Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Ancient Olive Orchard in Old Calabria

At first glance, it appeared to be just an orchard of ancient olive trees. We arrived on a day when there had been a lot of rain. The soil was soaked, the sky was muted, the trees glistened from the saturation. We drove around and I took several pictures. My friend and host, Paolo, told me about one of his Scandinavian importers, who whenever he visited the winery, asked to be brought to this place and left alone for several hours. This orchard was planted at the beginning of the Renaissance, when much of Italy was flourishing in the arts, architecture and music, resulting in scores of works of art. Here in Calabria, the Renaissance left less of an imprint. But nature would see to it that Calabria wouldn’t be ignored.

These trees, a family of hundreds, planted on this escarpment overlooking the Ionian, never to leave, never to see the wonders of Florence, Venice or the Vatican. Left out in the sun, the wind, the heat, the cold, the snow, the silence.

Paolo told me that his family had once entertained the idea of buying the orchard. There was an abandoned villa and a crumbling chapel. They wanted to restore it and make it once again a place where people would come and enjoy the spirit of the place. “We asked the owners if they were interested in selling. They answered, ‘If you owned this spot would you sell it?’ We spoke no more to them about it, as a sign of respect.”

In a region where nature and man can often be at odds with each other, in this case, nature is the dominant force, an enduring victory over the desires and schemes of mankind. In this place the trees have developed a marked individuality. You can see it on the trunks, in their stance, their posture, in the arc of their long life. In years where the wind was such an immense force that the trees could only bow to its will to survive, one sees trees of inordinate strength and humility. There is a lesson in every one of these tress for someone. Shock, glee, power, suppleness. Will, resilience, endurance, hope. Illness, striving, disappointment, recovery.

“And how is the oil from these trees, Paolo?” I ask. “Do they produce only a little oil?” Paolo tells me, “No, they are still vigorous, their oil is said to be amazing, powerful, assertive.” I can only imagine.

Packs of friendly dogs patrol the ground, chasing the occasional fox that wanders into the orchard. The soil is fertile and springy, residue from centuries of olives leaves, fruit and branches that have fallen. And while the artifacts of man are crumbling and lying dormant and comatose, this ancient family of olive trees, once planted by the same men as built the villa and the chapel, live on. Tethered to this place, as good as any other place, consecrated by the remarkable resolve this orchard of ancient olive trees have contributed to the patrimony of Calabria.

Author’s note: While Calabria and most of Southern Italy is still struggling socially and economically and there are still many issues that haven’t been resolved in my, my father’s and my grandfather’s lifetimes, there is a natural energy that precluded the human condition and the drama that is harvested from it. My intent in this post is not to focus on social issues; that is for another time. This post is meant to bring light to a timeless beauty, created by Nature and helped (a little) by the hand of men and women.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Anonymous said...

Simply amazing. And humbling. Wish I could have been there with you to see them. Yip

elizabeth@calabrianvoice.com said...

Dear Sir,
We have a small paper (Local) and would like to follow your blogg for reproduction. We will of course, give you recognition as your blogg.We want to inform about Calabria and its beauties rather than crime and bad things happening. Your story is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing! Where is this orchard located? Do you know if you can you still visit?

Real Time Analytics