I guess it’s best just to start. Monday, after a great weekend in Italy, oh yeah, did I mention we went to Italy. How did that happen? Well we have many lists. Lists for goals, for homestay opportunities, for contacts. Anyway, Monday, we were supposed to meet with this woman, Claude and see if she wanted us to Wwoof (Willingly Work on Organic Farms) for her. Wwoofing is a homestay exchange where you work for people, mostly on organic farms, but sometimes other farms or restoring houses or whatever. In return, they let you stay for free and they feed you. If you do the math, you end up paying a ton for your room if you consider what you make at home, but it’s really not the same thing at all. Anyway, after tons of lists and frustration, we decided to go to Italy. Just like that. We’d done all we could, contacted people, posted information on boards, but with few leads. Claude was in fact the only person who we contacted who answered her phone and needed help. So we went and put all of our eggs in Claude. Or something.
Maybe because it rained really hard all day on Monday, but it wasn’t the best day for us and I ended up feeling saddish all day. However, when it rains it pours and we got a ton of responses from people, some solicited, some not. So we met with Claude and I think there was a misunderstanding or something because she thought we were going to follow her home at that time and we had already booked a hotel, thinking that we were supposed to go to her place on Wednesday if she liked us and we liked her. The conversation was short. She asked if we were afraid of heights, we said no (a total lie for me) and we asked her if there was a bed and heat. Yes to both. Ok, well follow me. Wait, we have all of our stuff in the hotel. And we’ve paid. Ok, we’ll come tomorrow. Ok what time. We leave at nine. How long will we stay? I don’t know, I have many trees. That is all that was exchanged, but she drew us a map and was on her way. Perhaps because of the day or my mood, but I wasn’t nearly as excited about this as I thought I would be.
On Tuesday morning we woke up. I went to our favorite boulangerie in Nice, it is truly the best I’ve ever been to and got our favorite quiches for breakfast, I mean, who knows what will happen when we get to the farm. We packed up and got on the scooter. Followed the directions she gave us, not really knowing if we were right or not. I guess it was pretty straightforward. We winded up and up into the mountains on the scooter. It was similar to where we had been in Italy, except fewer terraces and fewer olive trees. I must note that the type of trees we would be climbing? and cutting? was not specified and though I had to assume that she meant olive trees, on our drive up I became less and less sure, since we only saw one the whole way there. Off the main road, we looked for mile marker 10, then 2 houses then turn off. Go down the driveway and to the house. We pulled up to a house that we were not sure at all was hers, sat in the driveway for about 3 minutes and she came out and greeted us.
Claude lives on a farm that has been in her family since 1890? Claude is a woman. She is not married, maybe 50 years old with wavy gray hair and wide eyes. She is the oldest of three living children. Her sisters have moved away, one to the Spanish border and one to Greece. Claude’s house and her mother’s house are on the same property, though a 5 minute walk from each other. As it turned out, we drove up to her mother’s house, which was fine. Her mother’s name is Margaret. She will turn 88 on Sunday and as Claude says, she does not climb trees, but that is the only thing she does not do. It’s true. And as I later learned, is an immensely hard worker and appreciates others who work hard. I worked with her for a couple hours the first day, but we are not to that point yet.
When Claude greeted us, she was covered in dust. She was renovating a room off of her mother’s house for her sister to return from the Spanish border and live (maybe, I am not sure). Her father had been a cement layer and cemented all of the plumbing in really well, which was making it hard to renovate the bathroom. She introduced us to Margaret, showed us her project and drove us down to her place. We entered her main room, it had a fireplace and a table and tons of papers all around. We went through the back to an open air room that smelled so much like goat. And this is because it was a room above the barn, where all the goats were staying with all of the newborns running around and jumping too (oh they don’t make cheese or eat the goats btw, they are just for eating weeds). I must say I did get a little nervous that we would be staying in that room, which she said happened when she showed people around. In fact we are staying in a room/apartment (it has a kitchen and table and couch and a bathroom and we sleep in the loft). It is really cute and cozy and our entrance is through the goat pen, so we say hi as we walk by.
Up to coffee at her mom’s. We sat at the kitchen table and talked and inadvertently started sorting olives that were on the table until the job was complete. Claude came in from her project and the four of us ate together. Margaret made fillets of turkey, pasta and endive salad. Of course bread and cheese and fruit followed and afterward when Claude asked if we wanted to work, we both said yes. Mike had one job with her and I picked olives with Margaret. She is spry and good at everything that she does despite her ailing shoulder and after two hours of picking the fallen olives off the ground (none go to waste here-good ones get salted and cured for salads, mediocre ones for tapenade and bad ones for the oil) Margaret began telling me that I was a very good worker. This made me really proud since after reading “French Dirt” I thought the french didn’t give compliments about American work ethic, but apparently that does not apply to 88 year old women. I looked up the hill to see Mike tending to a burn pile and knew where I wanted to be. I picked those olives double time to get done faster in hopes that we could go to the fire too. When we finally did, I helped him pile on the cut branches and fuel it with bamboo. When it came time to return to olive picking duty, I pawned it off on Mike. We had agreed earlier that I am more built for hard duties and he is the meticulous one. We explained this to Margaret and she laughed, but it’s true. I manned the fire and he helped her set up the nets for when we do the serious olive picking, which requires a person to climb the tree and shake it out into the nets. I can’t wait for that!
After a while, Mike and I were the only ones left working in the garden, still moving branches and burning them. Margaret came out at around 5:30 and said the fire was tired and that it wanted to stop. Mike laughed, I had no clue what she was talking about of course. We went in for tea and were done for the day, but I think we did win them over with our hard work and Mike told them that we own our own businesses, that when we work we work hard and well and when we rest we rest hard and well. Margaret liked that. She is great. Later when we were rearranging our new little home, Claude came in and said she liked us, that we worked hard, that we were nice and liked to joke and that we worked hard. I don’t think they were expecting that. We like them too. Margaret is so jolly and Claude is very strong. The fact that this whole place is run on the backs of these two women is so remarkable. As Mike said, like out of the pages of Lonesome Dove. They rely on themselves and hard work.
At 7:30 we returned to Margaret’s house. We thought we were eating dinner there, but she had made us an elaborate to go meal for two. Vegetable soup, endive casserole, bread, cheese, homemade honey (oh yeah, they have bees here and rabbits and chickens). It was perfect. They gave us coffee for breakfast and we’ll eat lunch together each day. Now, I am in our loft. I am a little sore, but in a good way, I feel productive. It seems rare that you find what you are looking for or better, but we’ve found it here. They say, if we are good workers, we will make olive oil in two weeks–yes, we are planning to be here that long. My french will improve, we’ll learn what it means to run a farm, we’ll see it through the whole olive harvest. Pretty exciting considering on Friday, we didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going. But now, to bed.