Archiv | September, 2013

I want that stove. I want that kitchen. I want that house. I want that dog. I want that life.

16 Sep

MEDION Digital Camera

None of us can live all the lives we would want to. All the lives which to live we have, have had or will have the potential and opportunity. We must choose one, at most two. The ones with kids cannot just pack their bags and move to Alaska. The ones with jobs cannot just buy an old farm, renovate it and turn it into an alternative living community. Or can they? All I know is that I am in constant search for another life. Whenever I see someone have a nice one, I want it. I don’t necessarily want to build it, I just want to have it, own it, live it. I always dream and envy, but I hardly ever do anything, start anything.

So now I am sitting in Monestevole, a very old farm that Alessio, the charismatic wildly-bearded owner and object of my envy has renovated for more than 10 years. He has repaired these walls, has touched every stone of the structure, has painted these giant rough wooden beams that hold up the ceiling. He has built in the windows and doors, he has built the crooked cabinet next to my table which holds jars and jars of homemade jam and tomatoe sugo. All of this – it is his.

MEDION Digital Camera

Next to the sink there is a tiled wall where they hang all the heavy pots and pans. Over the stove, there is an old wooden ladder which holds lighter kitchenware. The stove is surrounded by a wooden work area which is used to cut the vegetables, herbs, fish and meat that become the fresh meals we eat twice a day. Before and after the cooking, Costa, gardener and cook, scrubs it with vinegar. When asked if he should not also oil the wood, Costa laughs his unique laughter. The woods gets enough olive oil every day during the cooking, he assures us.

Costa is a happy man, a man with a life. I cannot imagine him brooding over someone elses with the bitter jealousy that I display. Originally from Romania, he has been in Italy for eight years. His trade: olericulture, that is, the cultivation of vegetables. Every morning, Costa comes down one of these countless Umbrian hills to the Monestevole main house, a hand-rolled cigarette unlit between his lips. It stays there while he makes a quick coffee, puts away his bag and grabs a straw basket from the pantry (three rough stone steps lead from the kitchen into this magical shelf-encircled room where vegetables proudly display themselves in all their glory in flat wooden boxes but are overtrumped in their smell by giant hams hanging from the ceiling). Costa does not take in the beauty of the pantry, I imagine. He scans it for what he has at his disposal for the lunch and dinner he cooks every day for between 15 and 30 people. Then Costa leaves the kitchen, lights his cigarette, and goes down to the vegetable gardens. There he takes what is ready: tomatoes, zucchini, grean beans, eggplants. The cigarette has gone out again but remains between his lips while he scans some low growing shrubbery which I would consider a walking path for green cucumbers, which magically appear in his experienced hands. Back at the house, he washes his plunder and starts cooking. He listens to Romanian pop music as he does. After lunch he goes back to his apartment, sleeps or watches TV, only to come back around 5 pm to prepare dinner. Then cleaning, then free time. He loves his job. He knows when each vegetable is planted and harvested. Every Wednesday he takes out a giant wooden roll and makes pasta. He does not seem to mind being surrounded by guests and even journalists, being photographed and spied on as he works his magic in the kitchen. He just does what he loves. And every now and then, while he does it, he relights his cigarette.

MEDION Digital Camera

I don’t have that. I love writing, but I do not think about my day job as anything like his. Even less I would compare it to the look of absolute confidence I see on Alessio’s face. I don’t know Alessio, I only saw him three times and heard him talk once. He is a priest, a leader people flock to. I listened to Alessio tell the story of Monestevole to a random Dutch tourist who had stopped his car passing this place and had decided not to let a horde of three barking dogs (wonderful creatures, but how could he know?) stop him from finding out everything there was to know about it. Alessio knew I was eavesdropping while pretending to be working on my computer. Every now and then his iceblue eyes would meet mine – and I would not look away. He talked about how he had started the project – renovating an ancient farm in the Umbrian hills – without any money.

MEDION Digital Camera

About patience and passion, about confidence in what you are doing. About moving on. Because now he has sold the house to Tribewanted, the organisation behind the community project here (or will sell it entirely soon, not sure which). The Dutch man asks if it will not hurt Alessio to let it go. After all, it is his baby, his work, his creation. His reply: It is a giant mass of stones. Where is it gonna go? The father of four kids is already looking for his next project, knowing that his current one will stay – if not in his possession then in his mind and memory, in his confident composure. Now his mind is on a new piece of land, a sailing boat, a caravan to drive around the world.

Costa’s contentment and Alesssio’s confidence lead me to the suspicion that I have not yet found my thing. The hard part is to know whether you are copying someone else’s thing because you envy their happiness or whether you are actually pursuing yours. Here, I suddenly find myself looking for run-down properties in Brandenburg and reading about Genossenschaftswohnen. But is it just because I like it here so much or because this place really triggered something in me? Whatever it is, I have learned a number of things about myself here, most of which I wholeheartedly welcome and embrace:

  1. I love dogs and they love me back

I am proud and amazed when I look at the development I have gone through regarding the whole dog thing. As a child and later as a teenager, I would actually change the side of the street I was walking on to avoid passing an old dachshund sleeping on the sidewalk. Then, in Portugal, I got introduced to three dogs that helped me gain trust. The first, Bica, slept in my arm as a baby, but when I returned and she was a teenager who constantly tried to playfully bite my hand, I preferred some distance. I was not ready yet, but still. Agudo, the giant beautiful dog of Senhor Joao, never made me nervous. He was part huskey, and looked it, but he emanated a calm dignity. I was never afraid to pass him while waiting the tables. He would come by with Senhor Joao each evening after work (Joao’s, not his) and lie on the pavement while Senhor Joao had his red wine or Jameson. Then, finally, there was Alfamadog, the one that got away (every time). This dog gave me the feeling that I might still find comfort and company in my life, a foretaste on the weightlessness I imagine someone feeling who knows he is loved, watched over and cared for. I choose to take the fact that I won a prize for the story about Alfamadog as an omen that I should fill much more of my life with dogs. Here I could actually practise for two weeks.

MEDION Digital Camera

There is Virna, the ancient Saint Bernad with the giant head and bad breath. Virna takes the idea of „dolce far niente“ to a whole new level. She sleeps all the time and in a way she is the happiest dog I have ever seen. Except maybe for Dolly, but her happiness is not contentness but constant excitement.

Dolly is a pointer dog, and still kind of a baby (well, one year). In the beginning her playful way and skinny body made me steer clear of her, but then I discovered that her bites don’t hurt and she literally just wants to play.

MEDION Digital Camera MEDION Digital Camera

Dolly is extremely trusting. After she realised I was good to her, she became a cuddly little baby who purrs when I rub her stomach. I learned that Dolly is afraid of the dark. In the evening she likes to jump into people’s hammocks and cuddle with them, whether they want to or not. She also once, during a thunderstorm, managed to open the door to my wing of the building and hide in my room. The fact that she chose mine, at the end of a hall with five rooms, touched me, and I did not tell on her.

And then there is Alice, the watch dog, and perfect middle between the heavy lazy Virna and the ever-moving skinny Dolly. Alice has seen many things, her eyes tell you, and with her nine years she also is usually lazy. When I take her for a climb to the viewpoint up the hill, she sits down and wants to be petted whenever I stop for even one second. The concept of a walk makes little sense to Alice. But she will jump up and run like a young dog whenever Dolly thinks she has heard a car or spotted a salamander in some shrubbery, The two dogs‘ complete ignorance of their size and slowness when „hunting“ salamanders moves me as well. On the downside, Alice being the perfect watchdog and companion means that sometimes she wakes me up in the early morning, barking at cars or some unseen enemy (these areas are popular with wild boar and other game). But it also means that she walks me to my door every night. There I sit down to rub her belly and tickle her behind her ears for some minutes. Then I stop, but Alice pushes her head against me and nudges me with her paw – so I continue for some more minutes, yawning, Finally I walk up the stairs to my room, and Alice settles in for the night on the doormat. When I get up early for my morning swim, she is still there, lifts her heavy head and gets up a bit stiffly to accompany me.

MEDION Digital Camera

  1. I would make a good mother

This was attested by the best source, a mother. During my entire stay here, I shared garden, hammocks, table and food/wine with a Berlin couple and their 3-year-old daughter. And while I usually also steer clear of little children – because I cannot understand what they say and want – and older children – because I can – this kid liked me from day one. I played piano with her, made puzzles and countless bursting bubbles and gave endless commands. Don’t do that, wait please, put that down, leave the dog alone. Be careful. But I would always explain why she should or should not do something, and I was always authentic when I spoke to her (which meant at times saying: No, I just don’t want to play with you right now). Saying goodbye, the little devil-angel hugged me in a way that made a shiver go down my spine. With her, it was a sign of affection and trust as strong as when Dolly falls asleep in my lap, presenting me her throat, as trusting as me touching her face with not even a little doubt that she might bite me.

  1. I might always be alone

When booking here, I did not consider that I might be surrounded by couples. It is just like me looking forward to going to the supermarket on a Saturday. How I have managed for so many years to completely block out the fact that it will be full of happy couples is beyond me. Here it was the same. On the way up to the house from the train station, I learned that the house was full of Germans, all of them couples. Great, I thought. Some of the people I met here were really nice, but still the silence, the not having anyting to do, and the couples, dogs and kids led me to approach some old wounds and scars. I did my fair share of crying and being depressed, even (or especially) in beautiful Umbria. Of course, on some level, I had hoped to stumble across a nice man who, coincidentally, would come with an entire living community project I could „inherit“. A double short cut, so to speak. Needless to say, it did not happen. I spent my vacation as that odd thirty something lady who does something with writing and smokes on the terrace, looking at the stars. Who starts the day by going swimming, alone. Who takes long walks with the dogs – alone. The independent one. The quiet one. The dog lady.

  1. I might not always be alone

When you believe publicatons from Brigtte to Louise Hay, we will not find love while searching. Love therefore seems to be the only thing you actually should not search for in order to find it, which I find a bit cynical. But oh well, I do not make the rules. And happily married couples who met through online dating (I met three here in Monestevole) beg to differ. One truly lovely woman I met got married on her 40th birthday – at a point in her life when she already was herself, by herself, complete. Professionally successful, spiritually evolved. She seemed very happy. But still. I don’t want to wait anymore. So – when is a person less needy and searching for affection than when busily building something, and generally doing what they love? So, many projects remaining: Plan to finally move, look into alternative living communities and urban gardening in Berlin. Consider the possibility of leaving Berlin and of getting a dog. And the most doable: Get a wall with pans hanging from it. Try to get a writing gig besides advertising. Finish the script. Go swimming more often. Finally learn Spanish.

Or, maybe, Italian? The language barrier was not a problem with talking with Costatino with hands, feet and zucchini. But still, it might have been nice to learn more about gardening from him. I had thought my Portuguese would be more helpful, but the languages seem pretty different to me. „No parlo Italiano“, I told him apologetically, as I followed him like a dog to the vegetable patch. „No problem,“ he replied. „You will, next year when you come back.“ And you know what? I think I will.

MEDION Digital Camera