Thursday, November 22, 2012

Olive Harvest IV Tuscany Italy Thanksgiving

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Today is the American holiday of giving thanks. There are enough ex-pats here in Firenze, Italia, that tonight will be my second American-style holiday meal. It kills me. I have a love-hate relationship with Thanksgiving. Of course, I enjoy the family and friends getting together part. I have had great holidays, and so-so holidays. (‘So-so’ usually means alone. As much as I enjoy being by myself, the holidays are not the best time to be scheduling that.) But the part I really have never adapted to is that no matter how much self-control I try to exhibit, I always end up eating far more than makes me feel good.

I have been sharing with you on recent posts my excursion into the countryside of Tuscany for the annual olive harvest. It was a glorious weekend that I am never likely to forget. I enjoy being outside most of the time and I must be around trees in order to keep my sanity. Some people think that is weird, but I think that NEEDING to have coffee every day is weird. To each their own . . .

But seriously, while picking olives, Viola invited us to stay for dinner with the family and other friends who were helping pick olives from the trees in Renato and Giuliana’s field. We were a decent-sized group and I never cease to be amazed when people prepare food, especially for a lot of people at once. “Volentieri” I replied! They had new oil, lots of vegetables to dunk into the oil, and then the courses began. . . oh, my. And it seemed that each new dish was more fun than the previous.

The wine flowed and the conversation at the table was lively and fun. Roberto was charmed when 10-year-old Marco asked his 90-year-old grandfather Renato where he had put his teeth and Renato said, “I keep them in the bedroom!” I am still learning Italian and also some of the slang and dialects. It was lovely to have an Italian friend with me who speaks English quite well. I missed fewer jokes that evening.

By the time the calcio (soccer) game came on the tele, we were pretty tipsy. [It was a good game to watch and the Florentine team won. I admit that I did enjoy it, especially the cheering and hugging at the table. Forza Viola! Purple is the color for the Florentine team.] However, after dinner came dessert, including the sweet liquor Vin Santo with biscotti and chocolate. Grappa followed, but this time I refrained. I was enjoying my buzz as it wuzz, thank you very much.

After helping Giuliana and Daniela wash and dry the dishes near a warm fireplace in the kitchen, I saw that Giuliana had passed around her copy of my book, “My Life as a Street Painter in Florence, Italy” for friends to see. That would never have occurred to me to do and I was touched that she thought of it. [This book makes a great gift, and, if interested, click on the title and you may order it from Amazon in several different countries.]

Today, I am sending you the last of the series of my wonderful weekend with the olive trees and the locals. We picked and gathered the olives and then loaded the cassettes into the tiny truck. The olives were moved to a shelter near the house and for good reason: It rained the next day. One cannot pick wet olives because they will start to mold before you could press them. Next time I go back, Renato said they would show me where the pressing happens, if the harvest has been completed that is. I will be returning soon… If you are hungry for more images, check out my photo album “Italian Scenics” on Facebook. Thank you so much for joining my journey and for your support and interest in my art work and the work of my maestro and friend Vasily Fedorouk.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Olive Harvest III Tuscany Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Wow, this holiday week has already been a doozy! Last night I enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving dinner hosted by one of my long-time blog readers Barbara Barrett that I finally got to meet this past summer. Barbara filled me up with such good food and her warm environment, visiting “long-time” friends and meeting a few new ones that I was finally asleep before midnight. You know you need it when your friends start commenting on how tired you look. Boh!

So, today, I also take the lazy man’s out and just post more images of my wonderful weekend during la raccolta delle olive (olive harvest) here in Tuscany, Italy. [P.S. The images of me were taken by 10-year-old Marco, for the most part. Feel free to leave comments on my blog site.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Olive Harvest II Tuscany Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

No time to write today . . . must not be late to the studio! Here are some more images from my lovely weekend picking olives. I should mention that the olives are not ripe, really, and quite bitter (I apparently need to taste to believe). Each tree had olives of different colors and at different stages. Some were actually different types of olives. The solid green ones came off easier than the half green/half black. They mix the types for the best oil. The funny part was that one friend laughed at me for biting into an olive out of pure curiosity, then he and I got to laugh again later at our Italian friend for trying it himself and being more theatrical in the face he made as he spit it out. I guess I need to work on my dramatic expressions. Apparently, ripe olives make lousy oil.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Olive Harvest Tuscany Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky my life feels. This weekend was a glorious one. Four of my artist friends joined me in a little trip to the countryside in Tuscany, not too far from Florence, Italy. It is the time of la raccolta delle olive (olive harvest). The women stayed for only a short time, drawing the fields before returning to Firenze. The other two artists stayed to pick olives before we broke for lunch. Here are two shots I took not far from the house – Giovanni (left) is the nephew of the landlady. I found it interesting that they use parachutes for the olive-catching nets sometimes. They love them because they are so lightweight. Good use for a spent ‘chute, I would say!

Down in the campo (field), we saw the mascot in the truck with farmer Renato making his way over to greet us. Next is a shot I took of Irish artist Brian Smyth as he was working. I must say that the day was beautiful, the light gorgeous! Nets or parachutes were pulled to a neighboring tree and then a group of us would set to work removing olives. Some of us used just our hands; others had rakes and clever tools for pulling the fruit from the more distant branches.

Renato is the owner of the field, with his 78-year-old bride Giuliana. Renato turned 90 two days before I gained 48 years this summer. He and Giuliana met when she was a teenager after Renato went to another town some kilometers away and saw her during la passeggiata. It is a lovely story and they have a beautiful family life going on in Tuscany. Here Brian caught me giving Renato a thank you kiss.

These next images are beauts, if I may be so immodest. Sergio has so much character built-into his figure that I could not help but photograph him in his work. Then Roberto helps Giuliana move a net. And shortly after that, the net is in place. Roberto is from Santa Margherita Liguria, along the Italian Riveriera Coast. I joked with him that this is a different kind of fishing. Is the light not amazing?

After lunch Roberto, Brian and I took a walk up into the colline (hills). We saw a snake and were trying to entice him off of the road, but then realized that he was moving in vain. He had already been run over by some vehicle and his spine was crushed in parts. He was dead by the time we passed him on our way back. Horrible. However, we also saw horses, a sign for a neighbor who lost a pet pig, and -- further up into the woods than I had ever gone before -- some of the human locals. They were hunting (and finding) mushrooms and specific green leaves for tasty salads. It was fun speaking with them about various plants, including some red berries that look a little like strawberry, but grow on taller bushes and are safe to eat. I must say that the smell of the damp earth after the recent rains and the feel of the stones and dirt under my feet was the medicine I have been craving lately.