This is the first in a series of dispatches from four Martha’s Vineyard graduates of the class of 2013.
Bella Bennett, a 2013 graduate form MVRHS, grew up in Chilmark and attended the Charter School through eighth grade. She currently attends Skidmore College and chose to do her first semester abroad in England. She recently wrote us from Sicily.
I am currently on vacation from my semester abroad in London, studying with Skidmore College. This vacation, following midterms, took me to Sicily (Italy), where my parents recently bought a house sight unseen. They’re brave. The house, which has yet to resemble a home, is quite a project. Yesterday for example, I enjoyed the glorious Sicilian sunshine through the small attic window, under which I scrubbed an unknown substance, affectionately nicknamed “the dead animal,” off of the sun-stained tiles.
After donning one of the many quaint, floral aprons abandoned within the countless drawers and cabinets of the house, beginning to refer to myself as cinder-Bella, and mopping the room floor-to-ceiling until the bleach fumes made me woozy, I had a realization. It was nap time.
College has taught me to nap in a way that nothing else could, and, especially following the 48-hour midterm grind in which I probably managed six hours total, I was exhausted. This sleep deprivation was furthered by the fact that I flew out of London Stansted Airport at six am on the Friday after midterms. This meant that I had to leave Nido, (student housing) at 2 am, catch a night bus (as seen in Harry Potter) to Liverpool street station, and catch a coach (essentially the same thing, except without the second floor) to Stansted, to arrive at 4:30 am, just in time to make it through security and whatnot and get on my plane.
This would have all been fine and dandy if I’d been able to sleep a bit before heading out, but instead I went to see the show “Once.” The struggle is real. However, “Once” was beyond terrific. I’d recommend flying to London just to see it. I’ll even go with you, and silently sprinkle gloppy tears all over you when they play Falling Slowly at the end.
So that Wednesday through Friday [before leaving] was therefore essentially one coffee-fueled day, from which I am still recovering. Luckily, napping is encouraged in Sicily, as they have some form of siesta here, so I’m just blending in with the culture every time I pass out half way through the day.
When I’m not mopping or napping, I’ve been trying to hone my so-called Sicilian skills, including brining olives, harvesting pomegranates and almonds, picking wild asparagus and of course speaking Sicilian. The olives are going great, Dana Jacobs (a fellow Vineyarder who graduated with me and also happens to be studying abroad in London for her first semester at Northeastern University) and I picked a bunch of plump ripe olives and crushed them. They’ve been sitting in salty water ever since, and slowly seem to be turning edible! The pomegranate picking was going really well too, until Dana noticed a giant spider on the tree, and we both fled the grove.
The almond picking was especially intriguing for me because I’ve been studying 14th century London in great depth, and these practices are very similar to what we’ve been studying. I love how Sicilian culture has stayed so in touch with its roots. One of our neighbors, a sheep herder, invited us over to his house and served us fresh ricotta that his wife mad in a big bowl with homemade bread. It was delicious, and watching her make it was like watching an age-old process. Our experience of harvesting almonds also felt pretty 14th century, which I loved. We first used a scythe to chop down reeds growing on the new property, then marched up the hill into the cluster of almond trees, where we proceeded to awkwardly whack at the laden branches. The almonds, however, were much clingier than we’d expected, and when the first one finally came bouncing down through the branches, we practically jumped for joy. We collected a bag of almonds, still dressed in their shriveled fuzzy sweaters and woody shells, and hiked back through the thistly meadow toward the house, where we cracked the shells and relished our work. It was glorious.
Our culture has run so far away from this type of lifestyle, with the attachment to nature and home-grown living. I don’t understand it. Even the current generation of Sicilians is doing the same; moving from their beautiful farmhouses in the countryside into cramped condos in the growing cities scattered about the island. I on the other hand, would like to stay in Sicily and harvest snacks off the land and live this simple and beautiful life for months on end. It’s such a welcome change from the fantastic, yet fast-paced, city lifestyle that London offers.
I’m loving Sicily and I’ll love going back to London. Life is good. Coming home to Martha’s Vineyard for a month over break will be lovely as well, mostly because I really miss my dogs!