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Archive for July, 2011

Hello,

So much to catch up on.  When I get done with the day, I’m usually so exhausted, I just fall into bed.  Here are some highlights:

Royal Welsh Show!  So, Crystal and Bjorn and I went to the Royal Welsh Show this Wednesday.  Billed as the Largest Agricultural Fair in Europe, it quite lived up to its name.  It was HUGE.  We spent six hours walking around at quite a decent clip, and we only just got to see everything.  Sheep, of course, comprised an enormous portion of the show.  There was a huge stage entirely devoted to the sheep shearing trials, which consisted of about six contendors shearing sheep continuously against the clock.  Welsh contenders versus New Zealanders.  Unfortunately, New Zealand seemed to be ahead when we stopped by.  The cattle were also very interesting – mostly British breeds.

We had hoped to buy some ducks and chickens, but unfortunately, we had the wrong day, so it was bunnies in the “fur and feathers” pavilion.  We also sailed through the food building where there were all sorts of Welsh speciality foods and drinks on sale.  We bought some welsh lamb and venison sausages for a barbeque and tasted many other things, including many draught ciders.  On the shuttle bus back to the car park, I sat next to an old Welsh Farmer who spoke to me in Welsh.  When he switched to English, we had a nice chat.  But it was really remarkable how much Welsh we heard spoken at the show.  All of the announcers spoke in both Welsh and English, and many of the people walking around us were chatting in Welsh.  Cultural autonomy from England is definitely alive and well here.

So, here on the farm, we’ve had a multitude of activities: shearing, a weekend course on bronze ax casting, a flurry of preparation for the family to go on holiday.  Now, it is just me, Bjorn and Crystal, and Chris and Bee taking care of the place while the family is on holiday.  Good thing there are five of us, though.  We feast on vegetable delights from the garden and dairy from the cow.

Speaking of dairy, I am acquiring dairy skills.  I have milked the cow once (more to come, I’m sure).  And I have made cheese and butter.  There is SO MUCH MILK.  From ONE cow.  Milking the cow every morning and evening brings in several gallons, so you really have to keep on top of the cheese-making to use it all up or eat a lot of custard.  And the cream….oh the cream…. either whipped or churned into butter!  Makes you realize how important dairy really is in the farm economy, especially when you don’t have a lot of meat around.  I will do a more comprehensive post on dairy soon.

And last but not least, I had my first lesson in driving a manual car today!  So far, I can drive around the corner, 1rst gear, reverse, and up and down hills.   Definitely stalling a lot, but a good first try, I think.  I practiced for a good half hour.  More driving tomorrow.

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Fences

Hello!

So, in the course of today, I got sunburnt and now am wearing two sweaters to keep the chill off while it pours sheets of rain outside.  Every hour is completely different.  The clouds just roll in over the hills, and often there is a spitting mist dangling in the air.

I arrived at Old Chapel Farm completely exhausted and sprouting a cold, which blossomed into sniffles and congestion.  I slept most of the first day (which luckily was Sunday), and then I slogged through my first day of work on the farm.  However, a few days of sleep and a lot of fresh air have restored me.

It is wonderful to have come back to Old Chapel every few years since my first visit in 2004, since I get to see how the farm progresses.  Year after year, gardens mature, hedges grow taller, buildings are started and finished.  Fran and Kevin always have such big and far reaching plans – it is often hard for me to comprehend how they will ever come to pass.  And yet, they do.  My first impressions here are of the very small and very large time scales that one must think in on a farm like this.  The years one must plan ahead to see the fruition of a hedge, a productive vegetable bed, or a fruit orchard.  And the weekly accounting of the gardens, where one must think simultaneously of the mature produce ready to eat, as well as the next batch of seedlings that need to be planted to keep the productive cycle of plants going in and out of the available beds.

The physical labor reminds you of time scales too.  During my first two days here, me and another girl spent about two hours a day digging two post holes for a fence gate.  One meter deep.  Really hard.  And then you look at all the gate posts that had to be dug on a property like this.  HOURS of labor.  I am getting back into shape, through.  And today, we finished banging the rest of the fence posts in and nailed the metal fencing on.  This is when the gendered economy of farm labor becomes ever more appealling.  Where are the strapping young men to dig post holes when you need them?

Right now, here on the farm, there are quite an assortment of people.  A French female university student, a couple from Singapore who are here for six months doing an internship as part of a degree in Steiner biodynamic agriculture.  A couple in their 50s from New Zealand left this morning, replaced by a couple from Australia with their 14 year old son.  There is a young man renting a yurt on the property while he pursues a degree from the Center for Alternative Technology (CATs), and another young couple who live in a yurt.  A young man who is part of Kevin and Fran’s land cooperative lives in a little flat in the barn and has a small nursery business on the cooperative land.

Well, that’s it for now.  More gardening and adventures to follow.  And the meals are amazing.  Tomorrow I am on cooking duty for about 12 people.

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And a New Beginning!

Hello Friends!

For those of you who want to keep up with me while I am doing fieldwork this year, come back here to this blog.  I decided to pick up where I left off writing on my last trip to Wales.

I arrived in Dublin last week and flew to the Isle of Man for a conference on Vernacular Architecture.  Convinced by my dear friend Gabi at the last minute to join her for this conference, I dropped into the middle of it and found myself immersed in very interesting discussions about architectural preservation and…..THATCH.  Yes,  THATCH.  It is a highly controversial subject, it seems.  Correct thatching techniques.  Theories as to height, depth, and construction materials….Actually, I found it all quite interesting, and I was fortunate to meet some really knowledgable and helpful people working in the fields of archeology, architecture, history, anthropology, and folklore here in British Isles.  A really fantastic way to start my research year.

Also at the conference were another fellow student, Art, and two of my professors and mentors, Henry Glassie and Pravina Shukla.  Not only did we get to have some great conversations about research, but they also gave Gabi and I a wonderful itinerary of things to do during our little trip to Ireland after the conference.  We managed to do almost all of them!  We flew into Galway and wandered around the city for an evening, stopping into a cozy little restaurant for some hearty shepherds pie and guinness beef stew.  The fortifying meal was necessary to sustain us during our next day’s trek out to the Aran Islands, where we rented bicycles and rode around the island of Inish Mor all day long.  The island was bleak and stark and beautiful, and we were blessed with a miraculously sunny day.  We even got a little sunburnt!  Who would have expected?  In Ireland?  We dipped our feet in the icy cold Atlantic waters on a beach of soft grey-white sand.  On the far end of the island were a group of seven ruined churches, home of an ancient monastery started in the 8th century.  Walking up to one of the highest points on the island, we walked into an ancient pre-historic fort circled by several huge stone walls, enclosing an inner space which faced out to a sheer cliff dropping several hundred feet to the sea below.  A stunning and dramatic structure, and a grand mirror of the stone walls that cover the whole island.  Some of these stone walls are amazingly intricate – all stacked without any mortar.  To think how many hours of labor were spent building the stone walls is astounding.  The whole while we were thinking of JM Synge, a titan of Irish Literature and folklore studies.  His book, The Aran Islands, is a classic of folklore ethnography, and I’d just written extensively about it in my Phd exams.  So it was really exciting to get to come and see the place where Synge, encouraged by Yeats, went to find the spirit of the Irish people.

We took the bus to Dublin and lost no time.  First, a trip to the National museum (FREE!), where there we saw some really fascinating exhibits on the bog people – human remains preserved in peat bogs.  It seems these folks were unfortunately cruelly dispatched in what are theorized to have been ritual sacrifices.  The most magnificent part of the exhibit was the collection of gold ornaments and jewelry – also often recovered from peat bogs – from the bronze and stone ages.  So delicate and intricate – some of these pieces were from 2000BC.  They positively glowed – thin moon shaped necklaces and thick twisted torqs.  Really makes you understand the word “covet.”  Made me want some shiny gold jewelry of my own.

Right across the way from the museum was the national library (FREE!), which had a dense and detailed exhibit on WB Yeats, whose influence seems to permeate this city in every nook and cranny.  What an individual.  What an intellect.  It is so interesting to learn about a country where art and politics are so closely intertwined, where expression draws on and contributes to the identity of a nation in such a tangible way.  Yeats, as well as the other writers we encountered at the Writers Museum, seems like such a passionate figure.  It’s given me a whole new view of nationalism as a form of social consciousness.  We also took in a play at the Abbey Theatre, the National Theatre of Ireland, where we saw “Translations” by Brian Friel.  Set in the early nineteenth century, it portrays encounters between local Irish-speaking people of Donegal and the colonial English army surveying the area for the ordinance survey mapping scheme.  Language and identity and politics clash.

We also had some wonderful food at the Pig’s Ear restaurant, and we ventured out to a pub recommended by our professor as a place to see excellent traditional Irish music.  Such a treat!  Everyone was so friendly, and the music so convivial.  People showed up with whistles and fiddles and flutes and harps and accordians.  And a few men sang some plaintive ballads.

Stepping out of the purely literary and musical and back into the world of bog people, we spent a day taking a tour out to Newgrange, a neolithic passage tomb, and walked over the Hill of Tara.  I’ve read about Newgrange and had always wanted to visit.  Built 5000 years ago, before the pyramids of Giza, Newgrange is just one of several large passage tombs in the area of the Bru Na Boinne, all of which are aligned to astronomical events.  On five mornings surrounding the Winter Solstice, the sun shines directly through a window above the tomb’s entrance and lights up the inside of the tomb.  Pretty AMAZING!  I’d been to a similar but much smaller passage tomb before in the Orkneys, and it is still always mind-boggling to walk inside the massive stone structures, decorated with swirling carving and designs.  After Newgrange, we walked over the Hill of Tara, ancient seat of the Irish Kings.  The view from the top of the hill looks out over miles and miles of the landscape below, and the hill itself is riddled with undulating man-made embankments.

Well, that’s almost it.  Today, I went to see the Book of Kells, which seemed to be an appropriate and beautiful way to cap an amazing visit to Ireland.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend an animated film called the Secret of Kells, which gives a fictionalized, but historically and folklorically evocative account of the making of the Book of Kells.  And it is graphically extremely beautiful – emulating and celebrating the style of the Book of Kells itself.

Tomorrow I get on the Ferry from Dublin to Wales, and I look forward to working on my friends’ farm and mentally digesting this experience as I set up my fieldwork plans.

Will upload pictures here or on Facebook.  Stay tuned for more postings!

Maria

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