Monday, April 3

vendemmia


Early one morning in October '99 there was a knock at the door. The evening before had been very long and alcohol fueled so I put a pillow over my heads and turned over. The knocking continued, then an Italian voice calling, "Nicki! Wake up, we have to go!"
Go? Where? Whose voice was that? I staggered to the door and looked through the peephole. There was a waiter from one of the beach restaurants standing there. Why was there a waiter outside my house?

I opened the door. "Ciao, Gaetano, what are you doing here? How do you know where I live?"
"You've forgotten! I knew you would. Come on, get ready, you did say you wanted to help my family with the vendemmia (grape-harvesting).
I did? Don't remember that!
O..kay, it sounded like it could be fun, so I got dressed, climbed onto the back of his bike and we were off.
"Gaetano!" I shouted as we sped away from Positano, "where are we going?"
"Moiano, thats where our land is," One of the hill towns above Sorrento, the narrow winding road going up there was built for donkeys hundreds of years ago. Thin donkeys.
We stopped for delicious hot pastries in a village on the way up. As we climbed higher into the mountains the temperature became cooler.

We pulled off the road and bumped down a dirt track which opened out into an old cobbled courtyard with a stone house and stables used as storerooms around it. It was deathly quiet.
"Don't worry, everyone is already out in the fields," Gaetano reassured me. We walked into an old stable. He made coffee on a camper stove and kitted me out with knives, scissors and gardening gloves. He led me behind the house and into the fields, layered steppes cut into the mountainside, vines covering every available space.

I was introduced to various brothers, sisters, in-laws and nieces who were all cuttling aroundcutting bunchers of grapes and throwing them into plastic crates. They explained to me what to do, how to tell apart the different types of grape and how to cut them off the vine. I was put to work in my own patch of field. It was very peaceful. The warm sun, voices chatting in the distance, the smell of fermenting grapes and hundreds of small spiders scuttling around. I had only been away from England for a few months so still had those 'this beats commuting to London- I wish they could see me now' moments, this was one of them.

At about midday Gaetano stopped by to see how I was doing. He was explaining to me how the grapes became wine when an old lady appeared from between the vines. She was stooped over, grey hair in a bun. She wore an old mismatched skirt and blouse with a stained apron over the top. She was the type of old woman used to working on the land and wouldn't look out of place in a scenic painting carrying a bundle of sticks for firewood on her back. She looked me over, said something to Gaetano in a very heavy dialect and suddedenly broke into a scary two-tooth grin. She grabbed my hands, shaking them and stroking them whilst jabbering away in her incomprehensible dialect.
"Scusa, Signora, I don't speak dialect..Gaetano, what's she saying?"
"Oh, she's just happy to meet you. " He replied. What friendly people, I thought.

We broke for lunch which we ate at Gaetanos brothers house. The 12 year old daughter took a shine to me and sat next to me trying out the English she had learnt at school. The old lady gazed adoringly at us while we ate.
After lunch the girl insisted on showing me around the house and grounds. Everyone else tagged along, each of them pointing out various details that they thought I should see.
We went back to the vines and worked until sunset. I was sticky, covered in grape juice, cuts and scratches but happy with how the day had turned out.

As we got ready to leave, Gaetanos niece flung herself at me and asked, "when will you get married?"
I froze. I turned to Gaetano and with teeth clenched asked, "WHAT is going on?"
"Well.. er.. they just presumed, I suppose. ..You see, I've never taken a girl home with me before."
Ok, now I understood the enthusiastic greeting from the mother and the clingy niece. Time to get outta here!
"Explain to them that I'm not your girlfriend and take me home," I ordered. I was NOT amused.

Back in Positano I thanked him for the experience ahd the day out. He thanked me for helping and then (predictably) lunged at me trying for a kiss. I sprang back and slapped his hand away.
"Let me give you some advice. If you ever do get a date, do not take her home and put her straight to work in the fields. It would be far more romantic to take her to dinner or the cinema. And don't try to kiss me again. Ciao Gaetano!

4 comments:

  1. what a great story! when i was in barbaresco in 2003, i wanted to "frolic" in the vineyards myself, but i quickly changed my mind when i discovered swarms of bees, wasps, and hornets protecting the grapevines...how did you get around that?

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  2. To have these experiences is the 'icing on the cake' of our expat lives!

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  3. I,m not scared of bees an' things. Dad used to keep bees when I was little and I got stung regularly, I started to build up an immunity to it! If I ever get to live somewhere with a garden I will take up bee-keeping!

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