I decided to WWOOF during my first time in Europe as a way to take a break from hopping around, save some money, and get a different perspective of life in Italy. I was researching like crazy when I found this site and immediately I decided I would go to Italy.
I chose Tuscany for no particular reason other than I had heard of it before, and chose a farm that has a small theater which regularly has dance, music, and theater shows as well as art exhibits coming through. It was small; a tiny olive tree grove and some grape vines with a fairly large vegetable garden.
The owner is a man named Dino: an eccentric 60-something year old who works in a white t-shirt, cotton shorts and barefoot. He sings to himself and makes jokes about English words he isn’t used to, like ‘weird’.
The day started around 9am: an espresso on the front porch overlooking the valley and the city of Cortona where the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ was filmed. One morning was spent picking camomile plants to bundle and hang to dry for making tea. Another spent sorting a pile of wood to be stored in the shed for winter. As a break from the searing heat of the sun, sweeping the house or washing the vegetables was a nice rest.
One particular afternoon was spent clearing away the spider nests, not just webs, but NESTS from the roof of the front porch. Hundreds of them. There I was, long hair in a bun covered by a bandana AND a hat, gloves, a step-ladder and broom at the ready for knocking those bad boys down. I could have said ‘no’, I could have mentioned I was terrified beyond reason of spiders, but I didn’t. I was the only volunteer there at the time and I didn’t want to be ‘one of those girls’ (It’s amazing what I will put up with when I’m worried about being perceived as too girly). Anyways, I succeeded, or mostly at least. Dino did have to go back and really finish the job, but mostly I did it. From then on he insisted on calling me Cinderella and joking that the spiders were my Prince Charming. How charming.
Another memorable day, as I sat drinking my espresso under the newly cleaned roof, I casually talked with a traveling actor/musician who was staying on the farm for a few days. Reclining on the couch, I was mid sentence when suddenly he pointed and said all too calmly ‘Oh! Caitlin, there is a scorpion on your leg’.
After I finished screaming (and the scorpion was disposed of) and my heart rate went back to normal, the response I got from Dino was “He is more afraid of you than you are of it”. Soooo not true.
My Italian was horrible, and at least 3 times a week friends and guests would come over for dinner. This meant I got to sit back and drink homemade wine enjoying the company and atmosphere while vaguely attempting to follow the conversation.
I was invited to stay with Dino’s 80 year old mama for the weekend in Rome, just minutes away from the Vatican. She was the typical Italian mom made only more animated by the fact that she spoke absolutely no English.
A friend of Dino’s invited me to go on his small yacht for an afternoon and when we lost the wind just decided to spend the night in the middle of the lake. Watching the sunset and sharing travel stories all night I don’t think I stopped smiling once.
I worked hard, but try as I might, I could not work as long or as hard as Dino. The man was in love with the earth. He said that working on the farm was his way of making art. I didn’t understand what he meant until a few days before I left. I was clearing this hugely overgrown section of land to start a new garden. It was my to work with. I worked intensely for days in a way I never had before. My hands were blistering, my back was sore, my muscles exhausted, yet I hardly noticed it. I was in a place where my digging and pulling became part of a rhythm and i finally understood what he meant. I left a little part of me there in Italy…