2 November 2015

1102B1102CThere’s huge excitement in CdP. At first it was all a secret: someone’s plough had hit something hard and, lo and behold!, a hole had opened up and there was an Etruscan tomb down there. Briefly, no one would say where. But it was only a matter of time.

No more than six hours later, everyone knew everything: where, what, pictures doing the rounds, authorities looking conspiratorial and knowledgeable, cellphones ringing incessantly to pass on details at lighning speed. I’m betting that now would be a good time to do a burglary because every security bod from Carabinieri to traffic wardens seem to be guarding this bit of antiquity round the clock.

The excitement is genuine and heart-felt: there are few Italians who don’t react with delight to brushes with their own history, especially of the very local variety. But here I also discern a large element of (justified) smugness.

Just across the Tuscan border in Chiusi (ancient Clusium), they have unearthed great Etruscan treasures over the centuries, filling a charming museum; and they have tombs galore. Here in CdP on the other hand, we’re a tiny bit miffed – though we’d never admit it – that this enigmatic pre-Roman people passed us by.

We’re inordinately proud of our medieval town structure, our glorious traditional brickwork, our peasant culture and the late 19th-century murals in our wealthier townhouses; we never fail to drop into conversation the fact that this was where Renaissance maestro Perugino saw the light of day. Those of us who appreciate the more recherché town delights relish the magnificent 14th-century Crucifixion fresco by Nicola di Bonifazio, hidden away in a church oratory with no sign or lighting to speak of, and the quaintly wonderful Museo di Storia Naturale. But the one rather anomalous ‘Etruscan’ obelisk in palazzo della Corgna, though treasured, is a rather meagre link to that ancient people who thrived such a short distance away. A proper tomb, however, with jolly Etruscan revellers in terracotta reclining on their sarcophagi, puts us back on the map. No wonder everyone’s so thrilled.

Now, I presume, the long ‘what on earth do we do with it?’ process begins. When we were renovating this house, we harboured a fantasy of knocking through into a cave of riches. The reality is that if you do find yourself sitting on top of an archeological site, what generally happens is that there’s much excitement, a brief flurry of fame, some initial visits from regional experts, a quick fence thrown up around the area, then years (decades in one case I know of) of inaction during which you have no access to large swathes of your own property on pain of huge fines or prison sentences. Then suddenly one day after scores of complaints and endless pleading, a team descends, back-fills the whole thing, and everyone pretends nothing has happened.

This video (I call it ‘Three Minutes of Milling’) posted on local on-line news outlets, sums up the approach. A lot of people. Looking involved. Doing nothing. Credit, however, where credit’s due. I’m in no doubt that our pro-active town council will see that it’s protected and given the respect it deserves. Eventually.

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It’s a marvellous autumn of crisp blue days. Some of them have been swept by a biting wind, granted. And clouds have descended once or twice. But on the whole it is the kind of autumn you dream of, and the colours grow more spectacular with each passing day.

Terror that unseasonably warm weather might bring back the olive fly that destroyed last year’s crop has pushed everyone, us included, to harvest early.

It’s funny how much the raccolta has shifted, even since we’ve been here. The old contadini picked through December; our neighbour Mario would happily continue into January. It was something you did with frostbitten fingers, suffering both the infinite boredom of the activity itself and the inclemency of the weather. Then a new generation opted for quality over quantity, going for the tangy sharpness of early-picked fruit rather than the blander stuff from olives left on the tree until the yield shot up. Each year it seems to creep forward a few days. The boredom remains (it’s a case of once-bitten-twice-shy, and innocents keen to help pick dwindle as the years go by) but at least the weather is more acceptable.

As I settled in for a day of scratched and battered fingers, aided by a visiting Brit and her visiting friend, upped popped Indi the so-called gardener with one of those car-battery-powered shakey things – a long arm topped with rubber spikes that twirl and vibrate among the branches. All that was left for us to do was spread and organise the net beneath the three trees that actually had any fruit on them and in the space of about an hour we had 50 kg of olives in our crates. I don’t think we’ve ever had so much… or rather, I don’t think we’ve ever had the patience to pick so much.

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Last Saturday we put our bikes in the car, then set off along a very tiny bit of the route taken by the Eroica vintage bike race. Our goal was Lucignano d’Asso, a jumble of 15 or so houses, most of them very much unreconstructed, squashed together on a hillside looking out over the incomparable Val d’Orcia . In a tiny, dark alimentari (grocer’s), the bent and gnarled owner kept bottled water in an Etruscan rock tomb, and instructed anyone who wanted to eat outside to take one of the folding tables stacked by the front door and set it up wherever they liked along the sloping, rocky street outside. An interminable wait – it was a superb day and there was a surprising crowd, and the lady was all alone – and then we were served with slices of cheese and bread, a tomato, a roughly chopped fennel bulb and an apple. Quite wonderful.

And today, I set off into the sharpest, bluest warmest imaginable November afternoon on a horse. The animal came from a local riding stable; I was with friends. We clopped along hilltop white roads and scrambled down cart tracks through wooded valleys. The heat combined with the rocking of the horse was numbing: at times I thought I might doze off. But the splendour of what I was moving through, the play of light and colour, and the magnificent outlook from my privileged vantage point kept me awake. It doesn’t matter how long we live here: there are times when I have to pinch myself. As I tend to repeat ad nauseam, we really do live in a place of rare beauty.

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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One Response to 2 November 2015

  1. Pingback: 14 August 2016 | La Verzura

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