Giovanni Alessangdrini gave it all up for a piece of country, a collection of well-loved asini, and the hope that people would come, if only for a day, to experience a life disconnected from the logarithmic Armageddon the drugged demons of our financial world insist upon pushing us toward.
Giovanni is not connected to this Brave New World. He doesn’t have to double his profit every year; he is calmly linear. He does what he loves in rural Romagna. He is banking that you, too, are fed up with industrial “food” and the fast life of ever more work (for the corporation) for ever less reward.
Giovanni works for himself and his wife. He works, too, for his donkeys. Giovanni and his wife make honey, cheese and wine. They share.
Yes, you can taste it all. You can trek with his donkeys. You can make a pit stop in the rat race and be amazed at how rejuvenated you feel. Human again. Well-fed on real food.
There is little chance that city-sized, floating tin cans full of tourists will demand Giovanni expand his operations and ruin his little bit of paradise, as they are doing in the Cinque Terre.
Let’s start with the donkeys.
They are loved. Imagine. You don’t just take out a fly-infested asino and start flailing away at its ravaged backside with a whip until the disgusted animal goes in the direction you wish it to go. First the donkey gets brushed, then misted with herbal oils that bugs don’t take well to. Groomed thus, the donkey is ready to walk beside you.
Of course, you have also been “intellectually” groomed. You have learned the language of the donkey. The animal is a bit of a genius at communicating his inner feelings via the angle at which the ears are kept. You didn’t know that, did you?
Once you know the donkey’s preferred way of telling you he’s pleased with the way you treat him or he’d rather you bugger off in favor of someone of a more gently nature, you need to know how to speak to the donkey.
Ours is Sardinian. You speak to him in Sardo. No “andiamo” for him.
Now you can walk with your donkey. He will carry your stuff, or lug around what you might forage in the woods, like chestnuts or porcini.
If you walk along the road, cars have to slow for you. You notice something quite odd. Instead of giving you a look of disgust and perhaps doing that finger thing, drivers are smiling. They are nostalgia tourists, too, giddy with the feeling of well being.
By the time you get back to the ranch, you are feeling a bit peckish. Not for long. There is wine. There is cheese, There is bread and vegetables from the garden. There is real olive oil, tasty and pure, not like the adulterated crap you pay too much for in the supermarket at home.
There is also a bloodhound and a turtle, the family pets. And there is a place where the cheeses are aged:
What’s the hole for? Formaggio di Fossa. Pit-aged cheese. That’s the pit.
Romagna, the western part of the region better known as Emilia-Romagna, is and probably always has been a hotbed of alternative life styles. It does its own thing (good thing for Fellini!)
You can dance the night away in some of Romagna’s small, out of the way hotels, you can buy herbal medicines and watch the distillation of essential oils from plants that grow naturally. You can enjoy the rolling hills. You can get your ass off the grid, if only for a test period.
Do it. Then let me know how it all turns off. Will your outlook on life change?
Start here: Il Pagliaio (The site was only in Italian, but if it were easy there’d be boatloads of American immigrants wanting to sample the good life, and we know how that ends, don’t we?). Today there’s an abbreviated version of the site in English: Il Gagliaio in English
Since this article was written
There are now two apartments to stay in at Il Pagliaio. It also has a broader mission than it did when I visited:
Il Pagliaio is an educational farm open to anyone, where you can discover a meaningful way to spend time together while immersed in nature’s peace.
A visit is highly recommended for those who wish to discover the rural Italian way of life, “discovering what it means to adapt to nature’s slow and demanding, but more genuine, rhythm. We aim to promote mountain places brimming with marvels, but which are too often neglected due to today’s hectic productive lifestyle.”
Loc. Monte Finocchio
Strada Provinciale 128 Sarsina-Ranchio
47025 Mercato Saraceno (FC) – ITALY
Coordinate GPS: 12°07’59”E 43°56’51”N
Tel.: +39 335 5315580 (English spoken!)
(If you’ve read this far I’d like to share with something I found while researching this piece. “Perchè movimento, + buon cibo + buona compagnia = BUON VIVERE” It answers the question, “Why would anyone do this sort of thing?” Because movement, plus good food, plus beautiful countryside = Good Living”)