The festive season ends with Epiphany here in Italy, on January the 6th, when a witch, the Befania, comes to visit all children, giving coal to those who were bad and sweets to those who’ve been good. And here in the pine woods along the coast of Porto San Elpidio the men go out to play bocce, the Italian version of English bowls and French boules. January has been sunny far, fresh breezes blowing the last leaves off the trees, kicking up swirls of leaves on the ground and reminding us that we’re approaching midwinter, not spring.
I’ll start this report in the daytime, when we were bathed in sunshine at the lunchtable yesterday. Not all of us were there, Aldo was still stuck up a ladder combing out olives. He only comes to the house for brief snatched moments, not wanting to waste time. Nor were we all happy in the sunshine.
“Why, oh why, does the sun have to do this?” Jasper glowered at me over his pasta. Apparently he is made for northern climes, countries with many more hours of darkness and nicely reliable bad weather all winter long. Some of us think this may be connected to impossibility of sending teenagers out into lashing rain to help harvest olives but he says his poetic teenage soul thrives on darkness and cloudy skies.
To get back the harvest. First a quick image of our olives waiting outside the olive press.We always go to the olive press in the dark (the daylight hours are too precious to waste) sometimes arriving as late as midnight, driving through quiet deserted country roads and into the village where all sensible people are asleep. Cars, tractors and trucks are parked higgledy piggledy outside the humming press and inside the air is saturated with oil. Flattened out cardboard boxes line the floor to prevent us from slipping and men in heavy jackets, flat caps and scarves, stand around with their hands in their pockets discussing the yield. There is usually an elderly lady in a pinny somewhere (one of the owner’s aunts or mother) with a broom, doing some important tweaking.People moan a lot about their olives, muttering about chain saws and firewood and lives without hard labour, but year after year the olive harvest dominates the autumn. Aldo has despaired of our trees this year, the difficulty of getting olives out of them and their poor yield, but he is determined to do a fourth pressing. Despite the lack of relationship between the value of oil and the time lavished on its production we all keep doing it. That first taste, poured on a slice of bruschetta, with a little salt on top, makes it all worth it.
Quoted from IF THIS BE TREASON by Gregory Rabassa (translator of Gabriel Garcia Marquez) quoted by Chris Bliss
In our house communication is frequently achieved through translation – not only between languages and cultures but also in the attempt to bridge the gulf between man and woman, as well as between teenager (or twenty year old) and the elderly (as Aldo and I are known to the resident young).
I fail when it comes to cats. Mimi, currently suffering from bronchitis, remains unconvinced that putting her in a small cage twice a day, covered with a towel and then pumping steam in is doing her lungs good. While the nebulizer hummed away this morning, accompanied by the sound of her mournful yowls, I watched my daily Ted Talk, and was struck by Chris Bliss‘ statement: “[Comedy] takes the base metal of our conventional wisdom and transforms it through ridicule into a different way of seeing and ultimately being in the world.”
Aldo went shopping on Friday night in a supermarket near his office and we were shocked to read in the local paper the next day that the same supermarket was raided by armed robbers just five minutes after he left. He said he wished he’d been there and seeing my baffled face he said it would have been a great opportunity to say to them: “you’re robbing them tonight but they rob us every day.”
Although Chris Bliss’ statement “Comedy [deals] with a lot of the same areas where our defenses are the strongest — race, religion, politics, sexuality” is undoubtedly true I’m very relieved that my husband lost the opportunity to try out his talent at standup comedy on armed robbers.
It’s that time of year again. Aldo was summoned to the olive mill at six this morning to watch 330kg of our olives being squashed and line up the bottles to be filled. He predicts that we’ll need another two bookings at the mill as the faster olives move from tree to mill the better the oil. For the last two days Jasper and I worked as a team, with Aldo up a ladder working on different trees. Unfortunately my competitive spirit reared its ugly head, coolly observed by the infinitely more evolved person working with me. He said that competing for quantities of olives picked was a “sad” idea, and filled in the time by stopping up some of the gaps in my woefully incomplete knowledge of history.
“So what do you really KNOW about Julius Caesar?” he asked me, leaning back on the branch of our tree whilst I leapt about, trying to get those difficult ones high up.
My answer was vague. “Apart from Et tu, Brute? Um, well, emperor?” He almost fell off his branch with shock, “well, let’s see, ruler?” So as I picked olives he began the slow and daunting prospect of educating his mother.
At the beginning of Autumn I drew up a timetable of work with projects and goals, and then, a little overwhelmed by the organisation of it all, I turned to the many other things that interest me, like finding out how to be happy, or studying the blog of the fabulously eccentric Dutch artist Frits Jonker, who stayed here this summer and left us this beautiful pebble above.
Since then I have indeed spent quite a bit of time thinking about work, in snatches between reading Mathieu Ricard’s “The Art of Happiness” , taking the dogs for walks, photographing the mist and studying pebbles, decorated and plain, with Mimi.
And I’m pleased to report that all this peaceful contemplation has been a great support to me whilst I’ve come to terms with the necessity to rewrite my timetable and extend those deadlines.
A quick note: if either of my sons should chance upon this post I must point out that this sort of enlightenment is really only acceptable, desirable even, to people embarking on their second half-century. For the first fifty years doing your homework, studying and working hard are quite enough to be getting on with.
Early morning walks in October offer many photographic opportunites, but my canine companions cannot understand why I insist on wasting time, turning and waiting with ill disguised impatience for me to get going again.
As lunch is so frequently a source of conversation in our house (as in, “what shall we have for lunch” – Aldo and “I’ve no idea” – me) I’ve decided to do a post on Wednesdays dedicated to Aldo’s endless creativity in this field. Of course I take some credit for this. After all, it is thanks to my lack of both ideas and interest in lunch that he has been able to polish his cooking skills.
Pisellini e funghi (peas and mushrooms)
- half an onion
- small tin of small peas with thin skins (this is what they are called here!)
- one Italian sausage
- 4 champignon mushrooms peeled and sliced (my comments along the lines of “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom” have been ignored…)
- one carton of cooking cream (125gr)
Finely chop the onion and soften with a spoon of olive oil and a spoon of wine. When it is golden add the sausage, mashing it well to divide it up. (Italian sausages are cured and can be eaten as a spread on bread). When the sausage is cooked add the drained peas. Mash about half the peas with a fork and simmer for ten minutes. Add the mushrooms and cover, simmering for another ten minutes. Three minutes before the pasta cooking time is up add the cream, stir and take off the heat. Mix with pasta, sprinkle on some parmesan and serve.
Put a Latin and an Anglo Saxon in one house and there will, occasionally, be war. But despite the tragic overtones of this quote from Macbeth I’m reporting on a recent victory for my side (I don’t have time to write about the multiple victories for the other side – suffice it to say that I can no longer imagine life without lunch, and I am sometimes trusted to choose meat, parmesan and bread without supervision).
Soon after we met found that we had very different ideas regarding Sunday afternoon walks on the beach. For Aldo it meant wearing nice shoes, (and a nice jacket and scarf – the passegiata still reigns strong in this part of Italy) and a gentle stroll along Civitanova’s waterfront, with the occasional glimpse of the Adriatic past cafes and people. For me it meant shoes off, paddling in the waves and walking fast.
These toes (rarely seen in public) are here to show that my powers of gentle persusasion do sometimes bear fruit. Even if they are interpreted by their subject as closer to Chinese water torture than I feel is flattering.
Since I filmed our cute little ducklings my younger son and I have been learning a lot more about death in country life whilst tussling over the well worn subject of studying and computer time.
First we lost one duckling, who fulfilled a kitkat-ish role in the life of its dad (take a break, have a small fluffy duckling). I had to haul Jasper away from his computer (“there’s no homework, really”) to help me section off the father to prevent further loss of life.
Another duckling drowned in a puddle. Careless, one might say, for a duck. That day a Latin test loomed, swooped and conquered, finding large holes in Jasper’s latest theory on ways of studying.
Aldo put the remaining five ducklings into a safer enclosure after they had been spotted escaping from the duck run and wandering through the orto, closely followed by Twilight, our killer cat. The mother abandoned them at this point, as she wanted to get back to her swimming pool and the dark fascination of her lord and master. On the sidelines Jasper and I were discussing the need to study in order to find interesting work, him asking why, if I think external success is an unrewarding goal, I want him to work hard?
The ducklings dwindled down to four after one tried to escape from the incubator they’d been put in, to keep them safe. Jasper and I listened to Sir Ken Robinson giving a Sunday Sermon on passion and unleashing your inner fervour. He ended his talk with the point that parents need to step back and let their children find their own way. Perhaps ducks really do know better?
They’re finally here – the ducklings. And if you click on this you can see them with an interesting soundtrack …
Bearing in mind that this is my first try at editing a short film and adding a sountrack you will perhaps forgive the sound of Jasper and I chatting in the background. The story he is telling has something to do with a penguin strip cartoon and the way in which adult birds regurgitate their food for their young. Fortunately Elvis doesn’t give us as much detail on animal instinct, which is probably a good thing.
Especially when I think of what I saw the day after I shot this … let me simply say that the father goose doesn’t have much finer feeling for his young but regards them more as, well, a food source.