I got into the routine of carting the clay back-up the track to fill-in the ruts, holes and channels made by the rain. The track was steep but with time I became used to it and the experience began to seem commonplace even though after a few weeks away I knew that I would approach the hill gingerly and with caution. Hills for farmers are terrible things. Coming from New Zealand I knew upon my arrival at La Faula just how potentially dangerous working our vineyard would be. The New Zealand of my youth in the 1960’s was still very close to rural life and that farmers died under their tractors was something generally appreciated. As I stayed here I also realised that one or more deaths per year was caused locally in the province of Udine by tractors overturning. This is not particularly surprising as the province covers not only the Friuli plane but also the pre-Alps and the Julian Alps proper. Most farmers are killed here logging wood.
In my first years here eventually I rolled a small tractor-trailer unit that I had over-loaded with damp earth. I am only here to write this because as the tractor reared-up and commenced its roll to the terrace below it was temporarily stopped by the head-pole sustaining the vine-wires. Eddy, a student who was doing work experience here, grabbed me as the pole gave-way and he pulled me off the tractor as it slipped over the terrace. The tractor and trailer had rolled onto their side on the terrace below. The wires supporting the vines had been dragged down and the supporting poles were bending crazily over the bank. I could write that afterwards it was like when I avoided a shark attack on the Australian Great Barrier reef by seconds. You probably won’t believe me so I won’t write it. But it was like that.
Our vineyard is made upon a steep hill. Erosion and water damage to the access roads is a constant headache. Roughly every five years we need to call the JCB to remake the roads and fill-in slips. This involves carrying back-up what has gone down with the rain. My job is to transport the clay (soil would be too grander word) with our bulldozer and trailer.
The JCB driver is an expert. Before he has even started, his computer head visualises the terrain as it should be afterwards and as it will change over the years. He sees the heavy rains to come and channels the water accordingly with varying gradients in varying directions. For this we only need him to come every five years or so. The work of a lesser operator would not endure so long.
The operator is a tough mountain type used to carving logging roads through the sheer gradients of the Julian Alps. The price for working with such a person is that one must never flinch or show fear. And he will get one to do things with bulldozer and trailer that put the heart in one*s mouth, make one want to shout <<No!>> and leave the tractor and hug the firm earth.
We started yesterday by filling the trailer with river rocks. The weight crushed the trailer tyres and dragged the back of the bulldozer down. Full of apprehension I departed for the hill where the rocks would be deposited in the channels excavated by the running rainwater. I was already afraid knowing that I had to drag this load up the steep, channeled and pitted access track that leads to the vineyard terraces. It seemed unlikely that I would get there without a tyre - or both - bursting - but with cheery waves and jolly smile I continued on reaching the base of the hill and vineyard with much swaying and rocking but intact.
Bound to proceed on without hesitation I permitted myself the panacea of shifting the bulldozer into its highest and slowest gear. I figured that if something bad happened this would at least give me more time to react. Reacting means resolving the problem while remaining in the tractor. Jumping from a rolling tractor is a certain recipe for death!
Slowly the bulldozer climbed up the hill. The steel tracks were twanging and banging with loud claps. The trailer was rolling and pulling the back of the bulldozer left and right as the trailer*s tyres sunk into the ruts. Eventually the inevitable happened and the trailer firmly blocked itself in a rut. The bulldozer locked from behind began to raise at the front and I found myself looking at the blue sky. Reversing slightly I brought the bulldozer back to earth and let relief wash over me. The trailer would be emptied there and nothing bad had happened. Raising the tray and feeling the bulldozer shake-off the weight of the river stones and wet gravel gave me such relief that I sat just enjoying the experience for a few seconds. But then the JCB was behind me and I began the job of carting the clay washed down with the rain back up the hill.
to be continued!
The Agriturismo has opened this Easter in a glorious spring! We can’t control the weather, obviously, but when the days are warm and sunny, the plants rich with colour, the grass green and birds all-over courting and making nests you really feel like you somehow got it just right.
It’s great for the kids too - especially those who have arrived from a cold northern winter!
From now-on following the website gets a bit more difficult. This week including today I have been running a cooking school for a Canadian family with origins in Friuli. I’m afraid that I may have learnt more than I have taught!
Someone wrote to me the other day asking if I needed to be concerned about the people I write about on this page taking umbrage at my descriptions of them and their activities. Basically, our neighbours.
This was a nice thing to write as I guess many of us must have come across stories on the internet about bloggers offending bosses, co-workers and clients. I suppose that this person didn't want to see me run out of town by angry Ravos-ers wielding pitchforks!
The message did, however, hit the nail right on the head. It has taken me years to find a voice that I feel comfortable with in writing these public observations. At the broad level I want to share the many attractive aspects of living at La Faula and thus make the place desirable as a holiday destination (without the guests there is no La Faula). However, I want the writing to be truthful and accurate and Italian society, bureaucracy, laws and mores regularly provide me with evidence that Italy is sorely defective in many of the civilising virtues of mankind! It is worth remembering that Italy invented fascism (never effectively renounced), the mafia, the world's third-largest public debt and Silvio Berlusconi! It also showed a cynicism and opportunism (and stupidity) in its behaviour in entering the two great destructive world wars of the 20th century and it used poison gas against native tribesmen to create its colonies. Italian bureaucracy is internationally famous as is its dysfunctional and corrupt politics. Its criminal justice system doesn't live up to its name in any sense - it is neither just nor systematic. But who wants to hear about all that if you're thinking of an escape-away holiday to a sunny paradise where everyone lives well in nice houses and eats like a king every day?
So I try to write about my daily life here which has plenty interesting about it (at least for me). Writing about daily life inexorably brings one to writing about the people who populate that life. The Bernie Madoff consulting wine-maker made a number of recent appearances in my blog. In writing about our struggles before Christmas to get the winery back on track I tried to avoid identifying the consulting wine-maker although if he were to read the blog he would recognise who it was about. But so be it. When writing about Ravosa locals and our neighbours I have to be careful not to play the whole thing for laughs although it can be a temptation as a foreigner in Italy to treat the locals as a source of amusement. But people hate being laughed at and I would be run out of town at the end of numerous sharp pitchforks! So I try to write lightly, using the fig-leaf of changed names and details to keep the writing from cutting where it shouldn't!