Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Vendemmia: Unglamorous Work

The vendemmia is one of the most unglamorous jobs I have ever held. To harvest the grapes I have to completely strip myself of anything I consider feminine. A green hat covers my head to protect my scalp from the sun. I wear old T-shirts that are now stained with purple grape splotches; the bottoms of my black pants or ripped jeans are stuffed into my black boots to protect my legs from weeds, overgrown bushes and other creatures that crawl on the vines. I wear gloves but I still have blisters on my right hand from the pruning shears that are used to cut il grappolo (grape bunch) from the vine.

We are required to work four hours before taking a one-hour lunch break, and another four hours after the lunch break. No other breaks are allowed. If I have to go to the bathroom, tuff. The field is my toilet. Luckily I haven’t had to do that. But my colleagues are constantly going among the weeds. A turned back is considered privacy. I try not to avoid seeing them urinate, but at times I catch a glance of a stream.

By the end of the day, I am sticky with grape goo and sweat. My arms and face, the only uncovered parts of my body are a magnet for thorns, seeds, pieces of grass and insects, including mosquitoes.

Because one has to carry the grapes that they pick up and down the rows, which are usually on a slant, the work requires physical strength. It is highly demanding on the body that by the end of the day I could care less how I look. I just want to splash water on my face, hands and arms and sit in peace.

The weather has been sunny and about 28 degrees Celsius everyday. The heat at times makes it almost unbearable to work. The others aren’t bothered as much by the sun as I am. This is not the first time they have worked on a farm. And also they have told me that it is worst to work in the rain because the mud makes your feet weigh 10 pounds each.

I am not embarrassed to say that I don’t even wash my hair at the end of the day. What’s the point. I don’t go anywhere and I haven’t done anything but eat and sleep. The only thing that reminds me of who I am is my tube of LancĂ´me lip gloss that I carry in the pouch fastened around my waist.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Days Working the Grape Harvest

My First two days working the grape harvest were exciting only in the sense that I was among old school Tuscan farmers. The two main workers who I have the most contact with are Giuliano and Carlo.

Carlo picks up Giuliano and I at Giuliano's home every morning around 7:30 A.M. And every morning I watch their interactions and all-in-the-name-of-fun arguing from the back seat while quietly cracking up. I look over at my other colleague who shares the seat with me, Esat, who we pick up along the way to the vineyards, and I can see that he is just as entertained with the Carlo and Giuliano show.

I couldn't explain the particular details of what they are talking about because most of the conversation is in dialect; however I do know that both of them enjoy picking on the other or as they would say rompere i coglioni (to break balls).

The first ride into the countryside Giuliano insisted that Carlo could not see the road. Back and forth he insisted that. And each time Carlo assured him that he could see where he was going despite the slight fog. This went on for 10 minutes.

The two have been working the harvest for years. Giuliano has been working this particular harvest for 11. He showed me the ropes the first day and introduced me to everyone, even though he himself could not remember my name. To make the eight hours fly Giuliano tells me jokes. All of them with sexual innuendos. Although they are jokes, they give some insight into how Tuscan farmers lived and the roles of woman and men a long time ago.

If we were in the States and or working in an office, Giuliano and the others would be prime defendants in sexual harrasment lawsuites, but the only rules of conduct in the world of the contadino are: work hard.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Preparing for the Vendemmia

I returned from Sicily by train on September 5. Since that time I have been waiting for Florence to open up again, and fill with my friends and acquaintances who left during the July/August break. In addition to that I have been desperately trying to find work. Since the city is basically dead from July to early September it has been difficult for me to find a job. Finally Friday night my roommate gave me the good news: I will be working la vendemmia (grape harvest) for three weeks starting tomorrow.

Because the harvest is in the countryside of Tuscany, in the province of Siena, her parents will host me Poggibonsi. She gave me the details of my job; I will be the only woman; I will be working with old Italian men; they will be talking about sex and may occasionally try to pinch my ass; “So be nice, joke a little and at the same time keep some distance,” said Francesca.

I heard woman get paid less than men, which leads me to believe that I will make 4 or 5 euros an hour. Regardless of the pay and hard work involved in picking the grapes Francesca told me that it is fun. I know I will be exhausted and may even have to work in the rain, but I am excited to be a part of the process that results in the best wines of the world.