Picking Olives
First Day in France
Moving South
Vienne and Vinsorbes
Dutch Campground
First Days in Italy
Montelcino Antonio
First Days-South Italy
First Days-Giovinazzo
Living in Giovinazzo
Picking Olives
Outings and School
Rosa's show
Hols & New Yr
Back to School
Croatia-Plitvika, Krk, Cres
St. Pierre
Camping on the Med
Eli's Diary
Rosa's Diary


26-30 November - first few days picking olives

Olive picking (8.7 meg movie)         More Olive picking (1.9 meg meg movie)

Olive picking, the animated version (2.2 meg Flash file)

Suzie Mike
30th November (Tue)

A woofing day: Mike wakes and heads out while we are still asleep. I get up with the kids and after breakfast I bath Sammy and Finn. There is really a water shortage at the farm but much more hot water and a big tub, so it is easier. After they have played until their hair is dry and I have packed up the bedding etc in the van, we lock up to head to the fields to Mike. Just as we are about to leave Emilia arrives and we go down together. She passes out coffee to all the men and we chat for a few minutes. Then they are all back to work. The kids are thrilled and fall about laughing when the first tree is shaken by Pasquale. It does look very funny as if the tree itself is having hysterics. Olives and leaves fly everywhere. Then the matt is moved and they are off to the next one. We all try to help and pick up the matts or missed olives for a while. Emilia goes to phone Dominico who arrives shortly after with their boys. At first the kids don't interact much but we head back near the farm leaving the men for a while and they all get into a game of soccer. We go to the end of the picking and follow the tracter with its trailer full of olives up to the Massera. I offer the boys hotdogs and Dominico and Emilia leave them with us while they follow the load to the factory. The boys manage to play board games pretty well with Eli and Rosa. Eli does some card tricks which empresses them. We go back outside and they have a great time with Sammy and Finn's Knight Stuff - swords, shields etc fighting matches. Their parents return and we all leave happy that it has been a real woof experience for us all. Back in Giovinezzo we stop for me to get some pizza bases with sauce already on at a bakery and Mike's favourite focatia. I also get a big wash tub for baths here. At the appartment Fransceca greets us with - guess what- pizza bases, bread and focatia. On the way back Mickey phoned so Mike heads out to do some international web work at the internet cafe. The fresh air has all the kids asleep very early, me too.

26 November

Today was my first day picking olives. I was picked up with my bike at 6:45am in a tractor by Pasquale, a strong joking man who spent the day singing what seemed like mostly made up songs. Working with him was Mikael, a 20 year old, conscientious worker, impatient with newbie farmers like me. I enjoyed their banter even though I only understood the occasional word.

This is the way we picked olives: Mikael and I spread out large green mats under the tree - usually two for each tree unless the tree is very small. How you spread them out is important, although possibly less so than Mikael made it seem at times. To be fair, Italian intonation sounds to the English-speaker's ear like impatience or annoyance even when it isn't. I'm becoming fluent in olive words - pull, forward, back, pick, carry, etc. In my head Mikael is "senor tira" because the word he spoke to me most is tira, which means Pull.

There are 5 or 6 mats of 2 sizes, and as they are placed around trees the shaker moves in. Pasquale carries a machine about the size of a petrol strimmer which has a very long handle with a C shaped cup at the far end. This goes around a branch and then the machine violently shakes the tree so the olives fall, hopefully onto the mats. Mikael uses a long stick and swat the stubborn olives down. Once the tree is clear of olives we pick up any stray olives, carry the mats to the next tree, or if they're very heavy, to the trailer.

They should give a "How to carry a olive mat" pamphlet to WWOOFers before they start, especially those of us who aren't normally used to physical work. What you basically want to do is get all the scattered olives into the centre of the mat and then carry it to wherever it goes next. How you do it seems straightforward enough, but I couldn't get it right, the I-am-sure-helpful-instructions in Italian notwithstanding. Whether I was slow in gather my two corners together, or having difficulty pulling the mat over my shoulder, or had gotten my arm tangled, Mikael would helpfully say TIRA TIRA. Obviously this word has many subtle shades of meaning.
If you are carrying the mat to another tree, you repeat the procedure, knowing that the mat will be even heavier the next time you try to TIRA.

If it is going to the trailer, you bring it to the side of the trailer and open it up, gathering all the olives together. Then you pick out the worst of the stems and mud, and then together you lift it up and spill the olives into the trailer.

The pace of this work is surprising fast: you move from tree to tree, carrying mats, emptying them, picking up olives off the ground, with few pauses. Add apart from the occasional drink (Pasquale never stopped but Mikaele and I had the occasional 30 second drink of water) we didn't stop. And the soil was particularly sticky, I've never been in mud that sticks so thickly and tenaciously to my boots easily doubling their weight. Physically it was exhausted, and mentally my head was strained by trying to figure out the right way to do unfamiliar work all day with two people with whom I could barely communicate.

Happily the workday ended around 1:30, so I was able to cycle back to the farm and drive home to be with the family earlier that we had expected. Shabbat dinner and a DVD treat, I stay in Giovinazzo tonight but will have to drive to the farm very early tomorrow.

27 November

Second day picking olives. I was really tired after last night so late, and thought I wouldn't have to work today but Pasquale did show up in the end so I had to work. It was much harder today because of my lack of sleep. There were times when I thought I wouldn't be able to continue, so I stopped lots for food and drink and the occasional rest. I'm sure it drove Mikaele crazy.

29 November (Mon)

Picking olives and returned to Giovanazzo to get Suz and the kids so we could stay the night at the Masseria to watch the tractor etc.

30th November (Tue)

Today we had an additional person working with us. A big, quiet and friendly guy named Pinucho. First we loaded about 25 of the sacks of almonds that were waiting to be picked up. You can't pick up a sack of almonds on your own. So you hold hands with another worker, tip the sack into your joined arms, then lift the other end with your free hand. Then when you get to the trailer, you have to heave it up onto the trailer bed, using your bent elbow as a kind of spring. Having rarely done heavy physical work, and even more rarely worked closely with someone else doing that kind of work, I enjoyed working that way.

After we were done I was kind of waiting to go onto the olives, but Pasquale said, "piano, piano" as we were all tired. We stood around the Masseria courtyard while they bantered, mostly Pasquale talking, and I listened and tried to pick up the occasional word.

Ok, olive picking today was easy in comparison. With Pinucho and Mikaele doing almost all the mat work, I was mainly swatting the olives from the trees with the stick, and picking them up off the ground. I had to pick up a few mats of olives but overall I was much more relaxed and not exhausted at all. Also Suzie walked over towards the end of the day with the Kids to visit while we worked, which was a lovely break. The kids burst out laughing when they saw the tree being shaken, and they all got to pick a few olives themselves. Later Suz came back with Amelia, Domenico and their kids too just as we were finishing up.

Back at the Masseria, Domenico and Amelia headed off to, we thought, Toritto, which is less than 10 minutes away by car. They were away hours, and when they returned, it turns they were in another town with a similar name which is much farther away - they had brought the olives to a plant near Bari where is was cold pressed, which apparently is the best way to press olives.

Meanwhile the Kids came inside for some food and we tried to get them going with a few games, with mixed results. Later we went outside and got the knight equipment out, and that went down VERY well and they had a great time.

Back to Giovinazzo and stopped at a bakery on the way to get focaccia (my favourite find here) and pizza for dinner, and some bread. When we showed up, Francesca hands me a bag with car oil and tells me I am to think of her as my Italian mother. Then she gives Suzie a bag of homemade focaccia!

I unload the car while Suzie sorts the kids and food, and Rosa plays with Nicole, Francesca's granddaughter. Each time I come down to get more things, Domenico (Francesca's son-in-law) is there and we try with difficulty to communicate a few words.

On to the Internet bar again to try to sort out songwriters' site, but the bar shuts at 11 so I'm stuck and head back, stopping into Tony's to say hello and then back to the apartment. There are still loads of people out strolling or sitting in the piazza, and the evening is mild.

This site was last updated 03/26/05