Tuesday, 22 October 2013


After three of our five weeks here it is time to report in. This time you will find us weary, not our usual selves. The reason we are tired and sore is because we’re spending a lot of our time cleaning up the olive fields before the harvest. In a normal year a local chap comes in and mows/strims the fields clean, but not this year. There is a tractor that belongs to a brother but it has a broken accelerator, making it too dangerous to use, so we are left with hand strimming everything. The only “respite” is to get out the hand secateurs to cut off the brambles around the base of the trees at ground level. Anything sharp needs to be trimmed as it will catch on the olive nets and rip them. Consequently I have a very sore neck and sore hands and Vicki has sore hands from using a big pair of loppers every day. Role on harvest time! It is supposed to start in the next few days but the olives don’t look ripe enough. Normally they pick when half the olives have turned black so they only have to strip the trees once – yes, all olives start green and turn black when ripe. After almost no rain here over summer we have had a lot recently, often accompanied by thunder and lightning. This has slowed the ripening significantly so we are hoping to get some picking in before we leave.

One of the unused rooms, with 'inhabitants' ...
What makes up for it all is the location. The old house (which I have mentioned before) is part 14th Century, part 17th) and split into three apartments belonging to each of the siblings of an Italian diplomat. I’m sure Marina, our host, has the best apartment as it has a lovely balcony on which I am currently sitting – with a Birra Moretti in hand – in the sunshine looking out over the heavily wooded hills in this rather remote spot. Some of the old rooms have a few surprises, like a stuffed condor! We’ve had a couple of trips into Florence so far – it is about 25km away – and a promise of a few days there before we leave. Marina has a lovely apartment in a townhouse there, dating from the 1860s and once again owned by her family then split into three apartments for the children. Her one has very high ceilings adorned with frescoes and mosaics on the floor, still looking very original.
Marina's apartment in Florence

Florence. Beautiful. Those two words go together so well. It really is the city of art – there are numerous galleries and museums, statues and beautiful buildings everywhere: churches, palaces of the Medici and other noble families, so much history. And the gelato shops and the shopping. It may be touristy but there are great leather jackets and shoes and bags and other clothes to buy. Pity our backpacks are full – anything new we buy means we have to throw something else out to make room! The downside to all this wonder is that Florence is seen as being very expensive for Italy and it is full of tourists, mainly American and Asian tour groups following their leaders. We love it though so we’re looking forward to our next visit. We'll do a separate post on Florence later ...

The staircase to the upstairs apartments
Being up here at Baronci has become a routine. Each morning we get up for our breakfast while Marina just has her coffee. Like most Italians she can’t function without one. We either work in the fields or doing odd jobs around the house while Marina drives down to the local village of Santa Brigida to get the newspaper and fresh bread. As the bread doesn’t have any preservatives – nor salt – it really needs to be fresh every day. Lunch is often bread, tomatoes, various slices of salami and mortadella (Vicki, somewhat unkindly, describes it as tasty luncheon sausage), and a selection of local cheeses. All washed down with oodles of Baronci olive oil. Then it is back to work for a couple of hours before showers and relaxing, while Marina cooks yet another wonderful meal for us. She hasn’t repeated herself yet either!  Dinner is washed down with oodles of wine.

Mowing the flagstones ...
Baronci consists of several olive fields and overgrown gardens plus a decent amount of forest. The forest is mainly chestnut trees that have been pruned (”coppiced”) to produce several small trunks. They would normally be cut quite young to create good straight poles but there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for them now so they have been left and are pretty messy and useless. The forest has public access – people can take anything but not cut the wood – so there are always people wandering through it picking up chestnuts or hunting for fungi. We have been for several rambles through the forest with Marina looking for fungi. Luckily she knows which are which as there are so many different types and I keep picking up the poisonous ones! The black ones and the yellow ones seem to be the best.

Baronci in the forest
The other inhabitants of the forest (apart from squirrels and foxes) are wild boar. The hunting season is from September to October and seems to be every second day. These days start with dogs barking and guns going off from early in the morning. They always sound so close so we are advised to take a radio into the fields or talk very loudly. Often we see groups of hunters standing around their cars in camouflage gear waiting to start, presumably after the mandatory coffee. Given the racket that sometimes occurs they are either very bad shots or just excitable. Our fields are full of trails from the pigs so there must be a lot around.

The lounge and dining area

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