Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Gardener

Don't you just love local festas with their catchy traditional Neapolitan dance music.

We had a gardener at Positano a long, long time ago, long before I arrived on the scene who loved to get up and dance the tarantella at these local parties. The music was improvised and spontaneous with tambourines, castanets and guitars. The mood was inebriating, the food cooked on the spot. Michele, our gardener, was a local personality.

Michele came from Montepertuso just above the town of Positano and had worked for my husband's family for over two decades. My elderly mother-in-law lived alone in the house after her husband passed away and having someone come in regularly to look after the top garden gave her a sense of security.

Michele was a poor man and didn't need much to make himself happy. He looked after many gardens in Positano. He considered the vegetable and fruit orchard at the top of the house his own and spent many a day in it cultivating his vegetables for himself and his sister. He'd arrive with his plastic shopping bag with a flagon of wine and bread and make himself lunch with peperoncini and whatever else he could find to eat at the moment.

A yell down to my mother-in-law in the lower section of the garden was the signal to tie on a basket to a rope. The height between the levels is equivalant to three storeys so a long electrical cord improvised for a rope and he would pull the basket up to the garden. Another 'Signora!' followed and the basket would dangle back down with whatever the garden had to offer at the time.

My husband shared many a meal with Michele when he was in Positano. I was lucky enough to meet Michele in the later years so we also had quite a few lunches together.

Being a true full blooded italian, pasta was essential at lunch, and always made with garlic that Michele pulled out of his pocket. I remember looking for chili peppers while preparing the food, and seeing his hands dip into his pockets for the fieriest pepperoncini you'd ever had. One or two seeds from these chillies were enough to liven any dish. If I ever rubbed my eyes after touching the chili, they burned for ages. Michele liked his pasta so 'al dente' that he used to say that it should stand up on your fork.

For seconds, he did without meat or fish preferring to shallow fry delicious tiny new potatoes still in their skin with rosemary and bacon. The potatoes that he'd grown were sizzled in sugna or fat, which he also happened to have with him. All washed down with his flagon of local homemade wine. Add the fruit to that and we could barely lift ourselves from the table.

The meal went on for hours, with Michele regaling us with his stories of when he was held prisoner of war in Africa by the English. He also boasted that he could still remember a few words of the English language. He'd had a hard life, as his wife had left him for another during his imprisonment. Although I could barely understand what he was saying, as it was a strict dialect from the mountains that he spoke, I was happy to keep him company. My mother-in-law from Poland, was completely lost and would just smile and nod her head, with my husband translating occasionally. Michele loved to reminisce about the parties that had been held and was proud of his prowess for dancing.

Later Michele became too elderly to garden and my husband's uncle moved in and began to look after the place. Michele didn't get on too well with him as he considered the garden to be his and although he still planted his vegetables there, the harder work was left to the younger generation. He still came for meals at our place and was with us just a few days before he died.

The irony is, after both Michele and my husband's uncle died, they were placed side by side at the local cemetery.

The beat of tamburriati (tambourines)at the festa's remind me of him and the days long gone.


Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

This is a really lovely post :)

LuLu said...

What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing. It is people like Michele that make me love Italy so much!!

Venice said...

Touching post.. people like Michele need honoring in some way although they themselves would never have imagined they would end up immortalised in a blog on the web. Strange world, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

you have such beautiful pictures of positano on your blog.

my husband and i were there for a week on our honeymoon and LOVED it!

we would get bored at times...but then we'd just go to our favorite bakery for Sicilian Cannoli, people watch during passegiatta, or lay on the beach :-)

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

A very lovely and touching post. Michele sounded such a great character with a lot to give, what a hard life he had aswell.

Lavender and Vanilla Friends of the Gardens said...

This is a heart warming and interesting story of days gone by.
I love your beautiful header with the soft blue Plumbago. ( I call it Lumbago because it needs pruning all the time it grows so fast.) Thank you for stopping by.
The Hippeastrum grow in fairly heavy clay soil. I do nothing to them, no fertilizer, some grow earlier and some later over perhaps 4-6 weeks and an odd one shows up in between with a funny look on her face!

Rowena said...

What a beautiful, beautiful story. We need more sharing of memories like these in blog land!

Saretta said...

You are lucky to have known him. Some people enrich our lives through their simplicity.

'A Tuscan view.....from Umbria' said...

I really enjoyed reading this post and indulging in a bit of Positano past. I love the idea of the basket being hauled up and down. :)amanda

Anonymous said...

What wonderful memories you have :)


Anonymous said...

You know, people like these still exist. I know some of them. And they are people who truly bring life to everything surrounding them even though many have never set foot outside of Positano/Montepertuso/Nocelle.
What beautiful memories though...

Rosa said...

Leanne - thank you!

lulu- you'll find old timers every where like him.

venice- Never ever would have thought that - it's true

eryn- Its Positano which lends itself to photography-nothing to do with me!
yes eating pastries at the bar and people watching is also my idea of fun...

Anne- Thank you, The war was hard for all.

titania- I love plumbago but it is rampant at our place too.

Rowena- that's a sweet comment!

Saretta- You appreciate simplicity - it's refreshing.

Amanda- That basket is still working hard!


Dollyna- I know many more like him too, but Michele was special to us as he was part of the house's and families memories.

Lucia said...

I have tears in my eyes, what a beautiful post.
It reminds me of how my dad turned a laneway parking lot into a garden (he could garden anywhere being Italian)...and after he passed away, they tore everything down and paved over it.:(

Rosa said...

lucia - how sad :(

Anonymous said...

lly good post