OLIVE ‘O8. Wish you were here?

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–Every day this week Elida and Guenter have been sending us pictures of that day’s harvest. This is from today’s photos. Day Three. The idyllic beach weather has finally turned more seasonal and they are rushing to get as much done as they can. In Iowa we call that “making hay while the sun shines.”
olive harvest in Panicale in Umbria in Italy 2008
Having done both haying on the farm and the raccolta di olive at Casa Wassman, it is safe to say “Frankly, Scarlet I’d rather be picking olives.” They know all of us monkeys here in Maine wish we were there up a tree with them. It is hard work and once you start racing the weather, it is work that keeps on coming. Thinking about emptying that first tree in a grove full of trees is daunting. Once you pick a tree, put down your nets, put up your ladder and start pulling those rascals down into the nets. And the next thing you know the tubs keep getting fuller and fuller and then the magic moment comes when it is time to be hauling your olives off to the press.

Elida says they took several thousand kilos off to the press in Pacino, just yesterday. They had to be proud of that. So much of farming is such a throw of the dice. Last year there we hardly any olives to pull into the nets and the few there were, well they were so small some would slip right through. Not this year!

With friends from Africa and South America, the crop is coming in big time. And some other friends from San Francisco are joining that happy throng in a day or two.

In the meantime as Steve from Australia (who, like us, lamely can’t make this year) says “Elida, you are killing us with these pictures.”

Living vicariously, or however we can, until we get back there.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Money can’t buy happiness? How about chocolate? How about zucchini pasta? Picking olives with friends? Can they buy happiness?

Even faux euros can bring a taste of happiness if they should happen to be wrapped around a piece of real Italian chocolate, hand carried from Bar Gallo.

chocolate from Perugia, Umbria, Italy
PANICALE, Umbria – WILDS OF MAINE–Our friends Bud and Susan just got back to Maine from their adventures in Italy. Their son got married at Spannocchia outside Siena and then they stayed in Panicale for a few days. We weren’t too jealous when they confirmed what all our Italian friends have been emailing to say/rub in – that the weather this October has quit being autumnal and returned to the balmy days of summertime. Nothing but soft breezes and blue skies for days on end. La dolce vita in fatti. So. That didn’t make us jealous. And Bud, a bit skeptically I’m sure, took our advice, got his hair cut at Biano’s and it changed his life, as I knew it would. And they ate wonderfully with all the Belficos at Masolino’s next door to our house and no, no, REALLY, not at ALL jealous. But! Everything was all better when they brought back a stack of our Italian maps, tour books, etc. On top of the stack was the 500 euro chocolate from Aldo and family. With a note on the back of a Bar Gallo card.

All is right with the world. What did we do to deserve friends with candy? We felt missed, we felt the love and we felt the green eyed monster slinking away.

We get a raft of magazines at our office. I really have no idea why we have National Geographic TRAVELER magazine, I didn’t order it, but it seems to be coming and I picked this one (Nov/Dec 2008) up to bring home and read because right on its cover it had this well-I’ve-got-to-check-this-out story hook: “World’s Sexiest Small City (HINT: IT’S IN ITALY) Page 98”. Hmmm. What that is all about? Midge got to it first and looked at me over the top of it and wagged her eyebrows a couple times “Want to guess where it is?” she said. “You’ll love it” Quit teasing me, let me see that! What a treat. 12 full color pages on one of our favorite neighbors, ever-chic, ever-Etruscan Perugia.

I’d love to give you a link to the article but that isn’t how TRAVELER is set up, so you may have to take my word that it is a great and engaging article or find a copy in your local magazine shop. Their web site does let you see some great Perugia photos. And like the chocolate bar from Aldo took me to Panicale, this took me back to my days at the Universita’ per Stranieri in Perugia. In a heartbeat, the soles of my shoes were polishing the stones of Corso Vannucci scuffing my way up that promenade to meet friends for a midnight gelato. Con Frutti di Boschi.
olive harvest in Panicale in Umbria in Italy
Right while I am writing this, our dear friend Elida dropped us an email about the olive harvest. Earlier in the week she’d sent us a couple pictures warning that our wisteria was trying to digest our house. So I wrote Dily at Linda’s store and she told her dad Bruno and he’ll teach that wisteria to mess with Casa Margherita! But back to the olive harvest. When it is nice weather, there is no finer way to spend the day than helping friends pick. And then helping yourself to groaning tables of food for hungry farm workers. She mentioned apple tart and zucchini pasta were on the menu today. I remember picking and eating and eating and picking, walking home and falling straight over into bed and sleeping like the proverbial pascha. At seven pm. Like we did the last time we were picking olives at Elida and Guenters. Oxygen and fresh sunshine overload will get you every time.

Ah, I wish we were there. And in my mind, we are.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

More low impact fun in Italy

low impact fun in Italy
PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–It may LOOK like I am just standing absentmindedly in the piazza. See shady character in center photo. That could be me. Spending quality time gazing pensively at my reflection in the back window of an allegedly Smart, but very dusty car. And photodocumenting the moment for all posterity. It may not seem like a productive way to do business. But don’t be fooled. This is power networking I am doing here.

I am, at some level, just waiting. For a miracle. Named Maurizio. Katia says if anyone can unscramble my bushel basket of computer wires and modems and routers and random equipment and make their sum total equal me being on broadband, it just might be her Maurizio aka “Bel Genio”. So, I’ve left the olive harvest celebration lunch and am pacing myself back and forth around the edges of Piazza Regina Margherita. No Maurizio so far.

Ah, but what is this? It is our dear Swedish friend Gun (pronounced goon, not gun) sliding into the piazza in her battleship gray Fiat Panda. This car works for a living. And looks it. Gun uses it like it is a two ton diesel dump truck. She has her cheery Dutch friend with her. We air kiss through the open car window and banter a bit. You have to catch a moment of Gun’s time when and where you can. She says, in a long suffering way, that she has thirty Swedes working for her, picking olives for their room and board. She says feeding them is a full time job; so, she isn’t certain Who is working for Whom. “And Some of them are So Old”, she cries. “They can hardly pick. But they eat like starved people”.

Gun is a bit over 70, but doesn’t look it or act it; you have to know she means typical old people. NOT like her. Well, they couldn’t be like her. No one in their right mind works as hard as she does. I know, I know! Ask me! I have an idea Gun – Why not feed these lollygagging old people according to how well they pick, and see if they pick up the pace? There is the “woosh” of air brakes and our whole field of vision is filled with one apartment-sized tour bus. It is Her Swedes coming back from their olive oil pressing. Gun’s son, the Swedish priest, is in the front window – tour guide microphone in hand. They spill out of the bus and swarm around us, covering her in bright, perky Swedish. She gives me a wistful look, and I’ve lost her.

But look over there. Isn’t that Giancarlo in his shiny acid green Fiat? He’s pulled up to the Stop sign, he rolls down his window, takes a furtive last drag, and kicks a butt out on the street and makes an appointment to for us to get together the next day. We’ve both got cell phones, land lines, emails. But he acts like he totally expected to see me right there, right then. Ok, there he goes. See you tomorrow.

A young guy goes by in a car. Is that our Maurizio? Nope. Guess not. Like I said, I have a cell phone and, just to prove it, it is ringing away. Oh. Hi. It is Maurizio. I hear laughing and see him, waving, a few feet behind me. That WAS him in the car. All the planets aligned in under five minutes of piazza standing. And a couple hours later, Bravo Maurizio had us wired. Life as we know it can go on.

Some of my finest work.

See you in Italy (I’ll be the one in the piazza)

Stew Vreeland

Pressing Engagements in Italy

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.

at the olive pressThe 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. Party time Italian Style
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.

Andrea and Umbrian Truffles
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


Olive this and NPR too

TUSCANY, Italy– I was scooting around the house like a chicken with my head cut off this morning. Off to a frantic start to the new years. Where are my car keys? Shoes? College interviews for one daughter, a trip for another, prescriptions at the drug store, doctor appointments, and on and on all before 8 AM yes 2007 may be the Year of Hit the Ground Running. See 2006, 2005, etc. whew.

But I did actually stop in my buzzzzing around like a bee with a thread tied to one leg. When I heard the soothing tones of Italian language being spoken I stopped and I listened to an NPR story about Picking Olives and Tasting Olive Oil, in Southern Tuscany. A great and timely story about the olive harvest. I don’t know how long the story will be at this link but it was there when I got into the office and Googled NPR and Morning Edition.

Coming up soon is my story of being at the olive oil press with the olives we picked. It is decidedly a fun way to pass the day, you get involved and trust me you feel wanted. During the harvest there is definitely a scramble to recruit any able bodied buddy for any amount of time. If you go to the home page of our site you will see Midge picking away at this fall’s harvest in Italy. She’s so funny. She’s a great hard worker at office or church or committee but, not sure she likes “manual labor”. Obviously not raised on a farm in Iowa where this is not totally an option. But peer pressure is a wonderful thing and once coaxed into it she loved it and ended up picking olives in Panicale in Umbria for a couple wild days and then picked at Spannocchia in Tuscany too. A true gypsy migrant worker that girl. With seventy degree temps and good friends up every tree it was hard work but more satisfying than a day at the beach!

See you in Italy,