Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Adoring community life and relishing food in my face, all followed by a wary observation of disconcerting adventures

When I wrote my last blog post, I enumerated the topics that I wanted to cover in my following blog post. It was naïve of me to think that I would manage to cover those subjects without sacrificing more recent, relevant events. Here was my (unedited) list:

sunrise meditation / dumbfounding landscape / dumbfounded R.
day at the water / Colli sul Velino / old-man A., C. (hilarious and exceedingly friendly drunk friend) / imposition of wine / tipsy by 5
cuddling with Josie the Cat
market friend

Here’s what I now have to add to it:

running into my one and only Roman friend when the artists and I went on a Death Tour in Rome
pizza, several times—always vegan and always droolworthy (I have had pizza thrice since arriving here, and that doesn’t include the free focaccia I have had at the convent’s restaurant. I made a meal of countless slices before having actual pizza.)

vegan gelato. In my face.
vegan chocolate. In my face.
homemade bread. In my face. (Confession: Either I have a one-track mind for food or I am tired; either way, I will have you know that I typed “homebread” instead of “homemade” at first.)

Pancake Sunday! (Oh, yeah; sorry: pancakes. In my face. Gluten-free pancakes, too.)

The classic recipe by Robin Robertson for Spiced Banana Pancakes that I've been making since I went vegan almost nine years ago
A severely modified version (due to the different ingredients on-hand) of gluten-free pancakes, thanks to @JosianeRicher. Merci, Josiane—et mon amie qui est atteinte du cœliaque te remercie aussi !
Heck yeah, I'm psyched about pancakes! I'd forgotten the can of maple syrup at the convent, and I was prepared to take my pancakes to go and walk the 45 minutes back to the monastery. Thankfully, E. and L. pulled through and drove over there to pick it up, along with my two convent roomies. Score!
Did I mention maple syrup? Can you guess where it went? Here’s a hint: It rhymes with “grace.”
Taco Tuesday! (Okay, you get the point.)
Chuck marathon with my lovely foodie friend/chef
accepting a ride from a stranger (grazie, Franco!)
walking home alone at night (a better idea in theory than in practice)

The walk home

This is with the flash on.
crashing a feline meeting (not cool; always creepy)
–learning how to drive "stick" and laughing and stalling the car more than driving ("Why is this happening?!")
gratitude, gratitude, and more gratitude (some might call it a religion)

On the walk to the house from the convent
Our bounty of fresh produce

Okay, so I won’t bore you with the details, but, as you can see, there is nary a dull moment when one lives in the Italian countryside with a delightful group of Artmonks.

Two weeks ago, it was our friend’s birthday. When we asked his girlfriend about what would please him most as a birthday gift, she responded that surprising him with a meditation practice at sunrise would be a marvellous delight. He’s an actor, singer, and yoga instructor, not to mention an all-around peaceful, enthusiastic, joyous, and intelligent individual. Unbeknownst to him, we all arranged to wake up at 4:50 a.m. and set up chairs (we might have set up yoga mats on the lawn, but it had rained quite a bit the preceding day and night) on the grass, facing the mountains over which we would behold the sun at just past 5:30 a.m. We wanted our meditation to begin before our friend’s girlfriend woke him up; in this way, we’d already be meditating by the time he walked up the hill to start his day. Of course, sitting with our eyes closed, we weren’t fortunate enough to witness his incredulous stare when he made us out at the top of the hill, not adding even the tiniest of sounds to the chorus of birds chirping and roosters cock-a-doodle-doing in the early morning. Once our meditation practice ended, we smiled at our friend, and he speechlessly, jovially, affectionately thanked each of us sitting there—ten of us!—individually enveloping us in a long embrace.

All of us here in this community talk about how special this experience is; this gift is a magnificent example of this. Here we were, barely a week into our acquaintanceship and we were not fazed by the concept of waking up before sunrise in order to offer a unique present to our new friend. That is generosity; that is selflessness; that is gratitude; that is the beauty of community.
About half of our current community
On the complete flip side of that experience was our, well, festive afternoon at the lake with revellers in the neighbouring community of Colli sul Velino. On our day off, our group decided to head to a nearby lake to have a picnic, swim, play hackey sack (yours truly initiated the hackey circle), and sit around our guitar-playing friend. The sun was beaming down, the water was warm, the ambiance was charged with positivity, familial and welcoming sentiments, and wine. Lots of wine. Holy moly, the fount was endless. Let me explain: I walked in ahead of a small group of my friends, and a man at a table full of people in their fifties and sixties stood up and, clearly and amusingly possessed by Bacchus, raucously announced our arrival and his desire for us to pose for a photograph. Though I speak Italian, I couldn’t understand the undertones of his announcement and invitation, if there were any: Was this lake private? How obvious was it that we weren’t from around there? Had we broken some cultural rule by not announcing our own presence or saying hello to our fellow lake visitors? 

Our friendly companions are seated in chairs, on the left
The gentleman in the white t-shirt is he who provided us with home-made wine. Bless him!
In hindsight, I scold myself for the shyness demonstrated and my lack of regard for those people in my vicinity and will be sure to greet those who cross my path. It’s already a normal practice of mine and of my friends here, that is, to greet with a polite buongiorno or buona sera or simply salve when we see someone who is a stranger or an acquaintance as we pass by on our evening walks. We even greet the doggies we pass—but I don’t think I’ll continue to greet the jerk dog who scared the bejeesus out of me yesterday afternoon.

Quick side-note: This dog usually barks manically at passersby from behind a fence, but, yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting him on the road. I won’t lie: my first thought was “motherf***ing hell.” To my relief, after he barked to alert his master to the presence of an interloper, he hopped away to where his master was hidden amongst tall crops; then, quite unexpectedly, he ran out behind me, barking and growling to make his presence known and felt. I cooed a non ti preoccupare (“don’t worry”) at him as I removed my sunglasses, wanting to somehow convey that I was not a threat through gazing at him in the eyes and not concealing my face. He proceeded to make his presence and identity clearer at least five times by running at me while growling, all while his master called out in vain for him to return. It was not cool, and my initial expletive-containing thought quickly changed from an adjective to a noun. When the dog finally ran off and I celebrated the fact that I still possessed the same surface area and volume of my skin with which I’d first approached the terrifying situation, I had to catch my breath which, unbeknownst to me, had accelerated to such an extent that I had to remind myself that I had been walking downhill the entire time and not up. Regaining mobility in my legs, too, proved to be a feat I hadn’t experienced since, I don’t know, I met Davey Havok of AFI at HMV downtown in 2006 and he said he liked my tattoo (shut up).

But, I digress. People at the beach: fun times, and not the least bit scary, even when wine was offered—nay, forced upon us by this drunk man. And this drunk man was a complete stranger, too. It’s true: after we posed awkwardly for that photograph and I confirmed vocally that we weren’t breaking any legal or cultural rules (it probably would have been culturally frowned upon, actually, to turn down the wine), I promised that, once we set our belongings down on the patch of grass that we wanted to claim as our own for that afternoon, we’d head back to have a drink with them. In all honesty, I don’t believe we were granted more than five minutes to settle down before we were summoned back to their table. This merry gathering of people excitedly conversed with me, the only Italian speaker in our group at that moment (more of our friends were on their way), as I floated between speaking, listening, interpreting, and translating—all while having a glass of home-made wine all but forced upon me. Might I add that 1) the wine was bloody delicious, 2) the glass was filled almost to the brim, and 3) it was about four o’clock in the afternoon?

We chatted and partied with these elders, and I even had a conversation in French, which was sprinkled delightfully with Italian words and expressions, with a woman who had spent much of her working life as a teacher. It was jarring, though, to try to understand this woman who was speaking a language with which I grew up, while Italian conversations rushed on forth around me. As this conversation drew to a close, the man who’d poured me my first glass poured me a second, and he was not shy about tipping the glass up and urging me to drink more. It was hilarious but I assured him that the wine was good and that I drink slowly because I’m a lightweight!

Tipsy by 5 p.m.: classy.

The afternoon ended with hackey-sack playing, inside-joke creating, guitar-playing, swimming, and seeing two of our new elderly friends join in our sing along, pour vodka down the throats of their companions, and jump into the lake in their skivvies. Italy, the land that always keeps you on your toes. Che bel Paese!

I might have said enough already, and I also have photographs to share, so I’ll cut this short. First, though, I have two last items on the first list. The first is cuddling with Josie the Cat and her purring magically. I never grew up with cats, so the whole concept of a living being having a physiological and audible pleasure reaction is so frakking cool, I can barely contain my squeals of glee. Purring! I mean… purring! That delicate, gentle thunder reverberating in the tiny body of a sweet feline. I mean… purring! Purrrrrr. Of course, I was not greeted by the same glorious reception when I happened upon a veritable colony of felines in the country. Nope, not at all.

And, last but not least, when I joined two friends on a shopping trip, I connected with Sousa, the Bangladeshi man who, well, mans the outdoor produce market in Terni. At first, I wasn’t sure how to interpret his curiosity as to our origins, his questionably sly wondering of dove sono i vostri fidanzati? (“where are your boyfriends?”), his giving us free strawberries at the end of our shopping venture. He seemed to be a genuinely kind, observant, and friendly individual, and I look forward to attending the next shopping venture so that we can connect with him again. What truly astounded me was his keen ear: when he heard me and my two friends speak English, he pointed out that our English was not the same. My two friends are from California, and I, as you know, am Canadian. Ta-da! I can barely detect accents in the speech of different Italians, a language I know well, but this man effortlessly picked up the nuances in the accents of a language he doesn’t even speak.

Seriously, I totally nerded out on that observation, not to mention how psyched I was to have a new friend—an honest, generous friend who knew where our significant others were and yet still wanted to share strawberries, and even his life story, with us.

Until next time,

Vegan in Suburbia

Beware the photo assault!

The view from Ristorante Ulisse, the outstanding restaurant in the convent where I live
One of the few moments on my dark walk home that contained light
When E. bakes bread, I run away with it and make almond butter, banana, and jam sandwiches for breakfast the next morning!
E., our chef, is a mage in the kitchen. She came up with this banana-fig bread. Uuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh.
Saturday evenings and Sundays compose our time off, and that includes our chef. R. and I made pasta and veggies.

My decadent plate of pancakey goodness. Bam.
Sunset over the hills of Labro
Labro proper
Someone you might know
 Please excuse the change of font from that of my previous posts. I have a preference for this one, so I'll be sticking to this font from now on.


Josiane said...

Lots of fun stuff (besides the encounter with that not-so-friendly dog...) happening in your world! Yay!
The morning meditation gift sounds like a truly wonderful moment. How lovely and thoughtful!
I'm glad I could help with the pancakes. Those have been my favorite from the moment I came upon that recipe, which was even before I went gluten-free. Quick, easy, and delicious, as well as vegan and gluten-free - what more can you ask from a pancake recipe? :) I'll have to try your chestnut and rice version! said...

How fun! it looks like you're having a wonderful time! and lots of good food!! those pancakes! yum!!!

KTBuns said...

I cannot even express how much I am loving living vicariously through your posts. Your writing style is positively entrancing and makes me smile every minute, without fail!

Can't wait to see what adventures you're experiencing next! <3