working with your hands

I flew across the Atlantic at age 19, eager and anxious to start my life in Italy. Everything seemed perfect - poetry, medieval history, set in a background of the Italian Alps - except one thing: workday. The students at Brunnenburg were required to put in one day of labor a week in the vineyards or elsewhere in the castle. I thought I would hate it. My experiences with working with my hands were few and far between, mostly consisting of pulling stinging nettles out of rose bush beds at our old house in Florida.

But Italy transformed me, helped me grow up - in many different ways and especially in this one, in taking joy working with my hands. It wasn't immediate: the first few workdays the girls were set to pruning pear trees - the fruit used for schnapps - while the boys did some heavy lifting. We bundled up against the Alpine winter, snug in my Carhartt overalls, waking up for a quick breakfast (usually bread smeared with Nutella and a glass of milk) before heading out to collect our assignments. After weeks of Nik (the youngest of the castle family, around our age) telling us to prune pear tree after pear tree, we were ready to throw him off the side of the mountain.

On workday, the family fed us all day: the aforementioned breakfast, a yogurt break on the mountainside, lunch, and dinner accompanied by a bottle per table of the wine made at the castle, a Vernatch. It's possible that this bribery helped me to like workday more and more, but it was also the feeling of exhausted satisfaction, the muscle-soreness, that comes with a day of doing physical labor. The feeling only increased once it began getting minutely warmer and we started working on the vineyards themselves. They wound up being my favorite place to work; we also wound up sweeping the entire castle, which also functions as an agricultural museum.

Three and a half years after that first transatlantic flight, working with my hands interests me more than ever. I never thought I would miss workday, but - like I said - Italy changed me. It was there that a tiny spark started - there that I
started cooking (albeit in minor ways), there that I, uh, learned to love cleaning. (Let me explain: some of our cohabitators did not exactly shine in the areas of doing their own dishes or properly sorting their trash, despite the signs clearly designating trash, recycling, compost, etc. So it fell to a few of us to make sure our kitchen remained liveable.) A large part of my problem with anxiety comes from overthinking things, but slowing down and doing something physical - making scones or cookies, cleaning my apartment - usually forces me to quit worrying, at least for a little bit.

(I also got a baby Holga over the weekend, for $5, and I am just thrilled. I can't wait to finish up my test roll and get them developed. Expect more on this!)

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