In Sabina Yoga Retreat, Near Rome: Adventures from 2014
I was lucky enough to find myself cooking at this wonderful yoga retreat for 7 weeks. Here I was cooking for groups of people from around the world who had come to clear their minds, balance their bodies and sample authentic Italian grub.
Thursday 25th September
Written on several perches about the retreat. Posted in my caravan drinking vino, noisily eating crisps.
Sometimes there are things in life that you should say ‘yes’ to without thinking, rationalising or worrying over. With every action we decide to take there is a chance that things could go wrong. But there is also the possibility that it could be amazing. Coming to work at In Sabina was definitely a decision to be taken quickly before my brain reminded me that I don’t speak Italian, I’m not a natural traveller and two months is a long time to be away from family, friends, Mr Z and the guinea pigs. But when someone asks if you want to chef at a vegetarian yoga retreat an hour from Rome, it would be ridiculous to say anything but ‘yes’.
In the lead up to my Italian cooking experience, I was in regular contact with the previous chef, Gloria. She really helped me to build an image of where I was going and what I’d be doing. I spent 3 days with her before she left and I took over the kitchen. A lot of information was said out loud in those days and as the baton/spatula of responsibility was handed to me, I felt a little overwhelmed. The first week was spent mostly working out what I needed to remember and what brain space I could free up to start creating my own experience.
In Sabina is a very tranquil yoga retreat set in the Sabine hills North East of Rome. The owner Giulia has worked on building a haven for spirituality and a space for reflection and relaxation for the last 10 years and I must say, she’s done rather well. The house is classically Italian rustic and the grounds varied and lush with plenty of nooks and crannies for you to hide away in. She’s also a lovely lady who wants everyone to be happy. We get on very well. The house welcomes groups of between 10-30 from all round the world to practice yoga, explore this tiny corner of Italy and eat my food amongst other things. So far, it’s been a 100% success rate!
Our first group was from Switzerland and provided plenty of well timed ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ and were reduced to a pleasing silence when eating the food. It was a dream of a ‘tester group’ as there were only 13 of them, one of which was gluten free. Leading on from Gloria’s taxing kitchen experiences involving 26 strong groups with gluten and dairy intolerance’s, requests for no salt and an inability to eat anything other than rice, I felt very blessed. The second week was even better with only eight, all of which ate everything, and regularly did. I took this as an excuse to feed them up good and proper with pasta, pastry, focaccia and a cows worth of cheese. The dream couldn’t last however and this third group includes five dairy free and five gluten free. Instead of being a hindrance however, I’ve just used a different part of my food based brain to create a mostly gluten and dairy free menu for everyone, slipping the breads and cheeses in on the side for the ‘normal’ people.
So here I am in my third week having learnt many things including a meagre amount of Italian, what to do with my own bodyweight in aubergine and how to sit still and look at a view without feeling I should be doing something more useful (hence why it has taken me so long to begin my adventures in blog writing). The only problems I’m experiencing involve the language barrier. Less of a barrier actually, more like a gapping void of uncertainty, strewn with non existent grammar and the odd french word thrown in. The lady who helps me in the kitchen is Romanian and speaks a little Italian but no English. She’s great and we rub along just fine with the odd spurts of conversation when I can remember some words or gesticulate towards some shared understanding. However my constant desire to be accepted and make sure everyone is happy is hindered by the inability to express myself. Basic words lend me to inform her ‘ I go for basil and tomato’, ‘ I make dinner pudding ice cream’ and my current favourite, ‘ Thank you for this week. Next week I good Italian’. The gardener is also Romanian and thinks I’m called Bieta, which means chard. He gives me a little bow whenever we meet and laughs at me when I continuously leave the kitchen to return slugs, snails and caterpillars who have hitched a lift on some greenery back to the wild. Alex, who is an incredible if not vigorous masseuse, is also Romanian but speaks good English so acts as the bridge over the river of confusion that occurs on a regular basis.
The most wonderful thing about it all is how easy it is to please people. I’m not very good at taking praise (I’m British after all). This experience has taught me how to accept it graciously. The Swiss made lots of noises denoting pleasure, the British told me how clever I was and asked for recipes and the Americans told me I was awesome and got me drunk on red wine!
I love this place…
Saturday 4th October
Written and posted sitting on a tree stump by the pool. Briefly interrupted by our gardener with the leaf blower and a persistent wasp.
As with any travels to foreign lands, nature plays a big part in how you adapt to each day. Morning mists in the valley float tumbledown villages to the rising sun. The muted green leaves of olive trees splay like fingers in to the buttery blue skies. Grey black mountains rip through sunsets, spilling orange, pink and purple to the horizon. Mosquitos also feature heavily, peppering this beauty with their evil ways. The nights are spent sleep itching, finding the roughest part of the duvet and furiously rubbing your nibbled bits up and down. I’m afraid to say that my inability to actively kill anything has reached a hiatus. I started with the rule that if caught with their fingers in the cookie jar, or rather their needly noses in my body, it was the end for the little blighter. This quickly became unviable as they kept sneaking round the back whilst I wasn’t looking. So now it is all out war. The sound of haphazard slaps resounds from my kitchen and the poppy red of blood dashes the walls of my caravan.
On a less violent note, there are lizards everywhere and they are a joy to watch; skitting jauntily across the ground, moving like tiny nervous dinosaurs. I’ve saved a couple from the pool and relish the moment when they sit on my hand gaining composure before scuttling off. I like to think it’s a moment of connection, a moment of gratitude. When in actual fact the poor mite is so terrified, they’d probably be happier taking their chances in the pool than have this giant googly eyed thing peering at them.
I’ve also made friends with a cat and a toad, although I’m not sure if they are acquainted. I’ve never spent much time with toads but they are delightful creatures who appear to be smiling all the time and shouldn’t be judged on their bobbly skin alone. I’m not usually a cat person. They get cocky, wandering about the place like they own it, pooing on things. This one seems very sensible however and just likes a cuddle every now and then.
The incessant barking of dogs took a while to enamor itself to me. They call from each hilltop with some secret canine message, perhaps involving advice on how to avoid eating socks and bees. However sometimes they join together in the dead of night, howling a curious harmonious melody that just about makes me smile. The death owl that sits aloft my caravan at 5am screeching like it is regurgitating a particularly spicy mouse is not so endearing. But everything has its place. Even the little welcoming woodlouse I discovered on my first day: roaming in every room at home yet so out of place here.
I am nestled happily amongst the mountains, the sky, the retching owl. They have all allowed me to be inspired, cook my food, meet new people and be me. I feel blessed. That is all…