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September 2007
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November 2007

Rotten Fruit & other Autumn Delights

autumn delights
Originally uploaded by jennifer mcilvaine
There's not a lot of middle ground here in Italy, things tend to be pretty black and white: you are Italian, or you're not; there is only the pasta of "mamma" or Vissani; you are sporting the latest Fendi bag, or you're not; there is Alberto Sordi. there is Benigni. there is Ferrari. punto. punto. punto...
And so it goes with fruit: they like it underripe and hard, or practically rotten with flies swarming.
For example, last summer I worked on an agriturismo with a woman who would only eat the quasi-rotten figs that the birds had already started pecking at.
This summer, at my local fruttivendolo, there were always 3 bins of tomatoes: green ones, perfectly ripe ones, and split overripe ones. The green and split tomatoes were always sold out first, leaving the perfect (in my opinion) tomatoes to me and the late-comers. Why??? Because Italians don't like to eat tomatoes in their peak perfect ripe state (like us americans). For eating, they prefer their tomatoes a little green and very firm. For sauce, obviously, the overripe, splitting tomatoes will work just fine. The others...middle ground...left for me.
The other day, I almost got in a fight with Fede because he was eating the hard, underripe pears (as he had done with peaches and nectarines all summer) instead of the ripe ones (which were, by the way the best, juiciest, most delicious pears I've ever had - why on earth would one choose to eat them hard and flavorless?!?!?)
That brings us to fall delights: persimmons and pomegranates. I was scolded for buying pomegranates that hadn't split open. Yes, in this mode they are very sweet, but also, I think a little flat. I like a little tartness in a pomegranate - somewhere in the middle...
Persimmons, or kaki, as they are known here, are maybe the perfect representation of Italian culture. There are two types: Vanilla, which is yellow and always eaten hard; and the regular, orange variety which is always eaten after it splits and starts to ooze (let me tell you, it is not easy to get these things home in one piece!). No middle ground here - last year I ate a less-than-oozing persimmon and my mouth felt like it was turning itself inside-out...a "grey area" gringo allergic I said - its a black and white kind of place.

drying rack blues...

drying rack blues...
Originally uploaded by jennifer mcilvaine
Winter has finally arrived. Its been raining all week. The worst part about this kind of weather in Italy is doing the laundry. No one has dryers in Italy, and if they do, usually they don't work very well and are extremely expensive to run (electricity). Its one thing in the summer, when everything dries in an hour outside...but these clothes I hung up yesterday, and I don't think they will be dry until tomorrow. Boo to winter ;-( For now I'll count the days until summer arrives, and dream of warm, fluffy towels...

Legends in Our Own Time: The Trampetti Harvest


I am taking a much needed ripose from Il Bacco Felice, and the "multi-dimensional" Salvatore Denaro to help with the olive harvest of Trampetti this year. I am joined by my good friend Joel Cox (of Lark and Kurtwood Farms in Seattle). I think this is one of the funniest situations either of us has ever been in: we are the youngest (me at 30, Joel at 23) in a group of 12 pickers, men and women - the next youngest is around 60, and the oldest, the boss, is 93, and let me tell you - we can barely keep up with them! They live for the olive harvest every year, and they truly love to climb the ladders and sit in the trees all day. By the end of the day for us, Joel and I are practically dead, and this little group of workers seems like they could just keep going for a few more hours. I can only hope to have half that energy when I am their age.
The first day we were high in the hills over Trevi, and they were very suspicious of us - they hardly let us touch a tree. We are Americans, and to these people "American" = "lazy" = "person who lives on a street paved with gold" (most Italians think this way, regardless of age). Anyway, those of you who know Joel, know that he is a big guy - and so, his job for most of the day was to haul bags of olives down the hill. My job, I dubbed, "the sweeper" - pick up all the branches that people cut from the trees, and pull the olives off of them - very, very exciting. When we returned to the frantoio with the first day's harvest, Alessandro (the boss) told Federico that we "did a good job, but they just don't know how, they need to learn." Joel and I were horrified at this statement, but determined to show those old folks how its done the next day.
The next day we arrived dead tired - we had been out till one o'clock the night before, and were supposed to be in the field picking at 8:00 sharp! - we were late, of course. Because we were obviously tired, and late, they worked us extra hard. I took on a new title, "net girl", which meant that I had to help Alessandro set the nets under all of the trees to catch the olives as they are raked off of the trees. This is not an easy task - in fact, I hate it. The nets are at least 25 sq feet, and there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason (though I'm sure there was) as to where Alessandro wanted them. And so, I dragged these heavy, dusty nets up and down the steep rocky hills on command, all day.
Day 3, we once again arrived late. I barely had time to say buon giorno before Alessandro was directing me to empty and move the nets. We were only about a half hour late, and this little group of 70 year olds had already picked about 75 kilos of olives! Poor Joel - this is where he comes in.... Today we were in a different field, working from the downside of the hill up (meaning the olives have to go up the hill). Nothing like hauling 50lb bags of olives up steep hills first thing in the morning!
Since I speak Italian (well enough, at least), they started interrogating me, in heavy, quasi-incomprihensible dialect. For them, it is completely strange that 2 young people, let alone from America, want to pick olives with them. Some of the more popular questions were: Is America hot like it is here? Does America get cold like it does here? Are you tired? Were you tired last night? Are you tired now? Why doesn't Joel speak Italian? Why don't you speak in Italian with Joel? How can you understand each other so well? So you like to work? Do you work like this in America? Are there olives in America? How tall is Joel?
When they are not questioning me, they are either singing and laughing, or cursing like sailors. They love to talk about politics, sex, Berlusconi, and the lastest in medical discoveries, cursing all the way... I am learning a new word every day - bravo!
Jennifer and Joel are names that do not exist in the Italian language. So 'Lissa (Alessandro) created easier-to-remember names for us. I am simply J, though some of the ladies call me Genoa, and Joel is Jo. Its funnier because when 'Lissa calls us, he always says "oh" first (its very Folignate slang), so its "O, J!" or "O Jo!" And if we don't answer immediately one can always hear him saying through his semi-toothless grin "Menaggia...!" Kind of like g*d, dammit.... but really drawn out... its so funny!
Jo and I have created a few nicknames of our own - according to us, the group consists of: the old man, red hat, viagra, hot pants, singing lady, grandma-pees-in-the-woods, slo-mo, camo, blondie, pinky and the dreamettes, dressed to kill, and the daydream nation.
Today was Friday, our 5th day, and last day of the week. I think today we finally proved ourselves. One new guy asked me if I had done the harvest last year, because I seemed to really know what I was doing, and 'Lissa, let me be almost in charge of the nets (an honor I don't necessarily want, its hard to drag those nets around, but an honor the same). In the morning, I overheard Viagra saying to new guy how it was so much better with i ragazzi, the kids, because they could keep chit-chatting, and not have to stop to move the nets and haul the olives. And the ladies are now on a mission to find a nice girl for Joel - una bella ragazza. At lunch, we were offered some of the home-made wine that was being passed around. But best of all, Genga, told me at the end of the day that I am really a classic Italian woman, I'm not an American. And by "classic Italian" he means like the old ladies. What could be better than being compared to a hardworking Italian grandma?

See Trampetti Harvest photos here.