Hanging out with the olive elders

I’ve just spent a glorious week in Puglia, Italy for my Dad’s 70th birthday. Like so many things this holiday has been delayed by Covid and at one point I began to wonder whether all the extra travel admin was really worth it. It turns out it was, although I probably wouldn’t travel abroad for less than a week. There are a lot of forms and reference numbers and it all added extra stress at the airport.

Anyway, having made it out there we picked up our hire cars and headed to the villa. To get there we drove through olive groves, lit up by the morning sun. They surrounded the villa in every direction and demanded my attention. Walking among them was very special. Many are hundreds of years old. Indeed the oldest in the Ostuni area was said to be 3,500 years old and would take 12 people to encircle it.

The older they get the more character they take on, trunks gnarled and nobbly or even split into two or three pieces, each continuing to sprout productive branches laden with bitter green and purple olives. I did try one and wouldn’t recommend it.

Each tree has a number, and the owner has to ask permission to cut any branches off.

Each olive tree is registered
Number 0118349 in the morning sun

Being in the presence of these olive elders is calming and awe-inspiring. I like being smaller than nature. I like that the tree has endured over hundreds of years. It’s good for my mental health to be surrounded by such sights.

I hope the olive groves will continue to endure, although there is a nasty bacterial disease called Xylella fastidiosa which has wiped out many olive trees in other parts of southern Italy. It’s devastating to think that these trees might not be there in the future. They enclose and hug the white, walled hilltop town of Ostuni. From below you can walk around them in the red earth. From above, as we stand in the town and look down, they create a perfect grey-green carpet, as far as the eye can see.

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