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Report 1419: POSTCARD - Reunion in Umbria

By cec from FL, Spring 2007

Trip Description: Cecelia and David Maloney met in Florence in 1970 while studying at the FSU Study Center. They have revisited Italy many times since then. This time, they visited with some of the students they lived with in 1970 for a reunion in Umbria.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Umbria

Categories:

Page 1 of 1: An Olive Grove Rooted in an Umbrian Hillside

photo by Cecelia and David Maloney

Olive Pressing

The late-day slant of the sun on a golden autumnal afternoon.

One of us looked toward Todi, a hill town in the distance perched beneath the azure sky and sighed, “I think I've died and gone to heaven."

It was our second day at "Alla Collina”, the home of Marilyn and Roberto. We were there to celebrate a reunion of ten friends who were students together on the 1970 FSU Florence Program. For six months, from June – December 1970, we had lived in the Villa Fabbricotti just outside the center of Florence. We had not only lived together for six months but had studied the High Renaissance, eaten Tuscan cuisine, and traveled and learned about Italy with each other. Thirty-seven years later we were together again for the first week of November to reminisce about that unforgettable experience and create new and equally wonderful memories in what we came to regard as the 2007 version of Paradise.

Alla Collina had been an uninhabitable farmhouse above a barn when Marilyn and Roberto purchased it in 2000. Roberto, an international business consultant, left all the renovation in his wife’s capable hands. For the next six years, Marilyn lovingly designed and oversaw the restoration of the structure. The result: a 4-bedroom home, spacious and deluxe yet cozy and charming, accompanied by two separate guest cottages, all of which comfortably sleeps 17.

The grounds around the house are magnificent, with breathtaking views of Todi and the surrounding countryside typical of Umbria. In addition to the beautiful landscaping and gardens on the property, Marilyn and Roberto had planted over 500 olive trees. During the week we were there, the olives were ready for harvesting. Armed with our orange “rastrelli” (small hand rakes) and under the guidance of Signore Cassati and his assistant Olivio, we raked olives from the branches while we talked and laughed and caught up with each other's lives. At the end of the second day, the olives were gathered into crates and packed into our cars to take to the local frantoia (olive mill) for pressing.

We arrived at the frantoia at dusk. It had been a long day for the frantoia employees but there was no rest for the weary during this week, the height of the olive harvest. Through the bright lights of the mill we could see the smoky haze from the olive vapor. The air was filled with the strong peppery olive aroma. Local olive farmers came and went, first with crates and then with vats of oil. As they left, their eyes were lit with the excitement. They had witnessed olives they had just picked enter the presses and emerge as pulp and oil, thick and fragrant in the loveliest hue of golden green one could ever see.

While we waited for the first cold press of our olives, the owner’s wife and his mother lit the fireplace to prepare the traditional celebration of the new oil, “fettunta.” They brought out a crusty loaf of bread, sliced it, placed it in a wire basket and set it over the fire to grill. As soon as it toasted, the piping-hot bread was rubbed with fresh cloves of garlic, salted, and then doused with our “liquid gold,” the first bottle of our olive oil! As we ate the fettunta and drank red wine produced, too, in Umbria, each of us felt once more that we were in heaven.

For the next five days, we traveled locally, visiting Todi, Orvieto, Deruta, Assisi and other hill towns in Umbria. We feasted on outstanding meals in local restaurants and trattorie, but none were as memorable as the meals that we prepared at home after shopping for food in the local markets. And of course, we enjoyed the local wine, including the Vino Novello that had just come on the market.

Near the end of our stay, we gathered around the television to watch the films that some of us had made in Florence more than three decades earlier. We watched those beautiful young, wild and crazy 19 and 20-year-olds in the films laughing and strolling through the markets and the museums, or riding their Vespas around town. Looking at each other 37 years later, it occurred to us that in 1970 we were just like the Vino Novello, soon to be followed by vintages that would be more complex and rich with age.

Now at home, we each have a treasured bottle of olive oil to remind us of our week in November at Alla Collina. A week of new experiences, great food, camaraderie and, most important of all, the gift of renewed friendships. A noi, sembrava come il Paradiso.

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