Picking olives, we thought, was a bit like milking a tree. You start by spreading a large mesh cloth beneath the tree on all sides. This is not the "like milking" part, this is just the "like picking olives" part. The "like milking" part is what you do with your hands: you grasp each branch and work thumb and fingers down it rhythmically, popping off the olives as you go, then grasp again a new branch or the same again higher when you reach the bottom, as if you were massaging an udder. The olives rustle through the leaves and bounce into the cloth at your feet.
Do not think you can snack on them, by the way. Olives straight from the tree have a gaggingly strong bitter taste that will have you trying to spit your tongue out of your mouth. Really, I know.
We had the pleasure of assisting in the harvest of the trees of the owners of our bed and breakfast, Letizia and Luigi, two of the 70 year round residents of the ancient little town of Montasolo, just an hour or so outside of Rome, but centuries away from the motorscooter and tour bus bustle of that capital.
To find it, we scoured "bed and breakfast" listings on the Internet from Berlin, but were put off by one "little apartment in the city" after the other. We realized we had landed on our goal, Montepiano Cassalini, when we punched the address into Google Earth and saw this beautiful sight: just a tiny little hilltop amidst farms, fields and forest. Paradise found!
We are the only guests in town (Letizia and Luigi are the only ones with rooms to let), and though there are 70 residents, we can only attest to a dozen or so, as that’s all we’ve seen so far on our walks through the clot of narrows lanes that tangle over the hilltop. Though we’ve found nobody outside of Letizia and her friend Marina (including Luigi) who speaks a word of English, there is an open friendliness and trust about everyone: the keys left in front doors up and down the cobbled streets speak volumes.
The town is shaped like an oval, or buttonhole, from which it derives its name: an "asolo" is the hole a toga corner is drawn through to stay it, and is completely surrounded by a wall, outside of which all the cars must be parked, as the streets are much to narrow to accommodate even the smallest of vehicles. The ancient etymology of the name attests to its age: there is mention of it in a stone found from 200 B.C.E, and it appears to have been quietly chugging along ever since.
The lack of motor vehicles and the isolation of the town in general makes for a stunning, quiet peace. As I type this on our terrace, the wind is carrying up the clank of cowbells, braying of donkeys and the occasional bark of dogs, but it is otherwise silent.
And the view. Oh, the view.
The landscape rolls along a mishmash patchwork quilt of pale and deep green fields, vineyards, olive groves, autumn-tinged forest, red-roofed villas, hilltop clusters of stone walled towns, stretching up and down and on and on to the horizon, where you can just see the Basilica of St. Peter, Rome. I could stare at it all day.
I think I will.