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.
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
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
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.