Monday, December 5, 2011

Olive Picking

When I first gazed upon the massive back-yard, I couldn’t believe just how breathtakingly gorgeous the Tuscan terrain was.  Behind the house sat two mountain top towns boasting a magnificent sight. Directly in front of us was Montegiove and 90 degrees to the left was Castel del Piano and my home for 2 weeks.  Before proceeding down towards the olive orchard, it became a ritual for all of us to quietly absorb the natural beauty of the towns for more than 3 minutes. 

After 9:00 am we would descend down the steep slope of the back-yard, careful not to trip over the thousands of loose rocks and white crystals which littered the earth.  In total, nearly 350 Olivevastra trees lined up neatly across the property.  On average, the trees were no taller than 12 feet in height but surprisingly offered an over abundance of olives.

Gordon would happily drive his mini tractor down the slope, carrying tools consisting of: two large nets, several baskets and mini plastic rakes.  Our task was simple: collect as many olives as possible for the day and be careful not step on them while working.  First, we would lay the nets neatly and directly underneath the trees and made sure it hugged against the trunks.   We also made sure that one of the nets over-lapped the other by about 12 inches, thus making sure that the falling olives would not escape between the nets.   Next, Jaime and Wyatt would fearlessly climb up the trees and pluck the olives by hand while balancing on the surprisingly strong braches; while Matthew and I would stand in-front of the tree and gently comb out the olives using our hands or retractable pole rake.  After stripping nearly every olive from the branches we would methodically move the heavy nets and then carry them to the next tree in line.
We were in the midst of autumn and the leaves on every tree, set ablaze an orange hue across the valley. For the most part, the temperature ranged between 13 to 17 degrees with clear skies as wide as the land touched the horizon.  The essence of bonfires filled the air with the sweet scent of burning wood and dead leaves, while the grey billowing smoke created a mystical, hazy view.  Intertwined with the atmosphere were the frequent sounds of shot-guns echoing throughout the landscape.  Neighboring farmers turned hunters, sought for game of rabbits and other prey, all of whom were careful not to tread upon your land - only if you had paid the local Commune to have a no-hunting sign on your property.  Though, the sounds of guns made us all feel uneasy at times, especially when the blasts were only 100 meters away.  Because of this, the macabre part of my brain wondered if an innocent volunteering olive farmer had involuntarily intercepted an errant hallowed point or tiny shot in the past.

By mid-afternoon, we would break for lunch and pile into the kitchen to enjoy various dishes like pizza, soup or sandwiches made from freshly baked bread.  After eating a healthy meal prepared by our hosts we would return to the orchard for a few hours more, but usually our days would end when the sun dipped behind the mountains.  By this time, we would carefully lift our green nets and slowly roll the olives into a basket or cassetto in Italian.  There was never quota to fill, yet on average our haul for the day was between three and perhaps five baskets depending upon our production. 

At night, we would enjoy a home cooked dinner.  We all took turns cooking, though because of my lack of cooking skills, I was happy to contribute by washing the dishes afterwards.  Usually by 8 pm the lot of us would sit quietly in the living room with our computers, checking e-mails or answering phone calls through Skype.  Usually by 11pm we would turn into bed and rest our tired bodies.

Picking olives was completely foreign to me and something I thought I’d never try in my life, but it quickly became a fun activity.  Primarily because, I was among good and like minded people and the working dynamics between us was perfect.

If you are interested in volunteering your time in a foreign country, go to

Pictures and Story by Antony S Scandale 2011 Copyright

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Home away from home.

I arrived in Grosseto just after 3pm after spending 3 days in Levanto.  I quickly discovered that my bus to Castel del Piano wasn’t to leave until nearly 4 hours later.  I promptly called my host to tell her about my small set-back and Amanda understood my situation, however this was the price I paid for traveling on a Sunday…especially in Italy.

The ride to Castel del Piano was roughly an hour and a half through the winding roads of beautiful Tuscany.   In this area, there is no light.  No street lamps to guide you along the hills through the night, but the massive harvest moon cut through the darkness and instantly became the spectacle of the evening.  All I could do was stare at it and enjoy its radiant orange and yellow colours, in fact just looking at it took my mind off of the car sickness I endured throughout the trip.  

During the ride, I thought about my family and just how much I wanted to speak to someone back home in Victoria.  I thought of my parents and my siblings and I just wanted dial a number and just talk to someone.  At that point, I became nervous about picking olives the very next day and staying in a home with complete strangers.  

I arrived in Castel del Piano and as promised, Amanda was waiting for me at the bus stop.   I instantly felt comfortable with her which deleted some of my nervousness.  

As we pulled into her home, I met her husband Gordon and daughter Rosie who were waiting for my arrival.  I sensed right away that I would feel comfortable amongst them as they emanated a friendly presence in their souls.   

Amanda led me into the kitchen and sat me down to enjoy some supper.  Moments later, I was greeted by a young couple who had been picking olives for the past week named Jaime and Wyatt.  They had a certain accent to their voices which sounded all to familiar to me when I spoke to them.  Somehow their voices seem to resonate with me.

“Should I tell him or should you?” said Amanda to Jaime while fixing me a plate of food at the dinner table.

“You can tell him!” said Jaime happily.

“Jaime and Wyatt are from Canada.” smirked Amanda.   My jaw instantly froze from chewing on some chicken.  That answers the familiar accent in their voices, I thought.

“Really?” I said happily.  “Where are you from, Vancouver?” I said taking a stab in the dark.

“No, much closer to your home.” said Amanda.   

“We’re from Victoria!” said Jaime.


I refrained from calling my family at home that night.  There was so much to talk about our home, with my two new friends. Volunteer your time around the world!

Copyright Antony S Scandale 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Little Skater Girl

They were pink in colour and un-securely strapped to her feet as all 8 wheels spun to a stop.   She huffed a semi frustrated sigh, but a small inkling of confidence emanated from her aura.  She struggled to pick herself up, trying desperately to cement her rolling foot into the ground beneath her.  Once again, she fell on her back side and this time, she sat helplessly staring up towards her mother asking for help.

The look she gave to her mother was one of which I have seen so many times.  Once again, my teaching instincts kicked in and I wanted help her try...just one more time.

"Hi, I can help her."  I said to the mother assuming that she could understand English.

The mother panned her head to the left to respond to me.

"I teach skating lessons in Canada, I can help your daughter skate."
"Ah, ok! He is going to help you skate!" she said to her girl in Italian.

I took a knee in front of her to get at eye level. 

"Ciao bella.  Mi chiamo Antony, e tu?"
"Fragola."  she responded gnawing at her index finger, staring down at her skates.
"Molto piacere, Fragola. Quante anni hai?"
"Quatro".  she said.  

I quickly adjusted her skates by fastening the buckles and made sure that her pads were correctly placed at the centre of each knee.  I then picked her up and had her stay in one position.  She fumbled a bit to find her balance but soon she was able to freeze in one spot. 

"Guardami e fare cosi." I said slowly.   

I told her to keep her knees bent and to keep her arms straight.  I began to march in one spot and she happily mimicked me.  After marching in the same position for 3 minutes, I had her try to touch her toes without falling.  She did as she was told and I had her count to three.

"Uno, due, tre!" she said.
"Brava...e poi alza. Vieni qua."

She stood up and trotted slowly towards me hobbling along the way.  I tried to keep her eyes focused on my chest.  Slowly, slowly she began to improve slightly as she skated across the smooth brick ground. By this point I handed my camera to her mother to document the her skating.

After the lesson her mother talked to me.

"Thank you for teaching he.r  In a few minutes you had her skating.  She doesn't skate very often."  she said happily.  

"Fragola, dire grazie."

Fragola said thank you and then she gave me a little kiss on the cheek.  She smiled and continued to skate on her own.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Help me with my homework...per favore.

We had just finished a magnificent dinner at Il Navicello restaurant in Levanto, Italy.  We were all getting along quite fine despite the fact that the10 of us, met merely 2 hours ago.  After eating my amazing pizza topped with fresh salami, I sat back and savored my red wine while practicing my Italian with the native speakers at the table.  

We asked for the bill and went back inside the restaurant to pay.

"Tu parla inglese???"  the waitress asked me after I paid my bill.
"Si, per che sono Canadese." I replied proudly. 
"Si si, lui parla inglese!" said the waitress to a young girl in the back of the room.

I wondered how she knew, maybe my jacket with Canada written boldly on the back was the dead give away.  

Of course it was. 

Moments later the young girl came right up to me who I estimated to be about 11 years-old.  She was holding a book in her hand with a pencil and seemed a little relieved to see me.  The waitress said to me that the girl needed some help with her English homework and asked if I could lend a hand.

"Si, si, fammi lo vedere." I said.

I took a quick glance at her homework and realized that all she had to do was translate some dialogue into English.  My eyes lit up and I felt more than confident and happy to give her a hand.

Her father (who is also the cook and owner of Il Navicello) waltzed into the room, pulled up a chair and sat me down to help her daughter.  

Soon, my group of friends and other people from the restaurant gathered around the table to watch me teach the girl.  

"Turn the spot light off please!" I thought to myself.

"Come ti chiami?" I asked her.
"Angelica."  she responded shyly.
"Ah, va bene, mia sorella si chiama, Angie."

The lesson began as I scribbled down word for word what each sentence said.  The dialogue was simple to translate, but I made sure to sound out every single word I wrote and then asked her to repeat after me.

After 20 minutes, her homework was complete.  I had Angelica read the dialogue from start to finish and made sure she understood what every word meant.  For my efforts the waitress brought over a small shot of Limuncello for me.

The following day, Bernard and I walked into the same restaurant to have a big bowl of pasta after we got LOST in Vernazza (more to follow).  The waitress who served me the night before was happy to tell me that Angelica received a good mark on her assignment.  The news made me smile and I told her that it was my pleasure to help.  

After dinner the waitress asked me if I wanted anything else after I asked for the bill.  I politely said no since Bernard and I were late to meet up with some people.  The waitress walked away and then returned to my table shortly after with a shot in hand.

She insisted for me to have one last shot of Limuncello...on the house.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Child vs Pigeon

What drew my attention to him was when he paused like a statue for more than 2 minutes.  With his palm floating in the air, he waited patiently for one of them to accept his offering.  He had the intrepidness akin to all five year-old's, as he broke his frozen body and then haphazardly sprinkled some crushed up pop-corn upon the many birds collecting at his feet.  I couldn't help but stare a the child's willingness to tease and play with some of the thousands of pigeons in front of Milan's Il Duomo.  

He paused once again with a large hand-full of popcorn and waited patiently for a visitor.  Sure enough, one pigeon gently sailed into his hand to have a small taste.

Snap, snap, snap went my camera, hoping to capture the gentle connection between the pair on the cloudy, yet warm day in Milan.  He smiled and laughed with excitement while the bird quickly nibbled at the feast.  Soon 4 others rapidly swooped in as though to launch an attack on the lone soldier.  The child's facial expression grew into sudden fear as 5 more pigeons targeted the child's hand.

Snap, snap, snap I selfishly tried to capture more reaction shots.  At that moment, I could sense the child's demeanor was about to shift into a naughty state of mind.  As predicted the child winced in frustration and then vigorously shook his arm to free himself from the bombardment of the hungry pigeons.

One of the pigeons took exception to the agitation and fought back by pecking at the child's arm.  It then quickly moved up towards his face in an attempt bite on his ear.  Immediately, the child swatted at the pigeon and successfully made contact with it.  The bird fell hard onto the ground and appeared to be in a slight daze.  

Satisfied, a small mischievous look fell upon the boy's face.  He hovered over top of the bird and grabbed it by the tail feathers.  He looked right into my camera as I shamefully continued to grab photos.  He held up his trophy past his head, while the pigeon fluttered his wings to escape.

Seconds later the child threw the bird into the air.  The child laughed as he watched the pigeon perch itself on the church behind him.  Moments later, the boy then reached into his plastic bag of popcorn and held aloft his hand, hoping for another visitor.  

Antony S Scandale

story and photos copyright 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Milan...rain rain rain rain.

I will keep this blog entry short and sweet.  We have had nothing but cold, wet weather here in Milan which naturally adds a gloomy feel to the trip.  What I won't do is complain since I managed to have some fun in this weather.  In summary, what I did was take my camera out and tried to get as many photos as possible despite being under the pouring rain.  

There was one night when the rain was just relentless and it happened on the heels of the devastating flood in Genova.  It was pouring so much that a lot streets and sidewalks were impossible to walk on without soaking your feet.  But it didn't matter to me, instead braved the weather to find the world famous Il Duomo Church.

Here is a sample of a few photos I managed to take during that night.  I hope to post more photos on my site soon.  At this moment I am having issues with my Net provider.


Next.  Kid vs Pigeon

photos copywrite 2011 Antony S Scandale

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One Way to Milan Part 2 "One Star Hotel"

Above me in all of it's shimmering glory was a sign which gleamed like the light at the end of tunnel.  

Hotel Italia.  One star.  And my only solution.

I walked into the dark, entrance and approached the receptionist sitting at his desk.  The reception area was small, unwelcoming and the atmosphere felt as though it needed some sort of an exorcism. 

"Quanto costa per una camera?"
"40 Euro."
"...sigh.  Avete internet?"
"Qui no."

I didn't care by this point.  I just needed to fall asleep.  I hesitantly grabbed my key and headed up to my room.  The hotel was extremely quiet and I wondered if I was was the only soul (besides the phantoms) who was staying the night.  I reached my room and noticed the width of the two doors.  Each door was maybe 2 1/2 feet in width with a height of maybe 6 feet.  Hmmm.  After using the key to unlock the door, (which took nearly 3 frustrating, sweaty minutes) I walked into quite possibly the smallest hotel room in all of Milan. 

After a slight pause to absorb what I'd gotten myself into...I just burst out laughing and squeezed my body and bag through the door jam.  Immediately to my right was my tiny single bed which evidently, blocked the other door from swinging open.

Dear god...what a dive.

I calculated the width of the room to be 7 feet wide and perhaps 11 feet in length.  At the end of the room was a sink and a long window er...oh, but it had a 10 foot ceiling and a brand new mini flat screen TV!  I dropped my heavy bag upon the bed and just sank my sorry ass into the hardened mattress and continued to laugh at my situation. 

Next, I wondered about the condition of the W.C. since I desperately needed to get out my wet clothes and into a hot shower.  I took a stroll down the hall to have a looksy.


Well, let's not talk about the toilet with no the plastic cover for your bum.  And please don't allow me to regale you about the slippery floor of urine. 

The only real high-light of the evening was the super old, military green phone which lived on the small light stand above the bed.  I'd never seen anything like it before and to pass the night away, I tried to take some award winning photos of this archaic monstrosity.