Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Things They Carried

Before I returned to New York to seek gainful freelance work, I went to say good-bye to Giovanni. I found him perched on his orange Fiat tractor, sowing grano, winter wheat, in a beautiful field between our farms and the village of Petroio. And of course he was smiling.

Giovanni is a master of attrezzature agricole, farm impliments. Before we began to build our Tuscan house, I made a treasure hunt of discovering every artifact and iron bone left around the stone shack, chicken coops, garden, fields, vineyard and olive grove by the contadini who once worked this land.

Here are the tools of a trade I dug up. All are antiques. But more importantly, each is patinated by someone's sweat and use. Each is a treasure to me because they defined and found definition in someone's work-toughened hands, and were worn or sharpened down and then lost or discarded by the industrious hard-scrabble people I’m trying to connect with and record before this way of life is evaporates.

Each of these hand-forged spades, pitchforks, hoes, brush hooks, scythe, sickle, rake, harrow, trowel, flywheel, and stone mortar (possibly a deconsecrated baptismal font) resonates with the past. With a little sharpening and a new handle, I will put a few of these tools back to work in the spring when Giovanni shows me how to use them. And I will hope to get a sense of what it felt like to hold them in his hands when Giovanni was a younger man.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Sad Thing & A Good Thing

Because a broken leg prevented me from tending vines and making wine this year as planned , much of the fruit simply rotted on the vine. And because I had to remain at the house this week to answer questions for the plumbers, electricians, builders, and excavator, I was not able to work with Giovanni Mangiavacchi as planned.

During down periods, I pruned. It’s important to unburden grapevines of weight and growth so they can start next spring’s growth with maximum vigor. And since a worried plant fruits best, well-pruned vines carry into winter dormancy an urge to flower and set more fruit next year.

Though pruning is good meditation, it’s sad dropping bunch after bunch of overripe, mildewed, and sometimes perfectly good grapes to the ground. At the end of the day, I couldn’t help taking the best bunches back to Villore to juice and mix with sparkling water for a sip of something better than Grape Nehi and a taste of things to come.