Thursday, 26 September 2013


The drive to the ferry terminal at Genoa, Italy wasn't particularly far distance wise but the journey seemed to take a long time. All the way the creaking and clunking noises from under the front of the van got louder and louder.

The work that had been done had not cured any of the noises. It had cost us in parts, labour at the garage as well as getting the gyometry done, which doesn't feel like its been done correctly, and we had to move the ferry crossing from Genoa to Palermo by 3 days for the extra sum of €90. And all for nothing.

To say I was annoyed was an understatement. I do expect our vehicle to have some teething problems. Its nearly as old as me. But I also expect a mechanic to diagnose and fix the problems. Instead of apparently pluck a solution out of the air and send me packing after doing the work.

The ferry journey definately was a long one! 20 hours in a seat slightly bigger than an aircraft seat. Granted we could walk around the boat but sleeping was tricky. We did look at getting a cabin for the journey but it was €200 more! Thats a meal out in London for two with a hotel at the end as well! We were on a ferry where the cabaret pianist singer wore sunglasses... inside! 

Arriving on Sicily just after dark we decided to drive a little but to save most of the driving for the next day so we could see the scenery. We drove right through the middle of Sicily which took on a strange terrain of semi-mountainous yet fairly fertile fields. Most of which had just been freshly ploughed.

We had directions to get to a farm run by Diego and pulled in to the near vertical track, leading to the farm perched on the eastern side of Mount Etna, at around midday.

The farm was beautiful, stretching up in to the hillside like a vine up a tree. We were introduced to Diego's girlfriend Cinzia, his business partner and girlfriend as well as a long term woofer who had her Mother visiting. They lived communially except for individual bedroom buildings. 

Every day we gathered round for lunch and dinner either outside on the terraced garden or in the communial space in the old winery. Diego had painstakingly restored the old winery from a crumbling ruin to the future well being center he invisages it functioning as in the future. The old stonework is matched seemlessly with modern technology. Solar Photo Voltaic panels line the roof as well as solar water heatgain panels. All of the lighting and power outlets are wired to a central bus setup so that everything can be controlled and configured on the computer rather than conventional hard wiring. 

After alot of chilling out over the weekend it was time to start the harvest of the olives. Diego said that this years weather had not been as expected, with more rain and less sun. Consequently the grapes in the vineyard tested way below their required sugar content and the planned grape harvest was put on hold. An adverse effect of the increased rain was that the olives had matured more quickly and had started to drop off of the trees of their own accord. So the planned harvests were switched. Olives first, grapes later, once theyd had more sun days to bring the sugar levels up.

It was hard work. We lay out big green nets under the trees and then simply ran our hands down the spindly branches to dislodge the olives and let them drop on to the net. Whilst the picking wasnt too strenuous,  holding yourself in one position either dangling from a branch or perched on a precarious ladder used muscles I dont think I'll ever use again. It did lend itself to a few funny instances as Kerry let out a yelp and came crashing to the floor under one particular tree. Luckily she wasn't hurt as the ladder twisted round and dumped her off. 

After two days we had finished harvesting the majority of the trees and Kerry and I took a day out to ride the small, 1 carriage, diesel train that circumnavigates Etna. We didn't go all theway round, opting for a 45 minute excursion to Randazzo, a fairly large town in comparison to most Sicilian towns. We strolled around looking at the old buildings where function seems to prevail more than form. The way it should be. Utilising space fpr its usefulness rather than to look pretty. Very disilimar to the Italian people where the police wear ray bans and white belts in a bid to look swish when accomplishing not alot. 

We sat in the town square just as hundreds of people descended on it. Kids riding bicycles in an infinte circle, grandads sat next to each other not saying a word, house wives bellowing orders over great distances at each other. Id read that Sicily was organised chaos, and this square proved that. 

Finding lunch was alot more difficult than I'd thought it would have been. We walked around looking for an open restaurant for what seemed like ages. Id grown accustomed to weird opening times from our French neighbours, but being unable to find a restaurant open at 2pm was a little silly. Eventually we stumbled on 'Sainto Georgio del Drago' hoping the patron saint of the Motherland could help us out in our time of need. 

Meat is a rare privilege at Diego's, reserved for festivals and other special occassions. Consequently I'd been deprived of protein for a week now and couldn't entertain another pasta dish for fear of losing some precious muscle weight.  Luckily Saint Georgio came good with a mixed grill of Pork, Beef and Sausage coupled with a side of fresh salad... and beer. Id been without a beer for a few weeks now, and it tasted gooood!

That evening at dinner Diego pulled out a large slab of what I can only compare to a hunk of dog food. When I asked Diego said of course it was dog food, but that it was also very good eating as he sliced a portion off and doused it with the juice from a lemon. I gingerly followed suit, squeezing every last drop out of my half lemon and tentively putting the piece in my mouth. Diego was right, it was good eating, I could tell it wasn't the prime cuts of meat in the jelly, but it didn't taste horrible. Then Rossella, the woofing lady, asked for some. She couldn't speak English and Diego said something to her as he passed her a slice of the dog food. She started laughing histerically as she squeezed her lemon over it. It wasn't dog food. Just a trick on Diego's part. And he had firmly got me. Its a kind of meat similar to pork pie filling with the jelly and everything. Still I guess I proved that I would infact be prepared to eat dog food!

Cinzia kindly gave Kerry and I a lift to the local beach the next afternoon. Id wanted to get one more swim in the mediterranean sea before the weather turned or we headed North and it was lovely. Being the end of September I guess it's the hottest time for the sea, having warmed up all summer. 

That evening was our last supper on the farm. We had to leave the next day so I bought a crate of beer from the shop on the way back from the beach. Diego had a friend over, Alessandro,  who eagerly showed me their bottle of Cactus liquor. Diego had let me have some earlier in the week and I liked it. It made your tongue go completely numb. But it wasn't until Alessandro told me it took 100kg of cactus fruit and 2 days to make this one litre bottle! Now I felt very guilty as I'd enjoyed quite alot of the mouth numbing drink and apologised to Diego, but he didn't seem to mind. 

Being a people person I've always loved communial living and often have a lodger or house shared in the past. I commend Diego's strive towards self sufficiency. I too would like to achieve the same. However, from my time on his farm, I don't think its an easy task to accomplish. We have developed a society where people specialise in things and we havea monetary system so we buy stuff from others. This stops everyone having to learn how to make toilet rolls, or mine for gas, and buying these things leaves you more time to do the other things you enjoy. A happy medium must be met...

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