The Names

September 30, 2012 Comments Off on The Names

My last day on the farm was no different than my first. I milked goats. Once in the morning and again in the evening.

My former hosts own over a dozen goats. All of them have names. These are the ones I remember:

Praline, Titi, Biscotte, Cyprine Noir, Sumirat, Nougat, Noisette, Tiramisu, Chamoise, Sumirat, Princesse, Biscoas, Cabrine, Anjani, and White Noise.

Oh, I guess that’s all of them. Just as I get everyone’s names right, I have to leave.

Below are some photos I snapped while helping herd the goats from the fields today.





Crawling Back

September 30, 2012 § 4 Comments

A week from now, I’m coming home.

Not before what I like to call the “vacation component,” of this journey begins. Up until now, I haven’t considered my travels a “vacation.” I’ve been working, punctuating my journey with occasional stops in major cities. I want to be able to spend time in a city without having to worry about getting to another volunteer post on time. First, I’ll stop in Paris for two nights. (That city never fails to draw me in.) Then I’m off to Dublin for four nights. Then I fly home.

I realized about mid-way through last week that my heart is no longer in this. This is my third farming experience, and I still don’t love it. I’ve become alarmingly apathetic, which, sadly is evident in my work. Neither my hosts nor myself benefit from this. The same goes for those who would’ve hosted me in the coming weeks. It’s also untrue to me. I’m not careless person.

I’m not cut out for the nomadic lifestyle. I can’t travel for long stretches of time aimlessly. I can’t delay all those important decisions I need to make about my post-graduate life. You know, that “next step.”

Now I’m ready to take that “next step.” It’s funny. When I flew to Europe in late July, the last thing I wanted was a job. But I couldn’t put the future out of my mind the whole time I was traveling. I want a job, preferably one that pays. I want a place to call my own in a new city.

Coming to terms with all of this wasn’t easy. I was depressed. I felt like a complete failure. I was supposed to evolve into a wild, fun-loving adventurer up for just about anything. Here I was being my old sensible, pragmatic self. I thought that I hadn’t changed at all.

I couldn’t ignore what I really wanted in the end: to start a new life.

These travels almost didn’t happen. My parents practically pushed me onto the plane. The months following my college graduation were stagnant. I wasn’t unmotivated. I wasn’t complacent. I was terrified of making the wrong move. Travel or settle down? But if there’s one thing I’ve gleaned from these last two month’s it’s this: just take a step. Any step. It might be the wrong step. Who cares? Trust yourself enough to know that you’ll figure things out.

I have stories about my short time in Brittany. I plan on sharing them, although I’m not sure when or how. I’ll certainly have other thoughts to post.

In the meantime, I’m going to make the most of my final day on a farm. So far I’ve cleaned up lots chicken shit, milked several goats, and been lectured in French multiple times. I’d say it’s been a good day.

As you can see, my sense of humor has come a long, long way.

Allez! Allez!

September 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

I arrived in Châteaulin via Quimper yesterday.

I greeted my new host, who had driven all the way from his farm to the train station to meet me, in French. He then attempted to strike up a conversation in French. I communicated in spurts of broken, deeply enunciated French on the drive to the farm.

I didn’t say much else during that drive because I was too busy racking my brain, attempting to recall everything I’d ever learned in eight years’ (give or take)  formal study of French.

How would I receive commands for standard farm tasks, like milking, cheese-making, and construction work in a language I only partially understood?

My host pulled into the farm, and we went inside the main house. There, I met my host’s mother, a cheerful , feisty old woman who can no longer stand up straight and moves with the aid of a walker. Her back bends at a near-perfect, ninety degree angle. She doesn’t speak a word of English. Not even “OK.”

I met my host’s wife. She always has a soft smile on her face. Her English is actually quite good.

My host lead me upstairs to my bedroom. He helped me make my bed. Then he ushered me to another, smaller house on the property, where volunteers take their meals and typically spend afternoon breaks.

I learned that I’m the only American here for now. I chatted up people from places as far-flung as the Czech Republic, Japan, and Singapore. I also learned that although most volunteers here claim to speak only “un petit peu” of French, everyone sounds extremely competent compared to me.

I sipped a cup of tea made with fresh lemon balm from the garden while a Belgian girl–who, sadly, left this morning–and I discussed many things: travel, cooking, writing.

An hour or so later, it was time to finish up the day’s work. I didn’t want to give the wrong impression, so I tagged along.

I’d only been on the farm for an hour or so, and I was already out in the field helping search for the goats. I wore the same outfit I wore to milk when I worked in Denmark.

I looked in all directions. No goats to be found. Then the herd emerged seemingly out of nowhere. Over a dozen of them, with shaggy hair and big, coiled horns.

“Allez! Allez!” we all shouted. We rounded them up and lead them to their pens for a second round of milking. At least I was spared this chore. I settled for a grand tour of the facilities, followed by preparing a dinner that consisted of salad and nettle soup.

Twelve of us gathered for dinner. This is when I learned that bread and rounds of fresh goat cheese, both homemade, appear at every meal.

I was presented with a single piece of left-over, Breton apple tart at the end of the meal. They’d saved it for me to try.

I still have a language barrier to straddle. I feel vulnerable and confused in that respect. But I’ve found a place full of kind, patient individuals willing to take me on.


September 22, 2012 Comments Off on Cheers

The sun has finally emerged from behind the clouds. I’ve one last task to complete before I leave my hosts’ chalet for the train station tonight: take the mattresses, blankets, pillows and rugs outdoors to air for an hour or so.

Right now the sub’s a sorry sight. It’s practically empty. Colorful pillows, rugs and linens are spread out on the lawn, hanging over chairs, balconies, or anywhere I could find space. All but one of the skinny mattresses that make up my bed remain. The other is propped up against the side of the sub.

It stormed early this morning. The sound of rain pounding on the roof and sides of the sub woke me up twice.

The rain stopped momentarily, leaving just enough time for me to enjoy one last breakfast outdoors, complete with a mountain view. I made a couple cups of strong coffee on the camper stove, and topped a large hunk of stale baguette with butter and homemade apricot jam.

I don’t leave for Paris until 8:30pm. I wish I could leave right now. I wish I was already gone. I’ve had fun here.  I’m extremely grateful for the patience, hospitality and humor my hosts have shown me. There’s a whole lot about this post that I’m going to miss:

–Evenings spent on the terrace with cold beers and music, usually in the form of my hosts’ guitar playing or impromptu DJ sets.

–Tache, the sweetest and most energetic dog I’ve had the privilege of meeting in my travels.

–Hearing my hosts’ youngest son call me “Anna” instead of “Emma.” After a while, I decided to give him a break. He’s five, after all.

–My hosts’ eldest son’s breakdancing.

–Canning and preserving. I made rhubarb jam, plum jam, grape juice, grape jam, and chili oil during my stay here in the Alps. So I’m no longer a “preserving virgin,” as one of my hosts put it so nicely.

–Being mocked for my various Americanisms: “whatever floats your boat,” “brain fart,” “restroom”—yes, even that last one. If you’re British, it’s called a “loo.”

–Telling people I’m living in a converted vintage bus. Also getting to say I’m doing “x” from inside a converted vintage bus. For example, I’m writing this post from inside a converted vintage bus. See?

–Cooking and baking, even if it meant having to cater to young children’s persnickety tastes.

–The walks. The wine. The fresh goat cheese from the farm next door.

Regardless, I think it’s time to move on. I’m eager to see Brittany and to finally meet my new hosts. I think I might be ready for farm work again.

I’d like to extend a hearty “cheers” to my hosts. They deserve one.

“Vim” and “Pep”

September 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

My hosts’ lives are fast-paced and, at times, stressful. A couple of days ago, they were busier than usual. One had to take their eldest son to a doctor’s appointment in Lyon. Lyon’s a two-and-a-half hour drive from here. This amounted to five hours away from home, not taking into account the amount of time spent at the hospital for the appointment. The other was tied up at his wine shop for the better part of the morning. When he came home, he headed straight to the backyard to clean out the swimming pool.

I offered to make dinner, and my hosts didn’t refuse. I had a simple lentil soup in mind, with plenty of fresh Swiss chard. I also offered to make some bread—I noticed that we’d run out— and roast some vegetables from the garden.

When my host returned from Lyon with her son, she asked if there was anything she could do to help me with dinner. I told her, kindly, no. Nothing at all, apart from picking a few stalks of chard for me. Which she did.

She and the rest of the family headed out for a quick, pre-dinner bike ride while I finished the meal.

We enjoyed a large pot of lentil soup, two loaves of unfussy white bread, and a pan of roasted peppers, zucchini, and beets.

The following morning, I noticed some kitchen cabinets’ doors were greasy. The insides were covered with dust and spilled flour. The contents were disorganized. So I cleaned and reorganized them. I did my best to make things were easier to find.

I asked one of my hosts what she thought of my work. She was pleased. She advised me to bring the “vim” and “pep” I’d demonstrated in these two instances to future volunteer posts.

“Vim” and “pep.” These were words, she said, she hadn’t used since her cheerleading days.

Take initiative.

This isn’t always a simple thing to do. I admit that I don’t always take initiative. Sometimes I wait for others to tell me what to do. I ask a lot of questions. I second-guess myself.

I’ve avoided taking initiative during previous volunteer posts for fear of making mistakes. I fear I might’ve given former hosts the wrong impression.

Then again, I’m smart enough to know that you can’t spend a significant amount of time waiting for other peoples’ instructions. You need to exercise good judgment at some point.

You need to think for yourself.

I need to think for myself.


September 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

I thought I would leave the Alps on Monday for Brittany. Nope. It turns out I’m leaving on Saturday. For strictly pragmatic reasons, of course. If I could stay just a little longer here in the mountains with my lovely hosts, I would.

With that in mind, I have more photos to share. I snapped these while exploring the towns of Aime and Moutiers, walking along the whitewater rapids, and hanging out on my hosts’ property. This will probably be my last round of photos until my next volunteer post starts.











Cocina de Mochileras

September 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Look. I’ve been keeping a secret from you all this time.

I’m living a double-life. I have a second blog. A food blog.

I started devouring food blogs during my junior year of college. It didn’t take long before I started toying with the idea of creating one of my own. But I hesitated. For many reasons: not enough know-how or credibility, lack of motivation, etc.

While in Sweden a few weeks ago, I met someone who shares my passions for cooking and baking. She’d wanted to start a food blog, too. So we decided to collaborate on one together.

We call it Cocina de Mochileras, which is Spanish for “Backpacker’s Kitchen.” Feel free to stop by. We posted our first recipe this week, for a killer banana pancakes recipe.

Phew! It feels so good to get that off my chest.

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