That fact became obvious yesterday when we visited the Umbro-Roman hilltop town of Spoleto, a town we have visited numerous times before. Yesterday was the first time we visited it with a tour guide.
That changed yesterday with our guide Cinzia, who spent two hours under a perfect light blue sky taking us through the city’s founding, centuries before Christ to its Roman occupation, fast forwarding to its Lombard domination and later independence under Charlemagne, to the establishment of the archbishop’s authority under the Papal States. It is a grand sweep of history that can be seen in the town’s architecture, tucked away underground, hidden down blind alleys, built over and painted over by “modern” buildings, all of which can be seen and appreciated but only if you know where to look and what to look for. The secret of this fascinating town, which unlike so many historic Italian towns that are ossified museums, is that Spoleto is a living town and its riches are locked away, not in plain sight. Life goes on in this cosmopolitan hilltown.
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Sundays in Italy are a special day. They are family days devoted not to an obligatory visit, a quick in and out with the family, but a long, leisurely get together free from the distractions of the work week. Sundays always revolve around food, whether it is lingering lunch at a restaurant seated at a long table with members from at least three if not four generations dressed in their Sunday finest, or a simple affair at home. It is a beautiful sight for an outsider to observe and is one of our favorite things about Italy.
This Sunday we made our way to Trevi, the overlooked hilltown between Spello and Spoleto and the epicenter of the Umbrian olive oil industry.
Here, stretching in either direction from Trevi along the hills that quickly become mountains, olive trees cover the landscape as far as the eye can see. Literally. As you drive along the SS3 superstrada, which runs along the base of the mountain from Perugia to Terni, you notice that the lush green mountains are covered from base to peak with rows of olive trees. Thousands of them. Tens of thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands of them. It would be interesting to do a census on the number of olive trees along this stretch of road. No doubt the number would be in the millions.
We are here, just below Trevi, at the Olio Trevi factory to take part in the New Oil Festival, an annual celebration of the beginning of the olive harvest and the pressing of the season’s first oil, the so-called olio novello. We arrive at this little block party just before noon, the narrow access roads around the facility choked with parked cars, aromatic smoke whisping from outdoor fires and barbeques, the landscape transformed with a giant tent and all manner of carnival games for the kids. This is a simple little festival, organized by our good friend Irene, the manager of the consortium that is Olio Trevi and whose family is the majority member of the consortium. It is a simple festival but it is an important festival in the life of the people of Trevi. For the residents here, olive oil is life.
After our tour we wander toward the food tent, sidetracked for a while at a table where bread is being toasted over a fire and literally dipped in the green gold. If we never made it into the tent for our lunch the bruschetta would be a worthy substitute. It is, after all, what we have come for. We go back for seconds.
Robert, one of our guests this week remarks how the scene reminds him of the local fall apple festival in his hometown a number of years back when his children were young. He recounted those experiences fondly and noted that today he wouldn’t think of returning, as it had become too large, too commercial and had lost its soul.
As we enjoy a last piece of oil soaked bruschetta and the simple beauty of this scene, we can only hope, too, that this special day does not lose its soul.
Bill and Suzy