Monday, July 30, 2012

A delight to the senses

This post was written over several days, starting three Wednesdays ago. 

The endless, occasionally disruptive chorus of cicadas (I’m thinking of morning meditation today, when I chose my meditation practice over perpetuating the functionality of my eardrums). Charles chanting post-lunch to break the silence that we humans impose on ourselves for one lunch per week. The sweet breeze swooping in almost silently to provide some respite from the ongoing heat that has yet to be broken by any precipitation in over a month. The occasional yip from our canine companion who shares the ups and downs of our day with us. This is what 13:34 on a Wednesday at the Art Monastery sounds like.

Of course, there is also the constant breathtaking visual of the surrounding hills, the fig leaves that delicately shelter the ripe figs from the sweltering heat, the chairs nestled between an opening in the trees that overlook the valley, beckoning to any visitor to pause and ponder the grandeur of this landscape that envelops us. 

Finally, one cannot ignore the fading tickle of our tastebuds having just been tantalized and awakened by Emma’s casually outstanding meal of vegetable chow mein for lunch. Sure, we may be in Italy, but Emma has found an enchanting way of replicating (foreign) tastes of home with local ingredients and those that have been imported, thanks to our discovery of a multicultural grocery store squeezed between the bus station and the train station in Terni—a key location, it seems, given the constant transit of foreigners in that part. Though the produce at this store varies, we have been fortunate to have plantains, sweet potatoes, and ginger grace our p(a)lates over these past six weeks. 

Side note: I used to despise peas—like, they would incite a gag reflex in me. The only way in which I could consume them without a consecutive display that would make people in my surroundings quickly disperse was if I ate them in a samosa or in curries. Here in Italy, I dont know what happened, but I have on occasion crowded the rest of my food on my plate to the side in order to delight in peas unadulterated taste. WHAT HAPPENED? I mean, its not like Ive started eating that unruly, disgusting spawn of the soil cilantro (shudder). No, they're just peas... and they're not eggplant (swoon) or anything, and, in theory, peas still gross me out, but I have grown to love them.  

Don't tell my mom.

Peas in chow mein!
Peas with a ridiculous assortment of food!
Peas and white beans!
I made myself rice pudding for breakfast a few days ago. Ta-da!
On days off, when our spectacular cook is entitled to not cook at all—but she often does—we sometimes order pizza. Of course, theres no delivery, but we live within walking distance of three pizzerie. Life aint so bad, eh?
Italiane—le più amate is inscribed on every one of these pizza boxes. The thing is that Italiane has no grammatical referent; by gender and number, it could refer to either the pizzas or Italian women. So, the caption could translate to "Italian [women]: the most loved" or "Italian pizzas: the most loved." Hahahahaha. (Upon further inspection, there's also a vespa, grammatically feminine, on the box. I guess it means that things of Italian origin are the most loved. Ah, yes...)
Our humble dining area at sunset
VEGAN COOKIES AT THE GROCERY STORE! Breathe. Okay, I've seen vegan foods at the grocery store in the past, but seldom do I ever see the Vegan logo. Rock on! On a side note, these cookies weren't very tasty, but they were tasty when dipped in coffee.
Emma felt like having sandwiches, and I have to say that I totally dig when her cravings match my own. She made the panini from scratch and we chopped up all the fixings. Heeeck, yeah!
Polenta... fresh rosemary from our garden... rock salt... Aaaahhh, the little things in life...
Bread. All kinds. All the time. Fresh. No order of adjectives necessary. Just periods. Period. Bread. Face. Yes.
After two months here, in addition to the two that I spent here last year, I can say that my role here and the daily routine have finally become clear. Despite the rigid schedule, what one learns quickly about its rigidity is that it must be responsive to massages—that is, it must allow flexibility for surprises and the unexpected, like needing to be ready in ten minutes in order to play the role of interpreter on a friend’s visit to the pharmacy, or pausing to accommodate a visit from our wonderful landlords, which interrupts the planning and filming of our humorous and sweetly sincere IndieGoGo thank-you video.

IndieGoGo Thank You from Art Monastery Project on Vimeo.

In short, living amongst the Art Monastery community is a delight and treasure for all of the senses. For now, let’s ignore my trying to avoid burning my wrists and thighs on my laptop as I sit in the sun, not to mention scalding the soles of my feet on my black flip-flops that devour the merciless heat, or being blinded by the reflection of my MacBook’s shiny metal. Oh, Sun, your touch is a vital part of this experience, too.

Gratefully and scaldingly yours,

Vegan in Suburbia 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Adventures in absurdity: a multitude of grave events in a minuscule number of days

Well, hello there.
Looking forlorn at the train station. Why the gloomy face? I was probably just hungry...
To say that these past three weeks have been interesting would be an understatement. And to say that these three weeks have been interesting seems clichéed, as there is nary a dull moment when living and working for an arts organization in a community setting in Italy. But, there you have it: much has happened in these last three weeks, and I can only hope to scratch the surface in these next few paragraphs.

A few entries ago, I had begun with a list of the events about which I wanted to speak. It seems that, this time around, a similar approach would be fruitful. So, here goes nothing:

1) In the final week of June, our community car was in such bad shape that we surrendered it to the mechanic, who needed several days to inspect and repair it. Without a car, we had no means of buying groceries to feed our thirteen-person community. To the common city-dweller, having a car is a luxury but not a necessity; to the common country-dweller, carlessness can mean the difference between satiation and starvation, without exaggeration. The closest grocery store at which to buy staple items is between forty and sixty minutes away by foot, and buying enough items to support one person—never mind a community hovering at thirteen individuals—would be difficult, if not impossible.

2) Going by foot to buy groceries would be fine and dandy if two of our community members were not suffering from a foot or hip injury, respectively. Walking to the monastery for rehearsals would be fine and dandy but impossible for the aforementioned reason. As such, rehearsals for our summer show were modified to take place at the house.

3) It’s not all drama and stress: having befriended our neighbours and benefitting from the generosity of another close friend, we gained two vital grocery trips, thanks to the transportation and patience of two very special and generous ladies. The owner of the restaurant in the monastery also graciously lent us his car a few times.

4) On June 29, we discovered the tragic passing of two individuals close to our organization and community. Huddled together in silence or between sobs, we allowed each other the space and support to simply feel. And, as though we’d been extracted from our reality and inserted into a film scene, the ancient custom of bells tolling bitterly announced the death of the younger of these individuals (the elder had passed away some days prior, and we’d been notified late). For about an hour as of 4:30 p.m., only minutes following the sad befalling, the bells in Labro rung mournfully. A heavy cloud of desolation hovered over the tiny, tightly-knit city for the afternoon, evening, and following days. I hadn’t allowed myself to truly feel and allow the onslaught of emotions and memories—namely of the one death that has ineffably marked me, and, that is, of my father in 2007—but when the bells started to ring, my heart was caught off-guard and my eyes and chest responded dutifully, invoking tears or heaving breath.

5) The same night, I was notified over Skype of the evolution of my romantic relationship: an evolution from romantic love to friendship. Let’s call it a work in progress. To the astonishment of my ex, I did laugh under my breath on one or two occasions, not because the situation was funny but, rather, because it was positively absurd that that much bad news could be delivered in a single twenty-four-hour span (“bad” is relative, regarding my personal situation, as I don’t see this break-up as bad; rather, I see it as a positive evolutionary step for both of us. I am grateful for having been welcomed to take this journey with him, and I am happy and eager for the opportunities this new path provides both of us [thank you, Meditation, for helping me come to that conclusion!]. Let it be said, however, that it was definitely bad news that night and, as such, was definitely dreadfully hilarious).

6) We got our car back; it was still acting up. Driving lessons came to a halt, needless to say. (Update: The car’s fixed and running like its old, tired, but eternally giving self. And, dudes: I can drive standard! Look, Ma: no stalling!)

7) We had to bring the car back. It overheated while we were driving to the funeral. We abandoned the car road-side and walked along with the rest of the procession to the church. Amongst our walking crew was Raphael, one of the friends in our community who’d injured his foot; he completed the twenty-minute procession in his formal wear in the 40-degrees-Celsius heat on crutches.

8) After walking back to the monastery after the funeral, we glimpsed a wildfire in the valley separating the convent from the town of Labro proper. The flames were doused with barrels upon barrels of water after a few hours.

9) Coffee is the Saviour of all and—let it be known—would sport a capital c even if it weren’t the first word of this sentence. All hail Coffee! (Yes: Coffee did merit its own point. Better than wine ever could, Coffee made us sit up straight [I know: wine does not do that] and prodded us along when we felt exhausted and overwhelmed. [pauses to ponder for a second] Okay: Coffee and Meditation are the Saviours of all.)

10) Italy lost the Eurocup final against the Spain—not that we watched it, because no celebrations happened in this city the night of the funeral. Mourning proceeded. Tweets sent to my cell phone let me know that Italy lost. Ha!

11) Two funerals and a wedding: amidst this chaos, chaos throughout which our community remained strong, elegant, gracious, and positively frakking resplendent, even through the muddiest of situations, I attended the beautiful wedding of my dear friend, in Borgo Grappa, Latina. There, I was reunited with another very dear friend, whom I met in 2006 at Concordia University in Montreal, where we both studied. At the wedding, I consumed vast amounts of pasta—for some reason, it seemed that the caterers assumed that vegan equals doesn't eat enough, so my plates contained literally three cups of pasta, while the plates of omnivores contained a generous cupful—and confetti. Apparently I managed also to look well rested and, according to my friends who picked me up from the train station that night, pretty, despite my relationship having been forced into evolution the night before (dumped is such a strong word, but forced into evolution is painfully awkward. Any other suggestions?). Ha!

I wore this dress to the wedding. As you can see from my face, I am ever the classy lady.

So... you get the idea. Truthfully, things started to level off and our lives slowly began to regain a sense normalcy.

Let me take a moment to breathe and acknowledge that we’re all okay—we’re better than okay. Let me take a moment to underline, Dear Reader, that all of these events occurred over a matter of days. And we’re better than okay. We have had many a discussion, underlining how these tragedies and difficulties have led to unexpected and incredible victories, namely that of bringing us all closer together instead of threatening to divide and destroy us.

Every event endured over the course of our lives has a lesson to offer, a slice of wisdom to take with us or to overlook and ignore—the choice is ours. We can close our eyes to the underlying brilliance of each moment that invites us to ponder and feel, but the most rewarding option is to let ourselves be vulnerable, to yield, to surrender to the inevitable variety and change of the mythical concept of status quo. And though these changes—call them what you will: evolutions, revolutions, developments, progressions—can and will carry with them countless waves of emotions that may even vary from wave to wave, what this past month has taught me is that no situation is insurmountable if you are fortunate enough to—nay, should you choose to surround yourself with friends, acquaintances, neighbours, and strangers who provide the space within which you can be yourself, ask for help, be left alone, embrace and be embraced, and laugh at the inanity of life.

And, if I’ve learnt anything from my Italian grandparents, my Italian-Canadian upbringing, and my months spent living in my ancestral country, it’s that, above all, when life hands you lemons… don’t forget to eat.

Pizza and wine, produced and served at Pizzeria Nord-Est