Saturday, November 08, 2008

Big-Hearted Benne Vegienna

I am going to write yet another very long post about our four days in Italy. This is because I have a dismal memory that may lose Italy if I don't record it here. Plus, I am loving re-living those days. And finally, because I am hoping that someone who reads here may feel inspired to look further into the Slow Food organization and/or nominate themselves as a delegate in two years for the next Terra Madre.

The only thing missing in Italy that week were a certain brilliant farmer/educator from Maryland and a fiesty red-headed one from Wisconsin. ; )

So, on to the stories about Benne Vegienna - the romantic, lovely little village where we stayed, and that, yes, much to all of our squealing third-grade-boy-like glee, is pronounced, with lots of intense Italian articulation, exactly like a certain part of the female anatomy. : > 0

Every day, hundreds of buses took all six thousand plus Terra Madre delegates to hotels in the areas surrounding Turin. Our bus ride was an hour and a half long. Our group was made up of mostly young American farmers and we were led by the best two young Italian volunteers that have ever existed in the history of Italian volunteers. I know I'm right about this. If you go to the next Terra Madre, you have to make sure to get on the bus with Eugenio (the cute anthropologie major from Rome) and Fabiola (the beautiful young female medical student), both of whom had the most charming English, ever. Here is an example - a recent email from Eugenio:

Hello my friends,
I am Eugenio!
how was your return in United States?
Are you happy e serene? I hope so! Are you talking with your friends about terra madre, turin, Bene Vagienna and the seven churches of Bene Vagienna? ( i have still to show you the third church!)...You all are in my heart, and I can imagine you now if I close my eyes, you are on your sofa, drinking wine watching the electoral results on tv hoping for Obama. I am with you.
... I miss you all. I would like to wish you a good day, a good week, a good month, a good year, a good two year....until the next terra madre when we will meet in Turin for the second time.
Today is a great day for me because i will move in bologna tomorrow, and i am very gloomy.

At the end of each day's meetings we assembled for our bus by searching through the hundreds of signs for this one, and by listening for the wonderful Italian cry of "Benne Vegienna!" being sung out by Eugenio or Fabiola.

To the left is Eugenio, always ready to guide or embrace any of us:
Here is our group of young Americans . I was the older American, by then on about the eighth night of insomnia, so happily taking the picture. One night, Eugenio was enlisted to translate for us during an impromptu midnight tour of the city of Benne Vegienna by the minister of culture there. But first, more introductions of the town's protagonists.

Below, the Minister is dancing with one of the American farmers at an annual celebration of the city that took place in a tent, one of the nights that we were there.
Our intrepid Hotel Manager wishing us goodbye, as he did everyday, while we pulled off in our bus towards Turin.
Here is a museum curator who spoke English really well and was enlisted by the minister of culture to give us a tour of one of Benne Vegienna's magnificent churches, late one night. The ancient angel lent support.
With the generous help of yet another curator, we were then given a tour of Benne Vegienna's archaeological museum. This area of Italy was part of an original Roman city and there is even a partially excavated Roman amphitheater in the area.

That same night, we were invited to view an artist's exhibit that hadn't yet even been opened to the public.

Judith brought some sustenance - Meade that she purchased at the presidio market that day. It was a loving cup, shared by all. The art was really good too. Lisa shared her prickled pears:
The impassioned guy on the right is the young successful founder of High Mowing Seeds, a farm in Vermont that grows organic seeds and whom Nicolas was very excited to be able to meet in person. His wife, a potter, is also very cool. He shared dried caterpillars on the bus, which he purchased every day from an African farmer. He generously also always brought Meade to help wash them down. These two are the South Carolina farmers that our friends the Lovejoys know. They are unschoolers! What a surprise, with so many people, to have them at the same hotel. Here they are reading the beautiful book about the ancient town that existed before Benne Vegienna, a book that was given to each of us by that irrepressible, industrious, always smiling Minister of Culture. My favorite night in the village was the night when we were invited to see a local band perform in one of the many churches. "Trio Bab" was made up of an accordionist, a drummer and a guitarist. They played music from Cirque de Soleil, Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose, and my favorite of their choices - this music from Amelie. We arrived almost at the end of their concert but the Minister of Culture kept murmuring things in one or another of their ears as they would leave the stage, always resulting in yet another encore. They didn't seem to mind at all. They were so passionate about their music and happy to try out their English on us before each of their five encores.

It was a beautiful church:
We went after dinner, so it was after our nightly allotment of local red wine. Lots of wine can be poured over four courses. All of this is to say, I thought that I was seeing straight. This angel has the same mouth (as well as that area between the nose and mouth) as my brother and Gillen.
After Trio Bab finally were allowed to call it a night, we were given a tour of BenneVegienna by the Minister of Culture, with Eugenio trying to translate. It is filled with those old European narrow, cobble stoned streets, tunneled sidewalks, and soft street lights that immediately bring you back in time.The best of the many stories we heard was one told after viewing the ancient outdoor freezer - a thick, stone, well-like enclosure. We were on a street... ah, I've lost the name - but it is the Italian word for that sigh that you take when you are very much in love. Eugenio charmingly demonstrated this sigh for us. Then, continuing to translate the minister's words, he told us that people always kissed on this small street. We were then led by the m. of c. to a small park, just up the hill. We stood there silently for a moment, taking in the brilliant fall leaves' colors, dramatically lit by a street lamp. The silence was broken by a sigh. It was the sigh that Eugenio had described. We all looked for its source. It came from a cute elderly man from the town who had been accompanying us on our tour. He spoke. Eugenio translated. He pointed dramatically to a bench across the lawn and said that this was the bench where he had first made love. And then he added - "it was to a woman" just in case, I guess, we were thinking a mule, or a man. Then those Italians present all started sharing stories, some of which may have been translated by Eugenio, but none of which I heard, so hysterical and joyful were I and my fellow Americans to be witnessing this Italian scene. I didn't have my camera that night so there are no pictures but I remember the glow of amber light hitting that bench, as well as the partially lit castle we then saw that is now a home for the elderly.

We all agreed - we were the luckiest group in the whole of Terra Madre, except for the fact that now everything pales in comparison to that town and those wine-filled meals. Well, not everything. We were very ready to get back to Holland to see Gillen and Jesse, who'd been staying with Nicolas' father and step-mother.

Maybe I can be less slow while reliving Holland.


kelli said...

*sigh* :) that was wonderful. and how cool it was that you were close to the SC farmers!

We're looking at going to France in May, but I so want to go to Italy too!

mindy said...

I love your put me there, at least in spirit. Thanks for sharing.

Kaat at MamaStories said...

welcome back! After reading your food adventures in Italy and I am still looking forward to your stories of Belgium and Holland!
Looks like it was pretty cold, even in Italy.
Love your new banner too!

Madeline said...

Kelli, this part of Italy is right next to France. Maybe you could do both!

Mindy,thank you for making me feel better about my long-winded post.

Kaat, it wasn't really cold. We were usually all overdressed and in these pictures, it was midnight or later. I'm looking forward to reliving Belgium and Holland too - though none of it will be new to you.

Danielle said...


Wish I could've been there with you!

R.Kirk Moore artist said...

My Great Grandmother was born in Benne Vagienna- I am doing research and have always wanted to visit, love reading your post!