Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ghiro Tondo: Magical Moments on the Family Farm in Italy

Northern Italy, near Lake Como.  A scramble up a rocky trail and a path that winds up into the mountains will take you to Ghiro Tondo.

When I found Ghiro Tondo on HelpX and e-mailed Ruby, the farm-mama, she said I was nutty enough to enjoy life on the farm. 

Look at this place.  Green trees as far as the eye can see, and alps in the distance, fog humbling their grand presence.  A duck pond, which the girls enjoyed more than the ducklings.  A simple warm house decorated with mosaics on the outside and murals on the inside.

Scraps of paper litter the floor.  Joy, 5 years old now, asks incessantly for "Disegnas!"  The volunteers who were here the day I arrived (and left the next) told me about a book I could use to copy the designs, and Joy fingers the pages carefully before deciding which disegna she wants me to draw.  "Something easy," I tell her, but it never is.  I begin drawing and her face twists in disapproval.  Sometimes she scratches out my failed design; sometimes I do.

In time, and with lots of practice, I improve.  I outline and she colors.  We make puppets from the popsicle sticks left over from the girls' ghiaccioli.

the disegnas

Joy & Jess
I stay in a yurt, painted the happiest orange you could imagine.  One night, their friend Cristian stays.  I have music playing on the speakers, but I turn it off with the lights.  In Italian, he tells me I can leave it on.  I tell him the animals will be our music.  Crickets and cicadas chirp and the duck family rustles beneath us.  An occasional dog barks.  If you listen close, you can hear the stars breathing.

In the morning Cristian tells Ruby he was waiting for the animal music.  Ruby translates this to me, and I am doubled over in laughter.  "I meant music from the outside world!"  He thought I had a CD, and waited for it to come on, only to look over and find me sound asleep.

"Questa sera," tonight, I tell Cristian, laughing.

We drive to the other side of the mountains and walk to pick wild blueberries.  Amy and I take up the lead.  She kneels to try and catch every grasshopper.  We don't talk much, just hold hands we we walk, and switch when they get too warm.

Near the end of the walk, she sits on every stone large enough to hold her.  Her eyes meet mine and she sighs, tired.

lake como

Eventually we catch up to the group and pick berries in the hot sun.  A few more kilometers and we'd be in Switzerland.  Maurizio, another family friend, tells me Switzerland "Is like one beautiful garden," but I am glad to be in the wild with this family, for now.

I had planned to leave for Switzerland to enroll in a Vipassana course, but I didn't quite make it.  The bus never came, so I ended up back at the farm, and stayed for another two weeks.

Was it fate?  Or just the incorrect bus schedule I got from Ruby?  Maybe both.  ;)  Thank you, Ruby!

Life at the farm was simple and sufficient, which isn't to say it was easy.  Eggs came from their chickens, who wandered free; milk, butter, yogurt and cheese from the cow, Amma, and her baby, Theresa.  Sheep were moved every so often so they had new grass for grazing and enough shade.  Animals were tended to, as was the garden and land.

Food came from the garden, from neighbors and friends, from shops who couldn't sell the products.  Food came from Sam's fiery hands, deft in the kitchen, playful and sober.  Cooking is his art.

homemade pasta and pesto

Reggae blasted through the house as we played with girls, swept up paper scraps, and washed mountains of dishes.  Hot water came from a fire you had to stoke every few minutes, and the soap was no joy or dawn, but a soap the family made.  Washing dishes was often a greasy occasion, but nothing harmful went down the drain.  I learned a lot, too: ash paste (ash + water) and pasta water both help cut the grease.

When we weren't washing dishes or picking berries or splashing in the stream, we tried to watch Zeitgeist from the pink futon, but it never loaded entirely.

Mostly, though, I got to be with the girls.

me and vida
I sang spirituals, folk songs, and mantras as Vida fell asleep in my arms.  When she was really tired, she warbled, a song that vibrated from within.  Then her breath slowed and her body heavied in my arms.

In the beginning, my heartbeat quickened as her naked legs got closer and closer to the steps on the porch.  A true free-range baby, she crawled and tottered around naked and with a smile on her face, putting things (the dirtier the better) in her mouth, exploring her beautiful world.  Eventually my heart beat relaxed as I did, and as my connection with her deepened, so did my trust.

happy as can be, at the top of the steps.  ooh baby baby it's a wild world!
Joy & Amy

I miss these wild girls and this amazing family.  The girls peed wherever they pleased; scooped into the mud from the duck pond and "washed" the rocking horse with it; were free in their bodies and on the land.  And for kids who run around half (or wholly) naked most of the time, they had more wardrobe changes than Cher.

Joy corrected my Italian, and helped me with pronunciation.  We communicated beautifully, a blend of my broken Italian (at least 65% hopeful Spanish words) and their broken English.  We learned to count in both languages; we can both go up to at least 11.  But most of the communication came from a different place.  We didn't need words.

And for 2 1/2 days, we didn't use many words.  Ruby offered a small Vipassana for us when I missed my course, and we stayed quiet and smiling for a few days.  I even got to wear tank-tops and make eye contact.  The day I took the kids to the lake wasn't as quiet as the others, and when Cristian arrived we spoke some under the stars.

Have I mentioned the stars here?  The sky is spherical, a dome scattered with bright light.  My neck hurt from craning.  Some nights fireworks from nearby summer fiestas sounded in the distance, a couple of evenings treated us to thunder and lightning.  

Fresh air, crickets singing, and stars.  These might be the only ingredients to a happy life.  

Oh, and this:

Amy, Ruby, and Vida

And this:

Joy, Sam, and Amy making pasta

And this:

I am steeped with gratitude for a wonderful couple of weeks on this farm and with this family, sharing moments of presence and laughter belly-deep; chasing the girls and the chickens; sharing wine over dinner and tea in the afternoon . . . and for the mountains of dishes, because enlightenment (or so they say) comes sometime before, after, or during the dishes.

I love you my soft-world tribe, my dead-fish-flow tribe, my nutso tribe.

I'll be back to finish Zeitgeist.  Let me know when it's loaded.  ;)


  1. I want you to come visit us and bring some of that magic.

    1. I would love that! But you've already got the magic! ;)

  2. Magical memories indeed:) Joy says -Io voglio che viene Jessica!