In the wolf’s mouth (nuts)

Posting by Patrick

They say here that if you put a chestnut in your pocket in the fall, it will give you good luck all winter long. Last Saturday Aaron and I left Bosco Merrone, a somewhat challenging agriturismo in the region of Campania (read Aaron’s hilarious brochure parody below) where we scurried around cleaning in the kitchen and cabins for a few days. There was a big New Year’s party, a couple subtle scuffles, celebratory kisses, and way too much food (ask the pigs, they ate most of it). We also cleared thorny brush with a perilously jerry-rigged hedge trimmer and tried to go to the circus or nearest house of exorcism (no luck there). Speaking of luck, when two people part in Italy, they wish each other well by saying ‘in bocca a lupo,’ which means ‘in the wolf’s mouth’ (not too far from ‘break a leg!’). Somehow we ended up in Carife, another sub-mountainous town in Campania among rolling verdant vineyard hills and pine-strewn bluffs. It could almost be Ireland. Speaking of lucky.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When it gives you lemonade, sip, sip, pass.

So we have followed the Tao of the WWOOFer, which is to take the good with the bad and stay light on your feet. We arrived at Hirpus, a small azienda run by Michele Minieri. Hirpus, I just learned, is a pre-Latinate word for ‘wolf’ used by the pagan mystics who once populated these hills. Michele is a bit of a mystic himself, which I gather from his statements on fire. Fire is a recapitulation of the sun, he says, and that which burns does so because it is close to the sun. Thus oil and wood are close to the sun. At first I baulked at his logic, but later Aaron helped me understand the pagan mind with a scientific reading: It is indeed true that substances like oil and wood store the sun’s energy in packets of hydro-carbon, the breaking of which releases the energy we know as fire. In a sense, then, they share the nearest possible proximity, the complete absorption of one into the other.

In any event, Michele makes the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted, as well as jams and various delicious vegetables conserved in oil (sott’olio = under oil). Michele’s rustic rendition of bruschetta is a freakin’ revelation: toast slices of hearty bread quickly over an open fire (scrape off any burn with a knife eagerly), rub with a raw garlic clove while still piping hot, douse liberally with buttery olive oil, perhaps a sprinkling of homegrown oregano, and eat. Ambrosial.

On our first full day we visited the laboratorio up the street where the fresh oil is transferred into large tanks, later to be filtered and aged. After that, we cut and gathered wood from the closest olive grove to bring back to the house, with the help of Seiji, a Japanese expat who has been working at Hirpus for the past few months. We were the picture of Peace itself with our shoulder-loads of olive boughs bouncing in the fresh breeze. It wouldn’t be bad to live here, I thought. The wars could never touch us. Lunchtime arrived. A meal was prepared for us by Michele’s mum, a feisty 82 year-old who is just as concerned with spirits (and just as loud) as her son. “Then what idol do you pray to when you have need!?” she asked Aaron and me after we had divulged that we are not Catholics. I said I didn’t have an idol, though I wish I’d told her that these days I pray to wolves’ mouths and chestnuts. She has a boatload of them drying on a sheet on her patio. I’m keeping the one she gave me in my pocket.


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