Autumn is particularly lovely in Tuscany with the red pomegranates – often with an open gash – set in bushes turning bright yellow. No olives to speak of this year because of the relentless dry spring and summer. In May the sun dried the small, unexciting flowers off the olive trees to leave the tiny olive to fatten helped by gentle rain and then ripen in late October. No rain. The flowers shrivelled and so did the small olive-to-be beneath. Still, it was a time under blue skies to meet the families of friends who join us every year for the harvest. It was warm enough to eat out at lunch time and not even cold enough to light a fire in the evenings, so no ashes to clear.
Such times of visual and social joy must be marred by something – weather, illness, human frailty – and this time it was bureaucracy. For years now we have been taking our refuse, carefully sorted, to put into the large bins provided by the local council (we pay our yearly refuse tax) conveniently placed in front of a nearby fire station. This year everyone was provided with a long wordy document telling them they should collect a key and bags. The large bins were removed to be replaced on a narrower road by small, locked ones. We asked around to find out about our key. Everyone else had theirs delivered. We weren’t there, obviously, at the right time. Finally we went to the Council offices in Cortona and were directed to the Nettizia Urbana in a hamlet some miles away. We sat in an office for 11 minutes (I timed it!) while the official spoke on the phone while feigning not to look at us. To be fair, he was talking about rubbish disposal, but it didn’t merit so much time, lengthened by repetition, while we were sitting waiting.
To take advantage of the sunlight we decided to visit a small ridge town, Torrita di Siena, we had never explored. It had been visited by Garibaldi and King Vittorio Emanuele (inscriptions on the Town Hall) and even had a learned society of the Oscuri. Not so ‘obscure’ perhaps as leaflets outside their quarters invited anyone interested to join. Only distance curbed the temptation. Then on to Montepulciano to visit the cathedral which was closed because some 15th-century drama was being filmed. Serendipity indeed. There slouching on the steps clad in velvet were the extras, smoking!
In the darkness, after asking a couple exercising their dog where the refuse offices were, we managed to get our key and all the relevant bags only to find all the ‘differentiated’ bins full to overflowing. When the old system works better…can one hope of a return? I fear not.