Our friend comes from a hilltop town in the province of Salerno, population: 90. It is quite literally located on top of a hill, which you can only access by speeding up a winding road with just enough curves to make you nauseous.
Last summer, we stayed for a few days at his family’s house, where he grew up. His father and grandfather built their gigantic, rustic two-story house with their bare hands. Although he doesn’t consider where he grew up a traditional farm, they own a decent amount of land where they grow corn, potatoes, sunflowers, tomatoes, green beans, onions, figs, eggplants, and other fruits and vegetables. They also have 3 enormous pigs that are replaced every season (they cure their own salame, prosciutto, etc.), rabbits, chickens, and a goat.
In the back of their house is a large terrace overlooking a sprawling garden lined with rows and rows of vegetable plants and fruit trees. All of the animals are housed on another hill behind their house, which also has more of their land covered in fruit trees. To access the hill, you have to climb an ambiguously laid out path from the side of the house. Half of the path is unpaved dirt, and the other half is made up of old, jagged stone slabs that are haphazardly placed on the ground.
One afternoon our friend’s mom asked if we could pick figs. I reluctantly followed as he and my husband climbed the slippery path of death to the animal hill. As they climbed, they kicked up clouds of dirt behind them. I was behind them. We approached the chicken coop, rabbit cages, pig stalls, and the goat. The goat lives in a dark dank mini barn by himself. Our friend gave us some dried carob pods to feed to him. He chomped down with gusto as my husband fed him one after the other. I wondered if he got lonely in there, all by himself.
Afterward it was time to pick fruit. As we approached the fig trees, an incessant buzzing of bees and other scary flying insects flooded our ears. Oh my God. This is one of my nightmares, I thought as I crept behind the two of them, shaking under my sun hat. It was August and hot out, and I started slapping my legs in a panic. I shouldn’t have worn shorts! I thought trying to stifle my screams. I’m pretty sure I whimpered a few times. The insects dived all around me, screeching that they wanted to sting and kill me. I have never heard so much buzzing in my life, it was like walking into a gas chamber, but instead of gas, there were millions of humming insects. “Do you want to come along?” my husband asked looking back at me. I was paralyzed in fear. I couldn’t decide what was worse – going further into the chamber of stingers or staying put. I chose to stay put. Huge mistake. I stood there under the blazing sun for a good 15 minutes, the sweat dripping down my legs, trying not to scream. Oh God, they’re in my ears!! My friend and husband came back with only a few items in their wicker baskets. “They weren’t ripe enough,” my friend said.
It became apparent to me after this experience that I would not do well on a farm. My friend’s parents, who are both in their 60s, climb up and down the path every day to feed the animals, pick fruits and vegetables, and water the plants. During the holidays, his mom packages chocolate covered figs and nuts (delicious), and also makes homemade jams. “Wow! Does she sell any of this?” we asked him. He shook his head, “Most of this stuff she just gives away.”
For dinner we had organic chicken, potatoes, and corn on the cob, all homegrown. I learned that organic chicken meat is tough and sticks to the bone – that is how you can tell that your chicken isn’t full of synthetic hormones and other icky additives, like what you regularly buy at the supermarket. The meat isn’t supposed to easily come off the bone. Same for corn on the cob. I spent the evening nearly breaking my teeth, trying to rip the chicken meat off the bones and kernels off the cob, but I was happy I wasn’t eating chemicals.
There’s always something to do when you’re living a “simple” life in the hills. My friend’s parents know no boredom and wake up early in the morning to several crowing roosters (the picture would not be complete without them) to start a long day of labor. His father is currently building a wall next to the house, and wakes up every day before the sun rises. They work hard, utilize the land, have fresh air in their lungs and the sea nearby.
It sounds poetic, but really, this is just their life and this is what they’ve always known.
I marvel at and admire their dedication. If I didn’t fit the “You can take the girl out of the city…” complex as much as I unfortunately do, I might consider planting a nice vegetable garden or getting a rooster as an alarm clock too.
All photos taken by me.