Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera, Where Every Month Is Enchanted by Annie Hawes
Published by HarperCollins Publishers in January 2001
Source: my mom via my aunt
Here is the delightful story of two painfully pale sisters from England who find themselves reveling in their newfound lives among the pungent vineyards and earthy inhabitants of a small Italian village. Hired to work for 10 weeks to graft roses along the Italian Riviera, board and lodging included, little does either of them know that their brief stay will stretch into years. Resonating with an irresistible voice and humor, Extra Virgin dishes up a sumptuous sampling of Italian life.
My aunt first read this book (she of Italian descent) and passed it along to my mom who enjoyed it enough to pass it along to me. I think it's been on my Fall Feasting list of books for the past three years but it finally took the Nonfiction Challenge for me to make time to read it.
Hawes and her sister (who will, throughout the book be known as nothing more than "the sister") went to the Ligurian area of Italy in 1983 to work as rose grafters. They didn't work for long at the job but fell in love with the area and bought a derelict "house" amongst the olive tree terraces. Hawes' account spans decades as the sisters slowly make their property a home, bring the land around them back to life, and learn the culture of their Ligurian neighbors, all of which takes a tremendous amount of help from their neighbors and not a little humiliation along the way. The sisters' neighbors really are a full cast of characters. I regretted that I had not, early on, made a list of the area's population, along with their quirks.
In 1983, the world had not yet discovered the glories and benefits of olive oil and the people of the area largely considered the olive groves a burden, useful only for producing enough olive oil for their own use each year (albeit oil that they revered). There was no electricity in the homes, no gas, no running water. Despite being wonderfully close to the sea, the sisters were discouraged from going in the water except during a very brief period of time and then the area was so overwhelmed by tourists that the beaches were unusable for the locals. Food, of course, plays a big part in the locals lives and Hawes definitely will make your mouth water when she takes about the local foods but that is only a small part of this memoir. It's much more about becoming so immersed in a culture that the natives come to consider you one of them. Even if they do still, occasionally, tell stories about the mad Englishwoman who lives in the area!