I am not one to reminisce. I don't have (many) regrets and rarely am I nostalgic for the past. This summer, however, has thrown me back to ten years ago. I didn't even realize it has been ten years since I worked in Italy.
Ten years ago, I spent the summer between my first and second year at chef's school in Italy. I worked in Tuscany for three months and the property was situated on the highest point in Chianti. I remember seeing the twinkle of Sienna in the distance to the south, in late afternoon when the sun cast yellow over the hills, and illuminated ancient buildings in the distance.
I had an Italian boyfriend and we would go for scenic drives on my days of ( which were few and far between). Driving through Tuscany, I insulted him by remarking how similar the landscape was to Canada's. He hadn't been to Canada. Now, in Trent Hills, I am reminded of Italy.
Last month, when I picked the red currants I was transported back to La Petraia. I had worked at the agritourismo with four other chef students from Canada. We started each day at 5am by feeding all the animals. After that, we harvested. I was always happy to harvest the red currants. The tall bush provided shade from the famous Tuscan sun, and it created a curtain of privacy from our demanding boss. Under the shade of the red currants, I sat and harvested alone in peace, or while chatting to the farmers in broken Italian.
When the sun was too hot to bare, we had our lunch with the farmers in a little shack in the shade. Our afternoons were spent leading cooking classes, and then serving Michelin-quality ten-course meals. We left work at 9 or 10pm most nights. We got home, drank vodka and ate salumi. We did it again and again and again.
In our final month, there was a drought and our town's well dried up. Nobody had water. We all began counting down the days. Mail I sent never reached Canada. The train operators went on strike. All our bunnies died of a mysterious disease. We weren't paid a penny for our work. It was a really hard time but I look back at my time in Italy fondly. It was my introduction to Slow Food and life as a farmer.
My time overseas ten years ago projected me forward to where I am now. With no awareness it was happening, I feel like everything in Italy and since has put me on a course to be here in Warkworth. It is as hot as Italy and this summer, it is as dry as it was there too. I am tougher for it.
I have been working on a farm two times a week and I love it. We take breaks in the shade and eat ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine. Today, Bruce handed me a beet he had pulled from the soil. I ate it and again a memory of Italy flashed before me: I remember biting into a beet back then and thinking how exquisite and sweet it was - not at all dirty tasting. It was the same today: a burst of sweet flavour and not at all dirty. Italy taught me how to be in tune with food.
A few weeks ago we had a duck on the farm and I was reminded of Jack, the duck I had adopted as my own in Italy. On slaughter day, I hid him. I had forgotten about Jack. Like I said, I don’t often reminisce. He was a loner duck, rejected by the rest and just like Lucky Ducky here in Warkworth, better suited as a pet than a meal.
I will try to find the journal I kept in Italy. I want to look over it and see my dreams and predictions, my hopes and fears. It is comforting to know ten years have past so quickly. Back then, ten years into the future seemed like a lifetime. I pondered where I would go and what I would do with my life. I would never have dreamed I’d be working on a farm and writing. I also thought I’d be married and have children by now.
But I am right where I should be, doing exactly what I want to do. I wonder where I’ll be ten years from now. I wonder how much will stay the same and how much will change. I wonder what I will remember and what I will forget.