working like a paesano


This message was originally sent as an e-mail to friends in July 2006. I’d been working hard in the garden for days on end and was starting to miss ‘normal’ life. This piece also contained the first reference to ‘pasta paulie’, a handle I’m kind of stuck with now.

The scenery along our little valley is just wonderful; rolling hills, hilltop towns, tiny fields all cultivated with a dazzling profusion of crops, vines and other fruit tress. Every bit of space is put to use. I imagine the English countryside must have looked like this 30 years ago before they started ripping out the field hedges and tearing down the dry stone walls, just to create the English version of the prairies. Anyway the type of farming here hasn’t changed much, probably since medieaval times – and the landscape bears that timeless quality. I still find myself standing alone in the garden just staring out on these incredible views.

One of the noticeable things is the constant distant clanking of an old farm bulldozer turning over the soil somewhere along the valley. Most of the slopes round here are too steep for tractor ploughing. Crops seem to be rotated very quickly. Speaking of crops, we’re farmers too don’t you know. We have our own olive grove of about 30 trees. We started to prune them once we saw all our neighbours undertaking the task. It’s fairly time-consuming work. The idea, as I understand it, is to cut out the heart of the tree to create a vase effect. I know this sounds kind of weird and Prince Charlesian but the olive tree seems to enjoy the human interjection. The more that’s pruned the more the olive seems to gather strength and come back even more full of fruit. I sound like I’ve been doing it for years – I’ve not of course; just picking up knowledge as fast as I can from researching books etc.

L and S came and helped us with a lot of the work on the trees, which was v v welcome. Before that, however was the toughest bit. The garden had been neglected for while when we took over. By the time we had gotten round to doing something about it, the grass and weeds must have been around 5 foot high. We couldn’t get to the olive trees to do the pruning until we’d cleared the way to them. My first idea was to buy a sickle from our local market – I had fancied a cythe but couldn’t find one. The sickle was OK but it was back-breaking work getting the tough grass cut down to ground level. Then it all had to be gathered and put somewhere for the time being to dry out. I cleared an area about 20′ x 10′ beyond our rear patio and it took me from dawn till dusk virtually and I couldn’t move at the end of it. On top of that I’d nearly sliced right through one of my fingers one moment when I was distracted. Filippo bloody Inzaghi! It took several hours and all our plasters for it to stop bleeding completely. The remaining area of our garden was probably 25 times the size of this patch. At this rate and working non-stop we’d be at this for another month at least, by when the early bits would be overgrown again. And the trees still needed pruning. Aagh. I cried in the bath that night.

We had to mechanise the process obviously, or pay someone to do it (but where to find them?). No we (I) wanted to do this for ourselves. Next day I went out to buy one of those strimmers – I figured this would be the best way to get the grass etc cut back, at least to begin with. I found a place that sold garden equipment (and 10 thousand other things) and started looking around. I came across the strimmers – there were about 10 of them to choose from and of course all the literature and notices were in Italian. This little old guy came over eventually, he must have recognised the look of a guy who hasn’t a clue. Fortunately he spoke pretty good English. He’d spent time in the UK after the war, yadda yadda. Anyway Giancarlo and I became firm friends in less than 10 minutes. Ha. Actually I like these old guys out here. They have time for you. And I think they like to tell the tale later of this dopey Inglese guy in the shop today, to whom they’d sold the unshiftable item in the shop. I reckon I’ve been the subject of that conversation over many birra in the piazza.

Anyway I asked Giancarlo for his recommendation on the strimmer front. I was hankering for this cheap little rascal. Giancarlo asked about the condition of the garden and when I explained, shook his head gently, smiling ruefully. Paulo, Paulo you need a beast of a strimmer to tackle the garden beast. Not quite Confucius but you can’t argue with the logic. G introduced me to this model which he explained was as good as the best Japanese models but a third less expensive – because it was made in China. You know that sinking feeling when you know you’re being sold a pup. I was at 6 fathoms at this point. China, Giancarlo? Are they famous for lawn strimmers? G explained that they weren’t and that was the secret – their technology was like 50’s America – barndoor engineering. Rustic but rugged. Crude but effective. Ugly but long-lasting. I mean if an old guy in a tiny Italian village gets this passionate and articulate about a product how can you say no? So i said Si. The price made me wince a bit but I liked G and trusted him. I know you’re thinking I must walk around with the letters STUPIDO across my forehead but bear with me.

As soon as I’d agreed to the purchase Gaincarlo tells me ‘OK now we create the beast of beasts’. Eh? He took me deeper into the shop and proceeded to remove most of the pieces on the strimmer that were light plastic and replaced them with customised heavy duty pieces. The strimmer cord was changed from ‘light lawn’ to ‘heads off wild animals’. He and a friend changed the settings, gearing, run speed, throttle mechanism and concocted a special two-stroke mix that only the locals know about and AGIP technologists. Basically he threw away most of the pieces covered by warranty and replaced them with items for which I paid extra of course.

Now I know you’re thinking, f*ckwit but trust me Giancarlo was spot on. With my protective face-shield (also extra) and my customised strimmer I now look like the weirdo from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now I don’t strim grass; I execute it. I cut down that 5 foot high stuff like a samurai warrior. Eat grass…grass!

Thing is I cut down a lot of grass and weeds. Boy does green stuff grow fast here. By the time we’d cut everything down and moved the cuttings to a place at the edge of our property, it looked like 8 bull elephants lying down. All bone dry as the weather was very hot. It had taken us about 8 days to get through it all and the place looked a whole lot better. But the elephants were still there so now I decided to burn the stuff off. Lots of farmers seemed to do this across the valley. Little pyres gently smoked away all over the place.

So humour me, how long do you think it would take to burn away this bone-dry stuff, using two large oil-drum braziers, loading each say every 30 seconds with large forksful of instantly inflammable material? I know you don’t give a frig but go on, guess. 3 to 4 hours? Yeh that’s what I thought. I’ve been doing it for 4 days!! Oh yes and I still haven’t finished. Not bits of a day over 4 days; I’m talking 6 to 8 hours a day for the last 4 f*cking days. The smoke has blocked out the sunlight to valley. I can hear the wailing of children from several kilometres away. And, I’ve grown a little tired of the paesano lifestyle for a while thank you…I’m weary, it’s been hot, very hot, I’m bitten to death, burnt on my arms, neck and head and for nearly a fortnight now I’ve had to focus on the thought that at any second, black adders could slither up my shorts. It’s not funny guys, they have reptiles, boars and all sorts of dangerous creatures in the undergrowth here, probably even crocodiles.

So it would be nice to have a bit of balance. I’m missing the work thing a little. Not the daily commute nor life in a big corporate institution but the creative stimulus and the company – and not BT of course. If anybody out there is looking for some inspirational input from one of the greats of the marketing business but can’t afford him/her, then give me a shout. I’d love to help out maybe two/three days a month. What am I crap at? Lots really but mostly bureaucracy of all kinds, playing by the rules, thinking in straight lines, being corporate, office politics etc etc. Strengths? Always difficult to be totally honest here but I’d say lunch, swearing, expense claims, passionate advocacy, presentation skills, project management (surprisingly), event planning, mean negotiator, team guy, not a bad boss, creative and bold thinker. Christ that’s a lot of action for 2/3 days a month. Did I mention modesty? Thought not.

I kind of know what many of you are thinking – you guys are really busy with proper work and can’t be arsed with all this peasant stuff. So I’ve taken the liberty of preparing some ready-made answers – just give me an a,b, c, or d so you guys don’t have to get all embarrassed explaining your situation etc. Answer key follows:

just answer a) if you felt like saying

– Hey sad bastard, that’s the worst excuse for for a job application I’ve ever seen. Never mind two days, I wouldn’t pay you for two minutes you sad serf. If you e-mail again I shall call our local office in Italy and you’ll be swimming with the pesce before you know it. F*ck off pasta paulie.

or answer b) if you were more inclined to saying:

– Hey has-been, I’ve no intention of hiring you but your message made me realise that my life is not so bad after all. Please send me updates on your descent into peasantry. It’s so funny.

or maybe c) if i kinda touched a nerve and you thought:

– Hey Paulo. Maybe we could do something together. You deserve a break but you’d better be cheap and guess what it’s all on commission.

or finally d) if all along you’ve been aching to say

– Hey Paul. Great to hear from you man. Get back over here for an instant briefing. We’re happy to pay all reasonable expenses, a generous retainer for your creative input plus an exciting commission on achievements. After all you are Hollis’ Sponsorship Personality of the Year.

Oh please, stop it; just d) is fine. You guys….

Hope to hear from you soon (check out the paul leonard consultancy link – it’s also full of stuff like this). Oh and sorry about the language – funny I say the same thing here too.

pp

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About Paul

Having decided on a change of life by moving home from the UK to Italy, this is the story and thoughts of a man on a personal journey from the Blackpool Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in search of la dolce vita. After several olive harvests he's now back in London but en route he shares his very personal perspectives on life.

2 thoughts on “working like a paesano

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