Saturday, October 31, 2009


The kind you catch in nets. Olive oil. Green gold Homer called it. I get excited by it. Most people do around here.

One of the main rationales I had for buying my property is that it came with almost a hundred living oil wells. Few plants give so much and demand so little. Each tree is like a person with it's own shape and demeanor. With their drab green leaves and silvered undersides on twisted trunks and gnarly branches, nothing is prettier in the light and wind. Few things possess more individual character, yet each is a clone-of-a-clone-of-a-clone from a single ancient ancestor.
In 1985, just as the world was discovering the high quality of Tuscan olive oil, a killing frost wiped out most of the olive trees in Tuscany. But a small area around Montalcino and Montisi was spared. My 90-year-old trees, with their perfect southwestern exposure, are survivors of that frost. Old villagers like to remind me of this when they stop by.

A few days ago, just as the olive season was getting underway, Talini, the beloved village miller, had a stroke. He is not expected to regain consciousness. Now, at the time of year his frantoio (oil mill) usually ran until midnight, it is quiet. In a place where fewer young people care to carry on the traditions, another artisan, another living library of knowhow, tales and wisdom is being razed by time and age.
Two autumns ago, just after Sally and I bought the property, Talini gave me the first taste of my own just pressed oil. He got real joy out of my reaction. Now I have oil fever. I owe it partly to him.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Raking Lite

This little rake is about as technical as it olive harvesting gets around here. There is no better way to deliver unbruised fruit to the olive press, the kind that makes Tuscan oil famously flavorful. It is quiet pleasant work. The swish of the gloved fingers and rastrelini (little rakes), the banter, the birdsong.I stopped by to help (from right to left) Giovanni, Arnaldo and Melina Mangiavacchi harvest their olives today. This is what one does here. When you see someone you know up in a tree, you stop and you pick. And you talk. And you tell jokes. And you get introduced to numerous other people who stop by to pick and talk and joke. Tuscan networking at it's finest.

This is particularly important picking and talking because the Festival of the New Olive Oil will be celebrated this weekend in our village of Montisi. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Raking Light

Yesterday, I learned this is the best kind of light for, well, raking.

After 3 days of intense rain, the weather broke to gorgeous autumn weather and everyone converged on the property to get the water system, roads, excavating, etc. almost almost done. Quasi finito as they say. It was a big, big day.

While I stained the upstairs cement floors with my secret non-acid-wash recipes (to be revealed in another blog): Cesare and two other electricians installed the 3 water system pumps: household, cistern, and waste water purifier (Yes, we will reuse every drop.); Alvaro, the excavator, fixed most of the road damaged by cement and delivery trucks, and sculpted most of the scarpata (the hill of spoil that had to be removed to plant our house in its hillside); and father and son carpenter team, Ierio and Roberto Perugini delivered the persiennes (louvered shutters ubiquitous to this area) which they and the Brandinis will install tomorrow!

But perhaps the biggest event of the day was seeing the Brandini’s tear down the orange security fence. It was a little like ripping open a birthday gift. After one year and one month, the cantiere, the worksite, is now officially open. And just in time for our IKEA kitchen to be delivered and installed on Wednesday.

Which brings me back to that certain cant of light. Because of all the mud I don't want IKEA to track in on my newly stained and sealed floors, I began spreading clean sand around the entrances where sticky fango (mud) would get tracked in from the newly leveled “front yard.” Then I realized that because the clay was soft and pliable and not yet packed and baked hard by the sun, it would be much easier to do whatever grading and leveling I needed to do RIGHT NOW, TODAY! So, as everyone else was finishing their day, I raked the whole thing out. As you can see from the first shot, by bringing everything into relief the contrasting low-angle light of the late day sun really helped me get it level and smooth.

And speaking of relief: I didn’t realize I'd forgotten all about my leg until I was pulling into the drive at Villore, well past sundown. There is no euphoria like that which floods you when chronic pain abates.

I used the banged up rusty rake head I brought over in my suitcase. It's nothing special, I've just had it for 30 years and 3 gardens. Note the nuts, bolts, screws and baling wire needed to attached it to an Italian handle after it broke. Very contadino.

Maybe it's me, or maybe it's Tuscany, but I think just mending a broken rake handle, and then using it, can be a soulful enterprise.

Tomorrow: IKEA!