The Photo of the Day for 30 November is of Yetmir, of whom I have written previously. Yetmir who had arrived in Italy as a minor came to us permanently on his 18th birthday when, attaining majority age, he was 'released' from the institution that housed and educated unaccompanied minors who had arrived in Italy from outside the EU. Previously, he had undertaken his work experience at La Faula.
Now Yetmir is 26. He has become a man and is a fine worker (and quite a poker player). He came to us to work again when he was made redundant. He will stay with us until he finds again a job in his sector (which is not agriculture!).
In the photo Yetmir is trying to switch on the circular saw. When I arrived at La Faula there was an old circular saw that attached to the tractor with an exposed drive drain. The design of the saw was such that in pushing the wood against the blade with outstretched arms one arrived with one's chest above the madly whirring blade. I hated this. The drive train was a menace. It was exposed without protection and had all the tractor's power in it. This was Italy before it began to implement EU directives on safety. The Italy of wet wineries without an electrical earth, of tractors without roll-bars, of washing bar glasses in a sink of tepid sudsy water.
But Yetmir's arrival at La Faula eight years ago coincided with the implementation of the new law on work safety. We got rid of all the old and unsafe farm machinery that Luca’s Father had happily used for years without incident and we bought a new saw, the very one in the photo. Using a circular saw is never pleasant because of the noise and because being around such a big and sharp blade is a bit disconcerting. But it least it is safe to use and it has the most amazing safety switch which at the onset of too much vibration, or the bang of a piece of wood not cutting cleanly and hitting the guard, turns the saw off. It is incredibly sensitive and, eventually, through time and use, it will allow the blade to spin-up but will not keep it going. Of course, this is a gradual process, so at the beginning a few attempts will result in the saw switching on and remaining on. As time passes it gets harder to keep the saw on and the process of trying to get the thing to boot-up and stay up becomes ever more maddening. Once the saw is working one tends to keep it working with just the minimum of breaks.
Today, after Yetmir stopped the saw to change his safety glasses (he is a safety conscious chap) he couldn't get it go lock-on again. Neither could I. We tried and tried and the minutes of these short winter days sensibly passed. It became apparent that we either had to do something or take it to the repair shop (but not the same one as my computer - which is still there!). I always think that when machinery malfunctions it is a great opportunity to dismantle it and understand how it is put together. With most of the agricultural tools this is also obligatory as there is nobody to call if it breaks. One simply pulls the machine or piece of it apart - buys the replacements one needs and puts it back together again (easier said than done, however).
Normally I draw the line at dismantling electrical things, though: one just buys a complete new component and remounts it. However, the switch had me so curious that I decided to remove it, open it up and see if there was anything we could do to make it work. Of course, mounted as it was under the push-bar and against the guard it was excruciatingly difficult to remove. The job was done where the saw was, so we risked dropping and losing nuts and bolts. I don't know why it is that one risks the extra frustration of dropped and missing pieces by undertaking mechanical interventions 'in the field' when it would take so little to bring the item down to the workshop. It is irrational, mad, tempting fate and tranquility but one does it anyway. And I have noticed that I am not the only one to do this!
Eventually removed and opened the switch revealed that it even had its own motherboard full of components and protected by its own fuse. That was amazing. The electronics obviously controlled relays that operated the switches. But these were in their own sealed block so we gave it all a good spray of CRC, closed it up and remounted it meanwhile discovering that we had forgotten which nuts, bolts washes and screws of different sizes went where. But at least we hadn't dropped any.
It seemed improbable that anything we could have done could have got the switch working properly but hope springs eternal so we turned on the saw and then felt our hearts sink in harmony with the diminishing rotation of the saw. So, it still didn't go.
When I was a very young kid my grandparents got one of the first TV's. A Phillips. Everytime we went as a family to visit them it would 'go on the blink'. It seemed that we jinxed it and my grandfather, a very big, gruff Scotsman who worked on the wharves, would bang it on the top in an attempt to make it work. I don't remember that this intervention was ever successful and the TV was often away being repaired.
Here we know never to force things or bang them around too much. They just break or shatter or bend or distort thereby brutally compounding one's original problem. At that moment, however, in front of the switch which, despite all the time it had consumed still refused to work, I gave it a bang on the side and then as an afterthought pushed in the green button. And so it was that the saw sprung into life and remained spinning for hours, and that Yetmir cut the pile of wood that he had set his mind on to cut.
Of course, the epilogue is whether we have really discovered a way to 'reset' the switch (maybe the relay sometimes blocks so a taps frees it) or whether it was just a lucky and casual event. I'll let you know!
On Friday last, in the morning, I finally surrendered and took my computer to the repair shop. For a couple of weeks it had been freezing and blocking unexpectedly. As I couldn't think of anything that I had done or any event that may have caused this condition, I hoped that it would go away as suddenly as it had arrived - maybe with the loading of an automatic software update. This was obviously a mistake. It reminded me of one of the cardinal rules that we have had to learn at La Faula. whether it is on the farm or in the winery or in the Agriturismo, when something goes wrong one must intervene immediately to put it right. Hoping that a problem will go away - a wonderfully well rooted human response giving primacy to hope over the learning of experience - means that the problem just gets worse and addressing it, eventually, is often more complicated, more difficult and more costly than it would have been if one had acted instantly. I suppose for those that believe, there is always the possibility that god will intervene to put things right. And sometimes, at least for them, it seems that he does. But most often I think that we are on our own, God either isn't on the line or won't take the call so it is up to us to get things fixed.
Which brings me to the second related lesson that we have learned. When some piece of machinery is malfunctioning intermittently it most certainly won't at the moment that it is performing for an experienced technician. Our vacuum packer nearly drove us mad until one day - after numerous visits to the repair shop it malfunctioned in front of the repairman. Until then, its flawless performances when under examination had resulted in all the blame being loaded upon us, we who obviously didn't know how to operate it. And so it was that when I took the computer to the repair shop it booted-up and performed flawlessly. As things stand now, I was forced to dust-off an old, infuriatingly slow, computer with a minnie-monitor, to keep internetting meanwhile praying that sooner rather than later the computer in the repairshop will malfunction so that they can identify and fix the problem.
Moving on, this morning I went to Attimis for my morning coffee and croisant and to shock myself by reading the local Sunday newspaper containing the latest news on how things are going in Italy (you wouldn't even believe it possible if I were to recount the things that happen here!).
On my way home I passed our local Trattoria 'Ai Cons'. In my previous blog, I wrote about the Ai cons and Alcide and his wife Elda who run it, and the family of Alcide who are generous of spirit and practice, and how we go there sometimes for special seasonal meals. In my mind I was writing this for those of you who come to La Faula, I see you in front of me and I write to let you know, sometimes, what we are up to and my reflections on things that are happening here. I was sure that those referred to and present at the lunch would never know of what I wrote and would never envisage my writing about them. None of them has a computer and Ravosa is not covered by broadband (we are only able to have a mobile broadband connection because being on a rise we can receive a signal from a mast somewhat distant).
Entering the Trattoria I found Gino a friend since we arrived here. Gino and I have a special bond in that he spent three years in Australia in the 1950's cutting sugarcane in North Queensland. He did return to Italy but somehow left a part of him in Australia. So he studies English and likes to reminisce about things he did down under. I particularly wanted to find Gino as he has just suffered a bereavement so I thought it would be good to have a coffee with him.
'Hey' Gino said. 'What are you writing about us'
'What do you mean' I replied
'On the Internet. You wrote about here and Alcide, the Clocchiatti family'
It transpired that Gino's cousin, who also emigrated to Australia but remained there, visits the website to see the photos and, in particular, the webcam. Being the only local webcam, it is about as close as one far away can get to seeing what Ravosa is like in real time. So there you have it. Tucked away here in Ravosa, enjoying the spirit of old Friuli and making a little window on it that others can see, I myself am subject to the community - not apart but enclosed!
Ravosa, a small village of around 300 souls, located in the largely unknown Italian Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia has two principal families: the Clocchiati and the Fattori. These two families live side by side but don't really like each other. The Clocchiatti regard the Fattori as closed and clannish while the Fattori regard the Clocchiatti as know-it-alls, a bit pushy and tricky. It must be said that both families exhibit equally these traits but history has shaped how they view each other.
One current branch (among others) of the Clochiatti centres around a family of 4 brothers and 3 sisters, the eldest being in her ' 60s and the youngest in her 30 's. They are united, open and generous souls and during the year two of the brothers historically host dinners celebrating various points in the year and Luca and I are always glad to be invited (although it must be said that an invite depends upon the existing closeness of contact at the time of the dinner - when contact is close and firm an invite is forthcoming, when contact drifts a bit generally due to work commitments or simply time constraints then an invite might be skipped).
Today, Luca and I were present at the pre-Christmas lunch hosted by one of the brothers , Alcide, at the local trattoria 'Ai Cons' ('The Counts') that he runs with his wife Elda. Elda, is the cook, and a very fine cook she is and, among other things, we ate exquisite wild boar shot locally. Elda comes from a nearby village close to the Slovenian border. Her village is ethnically Slav so looked down upon by the local Italians. But she is a spirited type and we never miss the chance - when we are two foreigners united together - to take the mickey out of the Italians.
Present at this lunch, which started at 12.00 midday and finished at 18.00 hours, were the very few aunts and uncles of the brothers and sisters to remain alive. Of course, in past times in Italy, many children were born of a family, many died and the time-span between the first-born and the last was often great. Also present were most, but not all, of the children of the brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews. Then there were others who had a claim on the family or who the family claims: the lawyer who handles their legal problems (but who is currently being tried for defrauding clients), close ex-colleagues (current and retired) of Alcide who was until he retired a Municipal Policeman, the man, now in his 70 's who went to live with the family all those years ago when his grandfather and patriarch banished his children (and grandchildren) from the family home and us, the nearest neighbours as the crow flies.
Sometimes, it is hard to explain, even to one's-self the attraction of Italy and the Italians. Italy, in and of itself, is very beautiful and being projected into the Mediterranean and closer to the equator has a better climate than most of the rest of Continental Europe. But the magic of Italy lies not in this alone. It lies also in its history. Those who formed and lived in the Roman Empire also formed and refined and created our culture and in many ways how we think today. But those people are not the people that we know as the Italians.
And yet the Italians exert a strange hold on the imagination of the english speaking people. From the writers of the New York times to the New Zealand Herald we see that there is something free, earthy and liberating to the Italian way. A lack of discipline that somehow brings forth fine food and wonderful restaurants and wines.
Yet we also know that for the last 15 years the Italian Prime Minister has been Silvio Berlusconi, an acknowledged user of prostitutes (and unacknowledged user of under-age prostitutes), charged and tried numerous times for corruption, found guilty numerous times by Courts of First Instance but afterwards, by pushing the trial out, acquitted through the expiry of the constitutional Statute of Limitations. His exploitation of Mafia links to develop his business empire has been established as fact by courts of First Instance and Appeal. And yet the Italians, those very people who exert such a hold on our imagination continue to vote for him. One may wonder, what does this say about them?
Returning to our lunch, 6 hours of fine company, food and wine it was heaven. But the magic part was the feeling of being included and protected by 'family' in the looser sense. Life in Italy, historically and today, was and is a constant struggle. The bureaucracy in Friuli, while generally not being corrupt is arbitrary and hostile, venal and slow in every sense. Relations between small business people and the State are adversarial and non cooperative, from both sides. Interactions between one's fellow citizens can be fraught with difficulty. The legal system is slow, erratic and uncertain and delivers little protection so those inclined to exploit their relations with their fellow citizens have a large margin of manoeuvre. Even between gentle people there is little fellow-feeling and each, assuming and expecting to have the complement returned, seeks to exploit his or her interests to the maximum. It is a society were empathy for one's fellow is not instinctively felt.
So the family is everything. No matter how dysfunctional, venal or unpleasant a place the family may be, it is the only protection that its members can have from a hostile world. Literally, everyone hangs together or figuratively hangs separately. Obviously, a family comprises its biological members. But as we all know, our lives also touch upon others who may be important to us and these threads weave a fabric in which an Italian family sits. And these threads need to be affirmed, and maintained and strengthened and tested for strength occasionally.
So it is that a grand lunch, of many courses, a closed affair only open to a select few serves to bring the family together, to strengthen bonds and establish that each within will be treated with sympathy and respect. It is the case that in a hostile Italian world the family is one place where one may, for a moment let one's guard down!
As a postscript I wanted to mention something that my friend Loris said to me. Loris is a member of the Fattori, the other big family of the village. In general the Fattori are united in smaller groups and we also enjoy their company (being a foreigner, one is able to be a bit more promiscuous in this regard!). Loris is also a farmer. He is by himself, living with his mum (in a very Italian way as he is 41 years old). Farming alone requires heavy investment in farm machinery and while he undertakes normal maintenance and small repairs by himself he is dependent for help with larger problems, mechanical and otherwise. One day, after finding that he had purchased something at an excessive cost while being assured by the vendor that he had been given an extremely favourable price Loris said to me: 'But Paul, how is it possible to live like this, one's whole life being a constant struggle against being taken advantage of, where no-one's word can be trusted, where one is forced to treat and negotiate in ways that run contrary to one's own character? Where to be open and trusting is a factual weakness and regarded by others and the society in general as a deficient stupidity.' And of course he is right. Loris is by nature a tolerant and friendly soul, open and honest. He hates negotiating and wishes to trust that others will treat him fairly as a matter of course. Which they don't. So he tends to be defensive and hostile and against the society of which he forms a part.
And this is, of course, a real problem that we, Luca and myself, face. Coming from New Zealand the souk played no part in my up-bringing. I hate to think how much and how often we have overpaid here in Italy. By nature, I am not tough enough to negotiate effectively in my own interests preferring to trust others to treat me right. And so we too, apart from the foundation of Luca's family, have our own web of those we trust and keep close to us.
The only problem, of course, and those of you who read this and who are familiar with the three Godfather films will recognise, is what if one of the 'family', one of the 'trusted' turns out not to be on one's own side at all?
In the Italian Statistics Agency Yearbook for 2010 it was established that the Italians are getting on just fine. A direct translation from the RaiNews24 of 19 November 2010 report is:
'All Getting on Just Fine
They [ the Italians] are continuously getting older, lazier and ever more tied to the cellphone. They don't read newspapers or books. They only visit museums when they don't have to pay but they do go to the cinema at least once a year. 50% are not connected to the internet. Three in four live in the house of the owner. Employment is going down and so is school enrolment. Only 10.9% have a degree. Yet, in the round the Italians are getting on fine. This is revealed by the Italian Statistics Agency in its Yearbook 2010.'
The article goes on to disclose that only 52.3% of families have a PC while only 50% have internet access. Out of a population of 58 million people only 23 million work. Of these workers, 3.4 million work for the public sector. 15 million Italians of working age are inactive - neither in employment nor actually seeking work ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/9209907.stm). One person in four aged between 16-26 years inclusive is without work. ( http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=146820). The public debt is 120% of GDP and increasing.