PACIANO, Umbria, Italy– It is a gorgeous day in Paciano as the road winds its way up past il Casale Restaurant toward the frantoio. The olive mill. Manicured green, green stair-step terraces of silver-leafed olives shimmer in the sun and look for all the world like they were done by Disney. Can’t be real. Have to take my word for it. Mouth open. Camera closed. I missed the photo op but lived the moment.
The view from the hilltop frantoio was resort quality. Lake in distance, Cortona beyond that, very romantic. Inside the mill everything was all business, all chrome and spankyclean, industrial blue, high-tech-looking Italian olive oil pressing machines. You can wax as poetic as you want to. But basically, your hard fought olives go in here and the oil comes out there. In your polished metal can at the other end of the system. I came, I saw, I got it. Fine, ok, lets eat. As best as I can tell, anything potentially interesting is happening inside those machines and they’ll tell you all about it if you ask. People were asking. The answers sounded like machine noise to me. And heck, I’ll take their word for it about how it all happens. My attention wavered in oh, about ten minutes.
Did someone say lunch? NOW, I’m focused.
Steve’s hosting the post pressing party, an Italian tradition, so he’s got a reason to bail out of Machine World and I jump in with him. To help. Well, I offered. He says we’re “Having soup”. Yes, yes we are. Military sized caldrons of it. Plus grilled sausages. And salads. And grilled Italian focaccia sandwiches. And we are so not considering the lunching officially started until the other pressing buddies have triumphantly entered with repurposed wine bottles full of the cloudy green, minutes-old olive oil to drizzle over hot hot wedges of grilled and garlic rubbed bread. Even as we eat Steve keeps slicing and dicing and seasoning and stirring things bubbling, sizzling in various shiny pots. And bringing yet more food to the table. Where is he getting all this? You know the clowns spilling out of the tiny car at the circus? That is Steve with his spotless galley kitchen.
Maybe the spotless galley thing is why I didn’t get pressed into asst chef role so much. I was allowed to carry things to the table. Like cheese. How much could I hurt cheese. Did I mention Cheese? Well, I should have because we were covered up with cheese. And bread in loafs and sticks and circles and one loaf is white tuscan bread and the next is dark and heavy and, and its stacked up and down the table next to plates of nibbles and snacks and bottles of wines and we keep eating and passing and passing and eating and OH NO it is FIVE PM and yet, we continue to keep LUNCHING . . . Is that my phone ringing? Is it my stomach calling in a Stop Order? No, no, it is happy Peter and Sarah who have just landed. They’ve flown in from Maine to see the progress on their home’s renovation. And . . . can I go to dinner with them? Dinner? Like, with food? Tonight? At Eight! Dear God in Heaven! Is this Lemoncello I’m drinking while I’m distractedly talking to them on the phone? Am I in the early stages of a food coma? What! Does Steve really have a pan of Tiramisu in each hand and a bottle of champagne under each arm?
Must leave, must leave now. Every man for himself. Maleducato Stew is backpedaling urgently away from the table. With some waves, and hugs of congrats on the raccolta to the proud Mini Oil Barons of Panicale, he’s done and gone. Wave bye bye to Baked Stuffed Stew.
A couple hours later – hours, mind you – the wheel has turned another revolution. Peter and Sarah’s stay here is beginning. And mine is ending. Ending just as it started. With Andrea shaving white truffles over home made pasta at Masolino’s. How I worked up even a morsel of an appetite in a couple hours I do not know. Go home, Stew. Go now. Pack. Close up your soon to be lonely with out you house. Tell it Goodnight. For now. Because even in leaving, I’m thinking about the next trip. And the next time we get to say . . .
See you in Italy