Europe Trip 2010 – HelpX in Fonaco, Italy (Day 19)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Saturday marked my first HelpX experience. I got on a train from Perusia to Arezzo and hoped for good things while expecting nothing. You can’t be disappointed if you expect nothing (for the most part at least). I had my Chacos on and wanted to change to tennis shoes, but some fashionista asked if the seat in front of me was taken (where my backpacking pack was sitting) despite all the other empty seats on the train, and of course I motioned to go ahead and sit. With that I couldn’t really move around much or unpack my pack to grab a pair of socks. There was an old Asian man sitting to my left next to the window so I didn’t want to be rude and take pictures of the big pretty lake we were passing by. The views were stunning. They always are. Even through the faded scratches and marks on the train windows. Across the isle was another older white man who had all four seat clusters to himself, with his pack taking up a seat and a tent in another. He looked rugged and as if he had been traveling for a long time. When it set in that I wasn’t going to be able to change my shoes, I started to get anxious…for many reasons. The main reason was how easy it is to miss a stop on the train. Also, not being able to change to my sneakers meant that if I had to run from a stranger, I wasn’t going to be able to run as fast. Obviously I was getting nervous and debating the validity of a HelpX posting in my head. Were there easy ways to cheat the system and lure people to random places? Most of the time the locations listed are very very remote.

At Arezzo, I got off the train and changed to my sneakers on the platform. Then I walked. When I got into the main station, a middle-aged rugged smiling man waved to me. I had sent a description of what I’d be wearing and carrying a few days before. He said hello and instantly I felt welcomed. We walked to the car and off we went to the family’s remote home somewhere near Fonaco, Italy. The drive was beautiful. I absolutely love Italia countryside. We chatted a bit, and as it is, he is originally from Australia and his wife is originally from London and they met in Italy. It’s like a good book really…she decided she’d had enough of London pace and on a whim up and left to Italy and bought a home. He had been traveling for about a year (intending to only travel for a year), coming to Italy back and forth pretty often and somehow they met and lived in her lavish vacation home. He never did go back to Australia. When the kids came along, they decided that moving every 6 months (since the home was rented out every summer for income) was tough on the kids, so they sold it to people who had rented the home previously and bought this smaller place that I find myself sitting in now. Funny thing is that there is plenty of space here for seven people (two parents, two kids, and three HelpXers)…but compared to the places around it, this place IS small. The homes in Italian country-side are quite huge. And when a few of them are clustered together (for instance at the top of a hill), it is called a “hamlet.” It’s part of Italian culture since a few generations can live in one home…and explains why many Italian men don’t move out until possibly even 35 years old! Italian men are definitely mama’s boys.

I am now in a home with an Australian man, British woman, two Italian born kids, a Canadian HelpXer, and Australian HelpXer. It is cold here, but not too cold with the central fire holding area going on all hours of the day and the down comforter they provided me with at night. When I got here, as usual I was very confused. I knew I would be, and I almost didn’t want the car ride to get here to end. What do I do? Where can I make my space? Am I breaking any rules? Am I bothering anyone but they won’t tell me? Do they even like me?

2010.03.22 Fonaco, Italy

On my first day they didn’t actually tell me anything to do. Just that there were no rules (except for the standard moral ones of a good human being…they didn’t have to say that though lol), and gave me a quick tour of the house and how some things worked around the house, like the central furnace, and how the kids like ‘this’ and ‘that’ a certain way. This house revolves around the kids…this I could tell from the start. But in a good healthy way. The parents were calm and yet busy and frazzled at the same time attending to this and that. It was the Canadian & Australian girl who showed me more of the ropes of the expectations of being a HelpXer here, which in this particular case entailed just being part of the family. If there are dishes in the sink, clean them. If more wood needs to be brought in, go get some from the outside pile. If you’re hungry, just get anything from the fridge no asking needed. Play with the kids. If the clothes hanging outside are dry, fold them. Just be part of the family.

We were asked to do gardening tasks every now and then (a few hours each day), which I would consider more of landscaping with all the clearing out of brush and thorned vines from a fence-line and then doing a controlled burning of it all. As much fun as a bonfire is, I realize now that I definitely took my yard waste bin at home for granted! It takes a long time to burn it all and tend to the fire. I was requested by one of the girls to go muck out Pepper’s (the pony horse’s) pen, in which I picked up horse poop mounds and plopped them in a wheel-barrel to be carted off to a bigger pile of horse poo lol. The kids wear me out the most with their endless energy and always wanting interaction and attention to their games. They delight me though at the same time because of how intelligent they are for a four and two year old. Both also understand and speak Italian very well even though their parents only speak to them in English (purposefully of course…they hear English at home, and Italian at school and everywhere else they go). The older boy is especially clever and energetic, telling me one time that “I need a crisp because my nose is runny.” I was like, how is a Pringle going to cure a runny nose?! Clever kid. I didn’t eat my Pringles or any other snacks in front of him after that lol.

2010.03.22 Fonaco, Italy

My favorite part of the days so far has been after all the outdoor work is done and we’ve taken showers and relax, maybe play with the kids, and then cook dinner. Us three girls have cooked dinner most nights so far (two out of three nights for me by now). We had take out pizza the first night, omlettes the second, and quiche tonight. Everything was delicious and overly filling. Even if I go running every day I’m not sure if I can work it all off. I will have to attempt to try to eat less lol. Maybe I’ll try that in a few more days from now haha.

The chatter at the dinner table is always fun as we have such a diverse group saying things differently, not understanding certain soundings (like “Zed” instead of “Zee” for Z in the alphabet…they all pronounce it “Zed”). The food here is different too. For instance, Weetabix for breakfast (tastes good but with a soggy cereal texture). And the pizza here is also different, but I expected that. I will have to make my chocolate chip banana bread for everyone one of these nights.

The girls I share a room with are also very nice and fun to be around. They’ve been traveling for a while now, one since last November, and the other since December. They’ve done most of their traveling together so far. The only unfortunate thing is that because they are so close by now, I feel like a tag-along most of the time and I find myself quite quiet most of the day. However, I can’t say that I am unhappy because I love listening to them sing and tell their stories. It’s so great to hear so many perspectives on traveling, family, and life. I think it just makes me sometimes wish I was traveling with a friend as well.

I’ll finish this long post with my brief travel to Anghiari today. Three of you should get post cards from here lol. I walked around the medieval town and stone walls while my host ran some errands around town. We went to a caffe and ran into one of her friends and talked about the kid’s potential schooling options for next year for about a half hour. The town was pretty empty, but still had a lot of older people just hanging out and getting on with their day. It is beautiful to watch. I don’t think I could ever live in Italy’s beautiful mess, but I still love Italia.

2010.03.23 Anghiari, Italy

Above is a view from the castle walls. I wish I got a picture of a view looking into the city though. The best view is probably a few miles outside of town as you’re driving up.

One Response to “Europe Trip 2010 – HelpX in Fonaco, Italy (Day 19)”

  1. Will you get mad if I quote your article in my Thesis paper? I would think this article suits my topic perfectly. Well, thanks for writing this.

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