Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Nobility of Work

The first time that my Italian nephew Andrea met my American nephew Harry, he asked him a question.  Harry, what do you build?  Not Harry, what do you drive,  how many facebook friends do you have, what do you do…but what is it that you build with your own hands?  Harry, who is a hard working, wonderful young man was taken aback.  He had probably never been asked such a question.  It seems that in the modern American version of success, we have risen about working with our hands. 

Andrea and Harry Enjoying a Well Deserved Rest
That somehow those Powerpoints or spreadsheets are the real work and that to get the soil under our fingers or the sawdust on our brow is beneath us.  I think on some level, this is a reflection of our greater economic challenges where we got so successful and could borrow so easily that we deferred the making of and the building of and the designing of to others.  Affluenza I think they call it! 

In the old village of Veglio that at its peak had 250 inhabitants, nearly everything that was needed was made by hand.  The milk that was turned into cheese, the grapes that were turned into wine...the vegetables and animals to last through the winter.  The grain and chestnuts milled and then crafted into dark, nutritious bread that was baked twice a week. 

The rocks that were gathered  from the fields and the mountainsides were crafted into the walls and the roof.  The larch and pine and chestnut trees became the floors, the beams and the furniture.  Everything had a purpose and the wise use of your hands could turn the land and resources into the essential things that are required for a good life.

Mama Tuna and Grandpa and Grandma McCoy
I firmly believe that this somehow connects us to the earth and as importantly to each other.  Working together to provide the most important elements of our life.  There is a huge movement across the US to put on the table what is grown on small, local farms.  Thousands of young people who only in the previous generation would have been mocked for doing so, are opting out of the corporate track to build productive, healthy family farms.   
Grandma Driving Her SUV

A similar appreciation is growing of building with more sustainable, readily available materials.  Less plastic, less concrete, less material that must be trucked from halfway around the world.   We collectively seem to be gravitating, if ever so slowly,  towards a place of balance between convenience and significance. 

My grandparents had a huge influence on my life.  They not only loved me but they taught me how to work and how to appreciate the simple joys that come from making a house and land a home.  I have fond memories of my then 75 year old grandmother plowing her garden or replacing the floor of her porch.  We saw the same thing in the rural parts of Italy as well.   People well into their 80’s with shovels and rakes, working their garden or cleaning up a patch of land.  With smiles and a sense of contentment on their faces. 

Andrea and Sal Using a 700 Year Old Technique
My hope that this will be not only part of our life as we continue to restore our Italian home, but also will be a legacy that we can leave for our children and grandchildren. That they can learn to tend the gardens, grapes and the orchards. To cut the brush from the creek so they too can see the old church from the terrace on a late Summer day.  And also learn the ancient crafts and share the same experience as their ancestors three hundred years earlier. 

Dinner in Veglio
To get a sense of the satisfaction that comes from turning your labor into a meal for your family or a glass of wine that can be shared with friends around a fire.  To experience this on the mountain for a few weeks during the year and then bring that back to their own homes wherever that may be.