Once upon a time, there was a girl who needed a haircut. That girl, as fate would have it, was me. I’d just finished a bike ride (of course) and was wandering the side streets off Corso Giacomo Matteotti, daydreaming about handsome Italian men, my next bike ride and the pasta con pesto di pistacchio con gamberi Lisa crafted a couple days prior.
As I shoved the bangs out of my eyes for the umpteenth time, one of a plethora of parucchieres (hairdressers) materialized. Its name: Beauty Lab, in English. I thought, I’ll pop in and see if they can’t save me from a certain very near fate as a Shetland Pony…
Inside above the cool tiles, to the hum of hair dryers, the nice proprietor Ivana filled me out a little card and said come back at 1400. I burst back out into the heat, went back to the castle, made lunch, knocked off a few things on the to-do list and returned.
Twenty minutes, a coffee and a free, blunt bang trim (frangia taglia dritta) later (plus tip), I’d maybe found a(nother) job. Speaking Italian to Ivana with surprising success, a woman in the back waiting for a shampoo overheard me.
I joined her there and we exchanged contacts; her name was Laura and at that time all I knew of her was she had a two and a half-year-old daughter, was very nice, spoke English and was in need of a shampoo.
Fast forward a week or so in which Lisa and I had been literally inseparable (more on the shenanigans later). And during which I’d been able to watch the flag throwing ceremony of Faenza’s traditional Palio with all the other screaming, hormonal adolescents in the province of Ravenna.
Now, on Tuesday Lisa and I were sitting in front of the fountain in Faenza at Fmarket, enjoying a victory drink or two during aperetivo. I’d figured out — with ample and loving assistance from the Universe — how to remain in Italy until September and see about going broke in another country besides my own (I promised the whole tale; you shall have it soon). Another victory sip; the phone rings.
Now, over the same week I’d been playing a game of employment cat-and-mouse with the downstairs neighbors (Matteo and Alice) regarding babysitting. Every time either of us smacked into each other in the castle’s courtyard — one or both parties in a hurry — they said we’ll call you, we promise. So I figured the caller was Matteo. “Pronto,” I said, which literally means “ready” but also kind of means “hello.”
A man’s voice in English — but not Matteo. Curiosity mingled with the Prosecco in my cocktail as I absorbed the words “tomorrow” and “photo shoot.” Eventually I put due and due together and realized I was speaking with Laura’s husband — Laura from the hairdresser. Her company was desperate for someone to help wash dishes between photo shoots in Ravenna tomorrow, starting around 8:30 a.m. It was an all day gig and did I want to work?
Visions of Italian underwear models swam in my brain like espresso bean moscas (flies) in the top of a glass of Sambuca. Then he said the photo shoot was of a famous vegan Italian chef… well, that was cool, too. I told him I needed to change some plans and mull it over, hung up, put my phone on the table, looked at Lisa and said, “Holy sh*t!” The Universe, once again, came through like last night’s full, brilliant moon over Piazza del Popolo. Even though Lisa and I had plans the next day for a stupendous bike ride, it seemed too good an opportunity to decline.
So the next morning, Laura picked me up and off we went to the photo shoot/filming session. On the drive, the details unfurled like a sheet about to be dried on the line in dryer-less Italia: Laura, with her business partner Carlo, owns a communication and marketing company called Cambiamente in Faenza. One of their projects is a thick, elegant magazine in both Italian and English (referred to as their book-azine) called Ossigeno, (or Oxygen) which focuses on healthy recipes, fitness and general health. They pair their content with classy photos and art, hence our journey to Ravenna.
Passing vineyards and canals, we touched upon my journalism background and my general passion for words. Honestly, I hoped for a chance to write something for Cambiamente — and the way the Universe and my lucky stars were pulling me along by my thrift store bike jersey, was anything too much to hope for?
We pulled up to a sleek kitchen in what seemed like an industrial zone somewhere in Ravenna. I met a tired Carlo outside (he and Laura were up entirely too late hobnobbing).
“This is Sylva,” Laura said, as I shook Carlo’s hand. “She’s a journalist, too.”
Laura and I went on a coffee mission and when we returned, met the rest of the crew: film maker Lucca, Cambiamente’s editor Fabiola, vegan chef Daniela Cicioni, Matteo, assisting a famous photographer who — like Voldemort — shall not be named. But — very unlike Voldemort — this photographer was kind, interesting, funny and made snapping incredible photographs look easier than it would be if he had actually borrowed Harry Potter’s wand.
I found myself generally assisting Daniela; strangely, we started as two souls on the same boat holding different paddles — hers Italian and mine English, both of us learning to use the other. But I quickly re-learned pass me a knife please (passami un coltello, per favore) or a spoon (un cucchiaio) or a small bowl (una piccola ciotola) and things went smoother than one of the purees Daniela crafted. At some point, we switched paddles and she started asking me in English; I answered in Italian.
Somehow, thirteen hours disappeared among dirty dishes and photo and video shoots to the whir of Daniela’s 750 euro blender. It transported me back to one of my past lives as a college journalist/editor, interviewing bands and random politicians. Sure, these folks — the musicians, this photographer and chef — are famous and ridiculously successful, but also just plain human. I enjoyed the ample down time with everyone spent drinking way too much coffee, fiddling on phones, eating piadina con rucola, squacquerone e proscuitto for lunch and watching music videos in order to answer the world’s most important question: who was hotter, Beyonce or her sister Solange?
Assisting Daniela was a pleasure — she was like a kind, quiet tornado, a petite person with an incredibly measured, precisely beautiful approach to vegan cooking. I quickly ascertained this was the perfect job: when we weren’t filming or shooting and I wasn’t washing dishes, we were sampling vegan delights. First, leftover hazelnut tortes sprinkled with thyme and vegan chocolate muffins from a previous day…
Then everything that left the table after the famous photographer was done with it… among other things sauteed leeks, pureed purple sweet potatoes with ginger, tempeh with almond milk merengue, velvety pureed butternut squash alive with spices, edible flowers, and the nuts, fruit and vegetables strewn about everywhere as props…
That evening, after extensive cleaning and rearranging, we packed Laura’s car with our stuff — and our spoils. I walked away with fruit, enough nuts to sink a ferry, vegetables, Daniela’s homemade tofu and tempeh, edible flowers and a mint plant.
Then, with tired feet and an even more tired Laura, we all piled into her small car to drop Daniela and Matteo off at their hotel (in the morning, they’d return to their respective homes — Daniela to Lake Como and Matteo to Verona). I thanked Daniela (in Italian) for the chance to help and said it was a pleasure to meet her. During the rare moments when she wasn’t chopping, blending or preparing, she asked me about myself and where I was from; I told her I’ve lived in Colorado the last eleven years. She said, “Don’t you miss your home?” To which I responded I don’t have one at the moment — only a storage unit. Although I do miss friends and family sometimes. Outside the car in Ravenna, she told me (also in Italian) that I was interesting, nice and efficient which was a perfect mirror of my experience with her.
Against the backdrop of a blazing orange and pink sunset, Laura and I chatted all the way home — in English, despite her constant protests (in English) that her English isn’t that great 🙂 I went to bed exhausted but once again pleased after following the Universe’s breadcrumbs yet again, like a modern day Gretel sans Hansel…
Two days ago, as Lisa and I fell out the door on our way to a couple hours of work at the Farm, my phone rang again. I was wrestling with my bike jersey, one shoe on, unable to find said phone, of course. It was Laura — and not, as I assumed, asking when I’d like to come get paid (although she did that too) but explaining something far more interesting. She’d made a proposition to Carlo regarding an article about an exercise called Feldenkrais for the next edition of Ossigeno. Could I send some writing samples over?
Yesterday I popped into Cambiamente to retrieve my euros for the photo shoot — and to meet with Laura and Carlo about the potential article. When I came into Carlo’s office, the PDF of my article for Backcountry Magazine was up on the computer. And then we were talking about word counts, due dates, payment and shaking hands — we had a deal!
Now it’s Saturday, June 10 (four days after I originally would have flown home) and I officially have a freelance writing gig in Italy. I think it’s certainly a small hop and not a leap to say the message right now is stay. Stay and see what happens, who it happens with and how. Each day is its own little mystery and I happily take on the roll of detective.
However, this detective needs to go on a bike ride, in order to come back refreshed, with weirder tan lines, ready to embark on a more cerebral journey involving the gentler art of Feldenkrais…
On the next edition, we’ll return to the enchanting waters of Venice (and/or the Story of Staying) — unless the Universe sends me another case to crack!