A Travellerspoint blog

Stuck in time

Idicel, Transylvania, Romania

rain 10 °C

Set the time machine to 18th century, we're going to Transylvania.
Where horse and cart is literally the standard form of transport and most have never ventured further than the nearest town. The villagers here tend to live on land that has been in their family for generations. Their living is made from that land and so they have little or no monetary income. Each property has its set of fruits, vegetables and animals for produce. If for example, you don't have a cow for milk, you trade your neighbour a bottle full for a bag of beans ('Jack and the beanstalk' reference not intended).
Most jobs are done by hand as machinery and chemicals don't seem to have made it here and the villagers wouldn't be able to afford them anyway. Until now, seeing a scythe, for me, meant that the grim reaper, death was coming to collect his latest victim. Here it is simply the only way of cutting grass to make hay for your animals. Oh and the hay stacks - this is what they were meant to look like, the way Disney told us they should in all those cartoons. Big cone shaped tops dotted throughout every field look as though you could hollow them out and use them as huts.

This is one of the last places apparently, that practice the tradition of sending their flocks of sheep and goats away with the shepherd for the winter. Shepherds are unique characters who spend months on end, alone in the hills with only the animals to talk to. And here the phrase "waiting for the cows to come home" is proven not so ironic as at the end of the day, a whole herd of cows wanders into the village from god knows where, and off to their individual owners, waiting at the front gate.

Farming, peasant style, here in Idicel, Transylvania. (Still no sign of vampires.)

(But then, I have been eating a LOT of garlic)

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Posted by dzito15 06:45 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

The Harvest

Idicel, Transylvania, Romania

overcast 14 °C

It's harvest season which means long days collecting fruits and vegetables in the small village of Idicel in Transylvania.

I have been working at Apple Hill farm, using traditional and organic methods of farming (nobody can afford chemical sprays and I'm not sure if the technology has arrived here anyway).

Each day begins with mucking out the horse stables (shovelling shit, in the most literal use of the phrase) followed by cutting grass for the horses to eat. Any day now the snow will come and it will be on to the hay, but for now - fresh green goodness every morning.

After that it's on with the harvest. This takes many forms and involves a different technique for each crop.

Collecting walnuts is a matter of beating the tree with a stick, then waiting for the nuts to rain down on you. Then, tip-toeing around, so as not to crush the nuts, you have to find them hidden amongst the leaves and grass. Imagine a big easter egg hunt… only less rewarding. Actually maybe it's better described as finding a lost golf ball.

Then there's the apples. We pick the apples from the tree if possible, so that they don't bruise. If they can't be picked we bring out the sticks again, or climb the tree to shake the limbs. Good apples are for eating. The bruised ones can be used for juice or brandy. In this case it's brandy. Harvesting pears happens in the same way, resulting in another large quantity of brandy. There are barrels full of fermenting plums as well. If theres one thing the Romanian peasants love, its brandy - and on these cold days, I'm beginning to understand why.

Collecting the potatoes left behind by the tractor in last months harvest is hard work. Walking up and down in lines we turn the earth over with a hoe, filling buckets with the small potatoes we find.

Carrots are pretty simple. Break up the earth with a fork and pull them from the bottom of the stem. In a season where an excessive amount of rain meant a poor yield for most crops, the carrots have flourished. This means carrots for dinner for a long time to come. Roast carrots, steamed carrots, carrot soup, zakuska with carrots and so on into the winter.

Tomorrow will begin in the horse stable again, then it's time to start picking grapes. Maybe for eating, possibly for wine. More than likely it will be a grape variety of brandy. Hey, no complaints here.

Posted by dzito15 03:46 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Food and War

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

overcast 22 °C

Travelling to farms in different parts of the world has led me to think about differences in growing environments. From the cold snaps of Canada, to the dry heat of the mediterranean. In choosing a crop, you have to consider the conditions it will be grown under. Factors such as climate, soil type, drainage, availability of water and sunlight. But what about this one: The conditions of war.

From April 1992 to February 1996, the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia was under siege by forces from Serbia. From the safety of the encircling mountains, Serb troops imprisoned over 500,000 people in their own city, killing a huge number of the population. The minimal Sarajevo defence force was able to prevent troops from entering the city but rocket launchers and long distance weapons destroyed all infrastructure including, hospitals, schools, electricity and water supplies.

I have just come from Sarajevo where Elly, my guide, told her story of growing up in the middle of a battlefield. For some reason, it is surprising to hear how life still goes on, even though you are under attack and could be killed on any given day. For example, Elly still went to school while her city was under attack. It was held in the same basement that her whole community had to hide and live in for years.

Obviously, the people needed to eat and had to change the way they did it. It was not safe to be above ground, so people snuck out to their apartments in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness to tend to their plants. Elly remembers going with her mum to harvest potatoes and tomatoes from their balcony. She also says that she could now be a professor in any college regarding herbology with her learned knowledge of edible leaves. To keep a city going with no outside contact, no access to the land, the people must have been pretty thrifty.

Walking through today's rebuilt city, Elly points out that none of the restaurants are serving rice on their menus. This is because when they did receive food from outside, via air, it was only rice. Maybe it carries negative connotations, or maybe everyone is just sick of it. Either way, I listen to these stories, aware that they are not the acts of another generation, tales of times gone by. Elly was born in 1986, the same year as me, and it is recent enough for her even to remember the meals that she ate.

Here's a little thanks from one of the lucky ones, with food in my belly and not a fear of going hungry tomorrow or the day after.

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Posted by dzito15 14:16 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Olives abound

Taggia, Liguria, Italy

semi-overcast 28 °C

Standing outside the rustic stone dwelling, converted from an old storage shed, I am right in the middle of the Canelli property. Six terraces above, seven below. From here I can see the town of Taggia and all the activity below. A gust of wind arrives at the head of the valley and creates sparkling display by momentarily exposing the silvery underside of the olive leaves as it passes through.

The highly valued Taggiasca variety of olives found in this region, were introduced by patrons of the San Domenico monastery over 500 years ago. Some sources even claim that the olives were grown here as early as the 12th century. The Taggiasca' are a small olive, producing a soft, gentle tasting oil, popular with people who prefer this to the bitter, pepperiness of Tuscan olives. Because the fruit is smaller, with a large stone, the Taggiasca is bound to produce less oil per tree.

Looking beyond the town below, a stretch of the mediterranean sea is visible. The azure blue is usually as inviting as any water I have come across. Today a haziness in the sky pales the water and blurs the horizon making it impossible to tell where sea meets sky.

About 90 percent of the worlds olives are grown in the mediterranean countries although people are growing them in many other countries, Australia included. The olive tree, similar to the grape vine, needs a mediterranean-style climate - hot and dry in the summer, mild and wet in the winter. Olives have not yet become as popular in Australia as the grape vine, but production is increasing.

Most olive growers use chemicals to control infection from the olive fly. An organic alternative to contaminating crops and soils with chemicals is a system which uses pheromones, imitating the hormones of a female fly to lure the male away to its death before it can mate.

Organic producers are rare in this area. To a layman's eyes, the steep, rocky mountainside looks primed to wash any chemicals right into the sea that provides a livelihood to so many important European and African countries. It would be interesting to see a study of chemical usage in the area and its effects on the water.

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Posted by dzito15 14:18 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Canelli Oil

Taggia, Liguria, Italy

sunny 33 °C

In the Italian province of Liguria, on the northern coast of the mediterranean sea, lies the resort town of Taggia di Arma. It's Ferragosta, the annual holiday for much of Europe, meaning the town is teeming with beach-goers and sun-lovers. Apart from seaside bars and beach umbrellas, the arm of Taggia, Taggia di Arma is not much more than a collection of apartments for seasonal accommodation.
If for some reason, one was to head inland for not even two kilometres, the apartment buildings become smaller and smaller, then die out completely. Just when you think that rural farmland is about to take over, Taggia - the old town, the real Taggia - springs up out of nowhere. A medieval town, at its peak in the 16th century, Taggia is charming, is real and is seemingly from a different world to the holiday town that shares its name. The town is characterised by stone archways and winding cobbled streets, clearly built before the conception of cars.

If you drive through the roundabout, between some low lying vegetable patches and under the autostrada, you find yourself faced with terrace after terrace of olive covered mountainside. Winding up, around, over a ridge and through a few hairpin turns, you eventually end up at my base for the month, Canelli Oil.

Owned for six years by Sue and Richard, this steep collection of terraces has been here since, as far as i'm concerned, the beginning of time. It is hard to put a date on the construction of the stone terrace walls, but some of the olive trees are at least 200 years old.

Working on such historic land can make you feel like you're part of something bigger, part of a tradition that has been in effect for countless generations. I can't help but wonder about the people who worked here in centuries gone by - how different life must have been, but how similar their need was for a good harvest and production of this same olive oil. If only these trees could talk…

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Posted by dzito15 10:31 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

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