|:: Claudio Pentronio at one of his families barley fields near Castel del Monte ::|
Today was spent visiting two local farmers and cultivators of grain and wheat. The first was custodian and farmer, Alfonso D'Alfonso. His harvests are found in the Capestrano, Abruzzo region and include one of the most ancient grains - spelt (Farro in Italian) as well as Barley, Solina and Senatore Cappelli (a wheat). With each visit to the local farmers, I have been fortunate enough to be able ask them a few questions about themselves and their families histories in working with the land. Daniela is an excellent translator (amongst many, other things....) and has helped me gather these personal stories as we go.... The below is a rough transcript of selected questions I asked Alphonso whilst at his property, sitting by a clear stream drinking wine and eating the produce from his land including bread and fresh raspberries.
|:: Alphonso with a farmhand ::|
TE: Can I ask of your families history in relation to working the land in this part of Italy?
Alphonso: My family arrived in Capestrano from Naples around 1700. We have always been farmers and cultivated the land for produce but it was my father who first planted wheat. My past Grandfathers were known within the community by a nickname. The name was 'Manina' (this means, 'Little Hand'). My Grandfather worked very hard and had very big hands - so much so that friends would call him Manina, as a joke....
TE: Which are the oldest grains that you grow?
Alphonso: We grow a very ancient strain of Spelt and also Saragolla (the Americans call this Camoot). You must understand though that each grain will grow differently, depending on the nutrients of the soil it is planted in and the elements that it grows by. The Spelt that is planted in America will be very different to the same grain, planted and grown here in Italy.. But it all relates back to that ancient strain.
TE: I have heard many stories about the good memories associated with the time of harvest and they are wonderful to hear but I assume there must be the darker memories also? Can I ask what some of the darker aspects of the time of harvest are?
Alphonso: The hardest aspect for me to see at the time of both past and present harvests, is the difference in the workers. You easily differentiate those who have land and the grain and those who do not. Each year at harvest, there are a number of workers who arrive, who travel for the work and support their families by moving around - going where the harvest is in order to labour for a casual employment. It can be hard for them, their children and their partners. They can have very little and sometimes it is made obvious by small things you see, like the condition of the clothes they and their children are wearing.
|:: The last field of the day ::|
The last fields we visited for the day were those of the local shepherd. We were met by his son, Claudio Petronio and taken to a couple of 'spots' the last being the image above. This photo was taken with me standing - the stalks were at that height that you see them. Out of all the places I have visited during this residency, this one, will be the one that I revisit most in my memory... The fields were positioned at the base of these huge mountains that surrounded them on three of their four sides. We reached the location at the end of the day - right as the sun was dropping - so the light was changing rapidly - its spectrum shifting from yellows to reds to blues within the timeframe of an hour. The local wildlife was settling in for its evening. Birds and insects alike were preparing for the night. A solitary duo called to each other across the valley in a gentle rhythm, with the pulse of crickets as their backdrop. There was a small wooden shack there - built by hand - out of rough wood, just for shelter. I fought the urge to go inside, drop my bags and remain there indefinitely.
Sheltered by the mountains - you felt calm and satisfied - the world beyond was no longer.........