I have been learning some very interesting things about rural life in Sicily.
There is a constant battle over land between growers (oranges, olives, almond trees etc.) and animal farmers.. sheep goats, cattle. Unless land is fenced in, cattle is herded to wherever the grass is growing, no matter who the land belongs to. In dry or winter season, burning the land stimulates the grass to grow, and so herders will burn just to get the grass growing for their hungry flocks. I saw an appealing sight the other day, when just such a flock clambered over a stone wall to get into an olive grove. I hadn’t yet been made aware of the significance…. When a goat, passing through olive groves, for instance, stands on it’s hind legs to nibble at leafy shoots, the owner of the olive tree can say goodbye to his tree, as there is something in the saliva of the goats that causes its destruction, so not only is the land trampled and burnt, and beautiful old stone walls broken down, but there is irreversible damage to the tree. Add into this equation the possibility that the trespassing herder has Mafia protection and there is nowhere for the landowner to turn.
I heard of a woman whose neighbour agreed to help with mending a roof in exchange for permission to graze. 10 years on, the roof is as it was and a law which is similar to squatter’s rights means that she has lost her land to the
neighbour, because his animals have been there for so long.
It is certainly not all roses.
Having said this, there is a lot of give and take, with local growers helping each other out and in exchange, oranges/wine/oil in abundance.
I helped Susan decant some olive oil from large flagons in the out-house into ‘inside’ jars…. the work involved in gathering, pressing and transporting the oil makes it a very precious commodity and the smell and beautiful colour and consistency makes it really feel like you are handling gold.
Then we went off to collect some wine from a local vinery. Huge old barrels with new wine in one cellar and last year’s in another and people coming and going and tasting and gesticulating.
If you have never tasted an orange straight from the tree, well, it’s one of those sensational delights that are hard to put into words! I don’t usually like oranges that much, but after an especially salty meal the other night, I woke up parched and had to keep going until I had thirstily demolished 3 in a row!!
A little way along the road is a marvelous traditional bakery. The ovens are kept stoked 24/7 and we watched one of the staff shoving branches into the oven with a long metal pole. I could imagine the industry needed to keep this lot going. Someone has to chop a continual supply of wood. Someone has to deliver it to the bakery, unload it and then keep the ovens fed.
A queue or rather a crowd had gathered to wait for the fresh bread, only to be asked to wait a further 10 minutes and maybe more, as there might not be enough loaves in the next batch for everyone in the small shop.
We cleared the loaves that had been sitting for perhaps an hour or so; still warm and utterly delicious, especially where the outside was slightly browner and went off for a lovely walk on the beach, gathering a handful of hot mustard leaf and one stalk of wild asparagus!
This is a land of great growing abundance… So much lovely fresh food and so much hard physical work that goes into bringing it from the land to the table.
It is very direct and local collaboration forms a big part of the community and it’s traditions. It can all get a bit complex, as relationships, obligations and boundaries can become a little fudged, but on the whole, it seems to work well.
Tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fresh bread, cheese and a glass of wine, with some foraged salad leaves. Bags of fresh orange juice. A meal that feels so full of flavour and that I can appreciate for being all the closer to it’s origin.
Simple and a very real pleasure.
And then, just to put a contrasting note in…this afternoon and into the evening, I have been playing Mozart, Schubert, Prokoviev and Beethoven with an absolutely fabulous young violinist called Fiore this afternoon, in preparation for a concert we are going to give to celebrate the arrival of an elderly but very good upright piano in the cultural centre here in Noto!
I really couldn’t make this up if I tried!
The third movement of the Prokoviev 1st violin sonata will now haunt me with it’s beautifully evocative chromatic phrases and the Mozart and Schubert are just so happy. As for Beethoven, there just isn’t anyone else who can do what he does. Then back to the farmhouse ( where Fiore’s Mum not only grows for the market, but also makes violins) for pumpkin gnocchi.
All in one day. O, and somehow I haven’t had time to ride the bike today….
I will add some pics a bit later, but for now, it’s a bit cool and I am going to make a hot water bottle and flop into bed.
I just loved the turquoise van with the pretty pink door above…… And the pink of the clothes horse, leads the eye around beautifully……
There is some very throaty, guttural yelling going on next door….. No doubt accompanied by numerous hand gestures. I haven’t been here long enough to tell if it is all perfectly good-natured.
Night all 🙂