A summer long, long ago on an island not so far away my husband and I were working with a friend to renovate a house just outside of the town of Marsala in Sicily. The client put us up in an apartment nearby and provided us with olive oil in 5 litre jugs. There was a grove of orange and lemon trees on the property and open-air market two days a week. I would ride there on a borrowed bike with an orange crate wired to the back to carry the produce. Much to the dismay of our friend I did so in a skirt; he said that would attract the wrong kind of attention while I felt it would somehow keep the erratically driven cars from crashing into my erratically piloted bicycle. As far as I’m concerned, my strategy paid off.
It was the end of June and cherries were in season. I bought them 5 kilo at a time; Matthew and I ate them on the roof of the apartment in the cool of the morning while looking out over the suburban rooftops and antennae, towards the sea where we imagined we might glimpse Tunisia.
It was gloriously hot and we ate lunches of melon with prosciutto crudo and sandwiches of fresh tomato and buffalo milk mozzarelle and basil grilled in the skillet. All of it with this olive oil that densely green, perfumed and which tasted like a mouth full of flowers.
We left Sicily in late July having visited Trapani and Palermo all too briefly; having watched Italy win the world cup on the television in a barber’s shop where complete strangers had invited us in to watch and then joined in the explosion of jubilation in the streets that followed. On the way back north, with us we carried 5 litres of olive oil, it didn’t last long enough.
Olive oil is to Italians (and some ex-pats) as chilli is to Texans: everyone has an opinion. Tuscan oil is best, but no, the stuff from Abbruzzo is just as good and less expensive; still, others prefer oil from Umbria or even as far north as Lago di Garda where a microclimate allows olives to survive the cold winters. I’m a solid fan of Sicilian Olive oil although I have to say that I’ve bought jars of olive oil from Trapani at the supermarket in hopes of recapturing that mouth full of flowers and found it light and bland. We’ve made due, enjoyed other lovely olive oils from other parts of Sicily, and lately had some nice oil from Lazio.
Matthew is working again with that same friend, this time designing a staircase for an apartment in Milan. He came home for the weekend of the Epiphany with this:
My mouth is singing flower songs. Orange blossoms tumble in with memories of rooftop cherries, summer swimming in crystaline, warm water and platters mounded high with fresh, steamed mussels. It’s hard to imagine a lovelier way to start the new year.
I wrote a suite of 4 poems about this experience, you can find some images and the audio HERE.