When my train arrives to Winschoten Station I am a bundle of nerves. My new home is only 30 minutes from where I stand, and I will be meeting my hosts for the first time. I walk through a sea of bicycles to the road in front of the station, searching.
In all contact I had kept with this farm the notes were signed at the end, "Greetz Arthur and Benedetta." This signature, combined with the my excessive viewing of the Hop en Grut blog that is filled with photos of Benedetta, none of Arthur, had me a bit unsure of who I should be looking for, a man or a woman. Later, it became obvious that Arthur had been my main contact and that the blog was primarily his chore. Of course it would be filled with photos of his greatest love and not himself.
In the days to follow, I would come to know him as an excellent delegator. He offers welcome here that puts a worker in a different mind-frame. It's not really work when you feel a genuine sense of ownership at your "job," you see. He has created that sense for me. His direction is always clear and the tasks are fulfilling, even when they are shitty (lots of shit around here). When he delegates, the assignments are not perceived as an order, but, at the same time, he is not asking either. It's a fine line that he has mastered - a gift really.
When we get to the farm, after the drive, he gives me the grand tour with pride. The house, the caravan, the barn, the meadows, the sheep, the cats, the dogs, the chickens, the sun garden, the spiral garden, the tea garden, the vegetable garden, the pond...I can't stop smiling.
When Benedetta arrives from the market later that day, a sweet Italian voice at a high volume fills the entire home. We slowly become acquainted while dicing pears from the farm's orchard. My knife skills are pitiful in comparison to her swift cuts of the fruit. She turns the cut pears into the most delicious marmalade I've ever tasted. During our brief conversation at the table, I initially perceive her as a bit reserved. I am so wrong.
As time moves forward, with observation, it is impossible to resist her warm and full-of-life charm. Each time she enters or re-enters a room where the dogs are, she speaks to them loudly in Italian baby-talk. It's obvious they like her best. When I am alone with the dogs I try to imitate her accent and dialogue, "Mi amore...spaghetti." It's quite offensive, but also quite effective. Benedetta is light hearted by nature and it is infectious. Her English is not perfect, but we are able to communicate just fine. Sometimes we will be speaking and then all of a sudden she switches to Italian and speeds up. We laugh when she realizes she's doing it. At times, when speaking English, she displays an expression of slight frustration that says, "I know I'm not saying it right," but often, when she's not, it's so much better - like poetry. My favorite example of this was when we were discussing the difference between tomatoes in Italy and in the Netherlands. With big hand gestures, she said, "I don't know how you say...it's...it's here, de tomat tastes de water. In Italy, is tastes de sun." I'm not sure she knew how beautiful that was.
|Arthur and Benedetta, of Hop en Grut|