(Bit off topic)
I’m in Italy this week for a PV project, which happily coincides with olive picking time. Most trees on the hills around our house have sprouted contadini. Nets are spread out round the trunks like giant spiders’ webs and otherwise self-respecting peasant ladies in headscarves scale the branches like acrobats, raking off the fruit with little hand rakes while their husbands poke long poles tipped with pneumatic fingers into the foliage, flinging olives in all directions.
I went up to Lino’s yesterday morning to borrow a net (after three years we’ve never got round to buying our own and I think by now Lino might be a little disappointed if I didn’t come begging – it’s tradition). When I arrived Lino, Gianna, and an archetypal peasant lady (complete with homespun tabbard and medieval shoes) were eating bread and salami and drinking watered down wine, setting themselves up for a day of picking. Predictably, I left with much more than I asked for. I got my net (Lino had set it aside in anticipation) but I also left with two hand rakes, an armful of stakes (needed when spreading nets on a slope to keep the olives from rolling out), and a large jar full of Gianna’s olives, which she makes with wild fennel that grows at the edges of the fields and which are my all time favourite. They’d have heaped more onto me but I couldn’t physicially carry anything else.
Yesterday afternoon, unable to sit at my computer any longer, Tessa and I bundled up the nets and stakes and headed down into the olive trees. We were apprehensive to see if this year’s harvest would be any better than last year’s dismal take. And in less than an hour it was clear that it would – we reckoned that we got more from our first tree this year than we did from the whole grove last year. It looks like everyone will be getting olive oil from us for Christmas.
Unfortunately the rain has set in today so the harvest is on hold (the olives have to be dry when you crate them up for the press). We have a lot of work to do and only a few days to do it before our return to London. This weather could be very bad news. Of course it’s good news for the paid work I’m supposed to be doing but I’m struggling to maintain focus. Somehow being up an olive tree with a hand rake seems a lot more attractive than staring at my computer screen.