Note: This post concerns events that happened almost two months ago in a country that I left a week ago, but I’m going to post it anyways due to I can.
On my first full weekend in Milan, myself and my boss’ parents (with whom I was staying) packed up the car and headed to Liguria: the land of sea, wonderful pesto, sun, Ligurians eating wonderful pesto, mountains, fish watching Ligurians eat wonderful pesto, olives, and fish trying and failing to eat pesto after having been convinced of its excellence by the Ligurians formerly watched eating pesto by the fish who tried and failed to eat pesto.
As perhaps you can tell, I could devote many a brilliant essay to the joys of pesto, but I will use this space for other means, partly because, as evidenced above, writing about pesto causes my sentences to devolve into long, crooked, assymetrical blobs, and partly because, as I discovered to my great sorrow upon arrival, we had not arrived to eat pesto, but to pick olives.
After weaving through Italian traffic for several hours1 we arrived at Alassio, on the Ligurian shore. Nestled cozily on a nearby hillside—from which you can sea the see2 — waited their country home.
1 Benito is surgical with that bi…er…Renault.
The nearest neighbor is a no-shit-mom castle
The land, which amounts to probably around an acre—although the steep incline of the land combined with my absolute ignorance as to what constitutes an acre leaves me unable to estimate more precisely—is quite literally covered in things to eat.
No, not pesto. I promised I’m not writing about pesto
It is home to a vineyard, huge stands of tomato plants, fig trees, pear and apple trees, and about 60 olive trees, which is all distilled into an olfactory cocktail of earthiness and sweetness with a hint of rosemary. From this plot, the family gets all the wine, tomatoes, jam, and olive oil they consume. All the tomatoes and olive oil an Italian family consumes.
Our job was to gather the olives. I say “gather” instead of “pick,” because the latter conjures an image of a man in a tuxedo with a monocle daintily plucking an olive from a conveniently adjacent branch. Instead we used the ancient Italian method popularly known as “beat the trees with sticks until the olives fall off” (rough translation).
My beating stick
Several local men came to help us, whom Benito insisted on calling peasants, which seems out of place to me. Italian peasants are supposed to eat spaghetti all day while steering a gondola and singing “O Sole Mio.” These did none of the three. Clearly not peasants.
They did, however, bring their own beating sticks
We laid down our nets and commenced to waging war on the trees.
Many a good leaf fell in battle
It was here that I made a crucial mistake. Dear reader (hi, Mom!), you may be asking yourself, “self, why has Alex not eaten any of the olives so lovingly depicted thus far in his tale?” If you are not asking yourself that, but rather anticipating grimacing or laughing at my foolishness, congratulations: you know more about olives that I did before this instant. You see, I too asked myself, “self, why is Alex not eating any of the thousands upon thousands of olives that surround him like so many grains of sand, if grains of sand were edible?”
If grains of sand were both massive and edible
Having pondered this question and produced no plausible answer, I made with haste to the nearest olive tree, extracted an olive from a branch thereof, and proceeded to bite in.
In my previous experience, olives have proved not only edible but quite enjoyable. Therefore, my expectation for the olive’s taste can be expressed thus:
Having actually tasted the aforementioned olive, my reaction can best be summed up as:
Olives, as the bystanding Italians informed me in between gales of crippling laughter, are possessed of a certain alkaloid that renders them, well, really nasty. Only by curing in a mixture of olive oil, salt, and secrets3 can they be made palatable.
I would normally dismiss this as simply another episode of “Alex goes to another country and does something dumb,”4 were it not for two subsequent conversations in Milan. Therein I heard similar tales of olive mishaps had by unsuspecting Americans who were subjected to withering scorn and laughter for their susceptibility. I, friends, have discovered the secret national sport of Italy. Soccer has no power over their hearts any longer: instead, the entire nation has turned its competitive might towards the art of American Olive Shaming.
May God have mercy on us, for they will have none.
3 Italian secrets. Home-curing your olives with an all-American blend of secrets can only lead to disaster.
4 Syndicated and in reruns as all possible plot material has been exhausted by earlier episodes.