Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back "home" to the Cantina

The next morning I woke up casually. I had spent a lot of my evening trying to contact my friends from the cantina without receiving any kind of response. I was kind of worried, but by this point in the trip I have learned that no plans usually end up to be the best of plans. So I woke up and got in a 30 minute workout when I finally got a text back from Daniela. She told me that the early of the two time options for my arrival was better for her to be able to pick me up...which meant I had less than 45 minutes to shower, pack, and be out the door to the train station. I shot into the shower like a bat out of you know where. I got my ENTIRE (because on my day of rest I washed AND DRIED, Vickie had a drier which I hugged when I saw because it was one of the frist I'd seen in about 2 months, every single article of clothing I had)pack rolled, zip-locked, and pack in 30 minutes. A new trip record. I was literally sweating by the end of it. I think they should turn it into an olympic sport- backpack packing. Vickie and I were out the door in a hurry after quick good-byes to Joe. We got to the train station and Vickie stayed with me until I was walking onto the train, such a great friend! My train ride from Geneva, Switzerland to Vicenza, Italy was by far the most beautiful...too bad I was sitting on the wrong side of the train to get the best views. The nice Swiss gentlemen from the Dutch speaking part of Switzerland offered to let me sit by them, but i opted for just taking pictures over them. They meant well, but a girl can never be too careful when traveling by herself. Not to mention EVERYONE around me was a chatty Kathy and wanted to know my life story and where I was going and where I had been...I just wanted to keep my mouth shut, stay mysterious, and journal. No such luck. The first person who sat across from me was quiet until he saw that I was writing in my journal, in English. Then he flat out stopped me just to talk to me. He was a 32 year old rapper from Venesuela who has produced 4 albums and was on his way to do a video shoot. The best thing about this 32 year old rapper? He had a MASTERS degree in POLITICAL SCIENCE. He seemed like he only had good intentions but I had to tell him my name was Allison an I was from Texas because about the second sentence out of his mouth was the about the fact that people from Venesuela HATE people from the US and actually even use us as part of their curse words...mmmmmmmmmk. Not a great conversation starter. Also when he was getting off the train (and I was secretly letting out a sigh of relief) a small bag of pot popped out of his coat. He promptly asked me if I smoked, and I informed him that I did not smoke anything, ever. His response was "oh, well I would've just left if for you if you did." I wasn't too sad to see him go. After he left that's when the Swiss gentlemen started to talk to me. They too were on vacation, traveling around, but only in Switzerland. I gave short answers and kept looking down at my journal. I wasn't trying to be rude, but no one seemed to get the idea that I just didn't want to give up my story to strangers. Then the girl across from me asked me straight up if I was on my own. I looked at her with the "yes, but please don't say anything about it" look and she understood. She actually got the hint and left me alone, only telling me to have a safe trip when she left the train.I liked her, and she was wearing pearls...made me like her even more. Something really fun about this train from Geneva to Swizterland was that everything that came over the loud speaker had to be repeated in 4 languages; French, German, English, and Itlaian. I didn't like hearing English again, and it was strange to hear the Italian and understand after three weeks of hearing languages I had no idea what they were saying...I started to miss French and just spacing out in my own little world while everyone talked around me. I arrived to Vicenza a little after 7:00pm, all worn out and in my typical travel outfit (all the heaviest articles of clothings that just don't want to roll up nice enough to fit in my pack). Daniela and Alessandro were at the station to get me.

It was great to see my friends again. It had been over a month since I'd finished at the cantina and left for my adventure. This time around the air was cold and there was a slight akwardness that came from our time apart and what I could only assume was their complicated personal schedules. We went to have a spritz (only 6 euro for 3 spritz, ahh it's good to be back in Prosecco land) while we waited for Augusto to have dinner. The spritz loosened up the evening and Daniela had already convinced me to stay a day longer that I had planned. One less day in Venice and one more day with them. I was okay with that. The time arrived to go meet with Augusto, but not before a smoke break. I had not been on a smoke break with my friends since I had left, and my lungs did not miss the 2nd hand smoke. I decided that I would opt out of any more smoke breaks taken during the evening in order to keep my lungs content. We went to meet Augusto at his family's winery. Augusto was the missing piece to making the awkward puzzle disappear. With one hug the atmosphere changed and it was like we were our family of four friends again. I literally felt like we were all different people until the four of us are together, then, we're family again. We took a tour of Augusto's winery while sipping on some of his family's sparkling rosé. The winery was a much smaller scale than that of Fattori, but charming and producing excellent wines none-the-less. We left the winery to head to a restaurant. I understood that we were going to a typical restaurant, but did not understand that it was Augusto's family's restaurant! ---I would like to point out that by now my Italian has gotten to the point that most of the time we were all speaking in Italian, rather than everyone speaking in English!--- We walked into the restaurant through the kitchen (the first moment I realized he must know the owners) and Augusto gave the "hello kisses" to his parents (the moment I realized it was their restaurant). We went to find a place to sit but the place was PACKED to the brim. It was by far the busiest restaurant I had seen in Italy, and now that I think about it, in all my travels. We had a prosecco in the outside seating area but it was too cold to stay out there to eat. That's when Augusto's dad told us we should go up to the house and have dinner there. So we did. We headed up the hill to their house and made ourselves, quite literally (TV included), at home! With every course the house buzzer would ring, Augusto would put on his shoes and walk down the hill, then return with a pot or basket or platter of food and a bottle of wine! All the food was amazing. We had an appetizer of salamis, polenta, and those wonderful just slimy enough mushrooms. We had a primi of rich warm creamy mushroom soup. The main course was beef and goat with sides of spinach and potatoes. We had garganea and cabernet wines from Augusto's cantina. We got our things together and headed to the restaurant for dessert. The place was still packed, so we got to eat our dessert in the kitchen with the staff, which to me was more fun anyway! We had that amazing almond cake with the crazy sprinkles on top that I had eaten at my going away dinner (and now understood where Augusto had gotten it, even though he tried to explain it to me before) and panecotta with a mixed berry syrup on top. We had coffee and two kinds of bubbly, one sweeter than the other. We watched Augusto give a presentation to the restaurant guests. he talked about the family wines and then opened the bottles of bubbly with a big chef's knife. I had seen that on TV before, but never in real life, so that was a fun experience. AFter this we went to a club close by to have some more drinks and dance. The music was techno and even though I was still in my non-flattering travel clothes, and everyone else was in typical amazingly beautiful Italian mode, I went ahead and danced my little heart out. I stayed that night at Augusto's house, on his couch. I didn't mind. Everything about this area of the world was screaming "home" so as long as I had a blankent I was fine.

The next morning I woke up early and laid around taking note of all the things about Italy I adored. 1. The concept of the thing that closes off the outside world from your house. It's like the metal doors that come down over business fronts in the city, only they are on all the doors and windows of every place in italy, either that or they have shutters! I love it though. I love waking up and opening up the house to the sunshine (hopefully, if the weather is nice)and the rest of teh world. It's like the house is waking up too. 2. Everyone in Italy always looks like they belong on a fashion show runway. Always clean, nicely dressed, nice shoes, nice ironed clothes, hair perfectly in place. Truely a beautiful people. 3. I love the food. The amazingness of simplicity. Itay has that down. 4. The mixing of water with wine and drinking out of regular glasses. It doesn't matter how you drink it or what you're drinking out of, chances are if you're drinking locally, it's amazing. After pondering for a while we had our breakfast of cookies and tiny the coffee. Then the rest of the afternoon was laziness at it's best. We watched Eagle Eye in Italian...well, I watched Eagle Eye in Italian, every time I looked over at Augusto he was doing the “baby-neck” as one of my college professors calls it. When I’d catch him nodding off I would wake him up and then try to explain what was going on, in Italian. Try explaining about 30 minutes of a complex movie in a new language, once again, the dictionary was our best friend. After the movie Augusto and I played an old style video game on his Playstation. I really like the old games where the only buttons I need to know are up, down, left, right, and shoot. That kept us entertained for a good 3 hours until we needed to get ready to go to the Durello festival. We had only planned on going to the festival to see Daniela, but ended up staying for a bit of the festivities. I was happy to see more familiar faces as I walked in the door, including Giovanni (this is the brother of my boss from the winery) and his wife and daughter whom I had spent time with at work and the Soave festival. I was starting to feel like the Prodigal Son returned home. It felt good to know I had been missed and it made me realize that, “Yes, I did make at least a little impact in the lives of these people.” Maybe they will forever remember me as that American girl that came and screwed all the boxes and labels, but at least they will remember me! And speaking of people who remembered me…The director of the Soave consortium also greeted me at the door. For those of you who don’t remember, because it was a long time ago, he was the one who made Guilia and I be in the promotional video for the consortium (which I’m still working on finding where they posted) one day when we were only suppose to deliver wine to them for the shoot. He asked me how I had been and how my travels were. He told me he still wanted me to come by the Consortium if I had time (which I didn’t but wished I did). Then he asked me how long I would be staying at the festival. I told him not long, and he insisted that I stay for just a while longer, telling me that he wanted to talk to me after he did this presentation for everyone. Of course this conversation was in Italian and it was loud in the building so in usual Rachel-form I only got about half of what was going on. I said, “okay, okay, okay, “ then went straight to Augusto and told him I didn’t understand more than three words this guys had said to me and we just laughed it off. Well, later I found out just what it was he wanted me to do. I was standing in the back of the room, minding my own business, going from table to table tasting Durello (which is a varietal that is new to sparkling wine, drier than Prosecco, but not as dry as a Brut Champagne, with not quite as crisp fruits as a Prosecco and a bit of a minerality) when I heard myself being called up to the stage. I broke out in instant embarrassment and nervousness knowing that I was bound to have to talk in Italian in front of this room full of people who would undoubtly notice every grammar and tense (because I’m really only good with present, simple past, and simple future) mistake that stuttered out of my mouth. I walked up to the stage with that stupid half smile thinking I really just wanted to crawl back to the corner and hide. When I got to the stage I really had no more of an idea of why I was there then I had before and just stood there looking confused. The announcer was speaking so fast and the reverb was so bad that instead of making an effort to speak Italian I played the “I don’t understand the words coming out of your mouth” card pegging myself as the poor Pretty Blonde girl that was only there because she looked nice. Which I found, upon asking the guy standing on the stage next to me, was exactly why I was up there! They played it off as I was receiving a gift from the consortium for being the person that had traveled the farthest to attend the festival, but truth of the matter was, I was pretty so they put me up there. To make matters worse, because I was so nervous I made myself out to be the Babbling Pretty Blonde Idiot from Missouri who really didn’t have a clue. After the presentation I basically ran off the stage and hid in the corner. So sorry to all my MO friends who I poorly represented that night, BUT I did get three really cool wine books about the Soave area. Unfortunately, there was no room in the back pack for the large heavy books, so I gave them to Augusto. We left the festival and went with Daniela and Alessandro to a new pizza restaurant known for their specialty crusts. I had a mushroom pizza and a wheat crust. It was a bitter sweet moment, realizing that this would probably be the last time I would eat dinner with my three friends, as well as the last time I would eat the delicious Italian yumminess called pizza. I savored every, single, bite. After dinner we went to a sports bar near the house to have one last drink before we all slugged off to bed.

Monday morning I woke up early and went to work with Augusto and Daniela. I was excited to spend time at the cantina, to be able to see everyone one last time before I really left. I dressed for a run and planned to run into Ronca to pick up my photo album from the lady who used me as her store’s model. The run itself felt very nostalgic. It felt like I was home again, running on familiar roads, but at the same time the scenery had changed, the weather had gotten colder… I took the time to reflect on just how far I’d come since I had first run this path. I had finished my internship, learning Italian and how to make wine. I had traveled more of Europe than most of my Italian friends might ever see, not to mention just more of Italy! I had experienced heart-break when I had to leave my friends behind the first time, but now I felt more prepared, more ready. It’s comparable to my vocal contests in high school, the first time to sing in front of the judges was always the hardest, but after it was over I always felt like if I could do it a second time, I could do it perfectly without all the nerves. Maybe I had just come to grips with the fact that my Italian friends would always be my friends, and that there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I HAD to go home. Or maybe I was just starting to get tired and home was beginning to not sound so horribly bad. Either way, I finally felt at peace with the idea of leaving the place and people who had become so much a part of my life. My attempt to retrieve the album failed. The store front was closed the first time I ran by, so I ran a little further hoping I’d catch her on the way back, but there was no such luck. So in Ronca, Italy there is quite possibly an album still waiting to be picked up being held by a store owner who probably thinks I’m a liar and just never came by to get it. By the time I got back to the cantina my friend Francesco had arrived. Since I had left the cantina Francesco had started a new job. He came back to see me (and collect his last check, but I like to think it was more to see me :-) ). We walked around the cantina finding people to say hello to. I got to see Vassi, my funny Romanian friend. He was planning on leaving for the season on December 6th. He explained to me that working the harvest for 5 months in Italy gives him enough money to live the rest of the year in Romania. He was excited to get back to his family and friends. Francesco and I spent about an hour walking around until he had to go get ready for work. He dropped me off at the bank and we said our goodbyes. “Last hugs” and very touching moments. Francesco and I had started off not understanding even a small bit of each other. I was pretty convinced that he didn’t even like me. Little by little we could make conversation and understand each other, allowing us to really become friends. I told Francesco if he ever wanted to come to the US to work on a farm (because he’s an Agriculture boy) that I had plenty of connections for him in Missouri. He wasn’t too convinced he could make it by with his English non-skills, but I told him he’d get the hang of it. After he left I hit up the ATM to prepare for my trip to Venice the next day, then I walked around the little town of Terrosa running across a beautiful church I had never noticed and the little grocery store that Augusto and Alessandro had taken me to the first day that I ate lunch with the Cantina employees. I bought some grissini and cookies and took them to Franco’s where I met my Cantina friends for lunch. It was nice to have everyone around the table again (minus Francesco and Giulia). After lunch I spent the rest of my day using the computer finding hostels, buying tickets, house cleaning basically, getting ready for a trip to Venice and the following trip to Spain. Augusto and I left the cantina around 6:30 then headed home. Augusto taught me how to make a Spritz, telling me that way I could make them when I got back to the US. We had our Spritz while we waited for his neighbor, Andrea, to join us for dinner. We had Pasta con Tonno (tuna) just like Augusto had made for me the lunch time I spent at the Cantina. Andrea brought a large tray of small Italian pastries in honor of my departure. From this I finally got to try a Sicilian Cannoli, however it wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. I must prefer the ones Julia and I made at Nonna’s Italian American Café in Springfield, MO! We drank Giulia’s Prosecco so that we could feel like she was a part of it all as well. Alessandro and Daniela joined us later in the evening just to say goodbye (which was a lot easier, with a LOT less tears this time). After everyone left I started some laundry, got my pack as ready as possible, then listened to some orchestra music to calm my nerves and get to sleep in preparation for the most un-planned part of my trip.

I left early the next morning. Augusto took me to the bus station and left me in the care of an older couple who was taking the same bus as me to Vicenza. It was hard to say bye to Augusto. He had been so much like an older brother to me, always making sure that I was feed and taken care of, always stopping to explain things to me even if it took an extra five minutes. But I promised him I wouldn’t cry until he was gone and I managed to hold it together with thoughts of seeing Venice. I would take the bus to Vicenza and go to the train station to catch my train to Venice, arriving there at 8am. I would have all day and one night in Venice, then I would leave the next morning on a plane to Barcelona, Spain.

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