"We are here on this planet only once and might as well get a feel for the place." -Annie Dillard

Saturday, November 26, 2011


My traveling get-up. Big backpack in the back and little in
the front. Although from this photo, the "little" one looks
quite large!!

The following songs were songs that I listened to or came into my head at certain moments on my trip. Since my ipod got erased, I think I'm missing some, but since I can't remember them, then I guess they weren't that poignant!

Coty's Fall 2011 Playlist:

1. Rose Laurens - Africa (french version)
2. Mary Chapin Carpenter - I Take My Chances
3. Joni Mitchell - All I Really Want
4. Stevie Nicks - Sable on Blond
5. Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken
6. Joni Mitchell - Urge for Going
7. Figgis on Figgis - the whole album
8. Fleetwood Mac - Gypsy
9. Neil Young - Natural Beauty
10. Angus and Julia - Yellow Brick Road

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The finale: Milan and wrap up.

November 22/23

And so it ends.......This trip is something I have wanted to do for several years. I distinctly remember writing in my journal summer 2008: Intention - go to Italy and start learning Italian.

And now, in Fall 2011, I made it happen.... I have met new friends, done unexpected things, seen a country through the changing of the seasons. I've tried new food, swam in the Mediterranean, toured the cites, and hiked in the Dolomites. This country and it's beautiful people and language are really going to be missed. New intention: Some day come back to see my new friends - and be able to properly speak the language! I'm going to hold myself to it.

And so my last day and half I spent in the last Italian city left for me to see: MILAN

Home to this:

Leonardo Da Vinci's famous "Last Supper"
(not my photo - no photos inside;the building!)

And this:

Milan's Duomo - taking SIX centuries to complete,
it is the fourth largest cathedral in the world.
Plus the walk on the roof that is out of this world.

But perhaps most importantly...

Meet hometown girl, Francesca Schiavone, one of my favorite players
currently on the WTA tour.
- also not my photos.... :-)

Which speaking of, I saw these posters around town and am SO BUMMED to be missing this exhibition doubles match by only a week!

But I digress. SO MILAN. I arrived from Venice around 6:30 PM. My first train trip in the dark! Inquired at the train station about a missing journal... nope, no lost and found. It was discontinued in 2009. Then, accepting the fate that my journal was gone, I headed to the Metro to go to my hostel. (I left it on the train when heading to Venice. The train was bound for Milan.)

Metro stop: Duomo. Arriving above ground to this:

The Duomo at night.
A beautiful scene.

And then headed to Ostello Bello, basically the coolest hostel ever. Actual this hostel, rated one of the top five in the world and just having opened in August, verged on being too hip for my quiet little self, but the free arrival drink, folk music concert, hosts sitting down and chatting with you, cozy lounge and basement area with good music and instruments, and free "Aperitivo" dinner pretty much negated the over hip factor and made it definitely my top hostel experience. (Just getting ready to go join other hostelers in watching the Milan/Barcelona soccer match (happening tonight in Milan - no way to score tickets.)

I think Milan was the perfect city to end my trip with. It's a bit different than the other Italian cities I visited, and it felt kind of like a transition city between Italy and heading back into the world! You see, Milan is the working city of the north and also the fashion capital of Italy...Here's what Rick says in comparing Milan to Rome, which also applies to the general North/South Italian squabble:

"The Milanesi say the Romans are lazy.....Roman's meanwhile, dismiss the Milanesi as uptight workaholics with nothing to live for - gray like their foggy city. Romans do admit that in Milan, job opportunities are better and based on merit. And the Milanesi grudgingly concede the Romans have a gift for enjoying life...... In Milan, bureaucracy (like social services) works logically and efficiently, while in Rome, accomplishing even small chores can be exasperating. Everything in Rome - from finding a babysitter to buying a car - is done through friends. While people in Milan are not as willing to discuss their personal matters, they are generous and active in charity work..."

Anyway I could go on, I could definitely feel the difference here. It felt like a city I was used to - like New York. And I hate to say it, but I actually felt in my comfort zone here. The always doing something, punctuality matters kind of life!........ :-/

Fashion shoot outside the Duomo

But perhaps this was all affected by the start of my day. I walked out of the hostel, saw it was a beautiful day and realized it would take me just as long to walk back to the Duomo than it would to walk to the church where Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Last Supper' is. So, even though I didn't have a reservation (which they recommend you do at least two months in advance), I placed my bets on being solo and coming in the off season and decided to see if by chance I could get in. And guess what! I got there at 9:15 and by 9:45 I was inside staring at the masterpiece!

Statue of Leonardo and his understudies

Afterwards I made a quick stop to see the Sforza Castle, what used to be the entrance and guard post of the city, then headed down Via Dante, a warm up shopping street in preparation for my window shopping adventure down Via Montenapoleone, home to the big names. Anyway, on this walk I decided it was cold enough for me to go order my new favorite: "un latte caldo con cioccolato." You may remember what a "hot chocolate" is in Italy - literally melted chocolate. Which you must try, but a couple sips and you will be done, or have a major sugar headache! But thanks to Nicola, I have discovered my new way of doing hot chocolate, and I don't think I will be able to go back to the regular way again! Plus, it's a nice way to order cheap. Basically you order hot milk, then take the little cocoa shaker that they place in front of you, shake a couple of shakes of cocoa on top, grab a packet of unrefined sugar, and voila - frothy, milky goodness that still as quite a taste of milk and bit of chocolate but not too much. It's wonderful! And this particular order was even more wonderful because after drinking it (they way to do this in Italy is to stand at the counter sipping your drink - no sitting!), I asked how much and the server said told me it was on the house! Woohoo! My last day in Italy was really starting out well.

mmm...hot chocolate will never be the same.
Then it was Duomo time. I'm not sure I can really describe just how enormous this church is. Apparently when they started construction, they wanted to show off to kingdoms to the north just how strong and powerful the Milanesi were and please the Vatican at the same time. And so they set out to building this thing. The interior was definitely not the most beautiful I've seen. Pretty dark and frankly the decorations were okay, but by far the point I think was supposed to be the "I AM BIG" factor.

Notice the height of the people...

BIG stained glass window. You get more of a feel for it's size from the outside.

But perhaps the coolest thing about this church is you get to walk on it's roof! (Which can be a bit scary if you look down too much!

Up on the roof!Roof statue looking out at the business district... and yuck, pollution. No wonder the old monuments are constantly having to be cleaned

And then, well I just wandered. Window shopped the Gucci's, Armani's, Dolce and Gabbana's... noticed that apparently the in colors for winter are the vibrant black, grey, and lavender. Exciting...... :-/ But that '40's era fashion styles seem to be in vogue. Exciting!! :-)

And then well, darkness was settling, I realized I hadn't tasted tiramisu since being in Italy, so I stopped by the recommended patisserie, ordered some, and headed to the hostel to enjoy the evening.

Some darn good tiramisu to end the trip.

And then it was goodbye. Back to Belgium for a last weekend with my host family, last chance to be able to immerse myself in French, and then back to the States. Back home to Montana for the holidays. And a chance to show off some newly learned Italian cuisine!


November 20/21


Well I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. I had even convinced myself that I really didn't need to see/experience it. I'm glad I got over that and made it happen!

I left the Massulo's the morning of the 20th and arrived in Venice early afternoon. Of course, I was a bit down because of LEAVING MY JOURNAL on the train when I transferred in Bologna. OH POOR JOURNAL. Fortunately this was my third one of the trip and I still have my first two. And this blog. But jeez I had a lot of good food ideas written in there...... I'm really working on taking this as an exercise of letting go.....

Anyway, arriving in Venice, I was still a little frustrated with myself for this journal loss, but as soon as I stepped out of the station and saw the grand canal, things started perking up. I was in Venice! The strange city of canals and gondolas and St. Mark's Basilica, and holy cow it's cold! Central Italy was getting pretty chilly, but here it was feeling pretty wintery! Fortunately, with the loss my journal and the information on housing that it held, the address and the location of the place I was staying was easy to remember, as the name of it was not (still don't remember the name!). So I made my way to 555 Santa Croce, checked in, went to my room, And then.....


As I wandered around the streets and bridges, I just kept thinking how these Venetians really must have been a strange and determined (or more likely desperate) lot to make their way out in a lagoon of little islands, lay down millions of logs, and build a city. Those barbarians they were escaping from must really, really, really had been a threat. But what do you know, it worked, and Venice eventually became quite the world power, with a monopoly on the East/West trade.... In Greece we saw many signs of the Venetians and many towns on the coast that actually used to be controlled by Venetians. Bus alas, you can read about the history more HERE if you want.

I also happened to arrive on November 21, day of Feast of our Lady of Good Health, held every year since 1631, when they first celebrated the end of the Plague. I decided to try and wander my way there, quickly giving up on my hopeless map, and finally realizing I might just be going in a totally opposite direction, asked directions from a very nice nun who walked me all the way there! I arrived to find where I think all the actual Venetians were hiding - La Salute Church, where they crowded in, lit candles, had a church service, thanked the Lady, and then eating time!

Mass to at La Salute church to celebrate
The Feast of Our Lady of Good Health

By this time it was dark, I was pretty tired, and so I wandered back to my residence for the night, crossing the famous Rialto Bridge, over bridges, through little alley looking streets, gazing at people braving gondola rides in the cold, and to my place, where it turned out I was sharing a room with three French students - back to French time once again!

The next day I got up and headed out - lots to do and little time to do it.

First things first, vaparetto ride down the Grand Canal, gazing at all the old palaces of once powerful Venetian families, now most museums (and flooded first floors), and smiling to myself thinking how strange to see people obviously on their way to work, hoping on and off these vaparretos just like city buses. Which is essentially what they are!

And then, hopping off, I headed to St. Mark's basilica, crazy church of Venice with East/West influence and more gold mosaics inside than you can wrap your head around.

St. Mark's Basilica and square.

Just a little taste of what the inside is like all over.
This particular depiction is on the outside over one of
the entrance doors.

Behind the Basilica is the Doge palace, former site of the leader of Venice (the Doge) and the Senate chambers. This place is HUGE. It is also connected to what was the prison, and I'll tell you, after wandering through the seemingly endless rooms in the palace (me daydreaming about what it would have been like to be a daughter of the Doge or something of the sort, wandering around in my cool Venetian dress, probably being very cold (It was COLD in Venice - I guess that's why it's NOVEMBER.), and then making may through the prison area that I swear I was just going around and around in circles in, I wanted OUT! I actually had a little chuckle as I was wondering around in the prison, following the arrow signs supposedly leading to the exit, everything looking the same. Stone cold. And I thought, ack I'm trapped in prison!! I couldn't even imagine the horribleness it would have been to be a prisoner in something like that. Just walking around the corridors made me restless. (miniscule portion of Doge palace seen in picture on right)

Finally escaping, I did more or less the same route I did the night before, only this time in daylight, crossing the famous Rialto Bridge, admiring shops, looking down the canals and trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was in VENICE, thinking how strange it would be to grow up here having boat rides and bridge hopping be such a norm, and then back to the train station.

The famous Rialto Bridge, Venice's oldest.

Where, it turned out I had a good amount of time till I needed to catch my train, so I wandered over to what was the Jewish Ghetto. Did you know that the word ghetto originates here in Venice? This area was were, in the 1500's, the Jewish citizens of Venice were ordered to live. It was also the site of an old copper foundry (the slab term in the Venetian dialect was 'geto'), and there you have it, the first Ghetto was born. The area now is only home to about 500 Jewish citizens, but there is an active scene trying to revitalize the community and I actually had a really great lunch at a Jewish restaurant, eating yummy felafel, hummus, tomatoes, veggies..mmm... a nice break from the usual Italian fare!

And then, just as soon as I arrived, it was time to go collect my bag and catch a train, on to my last stop on this Italian adventure - Milan.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

HelpX #3 - Torre Amene, Orte.

The Massullo's (November 9 - November 120)

Torre Amene - my home for
two weeks.

I did a very, very, very, very bad thing. I was talked into trying a cappuccino. Every morning, after taking care of the horses, I go up to the house to have tea. Well, I have tea. Everyone else has coffee/cappuccino. And every day Claudio, Monica and Carlo's 15 year old son, says I must try a cappuccino. And so this morning, in the presence of just Monica, I tried it. It was a cautious start, just a little coffee on the bottom before filling the mug with frothy foam and milk. And then, after a little dollup of sugar, I mixed and tasted. My first thought was, "Ack, tea is much better." After my second sip I thought "Well I like the foam but I would prefer if this coffee was chocolate." After the third sip my thought was, "Okay, well it isn't sooo bad..." Now Monica is convinced that I will have it every day instead of tea. I am determined NOT to acquire a taste for it.
UPDATE: This paragraph was written about halfway through my stay. I will report that yes, I continued to have the "cappuccino." However, the very last day, Monica took us to the nearby village of Vasanello, with it's really neat castle and little windy streets that would be a kid's dream play place, to have cappuccino from the cafe. And I am happy to say that this normal cappuccino, with the regular amount of coffee, was no good at all. So basically my morning "cappuccino" was a lot of milk and a spoonful of sugar mostly masking the taste of coffee. I think I can do without! But now at least I have tried something VERY Italian in Italy!

ALSO: Okay, why this machine isn't in every household, I don't know. BUT I WANT ONE! It's like those nifty water machines that boil water almost instantly. Except with milk. mmmm...frothy goodness!

Meet the Nespresso Milk Frother.
Christmas present? Anyone?.........

I had to take a bus today to get to the train station, and well whoops, I accidentally hopped on the bus heading to a completely different town - where it seemed all the kids were going to school. I figured this out when the bus didn't turn towards the station... and so I quickly hit the stop button, made my way with my bags through the crowded bus of kids, and then had a nice hour long walk to the train station. Good thing I had an hour and half till my train! A nice 'welcome back to backingpacking mode' walk!

And so now I am sitting on the train heading to Venice. First Venice for a day and a half and then Milan. I'm hitting up my last two cities right at the end! I have finished with my third and final Helpx site. It's really hard to believe that I'm done with something I have been planning for so long. Looking over all the profiles, picking out places I was interested in, e-mailing people, setting up dates. And now I have experienced three different and unique places and people......

Life at my third Helpx site was wonderfully busy with all things horses - riding lessons, dressage show, jumping show, and of course my main job, taking care and cleaning up after the horses - Di Biassi, Eddy, and Biki... And it has been great! And I bet you had started to think that no Italians live in Italy, with my previous Helpx sites being with people from England and Chile! But how appropriate to go from English to English/Spanish/a little Italian/ to a full out Italian family?!

Looking out at the horse paddocks and beyond.

Meet the Massullo's ~ Carlo, Monica, and son Claudio. They live on a hilltop overlooking the valley just outside of Orte. Here the Massullo's train and compete (mainly Claudio now) jumping horses, in which at the moment they have three (with a baby hopefully on the way). OH - and they are the real deal. Carlo competed in THREE Olympics, (Los Angeles, '84, Seoul '88 and Barcelona '92) in the Pentathlon, where he won a gold medal and bronze medal in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, both as a team and individual and a silver medal in Barcelona! He's now a doctor specializing sports medicine and osteopathy.

Anyway, all that aside, the family was son wonderful, and I'm already missing Claudio's enthusiastic 'Ciao Coty!' every time I came up to the house for tea time or dinner or watching this funny cop show every night trying to figure out what was going on in Italian.

Carlo, Claudio, and Monica

And the horses! They are BIG! Hello! With perhaps the exception of Biki that seems a little more sane to me. :-) Especially after working with little Paddy at my first helpx site, when I first met the horses I couldn't help but be a bit intimidated. I have a childhood recollection of my mom's horse Skylar, and these horses seemed on par or bigger than him, especially Eddy.

The first days I was there was especially a whirlwind. The very first day I arrived we got the horses ready and went to riding lessons. Then the next three days were dressage and jumping competitions. Being at these competitions, especially the jumping ones, brought me back to that short period of time I had with my horse Flash. The summer of jumping! Mom working with me every day down at the little arena we had, painting wood different colors, Flash refusing a jump, working and working till he would do it. Why did it only last a summer, I can't remember (was that when Flash hurt is leg?), but it was a good one.

Claudio at the jumping competition
He got second :-)

The work here is good work. Monica knows how she wants things done, and I do feel a bit of pressure to get it done right! Actually Monica reminds me a lot of my Mom in they way she interacts with the horses and works so hard around the barn, constantly fixing things, riding around in the tractor, lifting a big hay bale, getting up early to get things done, caring about the particulars.....

There was a point when I first had to clean Eddy's hooves and he was putting all his weight on me (and that' a lot!) and the mud was caked in there. And then I just started thinking, "Oh my mom would totally be attacking this mud with vigor, she would totally have the hoof cleaned out by now...I am not going to let her beat me!" And I gritted my teeth and dug in. Now what this thought process says about me and my mom, I'm not sure. I like to think that it just means I have a bad-ass mom that works hard and cares about what she is doing, and does things right. And is a big inspiration. :-)

But I really appreciate Monica's attention to detail and making sure things are done the way she want them to be. It has also been a good opportunity for me to practice my intention I have set for myself to be more accepting of myself if I don't know how to do something and admitting to when I don't know something. And because of this, I was able to get an intense lunging lesson and wrapping horses legs lesson! I picked up some different techniques for taking off halters and mucking out stalls. And instead of feeling bad that I didn't know how to do something the way she wanted it done, I was able to take it as an opportunity to learn something new. And Monica was always completely patient in teaching you how to do something. It was like she really took pleasure in teaching you, of getting satisfaction that she was able to pass on new skills.

This was also the case at meals. She never said so, but I got the impression that she really liked introducing me to new kinds of Italian eats.... different kinds of ham slices, cheeses...cappuccino. And even though I was scared of the cheeses, I just had to take a deep breath and get over my mental blocks on these kinds of foods and go for it. And not once did I regret it! (no stinky cheese was served, by the way - and thank goodness!)

But hey, let me give you a quick run-down of my typical day!!

Morning routine:
~Let the chickens out!
~Head down to the barn where:
1. Feed horses hay and oats (make sure to take wraps of Eddy!)
2. clean up the pasture (i.e. scoop poops!)
2a. Check the water.
3. If stayed the night in stalls, clean stalls
4. Sweep and clean barn
---Tea time!
(Might now sound like much but this would usually take me at least a couple of hours)

Then, until lunch I would help with other things - raking up endless acorns and leaves etc... etc... Or if there was a dressage or jumping show off we would go!

Afternoon I would have for myself and then evening time:
1. Feed horses! (put wraps on Eddy)
2. blankets on
3.If going in stalls get them prepared for that.
----and depending on the day, cleaning saddles and bridles (soap and grease)

And there you have it! My typical day!

And then, I go home in the evenings to my little cottage just below the regular house. I love my little cottage home, with it's cozy wood stove. Every day, I had a little challenge for myself to use less paper to start the fire each time.... I think I am getting pretty good, although I am sure my Dad will have something to say about this when I get home to chilly Montana! But it was just really nice to have the evening to myself, to read, listen to music, write....

Getting pretty good if I do
say so myself.

Now there is one animal that I haven't talked about but who really ended up being the one I cared most about. Arielle. The Massulo's have five wonderful dogs. But Arielle, she was special. After just the first day I noticed that when I went to the cottage after dinner she was there with me. I went to bed, she was outside the door. I woke up in the morning. She was there waiting for me to accompany me down to the barn. Everywhere I went, Arielle went too. If something was rummaging around in the little woods below the cottage, she would chase it away. My little protector. I wish I could say I was special, and she had picked me out to have this special bond, but it turns out that she does this with all the helpx-ers. If you stay in the cottage, Arielle adopts you. So for two weeks, she was my little dog, and I really loved her. I hope that someday I might be able to find a little Arielle of my own, but until then I will miss her greatly.

Me and my new doggy love, Arielle.

Actually, I will miss this entire family greatly. I really felt a part of their every day life here on the farm, with all the hard work that that entails. It was also a bit of home away from home, with the horses and the barn. My world, except for on the other side of the globe! I'm glad they were the last helpx. Rather appropriate to leave getting a litlte Italian family flavor! And who knows, maybe someday we will see Claudio riding for the Italian Equestrian Team!

The other four dogs.... unlike Arielle who is always
attentive to my needs...these four doggies just
laze around...sheesh :-)

Kaki fruit tree. I had never seen these fruit before and now
I keep seeing them everywhere. I honestly can't say if they taste good or not
as I was too distracted by their unfortunate similarity in texture to raw oysters....
Not my favorite. (oh hey, I just found out these are
Persimmons in English!)

So the second day I was here Monica took me to get their olives pressed (at a more common press than the stone press we used at Madeleine's.....
Anyway, here is what I call the olive pooper. This is what comes out after
the olives have been pressed. Now, I want you to find that $2.00 bottle of olive oil
in your pantry. Now think of this olive poop. Yep, they run this stuff through the machines again, and you get your $2.00 bottle. I guess there is something to be said for making the most of all your materials.


Here are a couple of photos of my day trip to the hill town of Orvieto.

The Orvieto Cathedral, whose facade is one
of the most famous (click picture
for a close up)

Hey I met the Wizard of Oz!
He lives right here in Orvieto....and makes miniture carnival replicas or
if you tell him important events in your life he will construct a house
representing it all.
Celebrities come in droves (he has pictures all over the shop)

Friday, November 11, 2011

HelpX #2 - Gudiolo

October 26 - November 8 - Madeleine Stein and Helpx #2
(also known as the nature shots post.....can't believe I forgot to take photos of INSIDE the house... or people....jeez!)

"And the days go by like a strand in the wind / In the web that is my own, I begin again." ~Stevie Nicks

"To find beauty in words, it's a wonderful thing" ~ Laura speaking to me of poetry and songwriting

And so I am back on the train again, heading to Orte on a beautiful sunny, crisp, autumn day where I will be picked up by my third helpx host to start yet another experience. Leaving here, my second helpx site, I noticed having the feeling that I was leaving vacation and heading back home, and I had to remind myself that I was actually heading to yet another place with whole new experiences and schedules and ways of working. I have been in a routine, and now I have to mentally prepare for that switch and be ready for anything!

But first things first. My stay at Madeleine at Gudiolo, San Giovanni del Pantano. The past two weeks have been an incredible time of meeting artists and diplomats, local townspeople and British ex-pats, olive picking and painting stairs, dinners and fireside movies. I wish I taken the time to do separate posts so things aren't so condensed, but this is a good opportunity to practice one of my new intentions for myself: accepting my limitations and knowing that what I do, I am doing the best I can. And if I didn't post several entries about my time here at Madeleine's, that is okay.

Let's start with my arrival as I think it sets the stage quite well for the couple weeks that were to follow. I arrived at Ponte San Giovanni and ended up having to wait about an hour as Madeleine needed to drop some things at her house and then the freeway ended up being closed, so she had to take a bunch of back roads to get to the station. Thinking back, the pick-up seemed all too appropriate a metaphor for the next two weeks, in a wonderful way. A bit loose in schedule, somewhat crazy energy, and a need to let go and go with the flow. And if you do, you will have a wonderful, amazing experience.

And so Madeleine arrived a little green car, the Panda, car of choice for just about every person living on the windy, washed out dirt roads of Umbria. Oh little Panda, how fond I am of you, first car I drove in Europe (and survived to tell the tale! More on me driving later.)

Right: Madeleine
Left: Nicola, Madeleine's daughter
Behind: The trusty Panda car :-)

I learned on our drive to Gudiolo, place of residence for Madeleine just outside of San Giovanni del Pantano, that she was born in Chile. Her parents were Chilean diplomats and subsequently she had lived in a different country every two years for all her growing up years. Then, if that wasn't enough, her (now former) husband worked for Reuters and they (with their three kids) moved at least every couple of years. Think of a country, Madeleine has probably lived there. She speaks Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, French, and German. All quite fluently I might add. And her kids don't do too bad on the language front either. Living in the house was this wonderful mix of Spanish and English, with some Italian and French thrown in depending on who happened to be visiting. When talking to her kids, they would literally speak a mix of Spanish and English. In one sentence. It was great! And who would have guessed, I go to Italy, and there comes to haunt me that language that I feel like I should be learning but haven't, Spanish! The wonderful thing of the mixing of these languages, is I actually witnessed me picking some Spanish up. Madeleine does this wonderful thing when she talks to her kids of saying things in Spanish and then inserting a phrase or words of English (or vice versa) then kind of saying them again in the other language.

And don't worry, I also got plenty of Italian going shopping or when Tonino, the jolly 80 year old man from the village would come visit. But what I did find out is I can, if the subject of the conversation is right, somewhat follow the Italian. Problem is, if I look like I am following, someone like, say, Tonino, might decide to ask me questions, proceeded by me staring at him as I try to figure out how to respond in Italian, my mind going blank in a panic. At least I know this process from when I was in Belgium learning French. First comes starting to understand. Then comes understanding. Then comes terribly long times of translating things I want to say and saying them. Then comes speaking without translating. I'd say I'm on step one.

Now back to arrival. And as if to prove the point of the life that Madeleine had lived, a friend of hers, Peter, came over for dinner. Now let me tell you about this evening, as I believe it is the closest I will ever get to actually being in one of those wonderful old movies from the '40s where there is amazingly witty and smart conversation in the living room, and a William Powell character (in this case Peter) wanders around looking for the liqueur cabinet and occasionally piping in with wise crack remarks. Then, music starts. In the old films this would be someone sitting down to play jazz or ragtime on the piano. In this case, Lucas, Madeleine's 16 years old son home for the week on vacation from boarding school in England, starts playing through the stereo Stevie Nicks's "Edge of Seventeen" followed by Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" (while watching the music video and copying her dance moves.) I definitely approve.

And so here is life at Gudiolo. Let me introduce you to the cast of main characters:

Madeleine: now lives here in Italy, on property her and her parents bought over 25 years ago. Her parents have a house just below, but only come in the summer.
Nicola: Madeleine's 25 year old daughter. Living here for the moment after returning from a year working in Mozambique. It was fun to be with someone around my age to connect with, work with, and introduce me to wonderful BBC shows like DOWNTON ABBEY.
Lucas: home for the first week I was there. Goes to boarding school in England and if he had been a few years older would have given Daniel Radcliff a run for his money for role of Harry Potter. Seriously. And also has the best collection of '80's tunes you could ever want on his itunes.
Thomas: I never met him, but this is Madeleine's 19 year old son who is going to university in Holland.
Teana: A dear friend to Madeleine. She is an artist and used to teach at universities in London. I also got the pleasure to go for a walk with her up in the hills. Such a gentle, wonderful personality. We also picked many an olive at her property.
Laura and Massimo: An American and Italian artist couple that Teana thought I should meet. We ended up going to their house and them coming over for a second gathering at Madeleine's for music playing. More on these two amazing people later.
And a supporting cast of various villagers, the Canadian's who have a place up the hill, other British artists and ex-pats, Madeleine's ex husband, and Nero, the wonderful dog who reminds me so much of my very first pet, Bizzy.

Nero... reminded me so much
of Bizzy....

Doing my helpx "work" was a bit of an adjustment. I knew coming in that this would be different experience than Michael's, that I must be ready for something totally unlike what I experienced before, but it really did take a few days for this concept to really sink in and for me to adjust to the different ways of going about things. At Michael's, us workers had established a set routine. Get up in the morning, do work, then have lunch and have the afternoon to relax, work on music, read, hike, etc.. etc.. At Madeleine's, things were much more open ended - more in the flow of what needs to be done, like sanding and re-painting the stairs. Sometimes I felt like I didn't do anything, other days, like olive-picking days, was a whole day affair. Looking back, Michael's place was like this retreat in the secluded hills, a place to foster my musical creativity. Madeleine's was really living with a family, living their life and activities, and through this participating in a family and friends that dine and philosophize upon ideas, really igniting my mind with new ideas and desires to think about the ways of the world.

And so here are a smattering of meetings and experiences that stick out in my mind and that I will look back and draw upon

PUMPKIN PIE - (a.k.a. my earth shattering revelation between the connection of my cooking and songwriting experiences

I first met Teana when she came over to take a walk with Madeleine. But as fortunes turned out, Madeleine was still in the middle of a paint job, and asked if I would like to go instead. Eager to get out and explore the hillside, I of course accepted. What a great choice, Coty! Teana, as I mentioned above, is from England, is an artist, and has such a wonderful way about her that I immediately felt comfortable talking with her about what I have been doing, what I studied, what I would like to do etc.. etc... I learned she had taught art at universities (ha, I knew she was a professor. I can always tell when someone is just by the way they ask, 'So are you going to pursue a ph.d?'

On top of the hill behind Madeleine's..
the summit of our walk.

Gentle Teana, turned out to be someone that really started to make me feel at home in this place. She was encouraging of my travels talking about home and being away, and she was extremely interested in hearing my music. This led to two things: 1. That I should definitely meet Laura and Massimo (see below) because of my music and 2. I had completely failed to register that it was the end of October and we were well into Fall. I hadn't realized before how much seeing Halloween decorations were associated with Fall for me. In Italy, where the only Halloween mention I had seen was in a random tourist shop in the Rome train station, is pretty much absent. And even though I am right there with the complaining about how it seems holiday marketing starts earlier and earlier each year, I have realized that, you know what, I like my American holidays! There is something wonderful about Halloween, even in the way we have commercialized that once All Hallows Eve, that is completely wonderful and completely Fall. Complete with squash soups and pie.

And so somehow or other this lead to me being asked to make a homemade pumpkin pie, which I may have *slightly* over-exaggerated in my knowledge of knowing how to make it. Thank goodness for the lovely Sarah Fulford for saving the day, sending me a recipe that even worked with the very strange pumpkin that had quite the search to find in a grocery store here! (also thanks to Brigid, Tanya, and Jenn for sharing their own pie crust recipes - I now have quite the variety!)

But I jump to far ahead. This post is supposed to be about my wonderful revelation between my experience with cooking and songwriting! So as I was painting the stairs, I kept having to remind myself of Madeleine's motto for the paint job: "Go for it!" Don't worry too much, if we don't like it we can change it. Coty, don't worry too much about the brush strokes or if you have applied the paint to thin or too thick - just go for it!! This led me to thinking about how I was going to make this pumpkin pie that I supposedly was an expert at, and how I should just go for it, and how this worrying about whether I will make something how it should be because I don't really know what I am doing or because someone else surely could make it better has really held me back in the kitchen and one of my goals this trip has been to get over that. Try new things. Experiment. I'm taking an interest! And then it dawned on me. What a similar attitude I have had when it comes to songwriting!! " Aah, am I doing this right? Someone else could say this better. This isn't turning out how I imagined." etc.. etc...

LinkMmm... my beloved pumpkin pie!

And that's when I decided. By golly, I am going to make a good pumpkin pie. And you know what I did, if I do say so myself. And just like making apple butter first brought together what became the wonderful music nights of Friday Night Hoedown, so will this pumpkin pie be a new beginning of songwriting for Coty Hogue. And that is the significance of the pie.


Oh Laura and Massimo, I feel so grateful to have gotten to spend time with you. Teana organized a visit to their place, which is a remodeled 12th century tower. (I'm learning that all these places where one 12th century (or so it seems) lookout towers, where lookouts were posted to warn the region's castle of any invaders. Anyway Laura and Massimo have fixed up their place all by themselves and it is a wonderful little place, with just enough space for them to work on art, eat food, and sleep! With of course fields of olives and a garden.

Anyway, I brought along my prized pumpkin pie and we had a wonderful couple of hours of visiting, eating, and music making. Both Laura and Massimo are quite highly regarded artists, and immediately upon arriving, Laura took Nicola and I up to her studio to see the art she was working on. I was struck how right off the bat, this woman with such a gentle and wise grounded spirit about her just started talking about these very profound things in regards art, creativity, and life. I swear she could read my inner thoughts and desires to have someone to really talk to about these things. As she was showing us one of these mosaic pieces she was working on she stated, "I've always thought that doing my art is doing a service for others. It's not about being written about in the history books or having celebrity." Ah, I so needed to hear this. I kept thinking about this statement later and it was such a reminder as to why I like putting myself out there with music. It is exactly why I choose not to just settle for playing music in random bars where no one is really listening. There may be bigger crowds, they may all be having fun dancing or whatever, but it is not nearly as satisfying. (Not that doing this is fun at times, but Laura's statement is a good confirmation that playing my intimate music also is very important and has a place.) I left this visit feeling invigorated.

"To find the beauty in words, it's a wonderful thing."

Then it turns out, they had looked up my music on the internet and wanted to get together again to chat, play some more tunes, and buy a couple of CDs! And their visit to Madeleine's couldn't have come at a better day. I was having one of those negative head days, where I was questioning everything I had chosen to do with my life and was feeling quite forlorn, when they showed up to save the day, or evening, as it was. Laura immediately, in her amazingly sage way, started talking about my music and what I could do with my website, and then, as if reading my inner struggles with songwriting, started talking about words and poetry and songwriting. Read poetry, study it. Study words. "To find the beauty in words, it's a wonderful thing." Everything about her just makes me feel like I can do whatever I set my mind to. And Massimo, so encouraging, saying over and over again, "Ah, you don't have to worry, you don't have to worry. With your music, you will be fine with anything." Jeez, without saying a single word to them about all my negative inner dialogue I had been having, they seemed to pick it right out and put a stop to it. Ah, Laura and Massimo. And Teana! What beautiful people in this world.


Olive picking - the childhood love of climbing trees, reaching reaching reaching for that branch you just know you can nab. The satisfaction of stripping away the olives as you run your hands down the limb, the sound as they hit the ladder, ker-pluck. Gathering in the nets and pouring them into the basket - full! Ah, the life of an olive picker!

And so the second week of my stay, we started the harvest. Madeleine's boyfriend, Mark, came for the harvest, so me, Madeleine, Nicola, Mark, and Peter the Nigerian, who Madeleine found at the co-op asking for a job, started stripping, stripping, picking, picking olives, accompanied by Nicola's ipod mix ranging from Phantom of the Opera to Brazilian, to Coldplay. Here's how it works. First you spread the nets around the trees. We have two nets - which means two trees. Make sure there is no hole left by the trunk! Then, ready, set, go! Strip those olives away with satisfaction as they land on the net. When satisfied that you have nabbed all the olives, carefully gather the net up and dump the olives into the box. Olive leaves - just makes for better taste :-)

After a couple of days at Madeleine's, we moved to Teana's, where we became so excited as her trees had such a higher yield, which made the picking oh so much more fun. All in all, 318 kilos of olives (a small harvest compared to years before but apparently everyone's harvests seem to be less this year) producing 40 kilos of fresh, stone pressed, premium extra-virgin Umbrian olive oil. The get their olives pressed at the wonderful little Frantiolo, where they still use these massive round stones to ground the olives. Nowadays this is very rare to find, as most places use a more modern technique, but here they still do it the good ole' way and the quality reflects it. The now mushed olives then go through several stations of pressing and then, bam, you have oil! Take that! And try to guess how much a bottle of this oil would cost back home!

The following is a picture account getting olive oil from a stone press~

1. Get your olives weighed!

2. Olives go through a machine to get (most of) the leaves blown out.

3.Now the olives go down the hole and dumped into....

4. .....The stone press! This, once the common way to press olives, is now hard to find. (Apparently the owner of this place went all over Italy to find these stones.) But people say the process is worth the effort! Round, round they go, mushing, mushing away.

5. Now the olive mush really get pressed. Each slab is then cleaned (by this guy). The leftover olive gunk is used to make things like olive soap!

6. And then it goes through several more of these pressings.

7. Oil comes out....

8. Look at all that fine pressed oil! (*this one can go away if needed)

9. Pour it into the containers... and take home!

p.s. Don't try eating an olive off the tree, especially those that are for olive oil! .

AND THEN......

And so suddenly my two weeks are at a close. I got really feel a part of a family and meet wonderful people in the area. (p.s. if you ever want to find all the Brits living in Umbria, just go a garage sale that one is hosting.) It seems like yesterday I was waiting at the train station for my pick up and now here I am back on the train off to another site. What really stands out to me is how comfortable I feel here I know how easy it would be for me to stay here until my time in Italy is over, complete with a cozy bedroom and nice wireless internet access that allow me to say, watch a Lady Vols game at 1:00 am in the morning.....our nightly foreign movie watching, the candles, the fire. I have met amazing people who I want to keep in touch with, artists who are inspiring and listen and wise and grounded. I will miss dearly this community. Madeleine and Nicola, Teana and her dogs, Laura and Massimo, Peter, Mark, Tonino, Nero, the beautiful Umbrian fall colors in the rolling hills. The inspiration from people who are intellectual, thoughtful, expressive, and supportive. ......... But I know that I have to move on, experience one last place and one last set of new people before closing this trip to Italy.

p.s. So I mentioned driving the Panda......... Well, Madeleine asked if I could drive a manual car. I said, 'yes.' Next thing I knew she was asking me to drive the Panda to the store to get some ingredients! Aaaaack..... Italy drivers are SCARY..... But I buckled my seat belt and off I went. And survived. The Panda seems to be THE car of choice in these parts. Small but zips up and down the bumpy and 'NOT well maintained dirt roads. Also, apparently it was designed to perfectly fit an apple crate in the back!

p.p.s. Here is a little photo I took in the medieval hill town of Cortiano. I also went to Perugia (yes of Amanda Knox fame), but my photo skills there were a bit lacking.

In Cortiano: