Lots of time to think cleaning cheese

I’m not quite sure how long it’s been since I last wrote. Time has been going by in a very peculiar way. I’m writing this on the 24th of June, my official halfway point here on the farm. It’s crazy that it’s been going by so quickly.

Up until yesterday, nothing much has been going on. I’ve been working every morning as usual and just hanging out. I explored Morano a bit with one of Nonna Maria’s grandsons which was fun, though quite exhausting. The farm is about a mile away from downtown and we walked there and then all the way up the mountain to the castle. Twice in one week. Needless to say, I was a little sore; but I took quite a few pictures.

Yesterday, the first group of traveling American kids came to the farm. Apparently the first group was supposed to be Tuesday, but I got a little practice run translating. I always knew translating was hard, but it’s even harder than I thought, especially because I’m not fluent in one of the languages. But other than that, it was a great experience and I’m excited for the rest of July. There will be about three groups a week starting this week on Tuesday until the end of July.

Yesterday it was a group of about 15 kids from Iowa with one tour guide, two teachers and one bus driver. Apparently they had been to Greece and yesterday was their first day in Italy. They were extremely excited to be in Italy and one boy in particular was yelling about how much he loved cheese.. When they got there, I greeted them with Nonna’s grandson (who speaks a little English, but doesn’t like to. He barely speaks with me). I showed them where the bathroom was and then told them a little about Morano and the Pollino National Park. I was nervous, so I think it was a little bumpy, but it’ll get better over the next month. Then we all went inside to make cheese.

That was where it got interesting. I know the general process now and I thought I knew what Giuseppe was going to talk about. For the most part I did, but he threw in a couple new things that I didn’t understand so I made some stuff up. Well, not made it up, but talked about something that was related but not necessarily what he said (at least I don’t think it was). Either way, the kids seemed interested in what I was talking about.

But I did learn something new, which was fun. When we make the ricotta everyday Giuseppe takes some branches and cuts the extra branches and leaves off of it. They always smell really good, so I figured it was for the flavor. What I found out yesterday is that they are branches from fig trees and the liquid that comes out of them is a form of rennet from vegetation. Rennet is the liquid or powder that is usually made from the stomach of baby sheep, cows and goats. It solidifies the milk into the curd. They have also discovered that there are some plants that have a similar affect and apparently the fig tree is one of them. So once they bring the whey up to a certain temperature that the ricotta starts to rise they stir it a little with the fig branches. The little bit of natural rennet is then put into the ricotta. I thought that was fascinating. Apparently it’s a technique that’s been passed down for generations.

Besides that, the field trip was fairly uneventful. It was funny because we fed them after the cheesemaking and the little tray had a taste of each of the cheeses as well as pasta and bread. We also gave them soda. Today at lunch Nonno and Nonna were talking about how no one ate their cheese and how the kids were really slow at eating, if they ate at all. We did end up feeding a lot of stuff to the animals.

The two teachers that were there with them were in awe of the farm and the area and it made me giggle a bit. One of them said that it still hasn’t sunk in that he was in Italy. He’d wanted to come here for a very long time and now he was and he couldn’t fathom it. I told him that I’d been here for a month and it still hasn’t sunk in. The other teacher said that she never wanted to leave.

This, I think, is the general reaction when Americans come to Italy and, indeed, many other foreign countries—disbelief and awe. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I have yet to go through this phase of culture shock of complete love for the place. I was talking to Ricardo about this and we think it’s just the person I am. I tend to believe that objectivity and the ability to both think critically about something or someone and find the beauty in it is why I am drawn to anthropology. I can’t go as far as to say that I think objectively, because that’s impossible. But I think I do like to think about where I am and the people I’m with and not get caught up in the romanticism of it.

Not that I don’t love Italy; because I do love Italy and the farm and my host family. Everything is incredible. However, I also love Boise, the other farm I worked on, where I grew up etc. I think I just don’t have that feeling of awe when I travel because I have that feeling all the time. So the first week or so I was here I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t totally in love with the place like everyone else told me I would be. Was something wrong with me? Am I just too homesick? I thought about it a lot and though I am still homesick, I think this feeling is not connected to it at all. Like I said, it’s just the way I am and what makes me love the field of anthropology.

So what does that mean in relation to the project? Not a whole lot, I guess. It just means that I’ve been able to really get to know the people and the place for what I can perceive as their real, everyday life rather than some romantic version. I wrote about this before a little bit, but I guess since I’ve been thinking about it so much I’ll expand a bit. As I said, they live a very simple life on the farm that’s somewhere between very traditional and modern. They have modern machinery, but they keep many of their traditions. However, it’s not like the consciously think “I’m saving the environment by hang-drying my clothes.” It’s just what they do. In the U.S. we have to consciously think about doing some of these kinds of things because, unless we have grown up simply, we’ve fallen into the typical American lifestyle. It’s a very intriguing notion. So this might be where I get the closest to romanticizing their life. Whenever they do something I think is eco-friendly or cool, I take note of it because I want to do it when I get home. Some of them I already do but I have to consciously think about them. I’m just as much a product of the U.S. culture as any other American.

Needless to say, the first half of my time here has made me think a lot and learn a lot about people and culture in general as much as about Italy.

On a side note, I’ve put up some more pictures! They were just taken with my phone again, but soon I’ll be carrying my camera around and taking some, so they’ll be better. I’ve also bought and filled out all 30 of my postcards. The only problem is that the post office is closed on Sundays and every day by 1. Of course, this is when I work. So I’m working on figuring out how to get them sent. Worse comes to worse, you will receive them once I’m back in the states and can send. It would be much cooler to send them from here though. I’ll do my best!

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