Thursday, August 6, 2015

Chapter Three: Challenging the Status Quo

I cannot believe it has been four weeks already since we arrived.  I had meant to write more often, but somehow the time here has taken over.  Out of the month we have been here, there has been all of two days when we have had quiet time.

The place reveals itself as one of gathering.  We call it the Veglio math.  If you start out with plans for 6 people for dinner, just automatically double it.   I have now learned that when you make a risotto, use two handfuls per person not one as instructed by our teacher. Then, add 49% more, carry the two and arrive at the right amount for this place.  Always assume there is the need to make a little more room at the tavola.

After our initial workshop for permaculture,  we had about a week where we kicked back in Barcelona and then had a few days to ourselves to paint the upstairs.

For the past week, we have been joined by a group calling themselves Pesci Piccolo(little fishes).  Starting with just a few people the first days, more show up each day.   The group is a collection of artists, musicians, actors and other creative from mostly Italy and France, but also now places like Egypt and Iran.
They gather each summer to create during a two-week retreat.  Each person conceives an idea that is then evaluated.  Teams are selected for each idea and then a “show” is produced in the local area. 

It has been incredible to have the house filled with music from all corners of the world.  Guitar, flute, stand up bass and accordion so far that join voices on songs ranging from traditional Piemontese to the sound track of Brother Where Art Thou.

Much like our first group, these are mostly young people who are looking to create a different life.  Challenging the status quo of the past few decades and seeking to return to a more shared life in community.   Not content to take a traditional job and the trappings of the accumulation of stuff.

This concept of community has been the biggest eye opener for Linda and I this Summer. At first, we were a bit hesitant to have all these “strangers” in the house but we have been amazed at how respectful each of them has been.

Maybe we can bring some of this spirit back to Orange County.  For there, we are far too isolated in our houses and in our cars and in our pursuits of individual success.  This re-balancing seems to be a recurring theme in not just our lives but so many around us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chapter Two: Workshop Ends, Thinking Begins

We are lounging around a hotel outside of Barcelona today.  We sent the last of the participants home on Monday morning , spent the afternoon in Veglio cleaning the house, washing sheets and taking the leftover food to Trontano.

After months of planning, the Spring scramble of construction and a week  of 20+ plus people around the table, it is hard to believe it is over.

Best Classroom Ever..Mark in his Element
Our days together were a blur of lectures in the old kitchen, 10 mile hikes, cutting in the fields, dunks in the creek, cooking, cleaning, snoring, laughing and singing.

The first night, hardly anyone slept.  90 degrees, all these strangers tucked in every nook and cranny in the house.  Strange noises, dust falling from the unfinished ceilings in the summer bedrooms, people crawling down two sets of ladders at three in the morning.  Like your first day of school, everything so foreign and dark in the middle of the night.

Tom Belting Out Spanish Songs
But how quickly the uncomfortable newness gave way to the bonding of friendship.  We were concerned about meal preparation and cleaning for such a big crowd.  That fear quickly vanished when we started to make our first lunch together.  People started filtering into the big kitchen while we were prepping to offer their help. 

Like a jazz band, everyone just seemed to pick up the beat and soon enough plates were set, salads were made, cheese was grated, wine poured and before you knew it everyone was laughing around the big table.

The same thing happened with clean-up.  We had to actually encourage people to relax a bit and not race to wash dishes.  Our “master plan” of spending each night making a detailed chore chart quickly went by the way side. 

In the end, our job was to simply make sure our food arrived up the mountain each day to stock the old cantina(cellars) and then to adapt the menu to the fresh veggies that we could pick from the gardens.

Lukas and Beatrice...Homemade Bread
There are so many incredible things that happened, it is really hard to pick out just a few. 

An empassioned candlelight talk from Giolle about his call back to the land, Daniele Testori explaining the dramatic forces of the Alpine geologic forces on our lives, a “surprise” visit from Dick and Kathy from California. 

At first,  both Linda and I kept saying how lucky we were to have such a perfect combination of participants for our first workshop.   But we now replace the word “lucky” with telling people how “blessed”  we have been. 

There are clearly some other powers in motion that are guiding our collective work together.   And not just in Veglio, for each participant came to this place and time to share their dream of something different.  New farms in Tuscany and Spain and the US, new seed research, training sites, clothes designs…to name a few.
Saying Goodbye

It ultimately was this collective hope of something better that caused this special group to make such beautiful music together. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chapter One: Summer in Veglio

Two of our volunteers from the music and acting troupe
With so many activities this year, I thought I would write more short updates on our experiences.

We arrived in Italia on Wednesday afternoon.  Smooth flights from LAX, through New York and onto Milan.  I had the bright idea of a new train right to Domodossola that turned a few hour trip into, let’s just say much more.

We finally settled into the house, which for the first time, we have our bedroom ready, two bathrooms and the beautiful new(600 year old) kitchen.

What we use to turn one piece of beef into two!
Our workshop starts next Tuesday so we have been crazy getting the house and property ready.  We have volunteers from a local art and theater group who are helping out which is great. 

Today was a strange day.  While Linda and I were catching up on sleep, one of the young bull cattle that grazes the hillsides tripped on an old stone terrace and proceeded to roll down the hill…a quarter mile down the hill. 

So, a frantic race to quarter the animal and haul the meat up the mountain ensued.  We now have the head and four parts hanging in the cellar awaiting a visit from the butcher to finalize the preparation. 

Some of you may remember the new painting that hangs in the old church by Fredy Buchwalder. The painting depicts the Madonna, baby Jesus, Saint Mark and another Italian saint.  There is a “sister” painting that was deemed too controversial to be placed in the church so we are putting that painting in the house.

Andrea called to say that we should walk down and pick up the painting.  Good idea, but a few details that added complexity. “Down the hill” to Fredy’s is about one mile.  Secondly, the painting is about 4 feet by 6 feet.  Lorenzo, the leader of the theater group, and I ran down the hill to meet Fredy at his studio.
Temporary Resting Place for Madonna

We then proceeded to carry the Madonna di Veglio up the gravel road…one mile up a pretty steep slope.  We tried many different techniques to handle her with care. Finally, we took off our shirts and piled them on our heads. From there, Madonna went on top of our heads, balanced rather precariously.

The “Pilgrims” arrived safe and sound.  With the warm weather, we have been eating under the stars.  A wonderful meal followed this crazy day with songs in French, Italian, English and local dialect being sung until midnight.

In the morning, we pick up Alexandra at the airport.  Just a few more days til our guests arrive.  Hopefully, the bull parts will make their way to the locker soon!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Pazzi Americani...Italian-Americans Hosting Restoration Ag Workshop!

Linda and I Checking Out the Field Clearing
So what are a bunch of Americans doing in a little, rural village in far northern Italy? Veglio is a world away from Orange County or Chicago, but every summer you will find us working, laughing, eating and sharing here.

My wife and I have a passion for healthy food, restoration of the land, family and Italy. My grandfather was born in the ancient house that hosts the workshop, and we have been reconnecting with the important root that has existed in this soil for over 500 years.

Our Clan Making Fresh Pasta
From our first steps on this land eight years ago, we are now joined by our children, brothers, sisters, cousins, old friends and new. Our dreams and sweat are flowing to help breathe vitality once again to this perfect example of a sustainable village. 

For the Restoration Agriculture workshop, my wife Linda, our oldest daughter Alexandra and I will be sharing our home, cooking and experiences in living a Vita Mista….a life split between the modern urban life and one grounded  in the land and traditions from past centuries.

We will be joined by our local Italian family as well as various “collaborators” from across Europe and Italy.  Linda is a passionate coach and student of holistic health and nutrition. Alex is a writer and marketing professional from Chicago who is a leader in helping the non-profit and corporate community service efforts. I am involved in various business and technology ventures in addition to helping young food and ag entrepreneurs. 

Looking forward to seeing you on the mountain. Salute!

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Walk with Papa

My biological father left before I formed any memories of him.  He was replaced by an abusive stepfather who only much later mellowed into a sweet, but broken old man. My mother struggled with her own demons of anger and mental illness. 

Growing up, encouragement and guidance were in short supply.  Fear and criticism were the primary themes.

My maternal grandfather “Papa Tuna”, with roots in this gritty but beautiful village of Veglio, was a legend in my mind.  He named me for himself after a long, unproductive debate amongst my parents. He took me fishing, showed me the cows, pigs, rabbits and chickens that provided for our extended family. He introduced me to the wonders of coffee and dark chocolate and those awful candy cigarettes that were mandatory for any child of the 60’s. 

He died when I was seven, the result of too much free time in retirement that was occupied by drinking.  He was a pioneer with a kind and generous spirit.

I sought acceptance and praise in many forms.  Sports, sometimes school but most of all in work. It was fleeting and I put way too much of my identity into the work of the moment.

Later in life, I have been blessed with great friends and  mentors.  People who are there for the good and the bad.  Who help each other most when the chips are down.   I felt the power of an “atta boy” and really honest acceptance.  And in advice and perspective even when I didn’t want to hear it. 
I took a walk with Papa this week. Our hands were clasped behind our backs just like he did and I do. We looked at the new roof, the kitchen the fields that we are clearing.  We sat in the church and looked up at the white dove and the blue and fading ceiling.  I asked him if I have done ok.  He smiled and winked but I could not hear him. 

So for now, we will keep at it.  And I will do my best to encourage and guide and help the young people in my life. 

Ultimately, we are helping to build something for this next generation who are being called back to the land and a deeper spirit of community.