaches for this trip; it was like every time I turned around someone else I know has been here or been often. And google translate has helped immensly!
And still…it’s always the little things, isn’t it, that trip you up?
I thought since all my internet service in my off grid sitch comes by way of Verizon I certainly didn’t want to pay them extra to secure a foreign country option on my plan. The research I did assured me that wifi is everywhere in Italy and it was easy enough to leave the phone in airplane mode and tap into free wifi when you need it.
However, most the ‘free’ wifi either has a time limit, only available if you buy something (at a bar or restaurant,) or has been promised in the convents (yes, you can rent a room in a monastery for the same price as a B&B – under €60,) or Air BnBs in which I have stayed, all of which have had either weak or non existent signal strength.
My phone is a lifeline to me back home in Montana. I have no t.v. and only one radio station on my solar radio. I am a texting junkie and admit that I tune into facebook like it is t.v. mostly for entertainment when I am lonely or need a laugh. Even tho I live in a rustic situation I fully embrace the communication technology I do have. Being without the convenience of it here has caused many moments of panic. Trying to set up places to stay on the nights I didn’t book something has been akin to a nightmare. I’m getting the hang of it tho; when I do get wifi I jump on and unfortunately spend many hours searching to fill the missing holes instead of writing in my travel journal. At least it’s written down in email land.
So many choices on Air BnB and so much misunderstanding about Italian ‘communes’ = county in America. Many of them large in area size and have the same name as the big city in them. Sorano for instance. I thought I booked tonight’s Air BnB in Sorano, literally 9km (less than 5 miles from my most southerly destination) is actually in the northern most part of the Sorano commune, some 35km away. Not much on an autostrada (freeway), but autostrada doesn’t go where I’m usually headed and these tiny connecting roads can be a lot of work -Attento! So it did throw a little hitch in my
Getting explicit directions on how to find your Air BnB from your host who has very little English ain’t no cakewalk either.
I have found nothing about these very practical matters in my research.
Not having access to my phone to either call someone to talk me down from the ledge of a panic attack or the dregs of loneliness, or just to confirm a place to stay has caused far more trouble than its cost is worth. I suppose I could switch it up but I kinda git the hang of things now.
When I went to France in 2004 I was told at the Tourist Info Station that it is no problem to rent a car. Just walk in there, lay down your carte du credit and off you go. It was that simple just outside the walls of Avignon. I figured the same here in Italy especially since it was past peak tourist season. Wrong.
I wore my 30 pound (only piece of luggage brought) pack on my back for the mile hike to the rental car section of town near the Arno river from the convent up near the Duomo/Catedrale (cathedral). I understood that it is cheaper to rent a car in the city than it is at the airport. Evidently so did everyone else.
I thought I secured one online while sitting out front of the Duomo in the rain after checking out of the convent – bless them, their Internet no worky that day.
But once I hoofed it all the way over there – so relieved to be getting a car so I wouldn’t have to carry this damn pack anymore (what the hell would I have done if I had brought more than this one bag? Spent a lotta cash on taxis, but only if I could have communicated where I needed to go, which I didn’t know exactly…) – the internet’s (and friend’s) best reviewed company Euro-Car explained to me they’d need two days to confirm my info/line me up with a car. “No car for you today!” But, but…
Try the competition down the block they suggested. There were 30 people in the Hertz lobby. All of us waiting for over an hour only to be told they ran out of cars. It was up to a real shady looking local outfit or Avis. While waiting some more I gave up the idea of getting to LaVerna that day to light a candle for my dog and in my head began to reconfigure my entire trip which would mean paying cancellation fees at all the places I did manage to confirm.
That’s usually when things happen. When you give up.
And really, every single guide book you refer to has the most primitive information about the process itself. Friends on facebook were aghast that I had not figured this all out stateside. But then every single person that coached me had as much detailed info as the guide books. I got nothing in the way of the best companies to rent from, the consideration of leasing one for longer periods, or where to get one, and no one, not even Avis whom I finally rented one from (for double what I would have paid had I reserved one in advance) explained to me what in the hell the road signs mean! What do they mean??!
I’ve been driving my adorable teeny car all over Tuscano for a week solid and I still see some signs and think ‘WTF does that mean?!’ No lie…
One friend told me to ‘Drive it like you mean it!’ And I’m here to tell you if you don’t then you better get the hell out of the way. I can’t tell you how often I just pull over to let them pass. For such warm, helpful, patient people they drive like crazies.
When you look at a map of Tuscany, and you’ve never driven here you think ‘My hell, how will I ever make it all the way to the next point?’ And in the time you’re thinking that you’re practically there! Kilometers are such short distances compared to driving Montana miles! And hey, I’m going 80! Oh right, it’s really only 40 some-odd mph. And I only weigh half what I do in the states. Why the hell didn’t America follow Jimmy Carter’s lead back in the 80’s? God we are a buncha dolts.
Speaking of dolts, how’s that neck and neck race for the presidency coming? I haven’t seen a newspaper or heard any newscast for a solid week. Not one damn thing about it. I highly recommend you try that. It’s quite refreshing!
One friend said Italy is the land of disaster. But really the disaster I have experienced to this point has all been my own doing.
Italians, like anybody have their own particular way of doing things. And you really can’t know how until you get here and do for yourself. Like I said, a recon trip.
It was a rough week, I need a vacation from my vacation! But this morning was the first morning I felt like I knew the routine. Not so much panic.
And you couldn’t shake a stick at the incredible things I have seen – like the town of Cortona, or the Duomo in Orvieto and the very precious little village of Civitta. And the people, damn, I gotta say, pretty special. After two days with my first Air BnB hostess I felt like we’d been friends for 30 years.
Like tonight: Directions to the Air BnB were so messed up in translation, I found my way to the town by map and road signs alone, and people I’m telling you, these are the craziest little winding tertiary mountain roads! I knew directions to her place would be no better once I got to the town. So I stopped at the only bar open on a Monday night. The sun had just gone down, and rain begun to pour. I figured I’d use their wifi, drink a digestivo (oh dear, a new habit) cuz I ate some ravioli while in Civitta. Since her directions were so off I hoped she’d come rescue me, lead me to her place. The bar was packed. There were two other women in there. And guess what? No wifi. Panic. I settle up to the bar and drink my limoncelo. Then I ask, in English cuz I can’t think in Italian in panic mode, ‘Could you make a call for me?’ The barkeep immediately refers to a man, hey help her!
You speak English? No. Ok. The other two gals leave. All eyes on me. ‘I’m looking for Cristina.’ The tension breaks. Of La Contea Degli Angeli? They all ask in such fast lingo I barely understand. Si! Omg, you know her? Si, they say. C’mon, I take you, the guy says. I follow you! Ok!
I can feel my mother rolling in her grave… It’s just like it was in my late 20’s when I’d head out to the coast in that 1960 VW Bus (ya, I had that bus a long time.) No contact but hand painted post cards…potential trouble lurking…I follow this guy right back along the same road I’d come in. And there it is, the tiny little sign I never would have found in the rainy dark. We both stop, we get out. He points, we shake hands. I am ecstatic. He knows it. And we go on our separate ways.
Ya gotta love a small town. Even if it is a bajillion miles from home in an Italian countryside.
My daily mantra: Everything’s fine.
Don’t be scared.
Just keep moving…
I think it’s working.
More to come…
The precious village Civitta
A town called Orgi? See photos at bottom pg.
…tempting, but I opted for quaint and quiet LaVerna.
I’m on a pilgrimage to light a candle for my very missed, right hand farm assisting, lavender comrade, shot gun riding, (8 months now deceased) angel dog Jeddie at the very place where the Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment received his stigmata due to his devotion. The man used to meditate in a cave above the monastery and I aim to do the same tomorrow morning.
When I began crafting the trip, just after my dog died this was and is my first stop.
When mom died in late 2004 I took from her things a little statue of St. Francis that hung on the wall in the hall of her condo. It now hangs inside near the new front door of my tiny house. Always when I leave the house I’ll say “Hey Frank, keep an eye on the place will ya?” I’m pretty sure he casts a veil of invisibility around it.
Behind Frank on the wall is a photo of Jeddie sitting by a large Beltane bonfire. Jed had a peculiar habit of sidling up close behind a person seated on the ground, nuzzling hair or the back of your neck.
On the same nail that Frank hangs from also hangs a little household protection sachet I used to sell at market (I need to start making them again, let me know if you want one) called Gypsy Aegis. Ya, it’s pagan as hell…but then I think Frank would appreciate that.
I wrote a little blog
piece about St. Francis. If you’re a devout Christian, be forewarned, you might take offense. I never was one who took kindly to the patriarchy.
A second stressful day; instead of trying unsuccessfully to roll my wheeled backpack behind me (a too narrow wheel base and cobble stones do not a smooth run make – it was aggravating my farmer’s elbow that had just begun healing nicely,) I wore it on my back for the mile and a half hike to the car rental. Damn, it is difficult to not get distracted by so much art and incredible architecture (it was probably only a quarter mile from the convent!)
Renting a car, and driving the outskirts of Firenze, and the A1 autostrada ain’t fer the faint of heart.
Oh, but the mountain roads and hilltop villages and groves of Italian cypresses…!
I’m about to spend two weeks not rolling or back packing my 30 lb. pack on the cobble stone, rain slicked streets of Firenze but instead, driving a molto caro tiny little stick shift (“You can drive stick?” she asked me. Hell, are you kidding? I’m from Montana, woman. I can drive a tractor if you got one a those.”) like a Ferarri on winding single lane mountain roads! I’ll be tripping around on secondary and tertiary back roads, stopping in at every last little hilltop village, tasting, buying and drinking fine red wine (between stops of course).
I’ve booked a couple Air BnBs – tiny, adorable little stucco or stone cottages, hanging out harvesting olives or truffles at a few Agritourismos…entrenching myself in the good life of the Chianti region.
Stay tuned dear readers.
How did I get here?!!!!
Is this my beautiful life?
I ventured to Italy in October 2016. For those who don’t know, I self publish a quarterly newsletter that started as a means to teach my clientele how to do what they hired me to do – take care of their gardens. Through the years the journal morphed to include the latest in my lavender farming business, and later my escapades in subduing a 20 acre plot of land in the Mission Valley of Western Montana I purchased with money left to me by my mother on her death. I call the place Rosalie Ranch in her honor and currently live there in a tiny (77 square foot) off grid house.
I wrote a series of emails to some 90 friends who don’t do facebook and weren’t able to follow my trip.
Let me know your thoughts, I appreciate your feedback.
Many of you are subscribers to my quarterly newsletter Earth Nurture. I have always enjoyed writing it and sharing it with you but this past year/volume 21
(21 years I’ve been writing it) came across much like any 21 year old; unfettered, careless, irresponsible…in fact it didn’t even show up when and where it was supposed to be. Had she shown up it wild have been with stringy hair and tattered clothes.
I know many of you have paid money for a yearly subscription and I have not forgotten that.
I realized when I sat down to write the Spring edition in February that I could contribute nothing other than more of my same tales of woe, despair, and hardship. Frankly, you deserve better.
Since the devastating years of ’09/’10 when my 17 year marriage failed, I moved out of my home, and 90% of my lavender crop died from an early fall freak storm my life has been upside down and my writing has reflected that. Thank you for hanging in there with me.
So much failure after such carefully crafted decades (my 30’s and 40’s) infected me with an uncharacteristic fear of commitment to most everything these last 5 years.
This past year ’15/’16 has been as difficult if not more so.
In August 2015 a dear longtime friend died. She invited me to be part of that process (not having had the privilege of being present for either of my parent’s deaths, this was an honor.)
I suffered a break up with a perfectly lovely man that same month. This set me in an inward spiraling tailspin wondering if with all my past relational failures, perhaps I was truly unlovable, incompetent, or just not cut out for relating.
I moved into my tiny off grid shot gun shack full time because it is what I have.
My financial situation became dire shortly thereafter, money non-existent, nothing coming in, no prospects.
I began to jettison some of my things in order to put a little cash in my pockets, pay car insurance, phone (lifeline) connection, buy more duct tape to put on the windows and door to keep the snow from blowing in, buy another 25 lb bag of rice and some oats.
My VW bus, which I bought in Spokane back in 1990 and had always planned to restore/make into the lavender delivery bus sat rotting in the field here at the Rosalie Ranch, mice moving into every crevice, rust wearing thin the races. It had to go. I would never afford the restoration.
I knew shortly after driving it all the way home to Salt Lake that it was valuable when a man offered me 3 times the $500 I paid for it. I declined that offer (I was just about to park and live out of it in back of my dad’s house – I mean, where would I live man…?)
Many people have offered to buy it since then, even as it sat un-drivable with a leaky rear seal out front of our house. I knew it was worth more than I was being offered. I kept up on its value.
On February 3rd my dog died which left me lonely as any proverbial hermit high in a mountain cave. 17 years is a long time to have a constant companion feeding me daily doses of unconditional love for him suddenly not to be there. Jeddie’s last years were high maintenance with diapers, and special diet of soft food so he could chew with his rotting teeth but I was devoted to that angel who so often pulled me from the dregs of my despair, saved my life (by giving me something to live for) countless times. We both suffered severe separation anxiety, I could not leave him in his dotage. Couldn’t leave him with anybody. This really grated on relationships with men. It was difficult to take the dog on a motorcycle with one and equally difficult leaving him in a hot vehicle or too long at the house unattended while I’d go on long summer hikes with another.
Friend Jim Beyer had been working on selling the bus since October having listed it on Samba.com where he had experience selling other VWs. My asking price; $10,000. And no, it didn’t run.
We were getting many calls from Holland, all over the Netherlands and no quibbling on price.
Not long after the dog died a young lad at West Point said ‘the check is in the mail.’ Sold! We helped him arrange getting it shipped out to him on his dollar.
Jim asked what I’d do with the money.
I decided to put half of it into my cabin as during one blizzard, watching the snow pile up on the inside sill was truly a low point. I’m happy to report on 3 new windows (I installed myself), 2 new sky lights, and a new door! I probably won’t have to burn much firewood at all but I’m stocked up on that too. I’ll be snug as a bug.
With no serious relationship of neither man nor beast I figure this is my chance, I gotta make a break for it…I’ve put the other half on a trip to Italy.
My father was Italian, and I’m sure he still is, even in his death. I recall asking my grandmother, Marguerite Ravanello how to say things in Italian when I was 4 years old. I think I’ve been planning this trip since I was just a wee tyke.
In the planning of it I see how this is a recon voyage and there are at least 4 other trips to Italy in my lifetime. This trip I will be in Tuscano, the Chianti region, and Cinque Terre. I fly in and out of Firenze.
In fact, I’m just getting off the plane now.
If you would indulge me by reading some stories as I travel. I’ll try to make up for some lost time and woe begotten newsletters…
I’ll be thinking of you all as I drink luscious Italian wines and eat enough food to bulk up for the long Montana winter.
Scrivero a presto!
(I’ll write soon!)
My friend Amy Martin has a website; amymartin.org. On it the other day she responded to a long time admirer who was commending her for her success on raising funds thru crowdsourcing etc. Staright Talk About Funding was the name of the post.
Tho I can’t agree on some of the ways Amy gets some of her funding – flat out asking for it, hell, I never know where I’m gonna be tomorrow, and I could ask you to fund a certain thing, you might, and then life would throw me another curve ball and I’d be off and running in some other direction after some other pretty shiny object…artists…meh!
I do have a consistent source of income; my intimate 60 or so subscribers to a Garden/Farming/Off Grid Living newsletter Earth Nurture $15. per year, 4 quarterly issues, I have self published for 18 years now. Even this last issue, it…
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The cabin sits right on the small perennial creek. Too close I think sometimes when the water’s high…water and August’s heat attract a pleathora of heat seeking creatures: dragonflies, humming birds, snakes, frogs, bats, and unfortunately, mosquitoes! Once the sun sets, the solar powered light and residual heat inside the cabin draw the blood sucking insects inside.
I came up with a makeshift-cabin-sized net to sleep under. I really only need my face covered; the dog, well, he’s on his own.
I stopped at the fabric store and purchased about 3 yards tule netting, and a large embroidery hoop. The netting comes in different sized holes, so get the finest one you can find. And you get a wide range of lovely colors; I chose sage green! It took some time to arrange the fabric evenly around the small inside hoop with the large hoop lightly clamped on. But once it came together, leaving a point at the top, I tightened the hoops together, tied a string securely to the point, then hung it from a small hook above the bed and slept mosquito-free all night.
Total cost: $6.49