Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 1, was a holiday here in Italy: All Saint's Day (Ognisanti). Traditionally, it is a day to honor the dead--to visit cemeteries, put flowers on graves, and remember the ancestors who made you who you are today, very similar to our Memorial Day. And, like our Memorial day, it has become over time a great time to take a long weekend and get out of town. It's late-fall date lends itself well to trips to the mountains. For us at the Bible school, it meant a taking a day off from our regular students and classes (most of whom were out of town anyhow) and spend a day in Alfredo's Olive grove.


Alfredo, one of the church members here in Florence and a good friend to all of us, owns some land in the hills just outside of Scandicci. He has several hundred olive trees on his hillside, and November 1 generally marks the beginning of the olive harvest. We met him at a nearby gas station at 9:00 and followed him up the steep, winding hill. At points, it didn't look likely that our van would fit on the narrow curves. Greg was driving, as usual, and he said, "Just think, this is a two-way street!" It was one of those roads that are so narrow that you have to honk when you come to a curve to make sure no one is coming around it from the other direction. It was peaceful up there--you could see the buildings of Scandicci down in the valley, but we were far from the noise and traffic. We parked in the middle of the olive grove and walked down to a corner.

For us first-timers, Alfredo showed us how to put the huge round tarps, specially made for the purpose, around the trees. Then, those on the ground use small rakes with short handles to rake each branch, knocking all the olives down onto the tarp. A couple of people would climb up into the tree or lean a ladder against it to reach the higher branches. Luckily, olive trees aren't exceptionally tall. You have to be very careful where you step while working, or you will have olive oil on the tarp a little too soon. After the tree was sufficiently relieved of its olives, we would pick up the tarp and dump them into crates.


It was a cloudy, rainy-looking day, but after a few sprinkled in the morning it never really rained. At first we were all expecting to freeze, but as Alfredo explained the process to us and we got to work, we realized that it was perfect sweatshirt weather so long as we kept moving. We would have gotten hot climbing around and under the trees if it had been sunny.
We worked all morning, usually doing three or four trees at a time. At lunchtime, Alfredo left us a little early and built a fire in a little clearing near the top of the hill. By the time we came up the hill, he had sausages and ribs grilling. They smelled great after a morning in the grove, and the smell of a bonfire reminded me of camping trips, burning leaves in the fall, and the wood stoves my grandparents used to have. He also had brought along a huge round loaf of bread, gouda cheese, and of course a bottle of olive oil from last year's harvest. We ate the bread with the brilliantly green olive oil and a little salt. Now, I'm not always such a fan of olive oil, but eating out in a field on top of a hill after a morning of gathering the olives, it seemed to taste unbelievably fresh.


After we finished our meal, we sat around our makeshift table on the ground and talked and rested. We picked a few more trees in the afternoon, and then tallied up our crates. We gathered fourteen crates of olives that day, off of about so many trees. It was a fun experience to see a bit of rural life in this area, and I think we all appreciate what goes into the bottle of olive oil on our table a little more.
And if you want to see my pictures of the day, they are here: http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/555384596EWQFii.

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