On this Italy adventure, as in life (albeit extremely magnified) each day holds special gifts. This morning we were supposed to have gone on a truffle hunt in the Tuscan countryside, and then have a lunch featuring that fine fungus. The weather here has been very dry since May and there are no truffles to hunt, so we were invited to a family farm to learn about the olive harvest, instead. This is the kind of experience that I am unable to articulate to you in the itinerary, though it is the heart of why we are here. This is the family of a friend of Doumina’s, and we went to their private home to invade their private Sunday, and they couldnot have been more gracious or hospitable. 15 strangers pull up in a van that is too big to take the steep and narrow driveway, so we walk the last bit. We help them gather the necessary tools and trek off into the olive orchard.

The nets are placed under the trees, which we are told will provide about 40% less of a crop this year, due to the drought. This mix of 3 families expects to yield 50 liters of oil each, or 150 liters total, and it is jut for their private use, it is not for sale commercially. Fabio, Alessandro and Stephania show us how to strip the trees of the olives, being careful to make sure they land in the nets and not on the ground. The 2 men take turns getting up into the trees and reaching the higher olives for us, as we all find different jobs to do. Some of us gather sticks and stake up the nets to make a ‘bowl’ so the olives don’t just roll out. Other jobs include shaking the olives to the bowl of the net and keeping the nets straight and the olives from underfoot.Raking the olives down from the higher branches and picking those down on the branches closest to the ground.

We made good work of the better part of 3 trees, and we are rather sure that they would have gotten much ore done without us, though they were very sweet to guide us through the process and include stories of the history of what we were doing. They brought refreshing drinks into the orchard and as we cleaned up the tools and made our way back everyone was feeling as though they had a good day. It was nice to be outside in the sun doing a little physical labor. When we got back to the house there was a table set up on the porch where we enjoyed Sunday lunch with the family. First there was a mix of different sausage, salami, bread, soprasetta, proscuitto, fresh sheep cheese (2 months old, since sheep aren’t milking right now) and medium age sheep cheese (6 months), bruschetta and of course wine. They had already had some of the oil pressed and so we got to taste the new oil (heavenly) and then they brought out a bottle of last year’s oil so we could see the differences in color and taste. More food was passed all around, and I tried to warn everyone that this was just the antepasta, that the pasta course would arrive still, but it was difficult to resist these delicious treats on the table.

The pasta was fusilli all’Amatriciana, a bit spicy and molto delisioso! More wine flowed and singing ensued, because with this group the singing and music is as much a part of our day as the food and wine. the family who was so sweet to host us joined in the dancing (only Stephania speaks fluent English, her husband speaks very good English, and the rest of the family speaks very little or none) and we felt like a special part of their lovely family for the day. Every single one of us completely understood how unique and special this day was, and everyone took as much pleasure as possible from each moment. It was truly magical!

Before any of that even took place, on the way up to the farm, we discovered that the Etruscan burial site that had been closed the other day when we tried to go, was now open, so we went in. The Etruscans lived here 6000 years before Jesus Christ and these tombs and sites are being found everywhere. This one has was discovered in the late 90’s and they have been carefully uncovering the site ever since. There is a stairway to a temple, and 3 buriel grounds on the site. There is a river that is making things difficult and they are having to reroute it over one site, so they can get to the other 2 bigger sites, first. It is really amazing to be able to see what they are doing and what is being uncovered. The Eruscan families buried here were very rich, and much of the gold jewelry and pottery being found is taken to the museum, though there are pictures of it on the walls of a makeshift building that we went into. They had renditions of what they thought the site looked like originally, and what it looked like at different stages of the archaeological dig. When I was here 6 years ago there was no fence around it, and we could walk right up to the dig. This time they have learned to keep people out and we could view it from a platform above.  This is the part of the trip that I always wonder if people will like. Will our guests love this history and be amazed at the age and beauty of what we are seeing? Well of course! Thank goodness, they do love it as much as I do and appreciated that little stop very much.

When we got back to Poggio al Sole everyone retreated to various napping places while a few of us took turns getting a great massage. Dinner was a light soup and salad (well, it was a hearty Ribollita, and it was not exactly super light, but compared to the rest of the meals we have had it was very light!) and I was glad to know that my  menu choice was perfect for everyone. No one wanted a full meal and we enjoyed the comfort of the rustic soup. We got to bed about an hour and a half earlier than usual and I was very happy for that!

Today we go to visit Assisi, another wine-maker, have a pasta making class, and I am sure there will be more singing. This is a dream come true and it is so beautiful to share it with these special people who have joined us. Ciao for now!