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Modern-day Hemingway

It's been 86 years since Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley roamed the streets of Pamplona and experienced the madness of San Fermin. And I'm here to bear witness that the spirit of Hemingway, the man who brought the festival widespread fame, is still alive and well.

We joined the festival on Saturday night and were immediately ushered in with bottles of sangria and a trip to the nightly firework show for instant camaraderie under the booming lights. By who, with who and why? I'm about to let you in on a secret: the Pamplona Posse.

If you want to live Hemingway, the Posse is the closest you're going to find to tried-and-true modern day ex-pats. In fact the grandson of Ernest himself, John Hemingway, counts himself among the ranks, along with others hailing from America to England to Scotland.

The group is highlighted by a core group of men and women who come each year and join in the festivities and take part in the runs. If you want to find who I'm talking about, look at the daily pictures or videos from the runs and often the guy on the horns is one of these crazed men (Gus, Graeme, Bill and Gary and the main group of runners). They take pride in their runs, earning respect and fame locally for their skill.

Posse members warming up to run (striped and brightly colored shirts)
 

This group believes the festival should be accessible to anyone so they put together an operation leasing apartments over the two weeks to party goers. We were official “Posse” members–meaning instant cred with these higher ups, free lodging and food, in exchange for work in the apartments. Yes, we cleaned up apartments after one of the worlds biggest parties but for the access and experience, it was a small price to pay.

The days are filled with a sea of red and white filling the streets, young and old. Traditional Spanish bands can be found on any corner as people dance all around. The runs start early, last but a few short minutes while the partying lasts long and into the night.

One fellow Posse member described his first running experience to us with a certain addicted fire in his eye. He in a deep Scottish rasp described, “I was on the street. I heard the first gun shot go off to signal the release. I knew they were coming. I had to tell myself, 'wait, wait. 30 seconds and they'll be here, wait.' Then I heard the hooves, the pounding and saw the cameras pan towards me. The bulls were here. I've never been scared of spiders or heights or any of that. But man I was scared.” He was hooked.

Needless to say, I didn't run.

Fun fact: apparently Hemingway also never ran, for all his bravado, he never dared to test it against the bulls. At least, according to his grandson.
 

I did, however, go to a bullfight. Expecting not to like it, I was surprised with how much I enjoyed the experience. The environment was unlike any other I've witnessed–and remember this comes from a sports fanatic. The costume-clad crowds are constantly cheering or whistling (their version of a boo), sharing food, singing songs and showering each other in sangria. Vibrant is an understatement.

The actual fight part was a little rougher and took some time to grasp. While it is obviously is not for everyone, what I can say is that the crowd roots for the bull. This is to say, while the bull is destined to meet a fateful end, a matador is booed if he does not do it correctly which increases the pain for the animal. The best matadors do their work gracefully, drawing the bull in close within just a few inches from their bodies, controlling him with each motion. It may seem like showmanship but if I were a bull, I'd rather go out in style in Pamplona than in one of the many slaughterhouses that are elsewhere employed.

What made Hemingway love San Fermin is still there. In fact, the spirit of Ernest himself seems to live on through the adventures of these modern day ex-pats. The culture, the traditions, the people and of course the bulls all blend for a two-week experience unlike any other I can imagine (for the record, I've been to Mardi Gras). My advice: go and either join or stay with the Posse. You'll be living Hemingway as soon as someone hands you that first Sangria.

Up early getting reading to watch a run (first gun goes off at 8 a.m., streets close way before–early morning after a late night)

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Switzerland!!!

The water looked like it could have been a pool
Lugano
Lugano
Zurich..can kind of see the famous church behind us
Night view of Zurich
Hot chocolate from famous Sprungli chocolatiers
Famous Lucerne wooden bridges
Boat cruse around lake Lucerne
Lakes on the way to Interlaken
Laterbrunnen
Hotel and our “attic” room
Starting our hike
In front of what on a clear day is the Jungfrau
On hike to Murren
View from gondola ride of the valley
View from hotel balcony
Views on the way up

 

 

The Eiger

Beers in Zermatt

 

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America from Abroad

We woke up with a simple question: how do you celebrate July 4th while not surrounded by parades, fireworks and American-flag clad patriots? This July 4th would be like no other as we celebrated America while gallivanting around Switzerland.
 
We started the day in Laterbrunnen, a small town which they call the Shangri-La of Switzerland for its sheer beauty and abundance of waterfalls. However, since our arrival cloudy skies had covered the towering peaks of the Eiger (the North Face mountain) and the Jungfrau. Yet, ever a sign of the power of America, the skies opened up and gave us clear skies for our day of celebration.
 
Morning view of Laterbrunnen
 
So what did we decide to do with our day? We brought America to the top of Europe. That is, we took the famous Jungfraujoch train up to (what they claim) is the highest point in Europe. It is the base for many snow hikes around the Eiger and provides a glimpse into a glacier paradise. In the picture below, if you see that tiny-seeming building between the peaks–that is the Jungfraujoch station.
We happened upon an American flag near the train station and decided it was the perfect accessory for the day–it also proved to make us very popular at the top of the mountain as every American wanted their picture taken with the flag. It was a communal effort, acting like we were proudly hoisting the flag after conquering the mountain. In reality, we had all boarded the luxury express to a tourist parkway..but that's neither here nor there (and not how I will choose to remember it).
Us, the flag and the Eiger
 
We cheered to America with hot chocolate before heading back down the mountain and then headed off to Zermatt to cap our five-day, five-city express tour of Switzerland. We head to Spain next to conquer the bulls and then it's back home to the United States. And boy can we say, as much as we've loved Europe, we are proud to be American.

 

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Menton, France

Night View

Daytime view of Menton

Beachh
Recovering from WWOOF
Attempting to show off our new muscles
Obligatory feet-in-sand photo
Hotel Napoleon Lobby

late night Nutella pancakes and coffee in the lobby

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Farm to Fork

I’ve always tried to shop locally and organically with frequent visits to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, Whole Foods or Weaver Street. These places were my version of farm to fork living but after ten days on a farm, I had no idea what this lifestyle really meant.

The Piedmont region of Italy pioneered the Slow Food movement in 1986 after a McDonalds was slated to open near the Spanish Steps in Rome. The now worldwide movement focuses on keeping regional specialties alive by supporting local farms that harvest local products. It stands firmly in opposition to anything that could be considered “fast” food.

Our farm, Tenuta Anitica, keeps with this mission. It operates as an Agrotourism bed and breakfast in which they grow local products like hazelnuts, Barbera grapes and strawberries and then use these products in their restaurant and to sell to their guests. The nuts they make into homemade Nutella, cakes and cookies; the strawberries and other fruits like apricots become jams and the grapes turn into delicious wine.

Italian tourists visit Tenuta Antica to take part in this proud tradition of local production. While at the farm, they get to see the natural growth and then eat traditional italian cooking made from these very ingredients. For us, it provided an insight into how hard, and truly slow, this process can be.

During the summer, and especially in June, crops are picked every day or threaten to quickly go bad. Once gathered they must be prepared and cooked or canned immediately. This is the process I had never before considered nor appreciated.

The following is just a small example. We spent an entire morning picking fava beans followed by an afternoon shelling the beans and then peeling the peas. All day for a single crop. We finished the day backs tired from leaning to pick and fingers quivering and died green. All in all we produced 800 or so individual fava beans–a long days work for a minimal outcome. Back in the states, it’s an easy purchase, but here it makes you understand the finger-numbing process to just prepare the raw peas.

After searchimg through multiple cookbooks, it was decided the beans would be used in a salad and a side dish for a cabaret the farm was hosting. Within a few hours our beans had disappeared into a single dish. We kept peaking in the party to see if the guests were appreciating the beans as much as we thought they should. Luckily for our spirits, they proved a popular item.

The point of slow food (and on a deeper level, the fava beans) is not just healthy eating but instead cultivating a certain pride in your product. Tenuta Antica has definitely taught me that lesson. It is in the every day effort it takes to prepare food for their restaurant to their otherworldly peach-ginger jam to the deep regional pride in hazlenuts and wine.

I will bring this pride home with me (as well as some jam and hazlenut spread) and hopefully look at North Carolina’s own regional products with a deeper level of appreciation and respect.

 

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Women at Work: A WWOOFing Experience

For the past week, Chrissy, Coty and I have been “WWOOFing” in rural northwestern Italy, near Cessole, a town of maybe 100 inhabitants. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a program that matches willing participants on small organic farms around the world. Let me tell you–it is no joke.

 

We wanted to get a real world italian cultural experience and learn a little bit about organic farming and lifestyles along the way. Instead, it became a quick lesson in appreciation for the ease of our lives in America.

Here is a run down of our day:

6:45 – Wake up. As any farmer will tell you, it’s better to get up and get to work before it gets too hot. While it can’t boast North Carolina humidity, the temperatures have stayed consistently in the 90s and with the sun not setting until after 10 p.m. here, cooling down is a process.

7:30 – Begin working in the fields. The first two days we were assigned with the task of tying up the vines in the vineyard. I will never loIok at wine the same way. It’s a task that sounds simple but even at your fastest pace, it is a laborious task with little progress ever seeming to be made.

12:30 – Stop work. By this point with the sun beating down on you from seemingly all angles, vines in your hair and you back muscles quivering in pain, you limp back to the room to prepare for lunch.

1 – Eat. The things Italians do best. Lunch (thankfully) is not just a fix your sandwich and leave type production but instead a family style meal of a few new items the grandmother Nonna will whip up mixed with leftovers from their restaurant and always their freshly baked bread.

1:30 – Siesta. Italians everywhere love a good break and after working on ths farm, I can finally understand why. We crash each day, filling our break with sleep, coffee and shortbread cookies. Before you become jealous, remember while doing all of this, we are caked in dirt, finding bugs in our hair and hanging out in a room with no air conditioning.

5 – Return to the fields. In the afternoon after the peak of the heat is gone we are typically given a lighter task. Somedays it’s been picking zucchini or beans out of the garden, while others a bit more strenuous like taking a pickax to a hillside that was overgrown with thorny bushes.

7:30 – Dinner time. Just like lunch but typically more options and usually their own variety of wine, their homemade hazelnut liquor or even an impromptu jam tasting session of all their best spreads–which in my opinion is their peach-ginger jelly, followed closely by strawberry.

9 – Dishes. We have decided that our host family has an aversion to dishes. In both the restaurant they run and their own meals, we (the wwoofers) are responsible for washing and putting away all the dishes. Not a hard task, just unexpected upon arrival.

All this to say, we are working hard, developing a new appreciation for the effort it requires to produce organic food and quickly understanding that the farm lifestyle is probably not for us.

However, the trade-off with WWOOF I have realized does not come with some epiphany about life while laboring in the field or even in the lessons taught about how to organically farm and live off the land (as these are few). Instead, understanding can be found gathered around the dinner table, meeting new people and tasting products produced here at our farm, Tenuta Antica.

On Wednesday night, we visited one of our family’s good friends who also run a local farm and who were also hosting a wwoofer. Their wwoofer, Rachel, is a recent food studies graduate student who was preparing traditional Cuban food for all of us to try. It was one of my favorite meals since coming to Europe. We sat outside at a long table lit from lanterns hung up in the trees, talking about food culture and about how each person had ended up here–eating Cuban food under the night sky in Italy.

The value WWOOF for me is not in the labor, but in moments like this that keep you going during those hot vineyard mornings.

 

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Lake Como & Milan Pictures

Few pictures from Bellagio (town we stayed at on Lake Como) and from Milan…

Lake Como was my favorite place other than Positano–it was beautiful, quiet and pristine. Unfortunately the water was too cold for swimming and our hike was a little rougher than expected but good food and chocolates were there to make up for it.

Duomo in Milan. Probably my favorite church we’ve seen in Italy

At the bus stop in Cessole, not sure where we are and what we were about to get ourselves into with wwoofing..

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