FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 10: My stay in Acarbio

When I arrived at Acarbio, I had no clue about what would happen in the future months. Although I had some expectations, on the first day, I realized I had to forget them all and just go with the flow. While I had traveled extensively in Italy with my parents, I had never been to the south, so I still felt like there was a lot to discover. And discover I did, for months and months, nourishing myself with good food and knowledge.

I initially expected all my roommates to become my best friends, which was a bit naive because, first, I am not the type of person who has a lot of friends, and I have a somewhat old-fashioned soul, which may not align perfectly with young people. However, I found something even better. Yes, I made good relationships with the volunteers, and some became my friends, but I felt like part of a family with the locals.

I had a project of teaching English and French in the local school for the kids, and it was amazing. Due to the language barrier, I had to change methods to build a connection with the kids. Also, the Italian school system is different from the French one I grew up in, so it was great to learn and be a part of it.

In Acarbio, yes, I did projects and was part of an association, but that’s not what I remember most. I remember living in a village and feeling like it was home, even though I didn’t speak the language. When I returned to France and talked about it, I referred to Tramonti as if it were my town, because, in a way, it was. Even though I am now back in France, Tramonti and the people who live there are a part of me.

Here’s a funny story: A week after I arrived, it was the birthday of the president of the association, Enzo. This man intimidated me a bit at the beginning, as he did for almost everyone, but I felt that a man with the idea of such an association couldn’t be just scary. So, there was a pizza party, and I baked a cake as a present, wondering whether he would like it or not. In the weeks after, I asked him a lot of questions, such as how he came up with the idea of Acarbio and what he was doing before. I talked to the others, and no one knew much about him and his ideas because no one had asked him. He taught me so much about the local culture, food, and community spirit. Not only Enzo, but the rest of the Acarbio staff, Antonio and Cornelia, also imparted a lot to me. I don’t know how many hours we spent talking in the office, sharing meals, and how much I learned from them and their experiences.

I believe that before going to another country, you need to expect your daily life to change. You have to ask questions and take the time to understand the culture you are now in. Only then will you see how much of a treasure it is to do a volunteering project abroad.

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 9: The magic of sourdough

When I arrived at Acarbio, another volunteer was taking care of a sourdough. Since I knew him and didn’t have a project just for myself back then, I started discovering sourdough on my second day. This sourdough, 50 years old, has witnessed the hands of many young people, and luckily, I became one of them. I became the guardian of the sourdough, learning how to feed it and make bread with guidance from my superiors. I also experimented with various recipes on my own.

Even today, I don’t possess extensive scientific knowledge about the bacteria that make sourdough what it is. However, I have a profound love for it and hope to study it in the future.

What I was doing was feeding the sourdough to ensure that the bacteria stayed alive and facilitated the leavening process of the bread. I began with regular breads and later experimented with different kinds and pastries. Initially, most of it was intended for the people living with me because I was hesitant to bring them into the association. I spent hours during autumn afternoons with my hands in the dough, and I enjoyed every moment. The notable distinction when baking with sourdough is that the process is quite lengthy.

But the taste is different, and somehow you feel more connected to the food. Like the rest of Acarbio, I felt closer to nature and the way we used to eat in the past. We have a garden 50 meters from the kitchen, sourdough to make bread, and hands to try and do everything by ourselves. People in the village make their own sausages, wine, and preserves, and suddenly, eating food from the supermarket feels illegal. Having sourdough as a project was not only about the bread but about realizing that we can do a lot by ourselves and that we don’t really know anymore. I want to know now and never forget my abilities. I have hands, a brain, and a heart, and it is largely enough to start and do it myself. So, this is one of the good lessons that you learn in Acarbio.

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 8: I am part of a band

How did it all begin? I am not quite sure, but I will try to explain it correctly. About 50 meters from Acarbio, there lives a man named Isidoro. Isidoro used to be a pizzaiolo; he is the baker of the local bread but also a farmer, winemaker, and, most importantly, a singer. A stone’s throw away from Acarbio, another man named Raffaele resides. He owns a shop, used to be a pizzaiolo, and is also a singer. Together with other friends, they form a group called A’Paranza Ro’ Tramuntan. Apart from their shared love for music and food, they have something else in common: the sweetest souls.

Every Sunday, they prepare bread in Isidoro’s kitchen, which has a giant oven. The volunteers of Acarbio are welcome, as well as most of their activities. I regret it now because I feel like I didn’t go enough, but I still went more than the others at that time. You wake up early to make bread with two men who are speaking Neapolitan to you as if you understand it. You drink so much coffee while listening to music, and the dough needs to levitate, so every occupation is good: feeding the chickens, winning free eggs, “talking”…

On Tuesday night, they have an hour of dance class, and Friday night is the party! They play traditional music from the south of Italy, and the dances accompany it. So, every Friday, people come to eat, sing, and dance thanks to them. I think they saw or felt that I loved it so much. They observed that at least twice a week, I was here, as well as my friend and roommate Bogesz. One day, they just asked, “Do you have something planned for Sunday afternoon?” And this is when it started to get a bit crazy. This group is quite famous in the region, and they are often invited to sing at festivals, pubs, and markets.

Suddenly, we ended up quite far from the village, accompanying them everywhere from the smallest villages to Naples. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and they became significant people to me. I consider myself really lucky because of all the time I spent with them. They constantly offer without expecting anything in return, except for their presence. I tried giving gifts when I came back from my Christmas break in France or when my mom was here for a week, but they don’t even seem to care. All they wanted was for me to be here.

So, for the coffee breaks at midnight in the gas station, the sandwiches in Naples, the homemade foods in the kitchen, the knowledge, the hours of driving and chit-chatting, the messages when I was sick and couldn’t come, the T-shirt of the band they offered when I left, the laughs, the hugs, the nickname, the feeling of being part of their family, and the broken voice when saying goodbye: thank you.

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 7: Winter in Tramonti

I loved winter in Tramonti. On the contrary to most people, I preferred winter to summer in these mountains. Not because it was so cold, not because all the shops were closed, but because it brought a different kind of togetherness. Everything was quiet, and it brought new indoor and outdoor activities.

I liked going down to the village to buy pastries and eating them in bed with my roommate in front of a movie. I liked cooking potatoes in all of their shapes as an excuse because it’s warm. I loved going on a little hike without sweating like crazy, searching for berries to make homemade tea, and going to eat cake at the grandma’s house of the little girls I was teaching English to. There were no tourists, almost no buses, but since I prefer the mountains rather than the coast, it was fine. It was also a good excuse to hang out more with the locals than people of my age.

There is a place I would advise everyone to go, either by day or by night: the Vesuvio spot. Located at the entry of Tramonti, it gives you a beautiful view of Vesuvius and all the lights and houses of people living close to it. I learned that it is the most dangerous volcano not because of its lava but because many people are living so close to it; it would kill faster. Yet, people are still not moving from there, and the reason is agriculture. The volcano helps the ground to be more fertile. It is such a high risk to live there, but once you come, it seems almost normal to see life around. We had a tradition to go all together for the last day of a volunteer; we would share our favorite memories of our stay. I don’t know if people still do it, but it was amazing.

We also enjoyed a few parties; the two I remember well were the Armenian night hosted by our two Armenian volunteers, Mariam and Seroj. We learned so much about their culture that day and tasted great food. Of course, we also had an indoor pizza party, as Acarbio is known to host.

I still traveled a bit and had the luck to see Positano empty. If in my picture there is no one around, it is not thanks to Photoshop but really because the city was empty. Coming from the north of France, the weather was still way better than what I was used to because the sun didn’t escape.

I am finishing this article with a special coffee, the best way to end a meal…

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 6: Napoli la frizzante

My friends and I decided to go to Napoli. After two buses and one train, we finally arrived at Napoli la frizzante. I decided to call the city this way because I have rarely seen such a sparkling place! We didn’t have anything special planned, but each of us still had purposes. Mine was obviously food, and my friend Mariam was interested in history and museums.

I must admit that I have some problems with big international cities. I don’t like visiting places you need to pay for and selling you their vision of history. I like to get lost in the streets, meet people, choose or feel like I am choosing the places I wish to go to. We started the day with a typical Italian breakfast: a pastry and a coffee. It is not the most filling breakfast you could have, but since it is a lifestyle here, it is hard to get away from it. I am used to staying for hours in coffee shops, reading, talking, writing, and ordering drinks again and again. But Italians are acting like a coffee shop in a train station, which is pretty funny when you see how they live such a slow life. I learned here a sentence I absolutely fancy: Dolce far niente. Sweetness of doing nothing. The concept of slow living is a therapy for all souls. Starting to take time to enjoy the length of a shared meal or looking but actually looking at what is happening around you …

Napoli is loud, Napoli is diverse in its culture, art, and food. We walked almost 20 kilometers that day. I could not say which streets we went to, how much food we ate, which museum Mariam made us go into, but I can say we tried to see the maximum we could.

While walking in the Spanish quarters, I found this street painting that depicts really well what our association is trying to do. Doing your best to be independent, promote homemade over buying compulsively. It is a kind of a constant fight against the big industries that attract others into their consumer society, to try with less money to build another sense of community.

Napoli made me face how much I am used to living in a bubble. My mountain. Tramonti. Seeing so many people, so much different energy palpable in the air got me quite off guard in the beginning, but I just jumped into the common energy like I always like to do.

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 5 : Castagne, Castagne, Castagne

It is October in Tramonti, which means: CHESTNUTS. ACARBIO has chestnut trees in the garden but also has a part in the forest. The volunteers and employees of the association got together to harvest. Chestnuts are falling every day, so for almost three weeks, we went to the woods and had a collecting challenge. The one who harvested the most chestnuts wins a trip to Capri. Let’s say that I am not the one who won. It happened that I fell asleep. My maximum was 25 kilos, which is a third of what others did sometimes…

Collecting chestnuts is like working out, but in the forest, you also need to know some dodge techniques, so you don’t have a chestnut shell full of thorns on your head. But despite the tiredness, we stood together, put music on, and tried our best to collect again and again. We also spent a lot of time trying out recipes with chestnuts inside. One of our favorites is chestnut pasta with parsley and chili.

At the end of the harvesting, we decided to organize a chestnut party! We created a poster that was shared on social media and in the cities around us. People would come, collect chestnuts, and take them back home. We decided on a menu: chestnut soup, melting cheese on the fire with bread, chestnut cream pie, and coffee for everybody. We were around 30, talking, eating, and sharing together. A lady brought her suricate! I know that in France, it is forbidden to have a suricate as a pet, and I don’t want to know whether it is available in Italy or not. This animal is the cutest; the second you bring your hand to him, he cuddles you up.

The harvesting season is now over. What’s left is the huge amount of chestnuts waiting for us to eat them.

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 4 : Birthday week-end

My birthday is on the 9th of September. After one month here, I didn’t really know what to do. I have a really good relationship with everyone here, but considering that I am not the most self-trusting person, I didn’t know whether they would like to do something with me or not. So, nothing was planned, and I thought of having a reading day. But, as I woke up, two of my friends here, Boroka and Alicia, brought me breakfast in bed with a lot of singing!

The day was an office day, and I had a lot of administrative work to do, so I realized late that the president of the association was preparing a birthday meal for me: mushroom risotto with a tiramisu :)))

But the surprises didn’t stop; everybody from my house planned a special night for me. Since I am French, they made a cheese tray with white grapes and fresh bread. We ate it with a delicious homemade soup and an apple crumble. We then selected 3 poems each that we read to each other in turn and explained why we decided to choose them. I was amazingly surprised to realize that they knew me already so well.

For the next day, we planned to go on a hike. One that is very famous on the Amalfi coast: The Path of Gods. Going from Agerola to Positano in the mountains, this hike isn’t so hard if you don’t have small legs like me. Indeed, there are a lot of rocks to go down or up, but it is the most beautiful hike I have done so far. You can go there either from Positano or Agerola, but I will suggest you go from Agerola for the simple reason that at the end of the hike there are a looooot of stairs. If you start in Positano by climbing these stairs, you might be exhausted and not enjoy the hike as much.

Our friend Pedro said that there is a man making cheese somewhere on the path, and after walking a bit, we saw a house that was a bit up, looked a bit abandoned, but we could hear people up, so we just decided to climb. And it was a genius idea. This man and his wife decided to buy the house to preserve local traditions. Outside, he had a big wooden table and a hammock to welcome people walking by. He has a lot of goats and offers you a cheese and honey tray 2 minutes after you arrive.

I didn’t want to leave this amazing and peaceful place, but we still had a lot to walk. I would like to go again before leaving next year, maybe during spring so that it is less hot. Until then, I will try to find a prettier hike if it is even possible.

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 2: Carta di Amalfi

After leaving my hometown during the summer to live on the Amalfi coast, I decided that I would try my best to visit the region from at least the middle of September. Like this, I could avoid the heat and the huge amount of tourists. Indeed, visiting alone a city that is unknown to me is a very delicate experience. But, after doing research on what the cultural specialties of the coast are, except the ones I already knew, I discovered something that makes me vibrate: paper. Inspired by the techniques of Arabs, people in Amalfi started to make handmade paper centuries ago. Now, they still do it with recycled cotton and are the last ones to do it in Europe.

I am the type of person who spends hours in libraries, reading all the latest covers, touching all the books, and not being able to go out without buying one. Paper, for me, is precious; it can bring back special memories, like the smell of the daily newspaper that comes with fresh bread every morning at dawn in front of my grandparents’ house. It is as if it has superpowers; I read a lot and am able to be in a bubble thanks to writers and paper. With paper, I went to countries I’ve never been to and eras I’ve never lived.

So, I went on the bus app on my phone and booked a bus ticket to Amalfi. Patience was not a word in my vocabulary anymore. I decided to go in the morning and went to the museum of Amalfi’s paper, ‘Museo della Carta.’ Lucky me, I was the first one in the museum and maybe in the city! So, I did the tour alone with a really nice guide that actually comes from the same village as me. She showed me all the machines and taught me how to make paper.

I went out of the museum, discovering the city from another angle, crowded with people from all around the world. I was amazed that I enjoyed it very much. Coming from a city where diversity is everywhere, I realized that I really missed seeing people from different cultural and language backgrounds.

My stomach was begging me to feed it, so I stopped at a gelato place. A little advice to recognize a quality gelato shop: the colors aren’t bright like in a comic, and the lids are closed to preserve the taste and the cold. I can say that after traveling in Italy with my parents, I became picky about gelato. So, I found this amazing small shop, ordered an espresso and a ricotta with pieces of fresh figs gelato, sat on the Duomo di Sant’Andrea’s steps, and enjoyed the view.

I have to admit that I spent a good amount of money inside the paper shops for my relatives and myself. I now write with a quill, ink, and handmade paper. I obviously spent the rest of the day in the different paper shops where each has its own style, walked, had a good street food lunch with fried fresh fish, and went again for gelato, trying different flavors. Amalfi threw rain at us as if she told us that it was time to go back home, so I did with a grateful feeling and the hope to see her again soon.

Written by Laura Clement

FOLLOWING LAURA TO ACARBIO-Episode 1 : Coming to Acarbio

I nourish myself with travel and food. Indeed, traveling is where you learn how to manage on your own, to see the beauty of this world, be it landscape or people, their culture, and personality. I’ve always loved to see what makes us different. I have been passionate about culture for a long time, discovering them through movies, books, food, habits, songs, clothes, and especially people. My name is Laura, I am an eighteen-year-old French girl, and my life changed a few weeks ago.

After spending 8 months volunteering as a French teacher for refugees and working as a fruit and vegetable seller, I decided to spend a year abroad with an environmental association on the Amalfi coast in Italy. Located in the province of Salerno, in the mountains, Acarbio has an aim: bringing people close to nature and their traditions again. The volunteers have different missions: local farming support (food processing: marmalade, pickled vegetables, tomato sauce, and more, community gardening, harvesting, community cooking), practical activities (woodwork construction, mountain path cleaning, art).

After 24 hours of traveling, I finally met everyone. I now live in a shared apartment with 5 people, all of them coming from different countries. And I discovered the pleasure of living in the mountains. It almost seems unrealistic waking up early in the morning with this view, as if we don’t deserve it. My life is now way slower than it used to be, and I can enjoy the smallest things (like eating a fruit that has taste). I love it! Let’s say that discovering new foods is also becoming one of my number one objectives. I had the chance to visit Italy a lot before, and I still learn so much every time I come.

For the birthday of the president of the association, we had a Pizza night (I forgot to say that the office is literally located in what used to be a restaurant). And I tried lemon pizzas, never heard of it before, but as I am writing, I can still taste the amazing flavor in my mouth. Let me just give you the ingredients and let your imagination do the rest: smoked mozzarella from the village, parmesan with lemon juice in it, olive oil, and walnuts: heaven in a bite.

I’ve visited a few cities during the weekends, like Maiori and Vietri Sul Mare (a little ceramist village that took a lot of my money in handmade coffee cups and egg cups) with a friend of mine, and we just let ourselves get lost in the streets, bought fresh fruits with mozzarella, and zucchini sandwiches as we walked.

I must say that I look forward to discovering much more and telling you all about it…

Written by Laura Clement