Sunday, June 10, 2012

Luggage reunion and other fabulous introductions

Written on June 3, 2012. The Internet connection has been spotty, so I’ve had a chance to post this only now.

One of the lovely views beheld on the downhill portion of the walk from the monastery to the house

Social stimuli overload! Emotion explosion! Intellectual discussion ecstacy! Love overflow! Alimentary delightfulness paroxysm! Hippie enchantment! (OK, I don’t actually know what the last one refers to, but “hippie” and “enchantment” are both related to my first week in Italy at the Art Monastery.)

So, here I am. I’m sitting on the soft bed of one of my friends here while she is out of town. The orange mosquito netting hanging by the balcony door is blowing in the gentle evening breeze. Birds chirp all day long, and they have not ceased their song as the sun prepares to set at ten to eight. If I look to my left, I see mountains—nothing but mountains and greenery, though the mountains grow faint, blurry, and blue as one attempts to gaze farther in the distance. If I were walking and observing them, I would quickly lose my balance: the closer you walk, metre by metre, the more the mountains distance themselves from you. It is astounding.

Over the past week, I have joined a new family. I have made nine new friends, reunited with four—rather, five, including Josie the Cat—became reacquainted with this little town of Labro and its charming and vital protagonists. It’s peculiar and comforting to go to a place that is so foreign yet feels so familiar; it’s bizarre to know a town so well and feel at home and yet to feel profoundly that there are people who are missing—namely my Canadian friends and family—from the beauteous personal and natural landscapes that flank you.

What really caught me off-guard when I arrived was the acute apprehension I felt towards the idea of walking around the hotel or around the town proper by myself, terrified of being recognized—not as a familiar face but as someone who is not from here. I had spent eight months in Toronto bathing in anonymity, sinking under the delicious ripples of the all-enveloping waves of Canada’s largest city. I could do, say, wear anything without being noticed (oh, and I have, proudly flaunting the flag of braless and sandals-with-socks expeditions), talk to anyone with not an inkling of fear as to what they might think or what they might say. I felt indestructible and new—well, indestructible, not so much, given my bike tumbles, but hey, at least I got right back on my bike and, for lack of a better expression, kept on truckin’. (Disclaimer: This feeling [thanks Heavens] faded instantaneously upon my first solo journey to the post office. On that note, stamps are expensive, but the journey was worth it for the chit-chat with the post-office worker. She's got spunk!)

Here, though, in a town of under one hundred individuals, anonymity is literally impossible. Not even the animals ignore the presence of newcomers: the farmers’ dogs are trained to bark at passersby, animal or human. When the dogs do bark, the farmer is just as likely to peek his head to see what the disturbance is. And although we walk by several times a day, the dogs keep barking at us, because that’s what they’re trained to do, and once we leave, the farmers will continue to investigate the cause of the disturbance when the dogs do their raucous duty, because that is what they do to ensure that their land is safe from predators or trespassers. But for now, we are an anomaly—visible, noticed, and yet appreciated and a cause for intrigue.

This is home for the next six months. This is my family. One of my new friends expressed that she is falling in love with each and every one of us, because of our passion and willingness to take risks and engage in this spiritual, professional, intellectual, and emotional journey. What a beautiful, splendid sentiment. I am happy, satisfied, delighted, and fulfilled here, though I have left my love and my family in Canada. And I am grateful, because these loved ones in Canada and elsewhere have been nothing but supportive, encouraging, and joyful at my embarking on this delicious journey. So, before I continue, allow me to take a moment to express my gratitude for your patience, understanding, love, support, courage, and wisdom in my wild expeditions: thank you. You seriously rock.

Oh, and one more thing: I got my motherfrakkin luggage, suckaaaasssss! This is true: on Thursday, six days after arriving in Italy, and following countless telephone calls to Air Canada (thanks, Mommacakes and company) and Globeground/Lost and Found Fiumicino (thanks, WIND; you made lots of extra money off of me, dear telephone company), my luggage was delivered to the monastery where I’ll be residing until the end of August. Praise the Heavens! I could fall asleep with my mum’s crocheted blanket draped over my body; choose a sweater to wear that was not my purple sweater, lovely as it is; put on one of my tuques on chilly nights. As the days grow warmer, the sun, hotter, and her rays, more piercingly dangerous, I was especially grateful for my sunblock.

See, Air Canada, for all the trouble they caused, and before they knew whether they’d actually manage to recover my luggage, promised $100 USD to procure items that would be necessary for my well-being—you know, like undergarments and toiletries (I won’t lie: I was super tempted to spend some of it on NOVI più dark chocolate [insert the sound of Homer Simpson drooling here], but I was too busy idiotically spending 30 euros on two bras). Anyway, to my dismay, every cosmetic product contained parabens and other scary ingredients. In a moment of acute clarity and wisdom, I figured that risking a sunburn was better for my health than pasting chemicals onto my porous, absorbent skin. Well, the very day on which I’d been notified of the victorious arrival of my suitcase, I and a large group of Artmonks meditated together in the sunlight. It was magnificent. I won’t go into all of the details and delightful challenges of focussing on my meditation practice while trying to ignore whether the tickly feeling on my skin was a crawling insect or a bead of sweat coursing down exposed skin; however, it must be expressed that the tanlines left from resting the backs of my open palms on my thighs are ridiculous, not to mention the hilarity of the tanlines left by my watch, four necklaces, and myriad bracelets. Naturally, my necklace tanlines have been the cause of much laughter over the past few days, and, although we spent the day at the lake today (my next post will contain hilarious photos and anecdotes of this day), I made no attempt to rid myself of this silly solar christening (I did put on my newly acquired vegan, paraben-free sunscreen, though).

Allow me to return to the opening exclamations of this blog post, though. Living and working with artists who live in an intentional manner is always intellectually as well as emotionally stimulating; living with artists of this type offers twice the stimulation when you’re living with them in a foreign country. I will probably fail spectacularly in attempts to capture all the fantastic, thought-provoking, and poignant moments of the past few days, but here are a handful of thoughts and events that immediately come to mind:

One of the fine people here, who is a dancer, choreographer, and all-around fantastic woman, in our introduction circle on the first night when all of us were together for dinner, expressed wonder and dismay at this: we thirteen people are gathered here from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds, brought over and invited specifically to exploit, positively, and employ our respective expertise and passions, yet this rarely happens in conventional society. “Why can’t it always be like this?” she marvelled. Truly: why is it so that we cannot, or do not, freely explore and employ our passions fully while making a living doing so? What is preventing us from doing that? Is it our culture, “society,” our families, ourselves, or a combination of the aforementioned? What can we do to change this? Do we change society or our immediate environs or just ourselves when we make a conscious decision to be passionate and intentional in our day-to-day lives, regardless of whether we make a meagre or substantial living as we do so?

A few days into my stay here, I had a moment of panic: How would we possibly reintegrate into conventional society once this stay ended? How would we leave behind the positivity, the laissez-faire attitude, the openness, the boundless kindness, the generosity, the mindfulness, the peace, and, of course, the passion, surrendering ourselves not just to the demands of our normal lives (though “normal” is a relative concept, as all of those positive traits describe the norm of our lives here), but also to the cynicism, the close- and absent-mindedness, the selfishness that permeate much of the North-American modes of thought and living? Then again, is not what I just expressed a pessimistic thought? Is not what we are doing here providing the necessary tools to employ in changing modes of thought and living elsewhere?

After lunch on yet another balmy and sunny late-spring day, a group of us walked back to the monastery from the house where most of the group resides. The trek takes a solid forty minutes, up- and downhill (but mostly steeply uphill). Along the way, there are several farms and barely double the amount of houses, and a vivid green landscape, lined with fruit trees of various types, with the constant backdrop of rolling hills; these flank the hiker on both sides. At one of the houses, a vivacious trio of dogs ran out at us, and we stopped to pet them and speak with the owner of the house and companion to these adorable animals. His name is Benito, and his dogs are gentle shepherding dogs. I acted as consecutive interpreter between my friends and Benito and his two kind farmer friends for the duration of our 20-minute conversation. It was positively lovely and moving (disclaimer: I frakking love chatting with old people). What truly caught me off-guard and overwhelmed me with emotion was when one of the men exclaimed with genuine douleur in his eyes and voice: “If there is a God up there, why didn’t he make us all speak the same language?” I joked and blamed it on the Tower of Babel, but he continued, indicating one of our German friends, who speaks English, who was carrying a conversation with this man through me: “It pains me because he can’t understand what I’m saying, and it pains him because I can’t understand what he’s saying.” It was an honest and simple sentiment, and I was touched by its expression and the depth of this emotion shared with complete strangers.


I think that I have spilled enough of my thoughts so far, but I can’t depart without talking about food, of course! Please forgive me in advance for not including photos of said food; though we are going to start taking photos of our meals (I'll eventually provide more details on the reason for that), it didn't feel appropriate to whip out my camera during meals during my first week here. Mark my words, though: not a soul leaves a scrap of food on his or her plate—not even I.

Where was I, though? Ah, yes: Believe it or not, our group of thirteen is blessed to have a personal chef. You read right: a personal friggin chef. And she is bloody amazing. She is so rad that, even on her very first day here, a day when most people would insist on recovering from jet lag or simply be sucked into its sleepy depths without being allowed to emit a word of protest, she insisted on cooking us a meal. I mean, she’s rad for myriad other reasons, but daaamn, can she cook! Needless to say, she and I bonded quickly.

Ever since that first day, she has blown us away with every meal she cooks—Sunday brunch included (and Sunday is supposed to be her day off!). She’s made breads, biscuits, focaccia (can you tell how carbopassionate I become when I’m in the Land of the Boot?)—all vegan. She’s made Italian-style beans, Asian-Italian fusion meals, spicy lentils, flavourful eggplant-and-zucchini stir-fry, luscious polenta, spicy chickpea curry, Mexican rice, cicoria (oh, blessèd cicoria!), potato salad, spicy green beans—and she’s been here for barely a week! Emma was willing and excited to adapt to incorporate all of our nutritional needs and dietary preferences. I’m the only vegan here, but there are two pescatarians as well as one person with lactose, gluten, and almond allergies. And she effortlessly pleases us all with healthy, hearty, wholesome meals. Praise the Heavens.

I can’t stress enough the importance of that forty-minute hike between the house and the monastery.

Sending love, gratitude, and respect,

Vegan in Suburbia


Danielle P. said...

It sounds like you're having a grand old time, Kris! I'm so glad you started feeling at home so quickly. The people around you seem every bit as wonderful as you, dear! I'm looking forward to those food pics :-)

Josiane said...

This all sounds so lovely and... perfect, yeah that's totally the word! Enjoy the experience, my dear!

I totally understand what that man told you. I've also deeply felt it when I was in Iran, especially on the day a woman came to me and spoke for at least 10 minutes, not even stopping to breathe... She could see I couldn't understand a word of what she was saying, but that wouldn't stop her: clearly, she had a deep and sincere desire to communicate this thing she wanted to share with me. Sadly, this was before I'd started learning Farsi, so even though an Iranian friend was there and could tell me roughly the gist of what she'd said, I remain with the feeling that I will never really know the whole truth of what she had to tell me on that day. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to learn that language: so that I wouldn't be in such a situation again; I wanted to be able to communicate with the amazing people I was meeting.
It's fabulous that you could serve as an interpret in that instance, and even better that you are the one who has access to all sides of the conversation. Enjoy!

Babette said...

So you're back to Italy! I haven't had the time to read your previous posts yet.

As always, it is a lot of fun to read you. I am looking forward to learn more about your stay there, your work and your food, of course!

Babette said...

So you're back to Italy! I haven't had the time to read your previous posts yet.

As always, it is a lot of fun to read you. I am looking forward to learn more about your stay there, your work and your food, of course!