Saturday, July 9, 2011

Back to the States!


Past- 2? 3?- weeks have been fantastic. Spent another couple of nights in London at the end of my time in England; did some touristy things (saw the Tower of London, London Bridge) and watched a lot of Prison Break (for some reason).
Then, finally, off to Berlin! I hadn't realized, but it had been two months since I had seen Mwanzaa. In retrospect, I'm not sure how I managed to make it through for that long. Most of my time in Berlin was spent indoors; lots of days I/ we didn't leave the apartment before 1 pm. Nice and relaxing time. Got to hang out with Carlie a bit more (one of Mwanzaa's friends on the study abroad program, also a vegetarian). We didn't end up going clubbing or really "out" at all while I was there (went out for lots of meals, of course, but no partying in the evening). We did attend the gay pride parade (called the Columbus Street Day Parade, or something, in honor of Columbus Street in NYC where the pride parade is). Fun; nice, relaxed atmosphere, and lots of pretty outrageous costumes.
Then we went to Paris for 4 days. (You know, the usual). We stayed 3 of the 4 nights in this really nice little studio apartment in Oberkampf, which we got a pretty good price on. I definitely preferred doing a short-term apartment rental over a hotel; it was nice to have a space that really felt like our own to come back to. I also did a lot more walking that I had really ever done when studying abroad; it was interesting to see the proximity of areas that I was familiar with, but had never walked between. We were only about 20 minutes on foot from the Marais, so we went down there and got falafel at L'As du Falafel (of course). Also went to the Centre Pompidou, Louvre, and we made sure we got to the Cluny museum to see the exhibition "L'EpÈe" (The Sword). Had crÍpes, LOTS of pastries, baguette sandwiches, and some generally delicious dinners. I forget how much I like Paris when I'm not there by myself.
After Mwanzaa headed back to Berlin on Monday, I headed to play some ultimate with the team I had played with when I studied abroad and at the beach ultimate tournament this trip. Their season is mostly over, so we just had a scrimmage (after some pretty intense warm-ups). I met a girl, Clare, who is studying abroad, and who goes to Smith; we chatted for a while. Spent that night and last night at Justin's studio apartment (he's on the Ultimate team, the guy I got to know best when we were at the tournament in Italy). Hung out with him, Clare, and some other English-speakers at a bar last night. Meeting new people is really fun when a) I'm not anxious about my ability to speak the language and b) they're open and friendly (and c) when we have a mutual friend there). Fortunately, all these criteria were met, so it was quite a fun evening.

And now, here I am sitting on the plane on the runway at Charles de Gaulle Airport! And not only that, but in seat 2B- Business Class! When I was booking my tickets for France, I was using frequent flyer miles; I discovered that for 75,000 miles I would have an Economy ticket both ways, but for 80,000 I could fly back Business Class. Which of course, I went for. So far, it's been nice- got to go to the short lines for Passport Control and Security. Unfortunately didn't have enough time to visit the lounge (I likely would have if I hadn't had to spend an hour going back to the apartment where Mwanzaa and I stayed to pick up the pair of eyeglasses I had left there...). On board, I've already had a glass of champagne, but the real advantage is the leg room- even with legs as long as mine, I can stretch them out fully in front of me, which is basically impossible on any other flight or train ride I've been on (at least, since I've been above 5'6" in height...).

Will update this post after with the rest of the niceties offered to me.

Live-blogging style (as requested by Dan):

2:55 pm The mixed nuts are served in a ceramic dish, and they've actually been warmed.
3:06 pm A small tablecloth on my fold-out table before the meal is served.
3:15-40 pm: Meal consisting of: Appetizer of shrimp with quinoa and a carrot ginger soup, Salad (a real one, with olives and feta cheese), Main course (the weakest- basically pasta with fancy-ish tomato sauce; the other options looked tastier but all had meat. The woman sitting next to me remarked that it "wasn't the best pasta she's had." I refrained from pointing out that it was pretty damn good for airline food; I kind of think she hasn't flown Economy class maybe ever). And finally dessert: cheese (3 kinds), fresh fruit, ice cream, and lemon tart. Don't worry: it's all been photo-documented.
Also they served wine, though they did card me, which I found amusing- apparently American drinking age applies when you're headed to America?

Part II:

I can see why people like to travel Business Class. This seems like an obvious statement, but it made more of a difference in how I felt during and after the flight than I would have thought. Usually I find flying pretty draining; this was more like a train ride in that it wasn't stressful to be in that setting. I also had never realized that airline stewards/ stewardesses are really more like servers in fancy restaurants; it was clear that a significant part of their job description was making people in Business Class feel really taken care of in the same way that you would expect in a place you've paid a lot to be in or where you're paying a lot for food/ drinks/ etc.

Got picked up at the airport by Mwanzaa's parents (as usual; really nice that they've done so for me several times). Spent a few hours with them at their house, then headed home; crashed out. One day at home (opening mail, sorting through various things in my room, unpacking, re-packing), and now I'm down in DC for the weekend, seeing some friends from my trip to Israel, and meeting my nephew for the first time tomorrow!

This will probably be the last update for a while- for some reason, it feels odd to blog about traveling in the US (or at least to places I've already been). But we will see.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011



(Details to follow).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

End of WWOOFing... for now

So, I left the third and final farm today. I had considered not WWOOFing and just traveling around the UK for my weeks here; I'm glad I ended up going for another round. Part of my reluctance was that I knew it would be hard for the next farm (or anywhere, really) to match up to the last farm in France. But I definitely ended up having a good time. Didn't connect to the family as much here, but certainly enjoyed them; did some good old-fashioned manual labor outside, and saw some nice coastlines. Also went to a few pubs and had some really good, local beers. I had been pretty disappointed with the beer selection in Germany; I'm glad England lived up to its reputation as a place to get good beer.
On one of my days off, I also biked to the nearby town of Cheddar, where cheddar cheese was in fact invented. While there, I sampled cheddar cheese, watched it being made, and drank some cider. This was pretty amusing to me, as when I have gone up to Vermont to visit my friend Anna, we always go get cheddar cheese samples, drink cider, and watch cider being made. (Notable differences: "cider" here is what we call "hard cider.") I was most impressed with the cheddar-cheese making; they had one of those videos telling and showing how its made, and in fact, one of the people in the video making the cheese was the very same guy that was making the cheese behind the big glass windows. Legit.
At the moment, I'm in a town called Beer. (Though I plan to have a beer here, so I will have drank beer in Beer and eaten cheddar in Cheddar, it is not actually the birthplace of beer, and in fact isn't even named for the drink). It's a town on what's known as the "Jurassic Coast" due to the fossil-rich cliffs that run along it. The cliffs around Beer are white chalk, so no fossils here (at least, none visible to the naked eye), but still quite pretty. I got here around 1 pm; check-in at the hostel wasn't until 5 pm, so I walked along the beach, created and Andy Goldsworthy-inspired sculpture out of black pebbles on a chunk of the white chalk, and walked along the coastal path. Despite the steady rain (which made taking pictures somewhat difficult), it was enjoyable; the weather meant that very few other people were around, and the wind made it feel that much more of a savage and wild place. (I am glad to have had a hot shower and be in dry clothes, however.)
Tomorrow, will probably stick around here (was considering heading to another area of the coast with more fossils, but I want to limit my travel time); spending the night at a hostel in Exeter because this one was booked up for Saturday night and my friend Steve in London is away for the weekend. Sunday day will probably be mostly traveling, maybe explore Exeter in the morning; Sunday evening/ night through Tuesday in London, then (finally!) Berlin to see Mwanzaa!

Part 2

So, this morning, in a kind of spur of the moment, I decided to indeed head to one of the nearby towns with more fossils. Got on the bus with the original plan of going on a guided "fossil walk," but ended up getting off a stop before the planned town, in a town called Lyme Regis. (Decided I didn't really need to be guided). I was really glad I ended up going- at certain points along the beach, there are long, flat layers of stone that are just filled with ammonites! (They're the nautilus-type thing that you often see in fossil shops). Really amazing to see. You can't really extract them, as they're embedded in these huge pieces of stone, but plenty of fossil hunters come and break open stones looking for specimens. I didn't find much (didn't have a hammer, so just picked up rocks and hurled them at bigger rocks until they broke open). Also had a delicious fish and chips.
In the afternoon/ evening, headed back to Exeter by bus to the next hostel. I foolishly failed to write down any information about the Exeter hostel, assuming that there would be internet access at the hostel in Beer, which there wasn't. No worries; I'll just find a place with free WiFi in Exeter. Public library? Closed. Starbucks? Have to buy a membership card; was going to do that, but then the nice cashier offered to log in using his username and password; but then the signal was too weak and it wouldn't load. He pointed me towards a nearby pub with free WiFi- but it wasn't configured correctly, so I could connect, but couldn't get any pages to load. So finally, I called my parents (who were visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and the baby), and between all of them managed to talk them through logging in to my Yahoo account, where they found the necessary email, gave me the address and directions, and I finally made it to the hostel. Nice little place; good atmosphere; a true backpacker's hostel.

Part 3

Short: Got up this morning (Saturday), walked around Exeter, took the bus to London, and spent the rest of the evening watching Prison Break and drinking some beer with Steve. Tomorrow, I'm on my own to explore London- should be fun!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Willow Farm

So, I'm at the next (and last, for this trip) farm. Of the farms I've been to, this one is the least like a farm. Basically, they live in a small town with a backyard garden ("they" being Rob, with whom we spend the most time, his wife Chrissy, and 2 of his kids (Liam, 16, and Helena, 18; 2 other daughters each live nearby). And they recently (2 years ago) bought a plot of land (~3 acres) that's 3-4 miles away. So most days, we drive out to the plot of land and do work there, haven lunch there, then come back to the house for dinner.
I will admit, when I first arrived I was a bit dubious. The plot of land is nice and peaceful, but not incredibly beautiful; the house is nice, but the area it's in is, again, not that beautiful. But by the end of the first day, I was feeling much better about it. Rob took us ("us" being Gavin, the 32-year-old British WWOOFer who arrived the same day I did) for a short drive to the coast, which is really nice- part mudflat with coastal grasses, then some steeper areas where the ocean has made little coves of super-smooth rocks which lead to abruptly-eroded land. And yesterday, he took us on another drive to see an old priory, as well as more of the coast.
The work has mostly involved efforts to improve the soil at their land plot (or at least, in the small area they're trying to grow things in). As Gavin put it, "This is the worst soil I've ever seen." It's basically clay. So, lots of moving of manure. We've also done some planting (beans and corn), though I have my doubts about how well any of it will do. What Rob really needs to do is get a lot of good compost, and put that down anywhere he's going to plant something. At the moment, he's just using manure, which, while rich in nutrients, still comes from the miniature Shetland ponies that are grazing right nearby; thus he's not really adding any nutrients to the system. And the manure isn't broken down enough yet; I don't think the plants can use it yet.
Other notables: the pets (of course). 2 spaniels (a springer and her daughter, a springer/ cocker mix apparently called a "sprocker") and a chihauha. My favorite is the sprocker; she is, as Rob puts it, "ball-obsessed." When she has a ball, she will bring it near you, put it down, then lie down about a foot away from it, staring at either it or you. Until you throw it. Several times, while working in the plot, I've thrown it, gone back to working for 15-20 minutes, then realized that she's brought it back and has been waiting there the entire time for me to throw it.

Speaking of pets, I realized that I never posted about Lima! This is the kitten that I picked out as my favorite when I was at the second farm. I chose her out when she was about a week old, and I chose rightly: she was the first one to be scampering about the house exploring things. (Lima is pronounced "Lee-ma" and is short for limace ("lee-mahss"), which means slug in French. I thought this would be an amusing name because Lima is a pretty name, but... its short for "slug." And despite her liveliness, all the kittens looked kind of like slugs when they were first leaving their box and wandering around the floor.

Monday, June 6, 2011


[Note: Updates are often posted with a bit of a delay; this is why the following post about being in London for a weekend comes a day after my post about leaving the farm.]

Spent the weekend in London with my Buck's Rock friend Steve Leach. I hadn't really realized, but it's been quite a long time since I'd been there (last time was maybe about 10 years ago with my parents). Didn't do too many touristy things (saw "the Gurkin" (sp? Apparently it's gherkin.) the big, bullet-shaped tower (gherkin is what pickles are called here), the Houses of Parliament, the Thames, etc; didn't go in any of those places; just saw them from afar). But did plenty of British things nonetheless- went to pubs and had a good amount of beer, ate some scones with jam and clotted cream, drank lots of tea, etc. I had a kilo of honey that Véronique and Vincent gave me as a parting gift; good thing too, because apparently the Brits don't ever put honey in their tea! Shocking. Steve and I had a good time figuring out various differences between American and English culture, expressions, etc. (I've noticed that there are lots of idiomatic expressions that are almost identical in terms of meaning, but just using different words. I can't actually remember the ones that I remarked on, however, so... not that exciting for you to read about).
Spent most of yesterday in Hyde Park, playing a bit of Frisbee and hanging out with a friend of Steve and that guy's friends. Generally friendly crew, fun to hang out with. I find that I can pretty easily chat with groups of people my age if I have an "in" into the group; ie, a friend of mine knows people in the group. And I can also start chatting with people if there's some reason for us to be doing so (ie, hanging out at an Ultimate tourney, or, as is the case right now, chatting with the two American girls that are sitting near me on the train I'm on).
So, now I'm off to the next farm. I managed to miss the first train I was going to take (we got to the train station with about 8 minutes to spare, but I had to get my ticket from the self-service kiosk, and, as is the case in France, British credit cards have chips in them, and sometimes cards without chips (ie, American cards) won't work in kiosks like that. So, I missed the train; fortunately, Steven and I were able to look up the phone number of the farm I'm headed to (which I had failed to write down); they were nice and understanding on the phone, and sounded quite friendly- encouraging! So I got a train an hour later to Bristol, which is about half an hour from where they live.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Combeuil, round 2

Well, my second stay at Combeuil has come and gone. (Combeuil is the name of the little village where the farm is; they don't really ever refer to it as La Combe des Saveurs, its title on the WWOOF France website). So glad I came back; this second time felt like an extension of the first; it really seemed like I hadn't left. Plus, the strawberries were ripe!
This farm was definitely a life-changing experience. Last night, we had a mini-party partly in my honor (some neighbors plus a couple friends of Tom and Léo and the friends' mother). It was supposed to be an outdoor BBQ, but the last two days it's been raining steadily (which is good in general, as it was really dry for a while before hand); however, it did mean that my last two days there I mostly just sort of sat around the house (they don't do a lot of outdoor work when it rains; we had been planning to plant two new rows of raspberry plants, but as it was mid-40s (Fahrenheit), it was too cold to do so. But definitely a nice send-off with the gathering last night (chatting, drinking some wine, generally a warm and nice atmosphere). And this morning, I gave the family a few gifts, which they seemed to appreciate; everyone expressed mutual regret that I was leaving. They sent me off with a kilo of honey as well as an ammonite fossil that Vincent had found in the Alps (they have a lot of nice fossils that they found during their years as shepherds in the Alps). I plan to go back someday, and I will definitely stay in touch with them.
At the dinner last night, one of the neighbors asked me what I would be taking away from this place (figuratively). I told her that being there has opened my eyes to the possibility of different life-paths. As Vincent said on multiple occasions, there is a particular path/ framework that lots of people (especially people like me, and most of my family friends) feel more or less constrained by, consciously or unconsciously: college, graduate degree, decent-paying, mostly-indoor job with the ability to climb the ladder within that career. I admit it was a bit of shock for me when Véronique talked about how Léo probably wouldn't go to college; he's a smart, motivated kid, but, as she put it, it just wasn't really his thing. Off the top of my head, I can't actually think of anyone that I know well who didn't go to college. And I never even questioned that fact- somehow, I had more or less discounted the vast number of people in the Western world that never went (or will go) to college. I'm not suggesting that I'm sorry I went to college, or that it's problematic in some way to do so. But through my conversations with Vincent, I recognize now that my way of thinking, my worldview, and the available life-paths for myself have all been very much constrained by the the world I grew up in. Don't worry: I am still planning on going to Yale in the fall. But other ideas for my "career" now seem much less like crazy, wouldn't-it-be-nice dreams, and more like real possibilities.
Another thing that I will "take away" from my WWOOFing experience in general is that I am indeed still young. (I feel that I may already have written about this...?) In any case. I could conceivably take 10 years to find my "path" and still be perfectly fine. Since graduating from Amherst, I've felt a sense of urgency, both within myself but especially from friends/ acquaintances who have also graduated, that you have to "get going" right away. Find your career, and start working towards that career. Clearly, for some people this path is clear and non-problematic. But for others (like me), I think it will take a while to figure out what I am actually going to be doing long-term.

Friday, May 27, 2011


This morning: picked strawberries.

This afternoon: ate strawberry jam made from said strawberries.

(I'm back on the farm, if that wasn't clear...)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Week with the Fam

Trains provide the perfect situation for blog-writing. Not only are they relatively long, providing me with plenty of writing time, but they nicely divide different parts of my trip.

So, at the moment I'm headed back to the farm, having spent the last 8 days or so with my parents. Definitely a fun time; spent maximum 2 nights at each destination, a combination of small towns and (at the end) a big city (Toulouse). Highlights were the caves with wall paintings/ carvings that are relatively well-known in the region. I'm not sure why, but we were really taken with some of them, especially the paintings. I guess the idea of being in the same spot where someone, 20-25,000 years ago, was painting, and seeing their work, has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about it. (We didn't go to the most famous cave, Lascaux, because it has recently (in the past few years, I believe) been closed to visitors due to degradation of the works; there is a replica you can go to, which apparently is very well done, it seems like it just wouldn't at all be the same). Our favorite was Pech-Merle; you'll have to Google search for pictures, because in all the caves photography was strictly forbidden. (They gave varying reasons for this, but I suspect it's a) because they are worried about flashes, and b) they want to control the sale of images of the caves).
Another highlight was the fact that my parents had rented a car, so we got to pass through these tiny villages between destinations. Each one has a little church (sometimes slightly bigger churches), each one has stone houses, and each one feels so typically European. It was nice to discover that there are still so many places like that. And for both my mom and me, it was our first time getting a taste of France outside of the major destinations (with the exception of the farms I've been on so far). I wonder what I would discover by driving on non-highways around the United States.
We spent one day and night at Domme, which is a small, walled town at the top of what's basically an isolated foothill- I don't know what its geological origins are, but it provides a remarkable view of the countryside (with the Dordogne River flowing right by it). I really need to start posting some pictures- descriptions of places like this really aren't sufficient. But it was definitely one of the more beautiful views I've seen in France, especially the morning of the second day, when we could see the thick fog covering the countryside well below us.
We also spent 3 nights at a B&B near Rocamadour, run by a really nice British couple. And they have an option for eating there, which we did all three nights- full meal (appetizer, entree, cheese, dessert, wine) prepared by them. They usually do meat-based dishes, but managed to cope with my mom's and my dietary restrictions.
Last two nights were in Toulouse, which I might try to return to someday (not this trip, but... someday). The nightlife is really vibrant, varied, and with lots of people about my age, it seems (I walked around the city one of the nights; didn't do much, as I'm not a fan of going to bars/ clubs on my own, but with someone else I think it could be really great).
And of course, we did a good amount of shopping (got a some new clothes... I can't resist doing so when I'm in France, and especially not if I'm being encouraged by my mom) and ate lots of good food.

Friday, May 13, 2011


There are certainly some interesting people in the world.
Two nights ago, a guy stopped by the house for dinner that Vincent had met earlier that day; he's one of those people you can bring gold/ coins/ precious stones to, and he'll (possibly) buy them from you). (Tom and Léo brought some things they had and ended up with about 150 euros each- not too bad (though who knows whether it was actually worth more)). Apparently Vincent chatted with him, found out he would be passing by the house on his way to his next destination, and invited him to stop by. And this is one of those guys who likes to talk and likes to tell stories; fortunately, he's also one of those people who is fun to listen to. So, apparently he was in the army when he was young; since then, he worked as head of security for Jacques Cousteau for 11 years (apparently Cousteau's boat would sometimes be attacked, since I guess on some of his dives he ended up with some pretty valuable things); he also has spent long periods of time in South America, both traveling and looking for gold. Basically, his life has been ridiculous and awesome. Most of the stories he told seemed more or less genuine; some had the aura of myths about them (like the story about his friend, who was working on a boat for some scientists; apparently they lowered a giant metal cage with meat in it into a trench in the ocean; when they pulled it up (and this happened multiple times) the bars of the cage were all twisted and destroyed; apparently one time, a foot-long tooth was also embedded in the metal of the cage).

Then there's Vincent's good friend Hervé, who lives (for the moment) nearby. It's clear these two guys are cut from the same cloth; travelers/ adventurers (Hervé once spent 2 years in a Moroccan prison); genuine (such that if they're displeased with something, you'll find out- this hasn't happened firsthand, but I've heard enough stories from Vincent to understand that it's the case). And apparently, they both performed in the past; Hervé apparently was a professional dancer in the Opera (and I don't know if I mentioned this, but Vincent once spent 6 months traveling up the coast of Italy with a friend, paying for his entire trip by being a street performer as one of those robot mimes).

Speaking of Vincent, some more about this guy. It's clear (and he states this himself) that the life he's lived is a world apart from one like mine. Didn't go to college, left his family when he was about 16, spent many years herding sheep up and down the Alps, traveled around alone and eventually with Véronique and his sons (it's only the last 3 years that they've been "permanently" settled. And now, he runs a farm in a small valley in France!

In terms of interesting people, I also had my first-ever encounter with Jehovah's Witnesses yesterday. I was in the living room, and I heard a knock that I thought was from Véronique upstairs. Then I heard her calling out to me softly; I went to the base of the stairs where she whispered down to me "Tell them I'm not here!" Momentarily confused, I realized that there were two people at the door. I proceeded to talk to them for about 15-20 minutes. They seemed nice (it was an older woman and and older man; the man dominated the conversation, however); interested in why I was in France and how I had come to the Valley of the Desges (the small river that runs through the property), which he referred to as one of the most hidden corners of France; and relatively intelligent. What bothered me was that while we were having a nice chat in French about the area and my travels, I knew it was eventually going to turn to religious proselytizing. Which of course it did, but from an interesting perspective; he read several passages from the Bible but phrased them in terms of environmental ideas, which was a relatively new thing for me in terms of religious ideology.
One good thing that did come about (besides the ability to practice my French) was that the conversation made me think about what my response would be in the future to his question, "Are you a believer?" ("Est-ce que vous êtes croyant?") I hemmed and hawwed and he didn't wait for more than that. But I now have a response that I feel good about. (Not sure this is the right medium to explain my religious and spiritual beliefs, however).

Yesterday we moved the sheep again, from where they had been pastured up by the nearby village of Pébrac to a lower field near Hervé's house. As before, I was in charge of bringing up the rear (last time, it was me at the back with Gaia, the dog, and Vincent following in the car and shouting instructions to Gaia out the window). However, this time Vincent had to take a different route, so it was going to be just me at the back. Didn't start out great- one thing that I absolutely had to make sure of was that Gaia didn't run to the front of the herd, because if she did so the sheep would scare and either turn around or leave the route they were supposed to be following. About 2 minutes in 3, 3 sheep went to the left of a fence, and I had to get them to go on the right side of it; while I was doing that, Gaia ran to the front. Wasn't much of a problem until we got to one of the lower fields; the sheep were supposed to consider straight on, but they went right into a field (apparently the same thing that had happened last year). Part of the problem was apparently that they were quite hungry (having stayed at the previous pasture a bit too long), so any time they saw a nice field with long grass, they went right for it. Eventually, Vincent showed up, and he, Gaia and I managed to get the sheep out of the field and back on the path. Things were going well again when one of the sheep saw another field and jumped over a barbed wire fence to get to it.
This demonstrated well the widely-held idea that sheep will follow each other blindly. I knew of this stereotype (if one can call it that), but I had never really seen it in action before coming to La Combe des Saveurs. It's really fascinating- along the route to the lower pasture, sheep would stop along the side to nibble at grass; however, as soon as they perceived that most of the herd was passing them, they would run to rejoin it. And Véro and Vincent told me about one time when they had a large herd (on the order of 1 or 2 thousand) in the Alps; there was a cliff, and one sheep spooked and ran off it- and about 300 followed before they were able to head them off. It's clearly something hardwired into their biology, the importance of staying with the herd. And if one gets separated- especially if it's a lamb- it's a huge headache to capture it again, because it will just run all over the place if it doesn't have a herd to follow.
Anyway- so the rest of the herd followed the first sheep into this field, knocking over a section of the barbed wire to get in. At this point, it was just me and Gaia at the back again (Vincent had gone to get the tractor to bring up the rear). However, I was able, with Gaia, to get the herd back onto the path on my own, and we finally made it to the lower pasture. Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with myself, and pretty exhilarated with the whole sheep-herding thing. Not that I would ever want to keep sheep myself- seems like more work than it's worth; plus I would feel bad about selling the meat, and it's even more work to keep them for sheep's milk.

As I've mentioned before, Vincent likes to talk about his life philosophies. Once, he was telling me about the virtues of being alone for long periods of time (which he of course did while working as a shepherd; there would be months at a time when the only other human contact he had was a bi-monthly decent into a small village to buy supplies). He estimates that in his 45 years, 10 of them have been spent in total solitude (I think it might be a bit less, but still clearly huge amounts of time alone). And I realized that as far as I can remember, I don't think I've ever spent even one day without communicating/ interacting with another person. Before college, I lived at home, and if I was alone in a day I still had the phone/ internet; at college, there was always someone around, and even now, traveling by myself, I'm either in a city, seeing people I know, or at a farm with the people that live at that farm. I have resolved to try to spend at least a few days totally alone (probably on some sort of camping trip) in the near future.

Speaking of things I haven't done, one thing I've realized for a while is that I've never had a real adventure. This, I think, is pretty typical, if going by my definition: for it to be a real adventure, one's life or well-being can't be totally assured. I'm not talking about super-dangerous things, but an adventure has to have much less of a support net than one is/ I am used to. An example would be backpacking through non-First-World countries. Problem is, I think it would be pretty hard for me to set out on a trip with that level of uncertainty or danger; however, the idea of living my life without ever having a real adventure, of course, is insupportable. But can you really "plan" to have an adventure? (I suppose planning one is kind of antithetical, but, as with the example above, I think it can be done). And an unplanned adventure, even if it's more genuine, is probably more dangerous too. We'll have to see what life serves up, and maybe shake things up a bit if it doesn't look like adventure is on the menu. (That metaphor didn't really work as well as I wanted it to. I was also trying to work in something about "spicing up the stew." I'll work on it).

About to arrive in Bordeaux to travel around with my parents for about a week, then back to the farm (as I said to Véro and Vincent, I'm quite glad I'm going back, otherwise the last few days would have been really sad! This way, I don't have to think about leaving the farm for good until after I see my parents).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New experiences

New experiences of the day:
1. Eating battered, fried acacia flowers
2. Herding sheep half a mile up the road to their new grazing area.