Letters from Roma: Part II

Story by Natalie Smith, The Saint Reporter
Photo courtesy of Natalie Smith 

I had dirt under my fingernails and the sun warming my skin as we worked during the day of Halloween. There was an earthy smell in the air and the Roman water never tasted so good as when we took breaks. The students and monks that live on our villa celebrated All Hallows’ Eve in a different way than usual. Costumes and candy came later, but we started the holiday with the Annual Olive Harvest at our Villa Serenella.

When Tony Assaf, the TMC Program Director, first mentioned it, I pictured a very cautious plucking of the olives off the trees, taking care not to damage the slender branches. This was not the case. As we gathered around our first tree for a lesson, a few students were mysteriously handed long bamboo sticks. I quickly learned the two methods of harvesting olives. In the first, you grab as far up on a branch as you can go, hold loosely, and then slide your hand down, popping the olives off as you go and pulling a fair amount of leaves and twigs with them. The second method was a particular favorite of the group. Quite simply, you repeatedly whack the tree as hard as you can with the bamboo pole. This shakes the olives loose and they rain down like slightly less painful paintballs on those plucking underneath.

Olives are not meant to be consumed until they have been cured. I learned that lesson firsthand to my great dismay. I tried eating one that looked particularly ripe with a deep purple hue. The olive was thick and juicy as I bit into it, thinking it would be great. It tasted the way dirty socks smell and left the most awful, bitter aftertaste in my mouth. The olives from the Villa are sent to a press where they are squished and packaged in bottles to yield the most amazing olive oil you will ever taste. It takes a fair amount of manual labor, but is all worth it when we get to taste the literal fruit of our labors.

But don’t worry, Roma is not all work and no play. In the words of Aquinas Junior Emma Wonsil, “It’s like this lovely blur of beautiful sights and exhaustion.”

A day in Roma can seem like a week with all the places and activities we pack into it, but our stay here is also passing like the blink of an eye. It is the little things that make Roma: the shards of colored tile in the gravel, the “zingaros” that appear out of nowhere on every corner the moment it starts to rain, offering you an umbrella for only three euro, the green metal shutters on the windows, thrown open to let in the sunshine, and the way every syllable of the language sounds like poetry and song in my ear. There have been a lot of churches and a lot of learning. Some of that learning is in the classroom setting, but I find the majority of it is through experience. Studying abroad in Italy has been an education of all the senses and I am looking forward to what else I will learn here.

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