Today we woke up to find ourselves under the snow. It's already melting away but the dogs loved it!
The day after Christmas - drat, got to wait another year before the festive season comes around again (but there’s still New Year & The Epifania (6 January) to come!
Christmas Eve - coming from New Zealand where Christmas falls in the middle of summer, it never fails to delight me to find myself in a place where Christmas is that of the Christmas cards of my youth - short, cold days, snowy mountains, bright, festive lights decorating the houses. Today & tomorrow we will feast well - Luca's mum cooking-up a big late dinner for Christmas Eve & a wonderful lunch for Christmas day (needless to say we have been fasting in preparation!)
Today, I wanted to load a shot of Luca pushing a barrel of wine in the canteen but got caught-up in the before-&-after photos of some local heroes so it will have to wait until tomorrow.
This winter has - so far- been quite unlike any other. It is a moment of truth for us on the wine-making side & it has to be said that growing your own grapes, making & bottling your own wine is a complicated business if you want to produce something of a decent level.
Yesterday, in response to our application, the Health Department Inspectors came to inspect - with a view to authorising - the room & plant we want to use for bottling wine, the drying area in the barn where the grapes are dried prior to pressing, the store-room where we keep almost everything miscellaneously related to wine-making, plus, the temperature & humidity wine storeroom. The first point that has to be made is that the simple act of asking the inspectors to come was blindingly expensive as every authorisation has to be paid for. "User pays" in a bankrupt State (the Italian State, that is .... well also we are tetering!) means user pays rather too much. The inspection was thorough & professional & accompanied by good advice & intelligent questions but it brought home to us just how much effort & energy we had expended to get to this point.
Preparing the rooms effectively to food-factory standard, having temperature & humidity controls, a wine bottling plant, however small, are not small beer & it’s taken us a long time to get here. When Luca first arrived at La Faula it was his Dad’s hobby farm. For years his father had made wine as a weekend interest & it had largely been gifted away although to hear Signor Franco recount things as they were you would think that he was an astute wine-maker & businessman who ran the wine activity as a profitable side-line. The wine was made in a very jolly style. Hygene didn’t count much - the wine did, as one now must disclose, "contain sulfates" but in random & variable quantaties, perhaps with a bias towards excess to compensate for the lack of hygene. The container that was used to mix the pesticides in the vineyard was during the wine-making pressed into use as a wine container. It was all rather simple & the wine was as honest as the people who made it.
Our arrival here rather changed all that. After a period (unfortunately because it marked the passing of the old ways but fortunately because the old ways in the modern world where people know more are rather a dead end) Franco & his happy band of pensioner helpers were eased out & we found ourselves facing a harvest & wine-making without any idea of what we were doing. We have had some luck during our time here at La Faula & one of the truly lucky things was to have found a young wine-maker at exactly this point who was embarking on his new role as consulting enologist. We didn’t know it then, but this wine-maker was to turn out within a relatively short time one of Friuli’s top enologists/wine makers. We don’t know why he continues to help us. I suppose he’ll never read this so I can say - he seems to help us out of kindness. All these years he’s never asked us for a cent - but we know that if we had to pay him we probably couldn’t afford him. So, there you have it, by some strange quirk of fate we have a great wine-maker. And not only, but we like the way he makes wine. It’s really natural & now comes the test, in the spring, for the first time, we will be bottling the fruits of our labours in these last two years.
The Sagra is finished but the photo’s aren’t!
I’m really pleased to have this series of photos with which I’m going to bore you for the next week. Pleased, because people come to Italy to see the archaeology & soak-up the atmosphere of a glorious Roman past. But this series of photos reflects - & is the unaltered facsimile of - tradition from the time that the Catholic church was established in Rome & it is a direct descendant of the pagan festivals that preceded Christianity.
That is, taking the Madonna - Mary the mother of God - out of her sanctity in the Church & carrying her around the village in procession. This directly descends fromthe ancient Roman practice of taking the gods out of the temples (they were believed to inhabit the statues) & around the town (see "Pagans & Christians" by Robin Lane-Fox).
Today is a national holiday being the festival of the Immaculate Conception & so - in conjunction with the village fete - the Madonna is taken in procession through the village.
As those of you who have read this diary will know we have, this year, had some big problems with the Italian bureaucracy following an inspection by the Guardia di Finanza of our new barn & the finding of some cow manure (I won't go into this again). During this year's harvest the Italian State unleashed "Operation Sunflower" on grape farmers. Operation Sunflower - which didn't involve us - involved squads of Carabiniere, Guardia di Finanza, Inspectors from both the State pensions body & State accident compensation body, supported by helicopters raiding vineyards during harvest days to find pensioners, students, housewives, Slovenes & anyone else who was harvesting without an official (meaning issued by the State) work contract. By law everyone who harvests - whether they are paid or not - must have a work contract &, of course, the farmer must pay at least a minimum of 8 days of social security contributions. The only exception to this rule are direct blood relatives (no in-laws here) to the second degree. Many people harvest just for the pleasure, especially pensioners, & in return there are the nice harvest lunches, the harvest dinner at the end & some wine. Pensioners, in particular, resist having a contract because of the fear that they will be inspected in the future with a view to cutting down their pension. In Italy where pensions are very generous & given early, the tax penalty for those pensioners are extreme so virtually all pensioners try to present a blank slate once they retire & if they work part-time they do it strictly in the black.
The result of such sweeping raids was that many farmers got charged with having un-contracted harvesters. If the harvesters are Italian there is an immediate €500.00 fine plus the pensioner must immediately be employed. If the pensioner refuses to sign the employment contract within 24 hours the fine is €3,000. If the harvest is a Slovene (remember we are on the Slovenian border here) then the act of using a non- EU Community national is a crime (Slovenes do not have the right to work in Italy until 2007) & not a misdemeanor.
Such was the outrage in this area that a meeting was organised under the auspices of the local municipality following the agitation of the farmers in which a local member of parlaiment attended along with the Agricultural Minister of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region & representatives of various farmers consortia & unions (here you should note that the proportional representation in Italy means you don't really have a member of parliament).
The farmers' representatives complained bitterly of the repressive nature of the State action especially as the inadequacy of the existing law has been acknowledges (at least by the farmers!) for years. One of the most eloquent speakers was the Nottary Comelli (a big-wig around here) who made the point that while farmers in Friuli were being controlled by overhead helicopters a member of the Regional Government in Calabria (South Italy) was being gunned down like a dog in front the the Regional Government offices as he went to vote (killed like a dog sounds very "good" in Italian - <<ucciso come un cane>>).
The passion - & desperation - at the behaviour of the State forces was certainly there. But when it came to the member of parliament he did a very Italian thing. First he said (against the clear evidence) that the government hadn't ordered the crackdown. Second he said that Tony Blair, following the fashion of saying that the EU should invest in education & technology, wanted to cut farm support & he was against this. Finally, he said that it was also largely the fault of the new Eastern EU members who were getting money that would otherwise have come to Friuli. So, one, he lied & two, he didn't respond in any way to the complaints.
All is lost!
Today was the 2nd day of the Sagra di Ravosa. The morning started with 130 mountain bikers criss-crossing our vineyard for 3 hours - unfortunately, yesterday it rained hard & where the mountain bikes went it seems that the whole United States mechanised cavalry has passed. I think that next year we will be politely suggesting some other route that doesn’t include La Faula!
I’ve just returned from the first night of the Ravosa village fete. Every village has its fete & Ravosa has the honour of having the ultimate fete of the year in Friuli.
We are in the process of up-grading the resolution of our web-site. You might have noticed that La Faula Today is wider than it was & the photo is bigger. We have done this because many people now have higher-resolution LCD screens so they are ably to see the whole page & the enhanced resolution gives us more lay-out space & permits us to load bigger photos. To see the whole page-width, however, it is important that you don’t have any drop-down menus (such as preferences) on the left-hand side of your screen. If you do have the menu, just click on the yellow star on the top tool bar & our web-page will fill the complete screen. Afterwards, you can re-display the preferences simply by re-clicking on the yellow star.