It was a sudden decision by my husband to send me to Spello, with me stuck in a boot cast after surgery, and limited in the time I could be on my feet. In Sacramento, I could not drive myself anywhere, and I was driving my friends crazy with needing rides, or things from the store. With Mike leaving on business, he figured I’d do well in Spello, instead, and so he quickly arranged for me fly to Italy while he was away. At least here, I had a good spot to rest, friends coming around, and would not need to drive, anyway. In fact, I learned to use the “navetta,” a van that carries about 10 passengers, and stops in the piazza right above my door. I found one van driver with NO patience for the extra time it took me to board the van, and one who always ran around to help me in with my cane, my cast and my groceries, Using the navetta, I could get to the supermercato without walking all that way in my boot cast, so I was in business to sustain myself in Spello.
As the six weeks passed, it was nearing the time for me to begin preparing to go home. One of my final pleasures was another meal with Robespier, along with Giovanni, the son of one of his best friends (from Bergamo—5 hours by car distant from Spello), and Giovanni’s girlfriend, Marzia. We had met several times before, and so I was included for a small dinner with just the four of us.
I knew exactly what was on the menu—“trippa.” Robespier loves tripe, and it is one of his cooking specialties, but I am not a fan, at all. The first time he made it for me, and served me a generous portion, I ate it all to be polite. I was thankful for the carrots and the sausage in the bowl that time, meaning there was less room for tripe (I cannot tolerate the texture—no thanks!), but I ate the entire serving and politely declined seconds.
A year or so later, with my friend Cheryl along (Robe calls her “la vichinga,” the Viking), we could see early in the day that he was thawing tripe to make his specialty for me—thinking I had enjoyed it the first time. I had NOT. But it was Cheryl who spoke up, and told Robe that I strongly DISLIKED trippa, and so did she. Robe was shocked, knowing that I had eaten every bite before. I went upstairs to the guest book, turned the pages back a year, and translated my comments: “There is no one else on earth for whom I would have choked down tripe, but Robespier. I hate tripe.” He laughed like mad, and we were served something else that night for dinner.
This dinner, with Giovanni and Marzia, I knew to enjoy my pasta and just decline the next course—the trippa. I declined, while Robe and Giovanni had seconds. This dish is just not for me, barely for Marzia (to be polite–her turn!)—and I cannot see my tastes changing any time soon, but at least Robe knew not to ask, and not to serve me his specialty.
With the beginning of November comes “la raccolta,” the olive harvest. First, All Saints’ Day (a national holiday) and then All Souls’ Day (no longer a holiday) take up the first two days of the month. Then, weather permitting, time stops in Spello while shops close, and everyone able heads to the mountain to collect the olives. There had been real fear that a total lack of summer rain would mean there would be no harvest, but late rains increased the size of the olives just enough to make the harvest worthwhile, and the little Ape trucks drove out each morning, with the nets to spread under the trees, the wooden ladders, and the containers for the olives to bring them back.
In the piazza, an Ape was parked with big green bins in the back, filled with the harvest of the day. Smaller baskets are dumped into these larger ones, and then the bigger ones are hauled to the frantoio, the cooperative just down the hill where the olives are pressed for their oil. Each one of the farmers follows his olives from the first washing to the final weighing of the new oil. That is so that no other olives are mixed with his, and so that his entire production is tallied and delivered back to him. Those wishing to have the cooperative sell their oil take what they need for themselves and for family, and then sell their excess oil to be bottled and sold at the frantoio.
Suzanna and Phil, ex-pats who have lived here several years, were anxious about having enough rain to make the harvest worth the effort, but ended up with enough oil for them and their friends who helped harvest, and one bright green bottle for me! I put it up on the sill by my window in the kitchen, and marveled at the bright green color, and the spicy bite of new olive oil that slowly goes away as the oil sits in the bottle and ages a little. It was quite a treat to have some extraordinary olive oil, only a day or two after it was pressed at the frantoio.
In the garden right outside my house, Signor Antonio was already taking his tomato plants out, which had been full of huge tomatoes all summer. The artichoke plants were cut back, there was some arugula left, and always the sage and rosemary and parsley, but most of the garden was done for the season, and he was beginning to spade under the old plants. In the ingresso, the covered passage to my gate and front door, I could see a small pile of the last tomatoes of the season, barely red at all, and some boots that were drying after having been hosed off from the mud of the garden. All signs here are pointing to fall, in earnest—the gardens are done, the olives are harvested and pressed into oil, and I’m ready to go home.
At last, I got a shot of a little “still life” that has caught my eye since the first time I saw my place with the real estate agent: Signor Antonio had hung up about 5 heads of garlic on the wall, where they have been hanging as long as I have been here at my place—nearly 2 years now. I have tried to move lawn chairs, or garden tools, and I have waited for better light—and finally I got my chance on a cloudy day, and photographed what is a beautiful sight to me—those garlic bulbs and their long-dried leaves, just hanging by a string from a nail in the stone wall. Somehow, this is a small triumph for me, and I can check off one more goal that I’ve made for myself while here.