Three years ago a friend and I were walking in the hills behind Portofino. I blogged about it on Mali’s Travelalphablog.
It was a steep climb behind Portofino, and the path, or more accurately the stairway, wound behind many houses. … At the top of the climb the landscape flattened, and we enjoyed magnificent views north along the Italian Riviera, and south to La Spezia. We walked through ancient olive trees, and saw some equally ancient Italian locals gathering the olives that had fallen from the trees, as they and their ancestors had done, no doubt, for hundreds of years.
For generations, families and communities have come together in the harvest. Working communally shares the load, completes a long task more quickly, and makes a laborious task more enjoyable. Living in a city, we don’t see this in the same way these days now, but as a child I remember neighbours and relatives joining together to help with the wheat harvest, or in working with the sheep. I remember the feeling of being part of something bigger, the laughter as we ate together, the relief when the job was done.
Last weekend, we responded to the call of Peony and Mr Peony, and along with members of her family, workmates, friends, and soccer team-mates, we converged on their property in Martinborough. Not too many years ago this area was full of sheep and dairy farms. Now the fields are filled with grapevines, producing extraordinary pinot noir, and sauvignon. And smaller plots are covered with olives. Which is why we made the trip over the hill – to help with their olive harvest. It was a social event, meeting new people as four or five of us at a time worked on a single tree. We stripped the tree of its olives, poured them into the bins, and moved on to a different tree, with different people.
The weather was perfect for the job at hand. Clouds hung low, but the rain stayed away, there was no wind, and the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. At about 2 pm the gong sounded and lunch was served. We sat outside around a long table, resting gratefully in camping chairs and on the deck steps. After a busy morning filled with activity, lunch was welcome. We enjoyed lunch without guilt – untraditionally eating chili and rice and sangria (our hosts/slave-drivers had recently returned from Mexico) – and ate heartily. And I thought of those wizened old villagers and their forebears enjoying their lunches in the hills of Liguria after the olive harvest, now, three years ago, thirty years ago, three hundred years ago. Times change, but then again, not so much.