Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Iceland, You're Lucky That Bergamot Oil is an Upper.

Once upon a time, a volcano blew its roof in Iceland, spewing ash over Western Europe and meanly preventing every plane from flying. All the travellers of the land were stranded, and a certain group of UNISG students had to drive, rather than fly, to a far and distant place they call Calabria.

In the wee hours of the morning they set forth, ipods and pillows a-ready, only to have their steed break down after an hour. They loitered at a gas station while waiting to see if the mechanic would be victorious. Thankfully he was and they continued forth, feasting on Autogrill meals along the way. Twenty hours later, they finally arrived at the southern-most tip of Italy’s boot. Fortunately, all of the students managed to retain their sense of humour, and their time in the south proved the road-trip had been worth it.

So there you have it, our Calabria trip began with a few volcano-induced bumps in the road, but the following three days were outstanding. Our second day was my favourite; up and up and up into the mountains we drove, finally arriving at a farm that produces olive oil and sheep cheese. Greeted by a toothless and very sweet Nonna, we were taken to the dairy by her son and shown how they make their pecorino and ricotta. We then moved onto the sheep themselves, which thankfully didn't involve herding. We did, however, get to try milking a few poor ewes held back from the rest of the grazing flock; one at a time, twenty-six inexperienced sets of hands descended upon three helpless pairs of udders. I managed to produce a few good streams of milk, though had some trouble aiming south and hit my leg more often than the bucket.

We ate a big lunch then headed to Il Bergamotto, the prettiest-smelling place on earth. Our lovely, soft-spoken host walked us down to the grove and spoke of the Bergamot fruit's mysterious origins, the use of its essential oil in perfumes/tea/cuisine, and his father’s refusal to give up his farm when synthetic scents began to threaten the demand for Bergamot in the 60’s and 70’s. I mentally began making plans to return when we heard that at harvest time, near Christmas, the heavily-laden trees actually glow at night from the fruit's potent oil.

After our meander through the grove, our host pointed up – waaaay up – to the remains of an 11th century Norman castle on the peak of a nearby mountain. To my exercise-deprived-body’s delight, he told us that that was where we’d be going next. The site had been occupied consistently until 1951, when a flood finally forced the last residents to abandon it. At the top I arrived breathless, sweaty, and completely thrilled to wander through such a beautiful maze of ruins.

Our first trip was a success, and I can't wait until we leave for the next one. On a plane.

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