Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Road Home

This will be another long one. It’s mainly for my nieces and nephews who need family stories to feed them, along with the Thanksgiving feast. I’m missing them today, but anyone’s welcome to read this. It's still about terroir.

Summit of Mt Greykock, Adams, Massachusetts, USA

Every time I smell fresh thyme, I’m instantly taken back to my grandmother’s house in the northern Berkshires of Massachusetts. I like to cook with it for this very reason (apart from its taste).

It’s such a powerfully evocative scent. There I am with my big brother and my cousin, Amy, and we’re lying on our sides, rolling down the grassy embankment together like logs, laughing hysterically, especially when we try to stand up again, dizzy. There must have been wild thyme growing there. After so many trips down the hill, it’s in me now. . . in my nose, in my memory bank, running through my veins. My brother, Casey, recently told me he has the same reaction to the scent of thyme. So there it is, not only connecting us to the land, but to each other.

I’m feeling a bit homesick today. It’s Thanksgiving in the United States and my family is together, and I’m missing it. If there, I’d spend all day cooking for them, which I love. I’d be making the gravy, which they love—with some thyme, of course, and rosemary—but I’m in Sicily, enjoying an espresso. There are worse places I could be, for sure. I’m thankful for where I am, even though I’m feeling the distance today.

But I’m thinking that this is terroir, too. This sense of home in me.
I have to confess that when I think of “home”, it’s never been New Jersey, where I’ve lived for a number of years, and spent much of my childhood.
Home has always been New England—to some extent, Vermont. But really, it’s always been Adams, Massachusetts, specifically.

Even as a child, I felt such gratitude that somehow I had been able to know this place, and felt sad for those who didn’t.
It shaped me spiritually. I’m sure of this.
When I played in the pastures behind my grandmother’s house, with my brother and cousin and friends; when we climbed the stone cliffs in Turners Woods; when the family went for picnics and we built dams in the river for a swimming hole, it was not water flowing there. It was love—that big love, running through all things but often hidden from our sight, our senses. I could feel it wash over me and through me, and I felt such privilege. I felt cradled by this Big Love.

My mother grew up there in the Berkshires. My grandmother, too.
The terroir of Adams, in my grandmother’s youth, included the steady rumble of countless textile mills in the valley between two mountain ranges (my friends out in the American west will laugh that I call them mountains).
She once told me that on Sundays, when the mills would shut down for a few hours for everyone to go to church, the valley’s sound was transformed. The stillness was startling.

It was almost the opposite in my childhood, with nearly all the mills shut down for years. I knew a stillness there that I learned to take into myself when I needed it. The land there gave me that.

But occasionally, because of the lime quarry on the mountainside in North Adams, I’d be shaken as the explosion of dynamite shook the whole valley and left its scars on the place I loved.
At 7 years old this pained me, to watch this industry carry away, bit by bit, pieces of this mountain I loved as ardently as any lover might. It was like bits of my heart being carted off by the Pfizer corporation. I was so afraid of it—the sound, but also the destruction. I asked my uncle Joe “When will they stop? Will they keep blasting until it’s all gone?”
Eventually they did stop. My mountain is still there (yes, it’s my mountain). But so is that white wound of the lime terraces, that scar.

I lived on the summit of my mountain one summer, while working for an environmental organization. At night, when work was through, I loved to go sit on a point that overlooked Adams. I knew the place so well that even at night I could find my grandmother's house by counting the street lamps that moved up the unique curve of her street. By day, I could easily find it and look over the pine tree planted when I was born, by then a giant. My uncle called it "That tree you were born under."

My uncle Joe was like a second father to me. He loved this place like I did, and he understood my love for it, deeply I think. After work, he’d come to the house to pick me up. We’d drive through the hills, up to the farms on Walling Road, some of which still remain, surprisingly. We’d feed the horses there, then drive on toward Hollerich’s dairy farm, and Stafford Hill, where stands the small stone tower, a war memorial my grandfather helped build.

When my family moved to New Jersey when I was 8, my uncle knew how much I suffered over it, being ripped from this place. He would send me clippings from the newspaper about Adams, about Mt Greylock and the latest round of developers trying to exploit her for profit (and failing, thankfully). Articles about the mudslide that changed the mountain’s face overnight, articles about the return of the wild turkeys and the black bears due to conservation efforts. I devoured these words like love letters from my mountain. My uncle helped keep the place alive in me, helped me to keep feeling it, even as I tried to make sense of all the “rock gardens” in our new town, nearly treeless on an over-developed barrier island, lifeless in the winter, and loud, manic in the summer.

But I was talking about Anna, my grandmother, wasn’t I?

Anna, would tell me stories of the valley on her back step when, in my young adulthood and during college, I would go visit her some weekends. She’d pour out her stories while I breathed in that wild thyme growing on the hill right next to us. The stories and the land are intertwined for me now.

She told me about my great-grandmother, Josie, who came on a ship from Poland, through Ellis Island, and landed here in this community of Polish and French immigrants. As I think of my pain in leaving Adams, which I could and did always return to, I imagine Josie’s pain at leaving a country and a family behind, to which she would never return.
She was only 16 years old. Her older sister was supposed to be the one going to America, but (if I remember the story correctly) they discovered her sister was pregnant, so there was a very-last-minute change of plans.
J√≥zefina, you’re going.”
I think of her courage and her pain. Sixteen years old, on a ship across an ocean, alone. A pilgrim, of sorts.
I think of how she landed in that town I love. I think of the ripples that spread out and lap against the shore of my own life, and on this day of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful.
Especially now that I make that journey in reverse.
And I think of making it permanent.
But more about that in a moment.

I’m remembering now, sitting with my grandmother Anna and complaining, bemoaning the stress of university life, the 20-something-year-old confusion of not knowing what would or should come next for me.
As a woman born in the very early 20th century, Anna had had few choices in life. 
No matter what issues I might be facing, she would always repeat like a mantra, “Get your education. Get your education.”
This meant something coming from a woman who, when I foolishly asked what high school she’d graduated from, laughed and said “I graduated from the Berkshire Mills.” What a fool I was to complain in this company about having too many choices.
But she didn’t judge or condemn me for that. She listened, and then we sat for a few minutes just breathing, drinking some lemonade, looking out at Mt. Greylock, and the crab apple, pine, and maple trees in her yard. Then she spoke.

“You used to bring me furry yellow caterpillars off that tree when you were little.”
“I remember those,” I said.

Then there was another bit of silence before she said, as if to herself, “I wonder what they’re for.”
“The caterpillars?” I ask.
She nods in the affirmative. “Everything has a purpose,” she says.

Go find yours. I still feel her unspoken words in my heart, and she’s been gone for well over 15 years now.

A lot of people who shared the Berkshires with me are gone now. And each rests in the earth there, even if for years they, too, had to move away to other places.
There is a road through the small Berkshire hill towns to the east of Adams. It takes about an hour to reach the major highway that runs through a few New England States, north to south.
I think of it as The Road Home.
First, as a funeral procession, we drove my Uncle John home on that road many, many years ago. He’d lived in Holyoke for decades, but wanted to be buried at Home in Adams. In the Polish cemetery up on the hill overlooking the valley.

A couple of years ago, it was his daughter, my cousin, Amy, who used to roll down the grassy hill with me. Gone too young, from cancer.

Last year, it was her mother, Alice. My aunt, who also shared stories of Adams with me. She was a great repository of family history, and I miss sitting with her and listening. Even after a stroke, when she struggled to find words, she still remembered everything.

I know this road well. I would take it to Adams from my college on the coast of Massachusetts. I’d think of my family as I passed through the forests, through the stretch of maples and stone walls and pastures that my uncle loved.
At Amy’s funeral, on that journey I noticed how the road had changed in only a few years since I’d last driven on it. Trees and underbrush spilling out onto the shoulder, and the ponds made by beavers, encroaching on the asphalt.  
Nature will always, always have her way, just as she did with my cousin.
Just as she will with me.

At the end of that road I would go to the cemetery and see them there, returned to the land . . .the family name carved on so many headstones. I think one day I would like to rest there with them, too. Buried over at the cemetery border, under the maples, pulled up by their roots and into their leaves where one day I might shout in my orange voice, “I was.”
And yet I am.

That place, that land—its stone walls, its rolling hills and pastures, its maple trees like fireworks exploding into autumn color, its smooth and pristine white silence after the blizzards—this place is inside me so profoundly that I think it is the ruler by which I measure all other places. How do they measure up to the Berkshires? How different or how alike are they?

I contemplate this now, as I think of this new continent where I find myself. As I think of staying here for a while . . . maybe a long while.
What happens when the road home isn’t just a road . . . but an ocean, wide and deep?
How do you carry a mountain across the waters?

I think of it, and my heart pounds, strong, like footsteps on a difficult and necessary journey.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Luigi Speaks of Love

[Note: This post was written a week ago. I'm only posting now because I finally have an internet connection]

Fattoria Armonia, Calabria, Italy, 2014

I'm feeling pretty sad tonight. This will be a long-ish post, I think, so bear with me.

It was a long day of traveling in the Old Thunderous French Truck to Catanzaro. We had to go to the Olive Oil Guys and fill up 256 large metal canisters with oil (yes, I counted them, after transporting them multiple times—onto the truck, over to the oil holding tanks, back to the truck, then off the truck for storage). I was thinking of my cousin Kate, who has enviably sculpted arms. I was thinking this was the closest I'd get to doing the kind of “reps” she does. Once the canisters were full, it was a pretty good workout. If tomorrow I can lift my arms high enough to brush my teeth, it will be nothing short of a miracle.
Does Italy recognize a Patron Saint of aching biceps? If so, I should probably get on bended knees and start praying . .. that is, if my knees weren't also killing me.

Olive oil canisters in the Old Thunderous French Truck. 

Yesterday, I was moving the same giant pile of floorboards from the lumber mill to the Old Thunderous French Truck, then unloading from said truck, then stacking the wood with spacers to dry. Among other tasks. . .and then there was the olive harvest. Enjoy the oil, friends. It doesn't come easily.

So, pretty much everything hurts.

Well, not my earlobes, maybe.
They seem to be fine.
And my eyelashes. They don't hurt right now.
But pretty much everything else.

But I must say, the drive was beautiful, along the sea, past ruins from when this part of Italy was Magna Graecia. We're talking old.

The proprietor of this farm—I'll call him Luigi, though that's not his real name—and I have struggled since I arrived. Struggled a lot.
Really, really a lot.
If this had been my first WWOOF farm, I might have just bagged the whole trip rather than risking this kind of stress again. It's partly due to the language barrier, and partly due to your basic personality clash. I've considered leaving a number of times. I've also been giving my Italian parolaccia (swear words) a real work out . . . under my breath, usually.
But not always.

I've tried . . . really tried to find reasons to like him. I've tried to use this difficulty as my sadhana, my practice; a chance to look at myself and my own reactivity and try to figure out where it's coming from and what it's about.
A few times, it's worked all right. But mostly, I've just been pissed off. My stomach in knots.
OK. So I apparently have more work to do on that.
When I found out that today we'd have three hours together in a truck, I figured one of us would end up dead by day's end. Very possibly him.

But guess what?

Sometimes peace happens.

And sometimes the language barrier can be your Very Good Friend.
Here's how:
Luigi knows I've been unhappy. He's been unhappy with the situation, too. His wife,Viviane, has also seen this difficulty between us, though she and I get along swimmingly, in Italian and French.

So on this drive, Luigi begins to talk.
This time, it's mostly in the best English he can muster.
This has been one of the issues over this week—a refusal to either try to speak English (which he can do), or speak Italian (really, Calabrese dialect) at a rate of speed that I can even hope to comprehend.
But today, in the truck, he is speaking a mix of English and mostly standard Italian, more slowly than he has all week. He is telling me about himself, explaining himself, clearly troubled by the way things have gone between us.

I don't agree with some of his assumptions about things, or some of what he says about communication. I'm tempted to voice disagreement.

But I can't.

And here's where Language Barrier = Friend.
My points of disagreement are too complex to express with my level of Italian. And probably too complex for his level of English comprehension.
I have to just shut up and listen.
And accept.
And be cool with not explaining or justifying my position.

And it turns out that these differences aren't so important anyway. I listen closely, and find similarities in our worldview. We just have different ways of expressing that view.
I hear where there's common ground. Actually, lots of it.
Because it's not my native language, I've given up on trying to explain myself. With that giving up, I'm free to just listen, rather than plan what I'll say when his mouth stops moving (which it doesn't often do, by the way).

And you know what? Whether I agree with him or not, my sense is he just needs to be heard. He needs to express himself, and be heard.
Don't we all?

Olives, ready for processing by the Olive Oil Guys.

We arrive at the frantoio, olive mill, with the very kindly Olive Oil Guys, Donato and Nico, north of Catanzaro. That's where I work my ass off. Donato asks me questions, shows me around the place, explains their production processes in patient Italian. He gets me a macchiato when, after what feels like the millionth canister is hoisted onto the cart, he hears me sigh and say I need an espresso.

Later, while Donato and Luigi settle their bill, Nico shows me the just-produced greenish-gold oil coming out of the taps. He reaches into his lunch bag and gives me one of his two sandwiches and one of his beverages. Just gives it to me.
And it's tasty.
I like these Olive Oil Guys.

Olive oil, just centrifuged.

A few hours later, after the work is done, Luigi and I are back in the truck. The work has gone smoothly. He hasn't pissed me off today. . . .well, not much anyway. He's been more patient.
We stop on the way home to enjoy the mind-blowing scenery, to take a photo or two.

I peel some apples and oranges for him as he drives.
He shakes my hand and says “We make peace.”
I smile. So does he.

He lets me talk—in English when necessary—and listens better than he has in days. I could be wrong, but I think he's come to realize that he underestimated me, and he hasn't understood me as well as he assumed. And I've done the same.
I tell him about my former life in Vermont, of the community I had there, of the beauty of the place.
We talk about how far away humans have moved from the natural world of which they are a part, and what it's cost us.
We talk about trees and the energy within natural, unspoiled places.
We speak of love, for the world and for other people, and of its absolute necessity in all things; of the need for people to “make contact” with the earth and with each other.
Of children—the ones he has, and the ones I've chosen not to have, and why.
We talk about mafiosi, and about a certain emptiness in some people that no amount of money can ever fill; that only love can fill.
We talk about the bees and the honey he collects from them, and how work that is done with love makes a fine product.
We talk about terroir.

I feel good when we get home and we're unloading the truck. It's relaxed, and we're joking a bit—this has not happened with us before.
A new WWOOFer has arrived, from Estonia. She speaks not a word of Italian or English.
Luigi says, “For you and me, takes five days to make understanding. This one will take five years, I think.” He laughs. I'm hoping, for her sake and his, that once again the language barrier can prove to be a friend. But I don't know . . .

But here's why I'm sad. Why the day was a roller-coaster ride, anticipating awfulness, finding goodness, then awfulness coming again.

From my first day here, I've eaten most of my meals with a kitten on my lap. There are also grown cats, dogs, a horse, donkeys, sheep, pigs, chickens, roosters. Lots of animals.
But there are two friendly, affectionate kittens here.
Or, there were.
Tonight, there's only one.

"Speedy", on my lap. The last remaining kitten.

After unloading the olive oil, while Luigi moved the truck, one of the kittens ran underneath. We called for Luigi to stop, and he did. The kitten came back out from under. But, before we could grab it, it ran under again as Luigi pulled out.
And it got hit.
And Luigi didn't know, and kept driving to park the truck up the hill.
But me and the other WWOOFer saw it.
We saw the poor creature stunned and wobbling, contorted, as the truck rolled away. It was a horrible, sad sight.
I ran to the truck to tell Luigi to come quickly. I told him the kitten had been hit, but I was too upset to remember how to say in Italian, “It's suffering. We can't fix it. I need you to help me put it out of its misery. I can't do it alone.”

But it didn't matter.
By the time we got back down the hill, it had stopped moving and it was dead.
Luigi was upset; beside himself, as I was.
He picked up its limp body, muttering in Italian and English, trying to find a reason for this to have happened. Saying that if there hadn't been a third person to distract us, it wouldn't have happened.

I tell him he's wrong. We tried. The cat had a will of its own.
And what's the point now in imagining it differently, what we might have done?
We can't change it now.

“Luigi, there was nothing I could have done. Nothing you could have done.”

“I'm sad for this animal,” he says kneeling beside it, “I'm sad for you . . . and for Viviane and Rosanna, who love this cat.”
We're quiet for a moment, looking at this sleek, but now limp creature he's placed on a stone. I've never seen him looking this sad.

“The sun is going down quickly. Do you want me to dig a hole? I'll dig a hole,” I say.
“Yes,” he says quietly, in my native tongue.
“Dove?” [where], I say in his.
“Down,” he says simply, gesturing. I know where he means. Across the road, and down the hill, in the place where there are olive and orange trees and giant cactus, and clover everywhere.

It's getting dark. I'm digging the hole as tears stream down my cheeks. Luigi kisses the animal and sets it in the hole, and we cover it gently.
He says, “I love the animals. But sometimes, I think I shouldn't have them. It's hurts too much when they go . . . they run out in the road, or . . . ” he trails off, and even in the dark I can see him thumping his fist at his chest, his heart.
Luigi hears my sniffling, and this man I've considered strangling about 100 times this past week puts his arms around me, and kisses my head.

I'm thinking of this warm, soft little creature we've just covered, thinking now he'll feed the olives and the oranges, which will feed us so we might breathe, and our breath feed the trees.

It's a good day to make peace.
Always a good day to make peace in an uncertain world,
Where everything—everything—is breathing.
Until it's not.
Where everything that's breathing is burning.


And again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Problem Bee

Honey and combs, Fattoria Armonia, Stilo, Calabria, Italy 2014

I've been at a new farm. Fattoria Armonia, in Stilo, Calabria, Italy.

I don't know how Viviane does it. But after 30 years of working with bees, she can read their moods and their intentions.

I found this out the hard way.

I've walked by the hives many times. Never a problem. But today, there are new hives, brought from another town, and the bees are now getting to know this place. I notice for the first time since I arrived that Viviane is wearing the suit. The orange jump suit with the bee-keeper hood, and the tall boots that cover the openings at the bottom of the pants. She's carrying that little smokey thing, too.

I'm wearing jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

You see where this is heading, right?

I've gone very close to the hives on other days, taken photos, videos, thanked them for the honey, or just listened, rapt, to the steady hum within and around the hives. No sweat. I love these furry, winged little guys. They're like mini, striped teddy bears that fly. 
And the honey they've made from all the springtime orange blossoms in the groves around here—to which is added some essence of bergamot—is nothing short of orgasmic. Which, OK . . . was a little embarrassing, but whatever.

Viviane, dressed appropriately.

“Stop!” Viviane cries out in English, which she doesn't really speak. She speaks French, and Italian with a heavy French accent. But I've heard her, clearly. “Stop! E' pericoloso!” [It's dangerous!]

I see the suit and the increased activity around the hives, so she doesn't have to tell me twice.

“OK. But I need to get some wood from that pile,” I call to her. The wood pile is right across from the hives. . . .

“Wait . . . I tell you when,” she says in Fritalian or Italiench, and walks slowly past the hives, looking, observing, listening. “No. Not yet. . . .”

I'm fascinated. “How do you know?” I ask.

She laughs. “Senso.” I sense, she says. She goes to the wood pile herself, and asks me which pieces I want for the job I'm doing, holding them up in the air, one by one.

Hives, Fattoria Bioarmonia, Calabria, Italy November 2014

Later that day, we're back near the wood pile, and she hasn't stopped me from going there. She's working closely with the hives, closing some of the bee's entry ports for the winter, and everything seems fine. She hands me a cover for one of the hives, which has some bits of empty wax honeycombs in it, but not bees. It's something she's going to clean. I'm standing there holding this thing while she gathers more of the same, when suddenly . . .

Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . BAM!

Right in the forehead.
One very fast, very aggressive, or possibly very stupid bee.
I instinctively swat at my head, and then I hear that same crazed buzzing alarmingly close to my ear.
And it's not going away.

Do you know that expression “to have a bee in one's bonnet”?
I get it now. Having a bee in one's bonnet is not a good thing. It's a thing that makes you appear crazy.
Only, I wasn't wearing a bonnet.
I gave those up a long time ago.
It was a bee in my hair. My rather long, voluminous, and easily tangled hair.

I'm swatting, frantically combing with my fingers, flipping my head upside down, flailing it like a 16-year-old heavy metal groupie, and the buzzing is just getting louder and more psycho-sounding.

If you'd like to take a moment here to picture this, for entertainment purposes, please do. By all means.

No really. Go ahead . . . . I'll wait. I don't mind the snickering. It's totally fine. . .

Hives, Fattoria Bioarmonia, Stilo, Calabria, Italy 2014


Viviane is busy with the hives, with her back to me, so she hasn't noticed any of this.I call out to her, “Viviane, I've got a bee stuck in my hair, please come help!”

Only, given my bad Italian and my state of panic, it probably sounded a lot more like this:

“AAAAAAAAAARGH!!! Viviaaaaane!!!! Beeeeee! Attack! Attack! Holy Shit, me it attacks now! Oh my god, Viviane, me you are saving now, yes?! For Christ's sake, Viviane!”

That's me. Always cool.

What? Oh, sure. We can pause again for you to picture this. Please. . . . enjoy.

But while you're picturing it, be sure to include the eyeglasses flying through the air.
[More about that in a second.]

I think she got the general idea, because she dropped everything, moved me away from the hives (my head flipped upside-down all the while), and started searching, combing through my hair.I could still hear buzzing and was pointing to my ear. It felt like it took a really long time for the buzzing to stop and for her to say, “Voici!” then cheerfully, “Okaaay!”

I'm thinking, Did she kill it? Where is it? 

Have you ever tried bee Pollen? It's really tasty.

I right myself, casually try to put every hair back in place, and stagger back toward the house.
But halfway there, I look into the distance and notice I can't see much except a blur.
I go to push my glasses further up the bridge of my nose and realize they aren't on my face.


I go back to the scene of the crime, and start searching through the grass and underbrush. I'm not finding anything.
I'm also not eager to get too near to the hives again. Not right now. Not yet, thanks.
Viviane comes to try to help me, and Luigi, too.
I'm wondering if a new pair of glasses is as expensive in Italy as it is in the United States. . .

“Aha!” I finally hear Viviane say. She holds up my lovely red frames.
Just the frames.
The lenses have popped out, and we have to find those nearby, too.

I have no recollection of this whatsoever—I don't remember hitting my glasses, or them flying anywhere.

One frickin' bee did this.
I'm so thankful it wasn't a whole swarm.
So thankful no one was nearby with a video camera and YouTube access.

“Powerful bee”, I say as Viviane drops my lenses into my hand. To her credit, she just smiles and pats my shoulder.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Problem Pig

We’re taking the sheep and goats from their quarters one morning and putting them outside. There aren’t many at Il Rifugio. Five or six sheep, three goats. We let them out, and tie the randy males to individual trees using long leads (yes, it’s possible this could have applications in other species . . .but that’s probably for a different blog), to prevent the herd from growing uncontrollably and give the “ladies” some peace.

We were doing this when Cesare told me about a gift they’d received from a friend some years back. It was a pig. A little, short-legged pig, with a belly that dragged on the ground. He said it was an Asian breed, though if he said the actual variety, I couldn’t translate it.

Cesare gets this look on his face, full of mischief, and tells me that this pig was an uncontrollable lothario. There were no other pigs on the farm, so first he tried to screw the sheep.  
Then he tried to screw the goats . . . which, frankly, I can’t even imagine, given that the goats are probably three times the height of the pig he’s described to me. Must have been quite a sight.
One goat sent this pig sailing through the air with a good kick.
Then the pig tried to mate with some farm equipment,
some fence posts,
some cinder blocks . . .those are lookin’ good.
some shrubs . . . sure, why not?
Probably even some of the ubiquitous snails you see sliming over every surface here. I’ll bet they’re easy to catch, too.

The pig had it bad, is what I’m saying.

I’m standing there with my mouth hanging open as I hear about this creature’s horny exploits. I am, by turns, dumbfounded, tickled, appalled, and inspired by the unbridled passion of this porcine wonder.

Rocco and Paolo tied to their trees, for the sake of the ladies.

Cesare is grinning when he asks me, “Guess what we named him?”

I offer lamely, “Cassanova?”

Cesare’s look says, “C’mon, that’s the best you can do?”
I’ve disappointed him. I’ve disappointed myself.

“Think!” he says. “He’s  a pig . . . he’s really short . . . and he’ll screw anything that moves.”

I’m at a loss. In my defense, it’s very early in the morning, and the espresso is still making its way to my brain.  “I don’t know,” I say.

He pauses for dramatic effect before exclaiming,


1—2—3 seconds pass, then I bust a gut.
Because it’s perfect.

I tell Cesare that if he had mentioned that this pig had a permanent tan, or that he had it in for Angela Merkel, or that the pig was on trial for trying to hump one of the underage lizards I see flitting about everywhere on the farm, then I would have guessed right away.

I ask what happened to Silvio . . . did the animals finally unite and cast him out? Is he working in a home for elderly pigs somewhere, paying his debt to society?
I find out that, like other wayward animals at this place, Silvio ran away—though in this case, he didn’t come back.  Almost at the same time, Cesare and I say that he probably heard about a party somewhere.

The next thing he says is not Italian. But sadly, it’s understood, even by an American traveler.

“Bunga bunga,” Cesare laughs.

I’ll never look at that barnyard the same way again.