Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Pacific Northwest Mediterranean Life

I am not living in Europe - yet.  Sam is now officially a dual Italian/United States citizen, and I have all but one document required to apply for Italian Citizenship through marriage, but there are no plans to move across the pond in the near future.  Nevertheless, I do my best to live as I imagine I would if I was living in Italy, or Spain.  I see myself either in a small village with a garden plot someplace on the edge of town, or in a simple country house with a garden and chickens and olive and fruit trees.

Here is Salem, Oregon I have a garden and blueberry bushes and raspberries, and a fig tree.  What I don't have is enough sunshine, but we are able to produce some great vegetables and fruit during the summer-like window we do get.  This year we were fortunate and enjoyed sunshine from mid-July until last week.  The pepper crop was huge and we have tomatoes piled in bowls all over the counter.  For at least three weeks in late August and into September we ate aubergines with every dinner - mostly slathered in olive oil and grilled to a crisp.

Numerous batches of San Marzano tomatoes are dried and bowl after bowl of gazpacho has been eaten.  Pepper ristras dried in the sunshine for several weeks, and now they hang in front of the sliding glass door, in case the sun shines again.  The figs were not abundant this year so we ate all of them fresh- right off the tree, competing with a creature-of-the-night who stole the low-hanging fruit before we got to it.

I even hang my laundry to dry on a rack like the ones we used in our various apartments around Italy.  Some days I drag it out into the sunshine, but most of the year the clothes are hung to dry behind the couch, near the overhead heating vent.  Still - I enjoy the ritual of hanging my clothes.

And to top off my efforts to live like an Italian peasant - this past Friday I spent the day picking grapes at a local vineyard.  While throughout Italy the Vendemmia was being celebrated with harvesting, stomping and drinking, and in Spain families were coming together for the Vendimia - I worked in the pouring Oregon rain for seven hours along with about 10 other middle-aged white folks - all members of the particular winery's "wine club." 

It was hard work, exaggerated by the rain and wind and chill, and two days later the back muscles continue to reminisce.  While we slowly labored up and down the rows of dark pinot noir fruit, the hired work crews came and rapidly stripped the vines of the tight, sweet clusters of grapes.  The men and women are paid by the bucket and they defy the limitations of the human body - running up and down the rows, somehow holding the five gallon buckets between their legs while they cut clump after clump of ripe fruit.  The crews move from vineyard to vineyard, each individual doing the work that ten of us together would accomplish that day.  While we were motivated by the adventure - the fun of participating in the process, and by the promised t-shirts and wine at the end of the day, these Mexican workers are motivated only by the need to earn money - much of which they will send back to family in Mexico. 

I was reminded of my childhood.  Dad was a mushroom farmer and I would occasionally pick mushrooms beside the hired workers.  I was paid 25 cents a basket and it would take me a longgggg time to fill a basket, while the men around me were a blur of white as they pulled up the mushroom and cut off the stump, dropping the mushroom into one basket while the stump fell into another - all in one flowing motion.  I respected the men who worked for my dad.  They were patient when I practiced my very limited Spanish with them - but they were there to work, and they never failed to show up and work hard.

And so I will continue to seek out tastes of what I imagine a life in Italy would offer.  I cook Italian meals, I read books and blogs about living in Italy and I practice my Italian - just-in-case we make a move.  And I am blessed to have traveled to Italy (and Spain) several times, and will go again. Right now though,  I will have an espresso and try to battle the chill that reminds me that I am living in the Pacific Northwest and not near the Mediterranean.  Yet.

The photos loaded
In weird sizes. I need to learn more about the iPad blogger app.