Wednesday 25 November 2015

Sabina's Olive Oil Harvest and how it relates to Motorcycles, and The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire

It has been a little more than a year since we made our move to Italy. We have experienced the colours, different shades of light, the wild range of temperatures and weather, and an amazing array of food festivals through all of Sabina’s four seasons. Last winter we experienced the culinary and community joys of our first Casperia Christmas. We even made our own home-made Nativity Scene complete with a macaroni roofed stable. 

Gluing the pasta "tiles" on the cardboard roof

The finished roof after a paint job and some moss added

The finished project. 
We have foraged for and cooked with asparagi selvatici (wild asparagus), 

The start of a wild asparagus frittata!
...ortica (stinging nettle), and lupoli—known in the local dialect as vitapia (wild hop tips) in Spring. 

A bowl full of vitapia. These can be used like wild asparagus
We have survived the hottest Summer temperatures—a humid40+ degrees—I have ever experienced in my life by exploring and frolicking in the tree shaded, cool, refreshing waters of Sabina’s spectacular Farfa River Gorge. 

40 degrees? What 40 degrees?
This Autumn, we had an amazing hands on experience helping our friend Pino with his olive harvest. We gathered olives from trees that we can see in the valley below our window.
Pino's olives with Casperia in the background 
This was a first for us, and would have been an unforgettable experience in and of itself, except this was made all the more precious when Pino turned up at our door and handed us a litre tin of emerald green peppery Sabine oil that came from the olives we picked!  

I find it very hard to put in words the feelings these experiences evoked in us.  First of all, we were participating in a harvest that goes back about 2700 years here in Italy. The ancient Phoenicians and Greeks spread olive cultivation and different olive varietals throughout their colonies in Sicily, Sardegna and mainland Italy. 

Traces of olive oil were found inside a ceramic flask—now in the Boston Museum—found in Poggio Sommavilla, a Sabine settlement site a 30 minute drive west-southwest of Casperia

The Flask of Poggio Sommavilla

The flask, which is inscribed with Sabine writing has been carbon dated to the  7th century BCE so at least olive oil appreciation, and likely olive oil production, goes back that far here in Sabina. 

However last year, 2014, was a disaster for olives and olive oil production here in Central Italy. This was brought on by a perfect storm of strange weather patterns. A freezing cold spring interfered with proper pollination. This was followed by a scalding summer that caused much of the fruit to drop. What olives survived these conditions were first battered by hail storms in autumn and any that remained suffered an unusually strong attack by the olive fly.  

A friend of ours here in Casperia, Johnny Madge, is an olive oil expert who offers exceedingly popular Olive Oil Tours in Sabina. At the time of this writing, TripAdvisor rates his Olive Oil Tours #17 of 160 Food and Drink activities in the Rome area. Johnny has a very acute sense of smell and palate. 

He is the only Englishman to participate on a tasting panel for Slow Food's Extravergini Olive Oil Guide. According to Johnny, even oils made from early harvest olives from award winning producers in higher altitudes—usually untouched by the olive fly—had problems in 2014. Imagine having a palate so acute that you could identify the flavour of fly worm in expensive oil! Luckily, most of us are not so gifted.

So as the summer of 2015 progressed we watched the weather and the olive trees around us with some anxiety, wondering if last year's pattern would repeat itself. I remember checking the branches of the olive trees we would pass by on our daily walks in the country looking for evidence of pollination, then small fruit. Each stage of the process seemed like a miracle. Every so often we would ask people we knew who had olives how things were going, and people would answer philosophically, "Quest'anno ci sono olive... Speriamo bene." This year there are olives. Let's hope for the best.

As autumn progressed we could see the olives on the branches begin to change colour as they matured. Some turned almost a reddish colour. 

Others turned purply black. There are at least nine varieties of olives grown in Sabina that can be used in the Sabina D.O.P designated olive oil. These are Carboncella, Leccino, Raja, Frantoio, Olivastrone, Moraiolo, Olivago, Salviana and Rosciola. Each one of these olives produces a different tasting oil. Some varieties have a more fruity or grassy flavour, while others are more bitter or peppery. Most olive growers here in Sabina have a number of different varieties of olives in their orchards so from farm to farm, each producer with have a unique tasting blend depending what olives the grower has.

I recently bought an interesting book on olive growing called Coltivare l'Olivo by Pierluigi Villa. 

One thing I learned reading this very interesting book is that certain olive cultivars have to be cross pollinated by pollen from other varieties. For instance, if you were to plant a new field of olives here in central Italy where there is a tendency for the wind to blow from north to south, especially in the pollinating season, that from a mix of local varietals that you would plant a line or two of Moraiolo olive trees on the north end as they are self compatible, that is, they don't require pollen from other trees. The Pendolino olive cultivar is often planted among a mix of other olives as it not only produces good olives for oil but also produces a lot of pollen that will help neighbouring trees produce a good crop of olives.   

Four different shaped leaves from four Umbrian cultivars

Many of the people here can recognise which variety of olive it is from the form of the tree, even the shape and colour of the leaves.

We were once given a demonstration of this by a friend who makes olive oil in Orvieto but I can't remember how to tell what from what. In Umbria, the four varieties they were using were Frantoio, Moraiolo, Leccino and I think Monaco.

The weekend before we actually got to help pick olives with our friend Pino, we had actually been invited to come help pick at our friend Giuseppe's property which is located 22 minutes drive south of us in the frazione, or sub-village, of San Valentino in the town of Poggio Mirteto. Sadly, a combination of circumstances, including a very late night return from the October 31st annual Stregate della Torre festival in the village of Catino the evening before we were to pick, prevented us from helping with Giuseppe's harvest. Hopefully next year. I bring up Giuseppe because he is a historian and a writer. He is currently working on a comprehensive tourism guide for Sabina which I can't wait to see published and read. 

What is really exciting though is that Giuseppe has just published an amazing book that links Sabine olive oil with many of the key events associated with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It is a tongue in cheek history, very much in the spirit of a British book called 1066 And All That, which was an all time favourite of mine. Giuseppe wrote the book in Italian first and then rewrote the book in English. Giuseppe, whose family hails from Poggio Mirteto was actually born and raised in Malawi in Africa. 

I had a lot of fun first reading the Italian version, then going through Giuseppe's final English draft helping him tweak it here and there, and to come up with the English language title: Sabine Divine Nectar - the Hidden History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and the World's first Oil Crisis. I also was very honoured to be asked to write the introduction to the English version of the book which follows below:

Thousands of years ago the ancient Roman’s ruled an empire that spanned three continents that entirely engulfed the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean, to the point that Rome referred to it smugly as Mare Nostrum, “Our Sea”. Over 1500 years after the collapse of the Western Empire, Rome’s imperial shadow still looms large in our modern imagination. We stand in awe of Rome’s architectural, engineering and other technological achievements, not to mention ancient Rome’s artistic, intellectual, literary and legal legacy. Any way you look at it, Rome’s influence on Western culture is immeasurable, and like the City of the Seven Hills itself, eternal.
    So you may wonder, why Rome? Why of all the towns and cultures that once flourished on the Italian peninsula did Rome come to dominate? What motivated and sustained her people and their leaders? What inspired them to fight, conquer and eventually rule their immense intercontinental empire? And then why, after being so brilliantly successful for so many centuries, did Rome falter and eventually fail? Read this book and find out the shocking truth. It was all about oil. 
    Oil you say? Yes oil. But this oil that fuelled the mighty Roman state with her conquering legions that campaigned to the ends of the known world was no ordinary oil, but olive oil. More specifically, it was olive oil pressed from the mythic fruit harvested from the silver green olive groves in the happy arcadian paradise known as Sabina.
    Sabina, you ask? Yes, you have probably never heard about Sabina. Located in the hills to the northeast of the Eternal City it still is Rome’s most carefully guarded secret, and it is all because of her precious oil, Sabina’s divine nectar—ancient Rome and modern Italy’s supreme and sublime condiment. 
   There is nothing quite like it. Sad but true, it can only be produced in one place in the world, and on this bitter fact hangs the entire story of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Why did Rome’s long march to world conquest begin with the conquest of Sabina, and what was the reason behind Rome’s frenzy for territorial expansion? How did the hero Horatius keep at bay an entire Etruscan army at the Sublician Bridge? Why were the Carthaginians so desperate to conquer Rome? What was the real reason behind Rome’s obsession with bloody gladiatorial games, and what is the sinister secret behind the assassination of Julius Caesar?  
    Read this book and all will be revealed. A precious green gold liquid link connects every major character and event in ancient Roman history. Edward Gibbon and every  eminent ancient Roman scholar before and since got the history all wrong. Or did they? Wait, maybe they too were guardians of a secret!  
James C. Johnstone

Sabina: A Stunning Land - My Secret Italy

Giuseppe's book will be available for sale in the next few days, right in time for Christmas! The cost, as far as I know, will be 12 Euros. It is a great little read and would make a wonderful souvenir gift for any visitor to Sabina and would be a perfect companion to any olive oil event or tour you might take here.

So with all the anxiety and anticipation of the 2015 olive harvest, combined with my reading Giuseppe's new book, and the fact that we had missed an opportunity to pick olives with Giuseppe's family in Poggio Mirteto, we were thrilled to find out that a friend of ours, Pino, was picking olives in the valley below Casperia on a piece of property in full view of our west-facing apartment window.

Casperia, framed by olive trees in the valley below
We set out with our friends, Helen and Ritchie, in search of Pino in the valley below. We headed down using a rocky trail that connects Casperia's parking lot to the valley below. It is a route we like to take on a lot of our walks, especially in Spring, when there are lots of opportunity to forage for wild asparagus, wild hop tips, stinging nettles, mentuccia, and other wild herbs. During the summer, it was one of our favourite places to visit in the dark of night in search of fireflies, called lucciole in Italian.

Helen, Ritchie and Richard with his bag for sticks we would gather on the way home to use as kindling. Winter is coming!
We got down to the bottom of the valley but when we got there it was unclear which way we should turn to find the olive grove where Pino was working. It seemed so clear from our apartment window, but once we got to the valley floor we lost sight of all the landmarks we could see from above.

We went across one field where we could see people harvesting but it was not Pino, but Massimo Petrucci, the owner of our local Conad Grocery Store, his brother and their families harvesting their own olives. Pino! Where are you? We called him on his cell, but even then it was a bit difficult to find him. But find him we did. He had been working for more than an hour and had already filled a number of plastic boxes with beautiful green, purple and black olives.

It is probably fair to say that Pino Pirelli is one of the hardest working men in Casperia. Besides being our volunteer dance teacher (more on that later in another post later), by merit of his owning one of the few tractor vehicles that can negotiate the stone stairs inside the castle walls Pino not only works three mornings a week helping collect Casperia's garbage and recycling, but when you need to move furniture, transport a large purchase of groceries, move building materials, buy a load of firewood for your cantina or haul away junk, Pino is one of a few people you can go to, so he's a very busy guy. 

Pino comes from Montenero Sabino, a hill town to the south of us across the Via Salaria. His family has olive orchards still in Montenero and his brother looks after harvesting those. The olives that Pino harvests here in Casperia are not actually his own but are owned by our butcher Armando Sileri. Armando is too busy with his Macelleria to be able to harvest his own olives so he has worked out a deal whereby Pino harvests his olives, hauls them to the frantoio (oil press) for crushing and gets a share of the resulting oil. Win/win! 

Pino explains the harvesting technique and gets Richard, Helen and Ritchie to help remove large twigs from the tela or net.
Pino explained to us how the harvesting techniques have changed in his lifetime. When Pino was a youngster, the olive harvest was all done by hand. The people gathering the olives would have a large wicker basket strapped to their chest and pull the olives from the branches, often while standing on ladders, and drop them into their baskets. Nowadays the olive harvest starts earlier than traditionally. This is largely due to an effort to avoid the olive fly getting to the ripe fruit. When Pino was a school boy, Christmas holidays were not so much holidays but time for the young folk of the village to spend all their time helping their parents with the harvest. As the harvest was done with bare hands, the winter cold made the work sometimes painful.

Later, a sort of hand rake was invented that speed up the process and allowed people working in the cold to wear gloves if they wanted. Nowadays small landholders use an extendable mechanical rake called an asta. Instead of using wicker baskets, where possible, nets called tela are spread around the tree being harvested and the asta makes the olives drop into the net which is then gathered up much like a fish net to facilitate the dumping of the olives into the 25kilo size plastic boxes. Of course larger estates that have land that allows it sometimes use larger mechanical harvesters but as far as I know they are not used here in Sabina. 

Before the olives are dumped into the boxes large twigs and any other extraneous objects that have fallen with the olives are picked through and discarded. 

In the adjoining olive orchard to the north, the Petrucci family were hard at work at their harvest. Richard and I took a moment to take a short break to go over and say hello. The ground was littered with olive filled plastic boxes. On our way toward where we could see Massimo using his mechanical rake to drop this olives into the tela, we heard someone calling our names off to the right. We looked up the slope and there we saw Massimo and Irene's daughter Valeria enjoying a rest with her cousin Daniele. Daniele is a regular with his brother Federico and their mother at our dance lessons and Valeria comes every now and again too.

We said hello, talked for a bit, and then went over to see the adults hard at work among the trees. 

Massimo demonstrates how the mechanical rake moves as his brother looks on... 
The mechanical rake called the asta if powered by electricity which is generated from the harvester's car or tractor battery therefore it is a bit noisy when you use an asta but it sure speeds up the work. In year's past, when we visited Casperia, we would often ask Massimo if we could purchase some of his local oil. Conad is a national chain and sadly only national brands are usually sold there, but we wanted the good stuff. Massimo's oil is dark green, powerful, peppery... beautiful on a bruschetta, a salad, or on fresh grilled meat. It was great to finally see where that oil which we have enjoyed over the years has its origins.

Everyone was busy at work, except for Daniele and Valeria, so we said our ciaos and headed back to where Pino, Helen and Ritchie were hard at work. Richard asked if he could try out the asta. You have to be careful when you do this work and remember to look down when you move your feet across the tela otherwise you will step on and damage the olives. 

After a few minutes of Richard raking through the branches Pino looked at Richard with a big smile took back the asta and teased him saying, "Richard, you are a great dancer, but out here, you need a little practice." 

Richard laughed and handed Pino back the rake. He and I hand picked olives while Helen and Ritchie did quality control making sure no twigs went into the plastic boxes. 

Every so often we would help Pino move the tele to a new tree where the process would start all over again. Sometimes, when the tree being harvested was on a steeper slope we would help hold the nets so that the dropping olives would not roll outside the net.

I am not sure exactly how long we spent helping in the harvest but at some point in the early afternoon Pino said it was time for him to quit for the day.  

Richard and I asked Pino if he was going to pick more olives the next day. He said he was, so we said we'd be happy to come again and help in the morning.

The next morning we had no trouble finding Pino. He was already hard at work filling boxes from the olive filled tele.

We helped Pino move the empty tele to the next tree where he started raking the branches in long smooth motions. 

Armando's trees were in need of a good pruning. Pino explained that it was very important to be careful with the asta as the tines could break if they got caught among the thicker branches. 

Richard and I took turns holding the net when needed. I did a lot of hand picking inside the tree where the asta could not reach and Richard worked cleaning out the twigs from the olives and helping Pino transfer the olives from the tele to the plastic boxes.

Pino rakes olives from the branches with Casperia in the background

Richard with his "Here's a big one off the bucket list look"

One more box full

Almost ready to go home
Shortly after noon Pino indicated he was finished. It was time to go home for lunch. Richard and I were ready for a nice leisurely walk back home but Pino said, no, that we should all go home in his tractor. Tractor? We couldn't believe it. It was like being kids again, except with older bones and joints... I wasn't very graceful getting in the backRichard rode up in the front with Pinobut it sure was a wonderful ride. I swear I saw a number of people do double takes as they saw us ride into town. What a hoot! It was so fun. 

Pino drove us right up to the Porta Romana where we hopped off and walked up the basalt and limestone cobbled steps back to home. What a day! I can't wait to do this next year.

A couple of nights later there was a knock on our door. It was Pino. In his hands he had two litre tins of the olive oil made from the olives we helped harvest, one for us and one for Helen and Ritchie. Thank you Pino. Grazie di cuore! 

Later that night we toasted bread on the fire and tasted Pino's oil... our oil, for the first time. The colour was an intense green and it had a fresh fruity aroma. I don't know which of the nine Sabina cultivars were included in the blend but the flavour was bold, intense, grassy, with a beautiful bitter pepperiness at the finish.  Just how we like it. Assolutamente strepitoso.  

But wait! There is more. Our hands-on harvest experience over, we had one more event related to Sabine Olive Oil on our bucket list. This was a motorcycle tour of Sabina featuring visits to a number of Frantoi, olive oil mills in the nearby town of Montebuono, and some historic sites in the neighbouring hill town of Cottanello.

This tour was organised by our friend Fiorenzo Francioli who works for the town of Montebuono, the Pro Loco of Montebuono, and a local motorcycle club called the Sabinacci. If you have been following this blog you will be familiar with Fiorenzo and his work in Montebuono from this blogpost that I wrote a number of years back. 

Fiorenzo guiding us on our first tour of Montebuono and Fianello

Fiorenzo and I at Fianello some years back

Fiorenzo has been organising this tour for a while. Though neither of us can drive motorcycles, ever since we found out about it, both Richard and I have been intrigued with the idea of going on this tour. We had thought that we would find a way to go last year but the event was cancelled due to the fact that there was no olive oil.

This year, not only was there olive oil, but the promotional information for the tour indicated that for those not yet cool enough to be able to drive a motorcycle, that coming along by car was okay as well. When we found out this, we called our friends Helen and Ritchie to see if they were interested and they were so on November 9th of this year, bright and early, we took the winding road to Montebuono.

It was a beautiful sunny day by the time when we arrived.

The plan was for everybody to meet at the small parcheggio outside Montebuono's town walls. There was already a crowd of people in the parking lot when we arrived. We were not sure which way the group would be leaving when we headed out so we parked along the edge in the parking lot, got out and went to the registration table to pay and have breakfast. The entire tour which lasted from 9am to 3pm, and included visits to two olive oil mills, guided tours of two historic sites, breakfast, lunch, and a complimentary little bottle of freshly pressed Sabina DOP olive oil from Montebuono cost only TEN EURO!!! 

Each participant got one of these

The complimentary breakfast
Oh my!

We found Fiorenzo in the midst of the growing crowd and went over to say hello. We had not seen each other since September of 2014. It was so good to see him. 

As we waited for everyone to arrive, we milled through the crowd, taking pictures. We met four Japanese women from Collevecchio coming on the tour. They were travelling by car too so we were not alone.

Ritchie and Richard hamming it up, striking a pose... It would be a little more convincing if they actually had a motorbike
At about 9:30 Fiorenzo made a formal welcome to everyone, explained the day's schedule, laid out some ground rules, and then we were off...

We followed the long line of motorcyclists to our first destination, an olive mill in Montebuono called "Olio Sapora" di Daniela di Mario. Group movement was very well organised. At each intersection, one of the members of the Sabinacci would stop their bike and direct traffic.

When we arrived at Olio Sapora, work was in full swing. The place was a hive of activity. Not only did they have to cope with 130 visitors on motorcycles, but there we dozens of local producers with their trucks and three-wheel api dropping off their olives or picking up their oil. The frantoio was on a hill facing the Tiber valley with an amazing view of Monte Soratte. 

With everything going on, it would have been impossible to have a properly guided tour of the mill. The line of operation, however, was pretty clear. People would arrive with their olives, presumably at a pre-appointed time, dump them in a large hopper, from which the olives would be carried into the mill on a conveyor belt, washed, leaves and twigs extracted, then crushed in various stages and pressed into oil. The smell of the freshly pressed oil was intoxicating. There was a large fire in a camino (fireplace) on one side of the mill where bread was being toasted for bruschette.  

There was a huge line up at the table where the toasted bread, fresh off the coals, was drizzled with freshly pressed fragrant green olive oil and lightly salted. Forget the lineups for free samples at CostCo. People were circling like sharks waiting their turn for a precious slice of oil soaked toast. It was well worth the wait. In the first 30 minutes of this amazing tour, I got my 10 euro's worth! Yum! 

But then someone started handing our plastic glasses of farm-made red wine! This tour was getting off to an excellent start. Cin cin!

As we drank our wine in the crowd of bikers an elderly contadino drove up with his ape, pronounced ah-pay, the three wheeled mini truck so ubiquitous here in the countryside, whose name means "bee". He patiently manoeuvered through the milling bikers and proceeded to load up his ape with his freshly pressed oil.

When it came time for him to leave he just backed up into the crowd, people moved, and with a friendly push from one of the bikers, the old contadino was off with his precious oil.

As we got ready to head off to our next destination I went into the mill for one last look at the fragrant liquid gold, Giuseppe's "Divine Nectar" streaming out of the press. No wonder the ancient Romans were crazy about Sabina... not just for their women, but for this precious green gold liquid so central to the life of every Italian, and that of all Mediterranean people. Maybe Giuseppe's book is not so tongue-in-cheek after all!

It was time to head off. Different clubs took last minute group photos in front of the olives, and then Vroooom! Vroooom! 

We were off to Cottanello to see the ruins if its ancient Roman villa. Cottanello is one of Sabina's most imposing hill towns. Situated high on a hill at the entrance to a strategic pass leading to the Rieti valley, Cottanello has had a turbulent history.

The villa we were about to visit was owned by Aurelia Cotta's family. Aurelia Cotta was the mother of Julius Caesar. Richard and I had visited the villa, along with the Hermitage of San Cataldo and the Cottanello marble quarry a few years back with our friends Fern and Ina from Canada, Heidi from Norway, Alessandra from Rome, Marco from Ponzano and Irina from Cottanello. 

Montage of Cottanello images courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
It was a marvellous excursion guided by Monica Volpi from the Cottanello town office crowned by an unforgettable luxurious long lunch at La Foresteria in the same town. As we had taken the tour before, and it was crowded, Richard and I left the group in the good hands of Luigi, the town guide, and we went off by ourself to reacquaint ourselves with our favourite mosaics in the villa.

Luigi, the expert and very patient guide from the town of Cottanello

The cock and the hen mosaic on the threshold of a private room... The square holes held the door post mechanism

The Villa of Cottanello is well worth a visit. For more information on the history of the villa and the archeological excavations, please follow this link. Guided visits of the villa, the Hermitage of San Cataldo and the Cottanello marble quarry can be arranged through the Cottanello town office. 

Originally, the plan was to visit the Hermitage of San Cataldo as well as the villa but we were getting behind schedule and people's tummy were starting to rumble as loud as motorcycle engines so it was agreed that we would skip the hermitage and head to our next Frantoio where lunch was waiting for us.

The Frantoio Minicucci Cairo in Montebuono, just a couple of hundred metres beyond the famous medieval frescoed church of San Pietro ad Centum Murum (well worth the visit which you can arrange with the Montebuono town office) was even larger than the mill we visited in the morning and seemed even busier. Half the parking lot was taken up with picnic tables for our lunch. So what would have seemingly been a chaos of producers arriving with their olives and leaving with their precious oil was exacerbated but no one seemed to lose patience...

The impatient ones were those waiting for the BBQ to fire up and for lunch to be served. All that history, culture, and olive oil education makes a person mighty hungry!

Sausage being made ready for the BBQ

Thankfully the was the opportunity to buy cheese at a stand operated by a Water Buffalo cheese producer in Magliano Sabino. The name of the caseificio was Perle degli Angeli, Pearls of the Angels.

They were handing out samples of their wares: Bufala mozzarella, bufala ricotta, smoked bufala mozzarella, bufala yoghurt, etc. All of them were delicious so we bought a bit of each. The samples sort of held us over until lunch was ready. A tantalising smell of cooking sausage and bruschetta wafted over the entire group from the BBQ a couple of metres away. Coals dropped from the burning logs in the hopper at the back of the BBQ were carefully raked from the back across a metal base over which metal roasting frames held the roasting sausages and toasting bread.

We all held our tickets in our hand, waiting for our turn to pick up our lunch. By the time food was served I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture of what we ate. It was delicious, but not photographed.

After lunch we took a tour of the mill and followed the course of the olive from delivery, to washing, crushing, and the extruding of oil. With lunch over, the smell of BBQ was replaced with the heady enticing smell of fresh crushed olives.

The oil we had tasted on our bruschette was so good that we all bought a number of litre tins of it.  The oil famine of 2014 is over. Lets hope that from 2015 onward, the feast will continue.

What an amazing couple of weeks this has been. October and November really have been spent in great anticipation of this year's olive harvest. Olives and olive oil are the heart of mediterranean culture. When there are no olives, it is like the heart goes into palpitations from stress. 

A few weeks ago, we took some friends to one of my favourite places on the planet. We went to visit the Great Olive Tree of Canneto in Fara in Sabina. This amazing tree is somewhere around 2000 years old... It is likely older than Christianity, and older than the Roman Empire... L'Ulivone di Canneto, as it is called in Italian, has seen the rise and fall of many Mediterranean powers. For close to and possibly over 2000 years it has given and continues to give life. How many people have sat in its shade? How many thousands of people have enjoyed oil produced by its fruit? Sabines, Romans, Byzantines, Lombards. Franks (Charlemagne passed close by enroute to his coronation when he took the road from Farfa to Rome in 800), maybe even Arabs as they laid siege to and destroyed Farfa Abbey in 890s. By some great miracle this tree has survived into the 21st century. If humankind can pull a rabbit out of the hat and stop global warming, it might survive another 1000 or so years. Who knows. I sure hope we do. Either way, it is an amazing tree that exudes wonderful energy. One day I would like to buy oil from the owners knowing that somewhere in the tin or bottle is oil from this tree's fruit. Now where is that copy of Giuseppe's book?