Today marks a week of living in Sicily. Like many beginnings in new places in my life, has a potency that I am unlikely to forget. Because settings have always been important to me, I found myself putting a lot of energy into observing this place where I will spend the next several months. I enjoy the exploration of both the aesthetic landscape and the social dynamics (though I find the latter more exhausting as an introvert). My senses are heightened as I take long walks in the hills (once with Fiona and my new macro lens), explore the garden, and observe the towns and cities Fabrizia and I have visited on film research expeditions. There is so much to take it, so much to think about capturing for the documentary, and so much beauty and newness to simply take pleasure in. Similarly, I have to be on full alert at all times when listening to the Italian chatter that surrounds me, trying to interpret it as rapidly as it is spilling from the Sicilians' mouths (and often failing). But I learn a lot about the people that surround me by observing their body language, their relational behavior, and listening to what I can understand of their speech. When I get to speak in English to Fabrizia, Fiona, or one of the frequent American guests at the school, the ease of it relaxes me and I find small talk easier than I ever do at home, simply out of gratefulness that the verb conjugations and the vocabulary flow without strife. But the work in Italian is well worth the effort, as I am ultimately here to learn and to document Sicilian life, not English-speaking people on vacation. (Though the chance to meet travelers who are passionate about food is a treat!)
My work hours are spent prepping for filming, making our new film project website, writing schedules, doing research, and being Fabrizia's right-hand woman for all that needs to get done on the film. She has also taken me on two research adventures for the first festival we are shooting, La Festa di Morti ( the Feast of the Dead). To see the website and to read my blog professional blog entry about the first trip, click here. Giacomo, the film maker, arrives from Milan on Oct. 25th and I'm thrilled to meet him and begin working. I'm hoping he'll teach me some of his skills as we go along, as I love his work. (See his website here.) We also have been emailing back and forth about time-lapse shooting of landscapes, which I'd love to experiment with for the film.
I'm grateful that my days are also filled with activities in the school, as the work is more social. This week I have entertained guests over long meals, joined on tours of the garden, peeled about 400 tomatoes in a nearby factory for the Anna Tasca Lanza products production, helped skins hundreds of cloves of garlic in the courtyard, and have practiced my food photography on all the wonderful dishes created here. And I also reserve time for myself, to rejuvenate my body, taking runs and doing yoga on the garden porch, as I did this morning. And, most importantly, have been finding time in the morning and evenings to find a quiet place up the hill to pray. I'm trying to be very intentional about the routines I create here, as I know they make all the difference for my happiness in a place.
I have landed! After a full day of traveling yesterday--a plane from London to Palermo, a bus to the train station, and two trains to Vallelunga (the nearest town to the school), I arrived at Anna Tasca Lanza just in time for a wonderful dinner of freshly grilled eggplant, pasta (gf!) with homemade tomato sauce, and anchovy-stuffed chili peppers. I'm staying with Fabrizia in her section of Case Vecchie. Check out the view from my window:
Sicily is just as spectacular as I imagined it--more so, even. The school is surrounded by cultivated hills with farm houses tucked in the nooks. The picture above shows the vista, with windmills perched atop the far hill. I have no doubt that I will never get bored here--there are miles to explore and hike. Not that I imagine that I'll have a lot of free time. We have a lot to get done on this film in a short amount of time. We start shooting in late October, so in just a few short weeks.
I anticipate that my days will also be full of helping out with the guests to the school. Today, a couple from Colorado is here, but later in the week, there will be 13. Thankfully, Fabrizia has a fair amount of help--several cooking assistants, a housekeeper, gardeners (including one from Scotland who I find delightful), and farmers. But, in for no other reason than entertainment and hands-on time, I hope to help out in the gardens and in the kitchen.
I sat in on Fabrizia's cooking lesson this morning, where she tought her guests how to make arancini (fried saffron rice balls with beef ragu), fried stuffed zucchini blossoms, Sicilian fruit salad, among several other dishes. What a feast it was. I'll have to be careful, or I'll have to have someone roll me back to the UK for Christmas. Fabrizia's kitchen is awash with natural light and a peaceful place to work. The fact that most of the foods and herbs we used come from the garden and her many fruit trees, the eggs from her chicken, the beef from the town butcher, and the wine from the family's vineyard make the quality of food superb. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
My Italian is coming bit by bit. Yesterday was full of "Grazie" and "Piacere" (Thank you and nice to meet you), but today I added some simple sentences. I struggle to understand the Sicilian accent, but hopefully it will get easier every day.
After a month in the UK, it's time to move on to Italy. I'm excited for the project to begin, but sad to leave behind a place that's like a second home to me. Tim's family treated me royally throughout my stay, as they always do.
Some highlights of our my time here:
-Two great visits to the hipster-filled university town of Bristol to see Tim's friends, Sam and Sophie. It's an energetic city, with open markets and great coffee shops. It reminded me of Portland, OR.
-Five fantastic talks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, including Emma Thompson and her mother, Carol Klein (TV garden guru who spoke on British wildflower gardening), Doug Allen (wildlife photographer and head cameraman for Blue Planet and Frozen Planet), Steven Moffat (creator and head writer for Doctor Who and Sherlock...on both his shows), and Lard Carnarvon (Countess of Highclere, where Downton Abbey is filmed...on her real family and its history). (All thanks to Tim's mum!)
-Dinner at Jamie's Italian in Cheltenham with Tim on my last night (where I had gluten free pasta in a black truffle cream sauce with spring vegetable vignole). Jamie Oliver visited the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school when he was in his twenties, so the connection was fun.
-So many events at St. Paul's Church in Cheltenham, Tim's new work/church community: It's warm, open members moved me greatly. The Anglican Evangelical movement is so appealing to me (all of the gregarious energy without the same political schisms.) Even though I'll only be immersed in it for a few months this year, I have no doubt that I'll take away a lot from the church and its approach to ministry.
-Finished my divinity school applications!! (Thanks to Tim for editing, and for his parents for feeding me while I wrote my essays).
-Downton Abbey premiere. Enough said. (Sorry for the U.S. folks who have to wait until January, so no spoilers here).
I'm flying out tomorrow morning. So the next time, I write, it will be from the (hopefully) sunny isle of Sicily.
Tim and I have been taking a CAP (Christians Against Poverty) personal finance course at his church, St. Paul's. The three week course couldn't have been more providentially timed, as I'm heading off to try to live off a limited income in Sicily--and then returning to the U.S. to live on a graduate school stipend/loan for...seven years. Eeek! Gone are my days of lackadaisical money management. But in the process of trying to balance out my income and expenditures, hemming and hawing about monthly allotments of grocery funds and knitting yarn expenses, debating with myself about the necessity of a car, and fretting that there is no way I'll be able to cover Christmas gifts with the $80 I had allowed...I remembered Matthew 6:26-28: "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. [...] And who by being worried can add a sing hour to this life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin."
Though I don't think this verse gets me out of wise budgeting, as much as I would like to escape a monetized system of living, it does remind me to put things in perspective--to realize that my greatest blessings are often given to me directly from God and don't cost me a dime. And those blessings that do cost me money (such as plane tickets to see Tim and his family here in England), are a means to a relational end.
Additionally, I learned this week that the better I am with my budget (and the less money I piddle away), the more money I will be able put aside for giving (for tithing, for gifts, for charity, etc) and the more money I can put towards ethical purchasing (organic food, fair trade items, etc). I am reminded that good stewardship of money in a theological sense is not about capital gains or fruitful monetary investments, but about the way your spending and saving reflects your impact on this planet and its communities. And I think that while living on a limited budget in grad school will take some time and effort, it will remind me to be constantly mindful about that impact and to reduce waste and unneeded consumption.
I couldn't find any lilies in England this time of year, but I did find some wonderful wild grasses (rosebay willow herb) on Crickley Hill on a walk with Tim. And a wonderful spider web (a creature that does, admittedly, toil and spin, for her supper).
Admittedly a strange title for my first blog post, but "Sheep and Blackberries" perfectly characterizes a walk in the British countryside on a chilly morning in early October. Restless from several days of working on graduate school applications and drinking too much tea, I took a long walk on Leckhampton Hill. It is one of the many gently rounded hills that surrounds Cheltenham, my boyfriend's hometown in Gloucestershire.
When you walk the length of a hill such as Leckhampton, it is apparent that England's wildness has long been tamed. There are signs of human impact every where you look, from the sign marking the site of an Iron Age fort to deeply carved footpaths in every direction. Forest patches are small and interspersed with grazing fields for the many sheep, and bounded by the tidy, stacked stone walls so characteristic of the British Isles.
But during the semester I lived here while studying at Oxford, I learned to love that British landscapes, so etched by eons of human inhabitance, still burst with ecological life, albeit on a smaller scale. I think of Wallace Stegner's book An Angle of Repose, and his idea that partners in a marriage, like two boulders, hurdle toward each other violently until they come to rest against each other in a begrudging stillness, support, and peace. While in my country, fierce nature still seems at war with concrete sprawl, in England there seems to be a truce in this ancient marriage between humanity and nature.
The sheep, though much duller than their undomesticated ancestors, nevertheless fertilize the green fields they subsist on. And the blackberries, though likely planted by fruit-loving farmers, twirl around fences and provide food and shelter for small birds, mammals, and insects. The Costwold stone walls, as Maureen pointed out to me today, becomes covered with lichen and moss and become habitat for countless small creatures.
And as I ducked in and out of the wooded hollows as I followed the trails today, I was struck by the romance of the nooks within nature that locals have created. Despite my passion for backpacking in so-called "untouched" places and experiencing landscapes that seem devoid of human presence, I have to admit that there is a gentleness to walking in Britain that I don't feel when trekking across the Sierras in California or walking at night through the Brazilian rainforest. Knowing that the fiercest thing that I am likely to encounter is a sheep, and not a mountain lion or a venomous snake, is a (cowardly) comfort. The ecologist in scolds myself for not recognizing the need for large predators, but the animal in me says that that memory of being within springing distance from a mountain lion on a backpacking trip was a hair-raising and humbling experience.
This musing makes me question how much comfort we are meant to create as stewards of this Earth. Is England, with its mild and serene landscapes, an example of a fair compromise, a successful marriage? Or is it a pale comparison to the type of human-filled (and mountain lion-filled), yet sustainable ecosystems that we could have if we trusted God's guiding voice more? I tend to think the latter.
But until that Kingdom comes, I'm grateful for the beauty that I found in my walk today.
I'm a graduate student at Duke Divinity School, and a recent graduate of Pomona College, who is setting off to find my calling in the world. This blog is to keep in touch with those I love and to share my journey with others.