Who is sleeping in those hammocks?

Hiking the trail down to Vernazza I heard “What are those things?  They must be hammocks!” Olive netsOlive nets





A curious response I thought and there would be a lot of people sleeping under olive trees….if they were! But for those who have never been involved in olive picking it could be difficult to guess what the netting was for. Besides not every region leaves the olive nets tied under the trees. It is rare in Tuscany and only in places where it is difficult to reach the trees. These photos are from the Cinque Terre where accessibility is always problematic, terraced land far from road access make it a necessity to leave the nets tied up all year.Cinque Terre olive netsCinque Terre olive nets





Unleashed, and spread out between the trees the area looks like a fairyland so no surprise if a leprechaun or two appeared! In reality though, the nets are spread to catch the olives as they fall snatched by strong winds or drop as they mature. Not a practice that is used in Tuscany as Tuscans prefer to pick their olives slightly before maturation thus producing a superb extra virgin olive oil with an almost spicy tang to it. Being a vegetarian this is perfect to give that slight boost to dishes without overwhelming the flavour.

Liguria and the Cinque Terre of which is part, have their own variety of olive – Taggiasca which has a more delicate flavour and goes perfectly with the seafood dishes and other local specialities. And then every region in Italy is very protective of their olives, each boasting the best!

We have been so lucky this year, as it has been a good season, and the dreadful bug of last year died in the heat of the Summer. So I was happily back picking in Pienza on the Paolucci’s property, even in a T-shirt the weather was so mild!Picking olivesOlive picking






Olive Rake machine



While I love to hand pick, we were helped by the battery operated rake machine. 10 Quintali (1000kg) in five days was pretty good for 5 pickers, starting after the fog lifted and finishing around 5pm as the sun set. This year with the addition of a good old trusty Ape truck to help  us.

OlivesApe truck








Unfortunately we were also a little on the run, hiding under the trees, as helicopters circled in the mornings and late afternoon to catch pickers who were not officially registered workers with the risk of imposing heavy fines (€ 3,000) both on the picker and the employer! We were just a group of old friends picking, like so many others, being paid in olive oil, as the tradition has been for centuries. Sunset on Pienza

Pienza Cathedral

Pienza Cathedral

Paolucci olive picking

Aleardo Paolucci – ‘Olive Picking’

Everyone was grumbling about it and pointing the finger at the large companies attempting to get a stranglehold on the olive oil industry. Not that many of us locals were likely to buy the extra virgin olive oil offered on the supermarket shelves as we had picked our own!Not unexpected either was the news that some of those major companies are now under investigation for labelling their product as extra virgin olive oil, when it was merely olive oil – meaning of lesser quality, higher acidity level and probably not from the first press. Not a surprise as for the quantity they sell it would be impossible to produce extra virgin olive oil exclusively from Tuscan or even Italian olives. So I can only suggest you find a good local producer at a farmer’s market and definitely avoid brand names like – Bertoli, Carapelli and Coricelli!

So savour the new oil, lash out and splash it about and believe me…you never get fat on extra virgin olive oil!



The curtain falls on Milan Expo

Expo has closed after entertaining us for 6 months, with its exotic world pavilions, dramatic displays and superb presentations. “Feeding the planet, Energy for life” was the theme and I am only able to publish photos now as every ticket holder was bound to a ‘no publicity’ agreement. Not that they were likely to find my little blog….but you just never know?!

It has been a great success, with 21.5 million visitors, and a 140 countries represented. I was one of the early birds to go in May and it definitely had a WOW factor. An architects paradise inside and out: stylish, avant-garde, a smidge bizarre, technologically impressive, reflecting the heart and soul of each country.
Pavilions designed around the concept of sustainability, low impact energy systems using recyclable materials. External green spaces were important and a blessing to the eye and tired feet, a well earned place to stretch out and relax, lulled to the music of water fountains.

Turkey pavilionThailand



Italian pavilion

Italy’s pavilion, while looking like squirted paint gone wrong, was actually made of smog ‘eating’ concrete, and inside a full immersion in mirrors.Italy pavilion expo
 Expo Italy pavilio
 Expo Mexico
Expo French pavilion
French pavilion
   The French pavilion had laser cut undulating wood panelling while Mexico was encased in husk leaves.

Expo UAE


Sand dunes lead the way into the United Arab Emirates, the rice food cluster reflected the public doing yoga in its mirror walls, and solar trees lit up the German pavilion.





Expo rice cluster



Each country proudly told it’s own story of climate change, harnessing new energies, converting sea water to sweet, new and ancient customs and the move away from monoculture industrial agriculture.


You could feel like a bee humming in the hive in the UK, bounce into Brazil along the interlaced cord, be absorbed in incredible 3D movies in Israel and UAE, or spin off on a Coca-Cola seat.

Expo Brazil

Expo Kazakhstan
The Kazakhstan sand painting  introduction was fantastic as was the rest of their very sophisticated exhibition, definitely my favourite!  And in a moment of relax, we were entertained by Bielorussia performers
I was disappointed to see no sign of Australia nor think Australians even knew of Expo‘s existence!

My enthusiasm never wanes and I went back for a second visit with the crowds in October as I found the pavilions remarkable, both inside and out, and a wonderful opportunity to learn about gastronomic traditions and the new technologies being employed to increase sustainability.

Expo China


China Expo







Expo Slow FoodSlow Food Biodiversity park



The Slow Food exhibition offered much food for thought – like our inappropriate industrial food chain that is leaving the land scarred and barren, doused in chemicals as we continue to eat more processed foods. The contradiction of millions still remaining undernourished while others die of ailments from too much food. It made me feel guilty about eating quinoa seeing the changes it has made to Bolivian farmers!  On a lighter note, we were treated to a sensory display, sniffing and feeling into boxes to guess what food….a lot of laughs there, and then rested amongst the cabbages and tomatoes in the biodiversity park outside.

Time will tell if the Milan charter signed by millions will reach its goal, but it has certainly raised people’s consciousness,  produced hours of global discussions and we can only hope it will make positive changes to this tired old world submerged in problems and daily dramas which we see only too close in Europe.

Expo entrance


Expo Israel






The Italian pavilion will remain (eating smog) together with some of the other pavilions, and the Tree of life will be our Eiffel Tower. The rest is to be dismantled, returned to each country or auctioned to the highest bidders, while the remaining area will most likely to turn into a University campus, research centre and Red Cross headquarters.Expo Cezch Republic

Expo Tree of Life

Tree of Life



For more info see this Expo site