One Tree

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.

Tractor

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.

Ladder

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.

Olives

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).

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Unconscious Italian

The iPod shuffles and Canadian R&B singer, Melanie Fiona sings Watch Me Work. I’m surprised she remains mostly unknown by the UK music buying public as she’s much more talented than the likes of Kelly Rowland, Nicole Sherzinger et al, but I guess the big U.S. labels still see Canadian artists as ‘poor cousins’. There’s a knock at the door and my neighbour tells me she’s having some work on her back garden done, so there may be some cars parked at the top of the road. Moments later a tractor arrives and two short squat men jump out and begin to hand-ball bricks and wood up the stairs leading to my neighbours back garden. Now being of the nosey persuasion, I pop along to see what’s happening and before long I’m sat inside enjoying a prosecco as the two men toil in cooling early evening air.

There’s a call and Mario, one of the squat gardeners asks me if I can give him a lift to Minco di Lici to pick up his girlfriend. As it’s literally just around the corner I agree, we drive down the lane and pass a group of elderly locals all sat out chatting, each one has brought their own chair and sit in the road with no intention of moving. I see their faces that say, ‘we were here first’. As we navigate slowly around the group they look at the English car and give a half-hearted greeting, We toss a robust, “Salve tutti,” out of the window and smiles grace the ancient faces and a more robust, “Anche lei,” is called back. Mario tells me he is married but his wife didn’t like living in the country so returned to city living. I ask him what city she returned to, expecting him to say Milan, Rome or Naples. His response is, “Casoli.”  Casoli, our council town is a mere 5 km away, and by UK city standards it’s barely a town.

We arrive at the house where Mario’s girlfriend works as a carer, the elderly wife opens an electronic gate and beckons us inside. The woman chats away to us, offers us beer and when we decline she looks sad, her aged eyes, watery. We look at each other and watch her face lose years as it brightens when we agree to have a small beer. Seven cats share the terrace where we sit, but unlike the owner we are not impervious to the smell, luckily a light breeze blows it away from where I sit. Eventually a young girl in her twenties appears at the door, she’s from the Dominican Republic, a good half metre taller than Mario and I imagine at least ten years younger. I ask him how they met and he is vague, so I’m assuming over the internet.

I deliver Mario and his beau back and for regular readers of, A Life on Shuffle, here’s an update on the shed incident of a few days ago, Mario, uses his digger to push it over the edge of the ruin it was lodged on, so now out of sight, I’m very happy. It’s only after he’s put some paper down on the dirty tractor seat for his girlfriend to sit on, that i realise I have just spent a good forty-minutes in the company of Italians and not a word of English has been spoken, and I’ve not had to think about what I was saying, it just flowed naturally. Now I’m not fluent, far from it, but it was nice to actually speak another language without consciously thinking about what I’m saying.

Red Arrows

A couple of Sunday’s ago, after our rain washed road had been repaired, I was sitting outside enjoying the May sunshine and a glass of chilled prosecco. The stillness of the afternoon was broken by the sound of Abruzzese dialect being called out over the chug chug of a tractor. Being nosey, I rose from my chair and looked down the lane and saw a rather large young man astride the tractor and two skinny men walking behind it. One man was spraying red arrows on the road whilst the other fastened red and white plastic; the kind that ropes off road works, in the hedgerow. From where I was standing I wondered if it they were marking the road for further repairs.

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I watched as they continued up the lane and then they veered off up a dirt track, the two skinny men striding and working as the rotund one steered the orange tractor and barked instructions. When they disappeared from view I put down my prosecco and went to investigate. It soon turned out that these markings had nothing to do with road repairs, as some of the arrows disappear into fields with others emerging from dirt tracks. The man who was painting the arrows had sprayed the letters FISE onto a lamp post, so I’m assuming the marks indicate a forthcoming race of some kind.

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The following Sunday at 07.00, I’m woken by the sound of motorbikes. I dress and see young people coursing across fields on what I assume are trials bikes, they squeal around the bends in the road and then quickly vanish up the dirt track opposite our place, and the sound becomes muffled before this itself vanishes. “Oh well, that’s it,” I tell myself and saunter into the kitchen to make coffee and turn on the iPod, releasing a burst of Hurts, with Blood Tears and Gold, from their, Happiness album.

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After breakfast there’s more commotion in the lane, this time it’s men in lycra, on what I again assume, are bicycles designed for multiple terrain. They pedal furiously down the dirt track, onto the road, travelling in the opposite direction of the motorbikes, until they too can be heard and seen no more. “What’s next,” I ask myself, “Horses?” Which daft as it sounds could happen, after all this is Italy. The only thing I’m left thinking about is, will the three men and the tractor come to remove all the ribbons out of the hedgerows. I doubt it, this is Italy.