My Unconventional WWOOF Italy Experience: Drinking and Feasting in Tuscany

My Unconventional WWOOF Italy Experience: Drinking and Feasting in Tuscany

My Unconventional WWOOF Italy Experience: Drinking and Feasting in Tuscany

As I sat on a hard iron bench by one of the castle turrets staring at the unearthly orange walls, I felt more as if I had been enclosed within the pages of an E.M. Forster novel than working at a Tuscan vineyard. My Steinbeck-inspired plan to pick grapes for the summer (under much more privileged circumstances than the American dustbowl) had led me to a secluded Castillo hidden deep in the canvas-worthy Tuscany countryside.

Under the recommendation of a friend who had previously visited but given little away, I had found a place to substitute my four years’ intellectual labor with manual work, isolation and undisturbed head space. However, upon arrival I was led through a rusty green door, the size of a cupboard, into a courtyard laid out with a feast for the forty guests – of which I was now one. Peaceful grape-picking suddenly became a background to the carnival of hidden leisure about to unfold.

A naïve audience to act one, I saw it as a throw-back to the leisure class of the British empire in India as Charlotte floated around giving wine-tastings.

WWOOF Italy
WWOOFing in Tuscany

The property and vines are owned by a well-established brother and sister who left West London after buying the ruins of the castle, moving out to Italy to start the vineyard. Charlotte, the owner, stipulates that WWOOFers like me commit to a minimum of two weeks and work seven hours per day in order to be accepted as guests who receive food and board.

This appeared to me as an assurance of work ethic and commitment. However, as the days drew on and my naked eye became increasingly robed by the drama of the setting, I was made aware that it takes some time to understand the eccentricity of the castle’s mysterious workings. As Charlotte put it, “It takes a while to get it. I’d say it’s not always this mad. But it is”.

A naïve audience to act one, I saw it as a throw-back to the leisure class of the British empire in India as Charlotte floated around giving wine-tastings. Guests and other undeterminable characters sat fanning themselves under decorated archways. I saw monkeys and black panthers stroll along the walled ledges of the private courtyard.

Each afternoon after the sticky hot hours of labor, I took on the role of a water nymph escaping the boundaries of the castle and dancing down to the moat-like limit of the nearby river.

This exotic daydream of mine was made a furry reality as Mini. The ironically named horse-like Great Dane, perused her gated community with regal intention. It all had the air of an Agatha Christie novel; moneyed expats, red wine poisoned with unlabeled secrets, nightly creeping down portrait-laden corridors. I felt something sinister and medieval about the untraceable piano sounds, the occasional wandering child. I was still an outsider to the plot.

But as each morning began to drift by in the vines, picking leaves from in-between the grapes to air them, I was drawn in further by this mystical life. Each afternoon after the sticky hot hours of labor, I took on the role of a water nymph escaping the boundaries of the castle and dancing down to the moat-like limit of the nearby river. Passing sunlight-drunk rocks, I worshipped the shade of the trees in an enchanting parade, floating in the moss-covered watering hole.

The weekend before my arrival, a string quartet had played in the castle courtyard. Invited by Charlotte, they performed a piece especially composed to express the spirit of the castle and its surroundings. A spirit I could feel myself communing with more in the down time the WWOOFers were awarded.

My seven hour days began to lapse into unregimented eternities as I grew to know my hosts better and wine started at lunch, pouring on well into the evening.

I drew on literature. Symbols and imagination. Writing into comprehension the ongoing madness. It was Medici meets Gatsby.

No longer was my stay about work.  It was an immersion in a world cut off from reality and enveloped in a unique charm. Charlotte accommodated friends, paying guests, honeymooners and even a West London wedding, all the while using the setting she created to foster the creativity of others. I met a painter, a jazz musician, attended dinner parties that ended in piano concerts.

Unintentionally, the manual labor I had sought only stirred and deepened the importance of my intellectual labor. In order to understand more fully my surrounds, I drew on literature. Symbols and imagination. Writing into comprehension the ongoing madness. It was Medici meets Gatsby. For a final struggle to describe my experience I will turn to Fitzgerald, posing the castle as a green light shining out over the Tuscan bay.

As we pulled away from the vineyard for the last time, I put my hand out of the window. In the cool breeze, my fingers prised the pulse of the places past. Hundreds of badly-driven motors buzzing down the driveway, giant beetles cranking up their wings to release the shimmering feather-clad party of guests beneath.

My Unconventional WWOOF Italy Experience. Drinking and Feasting in Tuscany.

High-healed women clinging t one another, stumbling up to the almost-infinity pool that looks over the castle’s moonlit silhouette. It was there I took a midnight dip. They came for the wine. A mid-party swim. Dissolving into the blue, leaving their silk shells to melt into the cooling concrete along with mine.

My Unconventional WWOOF Italy Experience: Drinking and Feasting in Tuscany

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Do you have tips for women travelers in Italy? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

My Unconventional WWOOF Italy Experience: Drinking and Feasting in Tuscany photo credit: pixabay.


 

 

About Lucy Cheseldine

AvatarLucy Cheseldine is currently teaching at Japan Women`s University in Tokyo. She completed an M.Phil in Literatures of the Americas at Trinity College Dublin last year and is starting doctoral study in American Poetry at the University of Leeds this year. In the meantime, she is travelling Japan and South East Asia when not working.

2 thoughts on “My Unconventional WWOOF Italy Experience: Drinking and Feasting in Tuscany

  1. Avatar
    Nathalie Moens
    December 14, 2016
    Reply

    Lucy, Do you have he name of the farm or any contact details of Charlotte’s?

  2. Avatar
    R.R
    October 25, 2016
    Reply

    I frkn love this. Can I read some more plz¿

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