25 January 2011, Podere Conti, Dobbiana/Pontremoli/Lunigiana/Toscana…Italy
The bells were chiming an actual song yesterday. It was Sunday again. Leftover breeze carried the gentle murmur of a minister right to my door. I stepped outside to have a better listen and placed my mug on the antique table outside my door. The chic weather beaten tabletop was stamped with the name of the man who’d made it, a stamp with the precision only rubber could render. I began thinking of the volume of trinkets and lolly passing through so many sets of hands for so many decades, particularly handmade ones by artisans, artisans without a face or name who have produced timeless artifacts for us to either love or use, or both.
We spent the morning preparing for the Tibetan Lama and four accompanying monks, creating a sacred space for their pujas and ceremonies. I have been looking forward to their arrival, feeling particularly bereft of spiritual ceremony, and imagining the deep peace invoked by the mere image of deep red robes and burning oil. If I’ve learned one thing on this nomadic mission of mine, it is to expect nothing, for out of this nothing comes great treasure, the unexpected splendor of bright colors against a white void. There is no disappointment in the void of expectation, only surprise and wonder.
The olive oil competition began at three o’clock un-sharp in the nearby hamlet of Caprio. This was Sunday, a gorgeous one, and the entire village crammed into the tiny comune (community center) at the center of the medieval mountain nook. Inside the meeting hall were tables with minimal olive oil displays and slices of bread for tasting. Above them on the white and peach wall, added to the vintage photos of citizens past, handwritten signs boasting the virtues of olive oil consecrated the event. In the far room, a bar stood packed with Sunday card players and local aficionados. Oil schmoil. This was Sunday, the day of cards. Intimate time in the villages of Italy have me marveling at DNA’s victory in survival, the trait of charisma woven into its helix. The elderly men of Italy’s rural areas are none less than stereotypes in a scenic painting, hands dancing in dramatic expression while shadowed faces retreat beneath hats of classic shape and fiber.
In true Italian form, the judges hadn’t yet tasted Podere Conti’s oil, and were now deep into a lecture on olive oil tasting and properties, crammed into a hall with local producers and tasters. Shy on time with the arrival of the monks only an hour or so away, we stayed as long as we could before excusing ourselves. We would receive notes on Podere Conti’s harvest somewhere outside of real time.