This must be Italy….

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Yesterday was day 8 here in Italy, and it finally sunk in that we are here.  Before that, it was more like being at “Giordano’s house”… where the “extras” just happened to speak in mostly indecipherable, robust, ticklingly rhythmic tongues.  As soon as we dressed and ate breakfast, we piled into our little Fiat for an extended pilgrimage through the countryside, in pursuit of fresh, raw milk and cheese. While he was at work yesterday  his mamma blew up his phone (five times, to be precise), to report a source of organic raw milk at the farm just below her home, in the hills above Assisi.

 

My moon blood had just begun to flow- a sacred day I designate for rest and introspection (if such a thing is possible with a two and a half year old…).  I was not expecting the exxxtended amusement park ride along narrow, rutted gravel roads overlooking stunning, steep green and golden hillsides rolling across all space.  Turns out, he didn’t really know “the way”. All he knew is that the farm was “below the house of his mother”. My breath became involuntarily shallow, my body tense, after the gazillionth dramatic twist about the infinite span of ruined road.  I tried to let go and surrender to Giordano’s questionable leadership. But at some point, I lost it, and venomously begged to turn the fuck around and forget it. Nope. Driven by raw instinct (as he mostly is), he kept driving. Within a minute we pulled into the driveway of a massive stone house.  The kind you see in movies- sturdy rectangular boxes, with small, precise windows framed by wooden shutters. The surrounding land, lush, green and laden with friendly trees, spilling offerings of fruit and shade. Three happy country dogs greeted us, and called to their Master.

 

He emerged from the fairytale house, unkempt brown hair and overgrown beard flying everywhichway.  He was slender, with a hint of pot belly and posture that whispered the tale of a life of hard-assed, though gratifying labor.  Giordano got out of the car and greeted him. I could pick out a few Italian words… I think he said that he was the son of Raphaella, and she had told him they had raw milk for sale?  Eventually, he gestured for me to get out of the car. I unbuckled Serena from her carseat, and greeted the warm-hearted farmer. A voluptuous woman with pale, maudlin blue eyes, wide awake baby on her hip emerged from the house.

 

Together we ascended the stone stairs and crossed the threshold into a darkish, cozy kitchen.  It felt intimate and brimming with life. Serena immediately spotted the baby’s bouncy seat, and brazenly demanded to climb in and press all the musical buttons.  Into the kitchen wandered a little boy, not too much bigger than Serena, wearing only a t-shirt. Rippling streams of Italian conversation filled the small kitchen as I stood receptive and shy.

 

They gave us tiny cups of their homemade yogurt to sample.  Then the man and his pants-less boy escorted us through the charming, wild garden to a dark barn, guarded by a silver horse.  Giordano fed the majestic guardian one of the fallen apples he had foraged for the cows on our walk through the garden. In the barn, five cows eagerly licked the remnants of their breakfast from the feeding trough.  Giordano offered them the remaining apples, which they gladly devoured. Their udders were small and freshly emptied. I petted each of their wide, soft faces, marveled at their massive strong bodies and wondered how I can eat beef and live with myself.  

 

We left the barn and meandered around the back side of the house, into a basement room, where giant slabs of dead pig hung from the ceiling.  Our kind host showed us a hutch filled with rounds of homemade cheese. But not enough to sell, they said.

 

Back in the house, our host offered us coffee, “strong enough for Mexicans”.  As I was neither Mexican, nor in need of excessive jacking up, I declined. Giordano accepted.  The ample, lactating queen of the castle brought us a large plastic water bottle filled with that morning’s milk, which they insisted was a “gift”.  We schmoozed a bit more before exchanging friendly goodbyes. “Ciaos”, actually.

 

The drive back to the main road didn’t seem nearly as long and daunting.  

 

Not too far down the main road, we arrived at a (relatively) more commercial  farm, where Giordano bought some fresh mozzarella and ricotta. Serena was thrilled to see long lines of holstein cows fiercely committed to munching massive piles of hay.  The smell of cow shit filled the warm, humid air.

 

We hopped back in our little Fiat (who runs on propane) and traversed more windy roads, in pursuit of MORE CHEESE.  Haha. This time it was another family home. A friendly man with a full, grey beard, shining eyes and strikingly short denim shorts greeted us, along with two small, eager dogs.   He and Giordano exchanged some friendly words and then the man led us into his kitchen, which was flooded with sweet, buttery aroma. A woman with short, grey hair, joyful eyes and a german accent greeted us.  Monica. Though she wasn’t “fat”, her “extra” suggested her love of baking and partaking. She was rolling out greasy cookie dough. Her teenage daughter, exuding a modest presence, sat at the far corner of the table, spreading some kind of chocolate goo on toast, making intermittent crunching music.  

 

Serena was dying for a cookie.  To my relief, they weren’t ready yet.  Poor thing. I wish I’d never let her eat a cookie… or even watch a show in which they ate cookies.  Because Pandora’s box is officially OPEN.

 

I felt my aura tucked close to my body as I spoke with effulgent Monica (in english) about simple things like her love of baking, her grandchildren in Germany, her daughter’s longing to get a nose piercing.  She pulled a small, homemade calendar from the wall and beamed as she showed us photos of her children and grandchildren. She promised Serena a raincheck on cookies, which she even threatened to deliver to our doorstep on her way to town one day.  

 

We eventually left with a huge round of sharply scented sheep cheese.  

 

The heat of the day was now upon us.  Our meandering morning outside of time suddenly came to a jarring halt.  We still had an errand to run in the town of Assisi. I felt hungry and aware  that Serena’s nap time was approaching faster than was convenient.

 

Hence we embarked on another epic leg of our day’s journey, which included driving through the stunning center of Assisi (OMG, I can’t believe I live a stone’s throw from such an ancient, mythic “destination”), spending “hours” in a massive store, in (fruitless) search of a mosquito net to protect us as we sleep (Serena is getting devoured every night and my heart aches each time I look at her sweet face, dappled with inflamed, red bumps.)  Exiting the belly of said store, ravenous. Resigning to eating lunch out, even though money is feeling uncomfortably scarce. Climbing to the highest hill in Assisi, to a restaurant overlooking the Whole World, owned by two brothers who press Giordano’s olive oil. Everything in their restaurant is organic, and mostly grown and made by them. Even the flower in the hearty, country bread and pungent, buttery blue cheese.

 

I could write a whole story about lunch.  But I don’t feel like it. My body craves yoga.  And the moral of this story, is that in Italy, “going to get milk and cheese” is not a minimal, colorless endeavor.   It is a weighty, relational Happening, which requires half a day and fully awakened senses.

Let it be noted.

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