Castello di Potentino: Coming Home

I left Potentino after 5 weeks. I was able to begin to relate and empathise with a way of life that was so foreign to me only a few months previous. I engaged in a hard working community in a beautiful inspiring setting. It was quiet and detached, the background noise was a slight whirring of insects, the flowing of the river and the gentle breeze running through the valley. Potentino had its quirks, its own way of doing things; but now having emerged through the other side it is as if I can see that all the quirks were necessary for it to be what it is. Having candle lit dinners outside for 25 people, rising at 6am to prune some overzealous vines, spending the weekend at the waterfalls these are the experiences which slowly add up to what it is like living there. One thing by itself isn't enough to explain it but by slowly immersing yourself into this unique community you will be changed and as I retreat back to civilisation I have a different outlook on my old routines and patterns.

View from the Potentino garden

Pisco had over 50 people living in its dusty walls. Potentino was more intimate and intense. Small changes instantly affected the dynamics. It was a conflicted but enjoyable contrast between the tranquillity of the vineyard and the changeable group dynamics between the many people who live and work in the castle walls. You were working under a system with authority but around the obligations of work people found a way to express themselves. Some people wrote, others spent the early evening light running in the surrounding estate, a few displayed their cooking prowess. 

I had a break from updating thoughts on here and focussed on the little black moleskine that contained my thoughts from the previous 9 weeks. I enjoyed reading again. I listened to the guests, friends and workers who would come in and out of the castle. People from the city who were escaping the noise and artists who came looking for new ideas. I had that special, rare realisation that this place was significant and it will be somewhere which I will continue to look back on.

I am in Chester now taking a few days to sort some things out and plan for the next couple of months. Till next time, Italy

For anybody wanting to see what life is like on a vineyard, join WWOOF Italia and find Castello di Potentino in Grosseto, Tuscany

Castello di Potentino: Brief Extracts

Here is a brief edited extract of my thoughts from the past week.

Day 1, Friday 28th June

I had no phone and no idea where I was. I was told I was in Castel del Piano but all I could see was a mechanics garage whirring across the road with a sleepy clay tennis court behind me. My only weapon was a phone number which I had managed to scrawl down the night before and after avoiding the inevitable for 15 minutes, I tentatively crossed the road to face the only sign of life. 

An old lady was walking down the crumbling pavement towards me and I decided to approach the situation with a 2 prong approach; Firstly I used my Italian and then secondly reinforced my efforts with my well honed hand gestures which I was fairly adept at. After a few minutes of struggling I had encouraged an unwelcome crowd with 3 of the overall clad workmen peering into the discussion. The crux of the problem was trying to explain that I wanted to use their phone when I had my English phone in my hand. Ten minutes later I had managed to work my way into the owner's office at the back of the garage to call Charlotte and with a broken signal I left the conversation with some assurances that I wasn't completely abandoned.

I found a bench and was awoken by a horn across the road. Charlotte had managed to find the anomaly amongst the locals and we started our journey back into the country. I shared my car seat with a Great Dane called Minerva and a Chocolate Labrador called Cocoa. We slowly pulled up to the castle and I tried to take in all of the surroundings. The sun was coming down over the mountains and the vineyards were lit up with a warm orange glow.

Day 4, Monday 1st July

Uran, the Albanian Italian speaking estate manager, had a cheeky grin on his face as the 6 of us gingerly clambered into the back of the tractor. It was 8.30am and we were starting work. Soon we realised the source of the grin as Uran mercilessly pushed the tractor to its speed limit while cruising down the bumpy terrain to the forest. It was reminiscent of the PSF truck with Andy at the helm. There we would be drifting around dusty outskirts of Pisco as we worked our way to Earth Bags. Fifteen months on it is a similar uncomfortable feeling with the objective changed to avoiding any wandering children to trying to avoid any of the prized vines or olive trees which we were taught to love if everyone is to get along happily.

Day 7, Thursday 4th July

Independence day. We celebrated with 3 Americans who I am working alongside here. It was a classic Potentino dinner which you would start sometime around 7pm and emerge 4 hours later after a hearty meal and plenty of interesting as well as obscure conversation. Knocking American foreign policy can be a favourite dinner topic amongst members of the various dinner parties (usually between 10-15 with a combination of workers and guests) but on this occasion it was outlawed and we had a non ironic or sarcastic chat about hunting Elks in the North of the States. Apparently there is a children section of the rifle stores where you can buy guns that will fit snugly into the arms of a 10 year old. We duly held our tongues.

Day 8, Friday 5th July

Working in the vineyard can be tiring work but also slightly satisfying as you move between the lines pruning and tucking any stray vines into the wires. I have also rediscovered the world of audio books after my last childhood experience of Steven Fry reading Harry Potter. On a similar cliché I have started the Lord of the Rings and Frodo and the boys are just approaching Rivendell. Reading is a big part of my life here and I'm having a brief respite with Michael Lewis' The Big Short before considering any more heavy novels.

The weekend has finally arrived and we escaped a wedding at the castle to head to the coast. A picnic and impending Wimbledon glory surely awaits me and Andy tomorrow...

Cinque Terre and Castle Life

A lot can change in a week and 7 days from hopping on a train to Genoa, I am sitting in a Tuscan castle where I will living and working amongst the vineyards. I feel alive being here, the castle is full of quirky rooms, a library and a beautiful little chapel just next to where I am living. It is set in a valley surrounded by vineyards, forests and a flowing river with waterfalls.

The last 7 days have been largely split between the incredible coastal village of Monterrosso and the walled city of Lucca. Monterrosso forms one of the five towns in the Cinque Terre national park which I had heard so much about  before coming to Italy. There is a stunning collection of walks joining the various places and the two days I spent walking along the ocean and through the vineyards were not enough for the pristine tranquility of the place to fully settle in.

If anybody remotely enjoys a good meander through the countryside then I would fully recommend making plans to visit this special area. I was fortunate to be living with some Italian friends who allowed me to settle into the Italian way of life. Focaccia bread is renowned in the areas around Genoa and breakfast was always something to look forward to with large varieties of this special bread on offer.

Being away from the noise of the city has allowed my kindle to make an appearance but this might be short lived considering I'm fortunate to be living amidst one of the most impressive book collections I have ever seen. Apart from the two storey library there are books in every room and once I finish my current book of Catch 22  I will go for an exploration to see what I can find.

Over the next month I will be integrating myself into the way of life here. Wine is a key aspect to living in the castle. I am writing this after a particularly brutal wine tasting session and combining this with unlimited glasses at lunch and at dinner you can begin to understand the daily volume you go through. Just as Boodles has forever changed my expectations of jewellery, after 2 days I am already fearing the almost certain probability of me being too aloof for the £2.49 bottle of Sainsbury's house wine when I return to England. It is exciting living in this place and there is so much waiting to be discovered throughout the next 5 weeks.

Brief Tuscan Memoirs

Sheer terror decends onto my face. The 500 stone beast bellows "un momento" to the waiting queue behind, in a deep American accent. The man has his fist plunged into an inconspicuous brown sack before releasing forth, like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, some greasy goodness with the brand of the golden arches.

His obese offspring wait patiently. Unlike the chirping chicks tucked away in the nest, they know there is more than enough grub to go around. Within seconds their chubby fingers are clenched around their prey.

Satisfied that his children have had their fill, his gaze turns to me and then painfully shifts to the empty seat to my left. I say empty but it is currently providing the vital service of supporting my big shot, North Face rucksack. Such a bag would get so much more out of the juicy leather seat than the prowling 'bald with a moustache' American.

With one lengthy stride I know the game is up and I resign myself to my fate. I take one last gasp of fresh air and then join my bag on the seat next to me. Just 3 hours to go to Genoa...

This blog has been slightly neglected of late but all for good causes. I have been binging on a cultural feast through Rome, Siena and Florence. Interspersed with a delightful week isolated amongst the Tuscan planes.

Florence is a dream. It goes about its cultural dominance with a sophisticated swagger. A couple of nights ago I left our central appartment for a long walk through the pristine streets, bridges and piazzas. I wistfully walked by the locals at play. All of them beautifully dressed, talking beautifully, being beautiful. I know my place and I ventured on.

Even with my rose tinted glasses - watch out for the 3 euro sunglasses - there is an obligatory acceptance that Florence is a special place. I'm calling shot gun for my third year abroad.

Having been travelling for 24 days with the other 4, I am departing to see the chilled out coastal town of Monterroso. I am yet to have plans for past Sunday but I'm looking forward to the freedom. A presto