I recently spent a wonderful week relaxing and enjoying the green and quiet of Tuscany, an area of Italy steeped in viticulture and olive oil production.
We went there to rest, write and read, dip into the pools of mountain streams, and kick back high in the quiet mountainous area outside Fivizzano, an ancient town commanding spectacular views of the Lunigiana area.
We saw wild deer playing, and heard tales of wild boar. Here’s a quick plug for the place we stayed at: La Mandria, meaning ‘the herd’……a small herd of creative souls tending 34 organic acres, ably managed by The Little Herbert.
Also, it is not essential to drive (Italian drivers are only marginally worse than Israeli drivers, and the waiver on a hire care contract is extortionate), as the region is well served by rail, and a long meandering journey to/from Rome topping and tailing the holiday just add to the pleasure. The area is prima for hikes and cleansing the lungs. The area is very much one of the world’s ‘green lungs’, and to be in a place without light pollution is also welcome.
The area of Lunigiana in Tuscany seems pretty much unspoilt. It is rich is forest, with chestnut (chestnuts and products derived from them are a speciality of the area), some walnut, spruce in abundance, and even bamboo now taking root. Most homes are heated with wood, as gas and electricity are expensive.
While the older generations continue to farm and cut and forage for wood, the younger generations are turning away from this, citing time & labour hours as the reason. It felt that the older knowledge of clearing wood for home use and also ecological regeneration remained embedded in the culture, but that this could soon be lost, as evidenced by some clear-cut areas of forest and extreme pollarding.
The connection to the landscape as lived by the older generation of Italians (and many incomers) was evident in lovingly tended vines and olive groves on small patches of garden and grove, almost surrounding every house.
Most households in this region produce their own olive oil and their own house wine, of various qualities. Every patch of land, either around the house or in a larger allotment area, has a cultivated vine area, and a stand of fertile olive trees. Flat land is often terraced, to accommodate the vines and maybe a small vegetable garden.
The connection to the vine and the olive stood out for me as as example of an earthed, rooted culture. Never mind the current Italian political shambles, never mind the wavering euro and the immigration issue; many Italians remain connected to the art of growing and cultivating, and tasting the fruit of their labours.
This is something missing here in Israel: yes, there are now approximately 400 wineries here, some of them ’boutique’ and organic, and olive pressing technology is developing well, and exports of both products are up, but the personal connection to growing and cultivating is rare, and doesn’t filter through the generations of Israeli’s.
Sure, the State is only – proudly – 60 years young this year, and is blossoming in many ways. This attitude of growing and reaping is strong in the West Bank – Arab culture too maintains the personal and family connection to olive trees, olives and oil.
After the shmitta year has passed, maybe the growing environmental movement here might foster this connection to growing and caring for trees and vines, or on a smaller scale, container gardening. Growing and reaping, on whatever scale, broadens and deepens connection to earth – living soil crumbling through our fingers, and strengthens our care for the wider environment too.