running la faula
So far, in my review of 2013 at La Faula I have covered the volunteers, the guests, the dogs, Luca and Maritza. These are all elements that together with the physical structure of the house and the grounds and environment come together to comprise La Faula at a particular point in time. But La Faula, as a living activity, exists in context and that context is formed by Italy and the Italians. Italy, the State, gives us the legal licence to undertake our activity, it restricts and constrains how that activity may be undertaken, it controls us to ensure that we abide by those restrictions and constraints and it taxes us to pay for the infrastructure and services that it currently provides, has historically provided but that have not been paid for and for the people and goods that comprise the State and who live off and from the State. This is a heavy burden for a small but willing activity like La Faula. But Italy, in all its formal aspects, is wholly dysfunctional, irremediably flawed in conception and expression and is incapable of sustaining itself as a modern State. The First World War, Fascism, the Second World War will be seen in time as the zenith of of Italian State power and organisation. From 1943, Italy began its inevitable decline, imperceptible but implacable, spurts of growth deceiving and covering the corrosive reality that Italy was consuming and not investing. The account for that binge was rendered many years ago, payment will never be made, but like a diner caught without means after a fine meal, Italy is frozen, unable to organise itself to dash into default and so forced into trying to buy time hoping against hope that something will turn up.
So this leaves the Italians, as individuals, who by themselves and as a community form the environment in which the La Faula of Luca and Paul exists. And a good environment it is too! As we are talking here about people some history is required. La Faula is the topographical name for the first small hill that rises up from the Friulano plane. Behind La Faula are the pre-Alps that incrementally become the Julian Alps. The people who lived in this part of the world were always, in their history, dominated by people and peoples coming from outside. The original Celts were subdued by the Romans, the Romans, in turn, were defeated by the huns, goths, visigoths and other northern tribes, German princes controlled the foothills behind La Faula, the Venetians took the area for the trees, the Austrians incorporated it in their Empire, the Turks briefly erupted into the Friulano plane, the First World War in Italy was largely fought in Friuli, in the Second World War Friuli was gifted as a Cossack Nation by the grateful Germans to the cossacks who had fought with them and as they fled the Allied advance Friuli became a target for Yugoslav Titoist expansion. The people that lived amongst this violence, plunder and pillage, the Friulani, were tough, closed, resourceful and resistant. And these were the people that we found ourselves amongst in 1996 when we came to live at La Faula. Many of the older people had been literally baptised by fire: as reprisals for partisan activity the German troops had burnt to the ground, Nimis, Subit, Attimis and Faedis, the villages surrounding La Faula. A civil war had broken out as the German army retreated and pro Yugoslav Italian communist partisans sought to facilitate the absorption of Friuli into Yugoslavia. In the maelstrom of violence and chaos which descended and cloaked those living in the foothills of the Julian Alps, private violence, vendettas and gangsterism flourished. When the German army had retreated, with the help of Allied soldiers, the Carabiniere established order and disarmed the civilian population. Penalties for score settling and private justice were sever. The State held the power and was jealous of it. Fatigued by war, weary of violence, and wary of civil war the people again settled down and enjoyed the economic growth, money and wealth that arrived in quantities never before seen in their part of the world. But they were all witnesses to what had happened and who had done it. They lived together peacefully, but they did not forget. They were tough, suspicious and unforgiving.
So it was that in 1996 Luca and I came to live at La Faula. We had little idea of what we wanted to do with the place apart from recognising that it had some good tourist potential. But the vineyard was already at La Faula and Luca’s father had been making wine there for some years so the obvious thing, given that in a vineyard grapes grow and must be harvested and then made into wine, was to start a “frasca” which is a small unlicensed bar from which, for limited times, a farmer may sell to the public his own wine and, in the case of our local “Comune” (municipality), boiled eggs from our own chickens! In 1996 Italy was at the apex of rule by licence so the possibility to sell wine simply by notifying the local council was of real advantage.
The frasca where a farmer sells his or her wine to the locals was an integral part of Friulano tradition. Most farmsteads had their own vines and made some wine and wine was heavily consumed, constantly and consistently, both at home and in the “frasce” which constituted a meeting place for a very large number of the local men (excluding Sundays when women and children would be brought along!).
As a frasca La Faula was immediately popular from the very beginning. I remember the day we opened. There was no direct connection from the kitchen to the bar area. We had bottled 20 normal sized bottles of wine thinking that this would be enough. But word had spread of the new frasca and we were inundated with people. Luca’s mum washed the glasses in the sink as we didn’t have a dishwasher. I was unable to serve at the bar as I didn’t speak Italian so I was in the kitchen decanting wine from 54 liter demijohns into bottles and relaying our inadequate supply of glasses from the bar to the kitchen for washing and back again. To get to the bar from the kitchen we had to run up and down a series of steps. It was a cyclone and one that was to be oft repeated as we encountered challenges for which we were not prepared.
Gradually we got a grip on the frasca and got ourselves organised. We made a lot of mistakes but I went from not understanding anything that was said to me to comprehending and speaking Italian, albeit rather badly.
to be continued …...
running la faula
Maritza has been cleaning the rooms and doing the ironing at La Faula since 2004. She was a sudden arrival as the woman who had been cleaning the rooms since we started the Agriturismo unexpectedly took ill in August of that year. Maritza, whose sister had married a Ravosa guy came on short notice to help us get through the rest of the season. She has been with us ever since. Maritza comes from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. She followed in the footsteps of her sisters who had come to Italy looking for work. She arrived just as the adoption of the Euro by Italy was exposing and punishing the country’s economic weaknesses. Italy, for Maritza, has been an experience of general economic and social decline. Luckily for us, and for her, La Faula, during this period has been in a phase of incremental and steady growth which has offset, for her, a more difficult environment in finding employment when the Agriturismo is closed.
Maritza, Luca and I are a good team. She and I are both foreigners in Italy and Luca feels like one! It can be said that we experience La Faula as a common adventure. When the Agriturismo is open, Maritza works full time with us. The day starts with Luca and Maritza’s coffee together. Maritza’s daily work programme is posted on a private page of our website so that she knows before she arrives what she needs to do. This allows Luca and Maritza to gossip about the Santo Dominican’s who live in Udine and lead colourful caribbean-style lives! Luca was born in Mexico as his father was an expatriate working in the steel industry there and Maritza’s stories remind him pleasurably of the bustle, colour and confusion that characterise caribbean and central american society.
Originally, Maritza worked with Luca’s mother who helped out by managing the linen, beds and the thoughtful touches that enhance the character of the rooms at La Faula. Now, in 2014, I don’t think that there is a single Italian, of any age, who doubts that computerisation and the internet are key to managing businesses more effectively and efficiently. But Italian culture was inordinately slow to digitise and the internet was seen as by an enormous number of Italians as being irrelevant to the way things were traditionally done and was resisted because it required working in new and unfamiliar ways. At La Faula we had our first website in 1997 and by 2004 it was fully functioning with database, forms, and message system. But the Italian way (also currently) is swathes of paper with everything written in block capitals so while digitisation seems obvious today it wasn’t a certainty that it would be easy to move from the paper based systems we had devised at the beginning and were using. Luckily, Maritza was quick to accept the internet-based tools that we developed and so we were able to manage her work programme in real time and she could organise her time effectively by being able to see in advance the bookings and what would be required of her on a day-by-day basis.
When Luca’s mum stopped working at La Faula, Maritza stepped into the breach and took responsibility for the rooms and linen. Although her workload increased markedly, she upped her game, reorganised herself and ways of working, increased her efficiency and productivity and was able to manage work previously done by two notwithstanding that La Faula had increasing numbers of guests. And, in addition to all this Maritza cleans the rooms as if they were her own.
So the 2013 season in the Agriturismo was a good one for Maritza. But when we closed, for the very first time in all these years she was unable to find bridging work over the winter. Maritza is willing and resourceful and it shocked her, and us, when she found herself at home without employment. Since 2004 when Maritza joined us, she has dreamed of working at La Faula in spring-summer then going home to Santo Domingo for the autumn and winter months. The economic depression in Italy has meant that this will now be a reality deriving though it does from necessity!