It’s 07:00 on Sunday morning and I’m woken by the sound of tractors in the lane, raised voices in the olive groves and the hiss of portable generators. The olive harvest has started.
Last year was a very good year with the bars filled with local farmers boasting about their yield and the excellent quality. Sadly it’s very different this year as many are telling me the amount of olives on the trees is low. With so few to collect every fruit is precious, I look from my kitchen window and Nicola is double-checking there’s no gaps in the nets laid beneath his tree before the olives are raked from its branches.
Sunday is a good day to harvest, it’s warm and dry and the family continue on with their toil until mid-afternoon. Monday arrives and with it rain. Not gentle rain but heavy, leaden drops and it continues all day and into the night.
Tuesday we are welcomed to sunshine again, however the rain has forced many of the olives from their branches and the lane is strewn with them, they lie on the tarmac, many with their precious oil crushed from them by passing vehicles. Nicola tells we need two or three days of good weather as the ground needs to dry out before he can continue to harvest his crop. With so few to pick he’s hoping we don’t have any more rainy days until his olives are safely at the frantoio..
Today my car is blocked in by a tractor and there’s an olive net across the road where three people are harvesting the olives from the tree that they own. The three people are friends of mine and they live up in the main town of Casoli and have driven down in their tractor to collect the olives from this solitary tree.
I’m chatting with Maria, (the lady who used to own my house) as she rakes olives from the branches her husband has pruned out of the tree’s centre to open it up. I’m asking why they have travelled so far to come to just this one tree. “It’s been a good year for the olives so it’d be a waste not to harvest them,” she tells me. “How many trees do you have?” I ask and am then corrected; “Piante non alberi.” Italian’s don’t call olives trees, they’re plants.
They tell me they have over 300 olives to harvest before the end of the month, as you should never collect them after November 30. Maria explains that when she sold me the house they didn’t sell the tree because she didn’t think I’d want it. I agree that I wouldn’t as I’m not interested in cultivating olives as there’s just far too much work involved. She explains how the family have about 50 olives further along the lane, 20 or so behind the hill and 5 further on up the hill. The main ones are the other side of Casoli where there’s two large groves. The collection is made up of plots of land that they have inherited through Italy’s complex inheritance laws and this particular tree was part of a share of the estate split between her husband and his relatives after an uncle passed away many years ago.
Last year was a bad year and most of the crop here was infected by the olive fly. Maria explains it’s because we had a humid spring and a cooler summer in 2016, whereas this year we had a long summer with many days over 30 degrees. It’s the heat that controls the fly population apparently. I leave them to carry on with their toil and as I’m leaving Maria calls to ask me if I’d like the wood they’ve pruned out for my log burner. I say thank you and walk down towards my house to look for my hand saw.
The price of olive oil has risen again this year, so when the crop is good like this one it makes sense to collect every available olive, even if you have to drive several km in a slow moving tractor to just one tree (plant).
Last night whilst watching the BBC program, Second Chance Summer, where a group of English people experience living in Tuscany: The objective of the show is to discover if any of them will choose to remain in Italy. Two did choose to stay but it was a comment one of the women made that struck a chord with me. She said that although she liked being in Italy it was like travelling back in time. At first I agreed, but then I thought saying that could actually be quite insulting, as it could infer that the country hadn’t progressed. (But I’m sure she meant it in a nice way).
Rural Italy is very different from the urban sprawl of Milan, Turin and the other major cities; in fact the difference between southern and northern Italy is blatantly tangible. Things here in rural communities go on as they have done for decades. Today Mario is in his olive grove pruning his trees as he and his family have done for years. The centre of the tree is opened up to allow air to circulate through the branches giving it the familiar vase shape. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s like travelling back in time but it’s a very different situation. Today Mario is using an electric saw connected to a generator whereas if we went back in time it’d be a hand saw. Today the cut branches will be loaded onto a motorised trailer and taken to his wood store rather than in the past a donkey.
I think the charm of Italy is that much has remained unchanged, towns are still mostly made up of original old buildings giving it that ancient feel. Take Rome for instance, everywhere you look there’s an old palazzo and terracotta tiled roof. This gives an impression of travelling back in time, however look closer and you’ll spot the satellite dishes and solar panels.
Here in Abruzzo we’re reminded of the region’s history, the coastline is dotted with trabocchi; ancient fishing stations that are still used today. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a romantic notion to continue with tradition, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason why people still fish from a trabocco is that they’re effective. Olives are maintained as they have always been because it’s a fool proof method of cultivation. Backs ache after plots of land are planted up with tomato and pepper plants as they’ve been for years. At times it’s a hard life but rewarding one, but it’s not like going back in time because as time moves on it’s the tried and tested methods that survive through becoming adaptable.
The one thing about having rescue dogs is that you know nothing about their past lives and therefore you can only make assumptions. We have two of these dogs, Olive a small terrier type aged around four years and Alfie a lanky, half dog-half donkey five month old. We know a little about Olive, she lived in the nearby town of Fara San Martino and was known by everyone locally due to her running around the narrow streets and generally being a cheeky little mutt. We acquired her due to a change in her owners circumstances. She always seemed to be quite morose and spent most of the day moping around when we first got her, the one thing that struck me was she didn’t seem to know how to play, every toy we gave her was ignored. She really wasn’t a very happy girl and we put this down to her moving to a new home.
Alfie came our way after a friend asked if we were still looking for a dog as there was one abandoned near Lake Casoli. At the time we had considered getting another dog but Olive reacted badly to other dogs so had shelved the idea, however seeing a photo on Facebook tugged at the heartstrings and I went to look at him. To cut the story short, suffice to say he was such a smashing looking chap I decided to take him and give him a home. He was terrified when we bundled him into my car and for the first time I spotted the long scars on his front legs. The chef from the nearby restaurant told me a car arrived one evening and the dog was just pushed out.
From their initial meeting Olive and Alfie got on, becoming firm friends. I guess they saw a little of their own story in each other. We did notice that despite the age and height difference they both shared the same trait, neither of them ever wagged their tails.
Olive seems to have always been a people dog, she loves being with humans and likes nothing better than a ride in the car; so much so, that as soon as the driver’s door opens she’s inside, as fast as a cork from a chilled bottle of Prosecco. Whereas Alfie was wary of humans, a hand near his head made him cower, a stern rebuke would have him falling to the ground passively and the car terrified him. They both adapted to living on a building site very quickly and although not the ideal environment I think with so much chaos around they found it exciting. Alone they both began to explore and Alfie’s youth rubbed off on Olive and she learned how to play, her favourite game being, glove killing – I daren’t tell the builder what happened to his gloves. In turn Olive’s age has kept Alfie in check, she’s taught him the rights and wrongs of living with humans and is first to tell him off if he sticks his nose into the kitchen waste bin. Also seeing Olive jumping in and out of the car has allayed his fears and he now jumps into the back seat knowing that after been taken for a walk he’ll come home and not be abandoned.
Last week a friend dropped by and she commented on how Alfie didn’t flinch when she went to stroke him; something I no longer noticed. I then looked for changes in the two of them and noticed that now they both wag their tails. Olive just at the mention of her name and Alfie when you go to stroke him and of course when they play together. It’s so nice to see an abundance of tail wagging in the countryside, here in Abruzzo.
I don’t normally post at the weekend, but thought I’d make an exception with this news.
We had a new addition to our family today, she’s a small black terrier by the name of Olive. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, we have been waiting for our home to become dog safe before we could take her in. She’s come from a friend who has changed job and dogs are not allowed where she will be living. We’ll hopefully visit the canile (dogs home) in Lanciano over the next week or so and get her a friend to keep her company.
We’ve already discovered that she’s definitely an outdoors dog, any opportunity to be outside and she takes it, she loves running up to the top of the lane and having a nosey when she hears a car; so she’ll fit right in here, and at the end of the day she likes nothing more than to chill out with a DVD, even if she does fall asleep halfway through the film .