The sun shining upon me, I could have continued for hours following its every curve with one eye shut and a tracing finger, still convinced it’s been no longer than five minutes since I just sat down. Rightfully called the king of the Mediterranean, the sparkling blue platter of Genovese waters twinkled from a comfortable distance 350 meters below, like a playful friend winking from the other end of a room. Something about the sturdiness of its form, the nobility of its ways, always remind me of an old fashioned gentleman, one that gracefully hides all his pain in times of distress. And so some might say that god is a woman but olive trees are most definitely a man.
As I sit there staring I am reminded of the quiet embrace of mine, the promised safe haven that sometimes only they can provide, their ability to survive life’s turmoil standing firmly and rooted, too proud to let an eye, or leaf, reveal anything that might be happening under the woody skin.
The people of the Mediterranean are devoted fans that no butter can ever erode. Rightfully they can’t be convinced to commit to any other even if once in a while some unexpected stranger comes demanding a change. It’s the kitchen of the earth that seems always to manage you into balance, a table of small plates abundant with different delights barely touched varying across the sea, as fresh as it was on the scrub is the plate of tomatoes, fresh yogurt squeezed with lemon or the little salted sardines that will never fail your needs and always generously drizzled with the juice of the heavens. Nothing new will come of unambiguously stating it again to be the best kitchen in the world, based firmly on the olive and the wine that know no competitors to their purity. The oldest book known to man says “All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the lord, I give them to you” reads the book of Numbers (18:11-13) in one out of more than 40 quotes of the fruit of the olive tree. Continued by the gentle care of the greeks who sculptured and defined its form, they built a Mediterranean philosophy leaving it all as untouched as possible creating its essence – the art of less is more. Truly he is the undisputed king, a thing of magic. The ultimate survivor of the world of vegetation, his fruits are picked from September to March in one of the longest harvests varying by the different schools and varieties, naturally growing on the most difficult and serious of lands since man domesticated the wild some 8500 years ago.
From the terraced southern hill grove inhabiting more than 300 trees from 40 to 400 years old each, I look at the green hill in front of me. Brighter in leaves and bark, arms stretched wild, their head longs for sun always trying to peek from above, never to be missed. Always grateful for the occasional rainfall though as long as they have their temperate warm sea breeze they will never complain, growing stronger with every challenge imposed.
The good landlords will manually attend every tree. Arms shining with sweat they will vibrate and shake every branch with physical devotion and carry crates of green and purple little round fruit for pressing. The bad ones will shake them from the core, weakening their roots slowly loosening a piece of history away from its land. Then finally it’s all mashed into one thick paste of seeds and flesh, centrifuged to force the water away from the pure, prized oil that after minutes of noise and turbulence appears from the stainless steal spout: a fine, thick, yellow greenish liquid with small bubbles and an opaque light running through as it pours itself into a pool of richness and purity, bitter and sweet and tingly and acidic all at once.
I sit in front of the 167 year old olive tree, thinking about the many years it has been standing faithfully, the many things it has witnessed, and I admire the Mediterranean, it’s sea, it’s king, and their everlasting, modest presence.