Lessons in Italian Pig Herding

Coat of Arms of Florence, Italy, traced off of...

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Lessons in Italian Pig Herding

by Nicole Martorana (’07), guest blogger

I never expected to herd pigs. This may sound odd considering I had signed up to volunteer through the international nonprofit Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). However, when I decided to quit my job last spring and travel through Europe for six weeks, I envisioned escaping my routine to seek creative inspiration and a more tranquil existence. Pigs were never part of the plan.

But first, let me rewind to the semester I spent studying abroad in Florence, Italy, during my junior year at JMU. This experience irrevocably changed not only my sense of the world, but also my understanding of how I existed in it. For four months, I studied Michelangelo’s awe‐inspiring sculptures, conducted diligent gelato research, and decisively failed at market‐haggling. Throughout it all, the language of my family’s heritage surrounded me and made a country so different from my own still feel like home.

When I left Florence, I left a piece of my heart amid its cobblestone streets. And while I was determined to return, I had no idea when this would be possible.

Naturally, when I found myself stuck in a rut four years later and completely sapped of artistic motivation, my mind started to wander to those domed cathedrals and steaming cups of cappuccino. Around the same time, I happened upon a description of WWOOF in a book I was reading called Delaying the Real World: A Twentysomething’s Guide to Seeking Adventure by Colleen Kinder. I was 24, tired of the “real world,” and definitely looking for adventure.
WWOOF, which offers free housing and meals in exchange for volunteer work, seemed like the perfect way to try something new and return to Italy with minimal expense.

So with my WWOOF Italia membership in hand, I set off for a Tuscan teaching farm which I had chosen for its description of the artisan retreats and cultural classes it hosted – an opportunity, I thought, to be in a creative community and put that SMAD degree to use. But whether through my own naiveté or a miscommunication with the volunteer coordinator, when I arrived on the farm, I wasn’t led into a room full of artists but rather handed a pair of work boots and sent out to cavort with the pigs.

Though they possessed the tendency to snort and charge unexpectedly at my knees, the pigs, oddly enough, became my favorite part of the day. As they were of the free‐ranging, chestnut‐rooting Cinta Senese breed native to the region, most of my time involved chasing them around in the woods with a big stick and a tall intern named Noah. My afternoons involved a lot of colorful narration between Noah’s instructions in his thick Texan drawl to just “sneak up and whack ‘em” in the direction of their feed troughs and the Sienese farmer Giulio’s shouts of pig‐related obscenities when they continually ran away. Needless to say, the pigs wanted to be herded just about as much as we wanted to herd them.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all mystical and reflect on how the pigs taught me the finer points about the nature of the universe. But what did start to happen was a growing realization of the knowledge and resources I’d gained during my semester abroad. I knew this country’s rail system and how to find a cheap, yet safe hostel. I still remembered enough rudimentary Italian to ask for directions or, more importantly, a bowl of pasta. As the days went by, I became more confident in my ability to take care of myself on foreign soil and devise a new plan that would allow me to follow the intention of my original soul‐ searching journey. And that’s exactly what I would go on to do for the remaining four weeks of my trip. Plus, with my newfound knowledge of Italian curse words, I was well‐ prepared should I encounter any more pigs along the way.

Nicole Martorana graduated from JMU in 2007 with a BA in Media Arts & Design and a minor in Writing & Rhetoric.

To learn more about Nicole’s trip after life on the farm, stay tuned for future posts. And let us know if you have an adventure that changed your perspective.

For more information on WWOOF, please visit http://www.wwoof.org/. To find out more about Colleen Kinder’s book, please visit http://www.delayingtherealworld.com/.

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About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

4 Responses to Lessons in Italian Pig Herding

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  2. Pingback: Alumni Feature- Nicole Martorana (’07) | EMBRACING CHANGE AND UNCERTAINTY – Dukes Take Five

  3. Pingback: The innocents of AIDS « James Madison University's Be the Change

  4. Pingback: Have You WWOOFed Lately? World Travel For Free While Meeting the Locals. « Alternative Health Answers

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