When friends in New York used to ask me what I was going to do for work when I moved to Italy, I would jokingly include “harvesting grapes” in my list of possible job options. Little did I know that after five months of surviving with little to no income, I would actually be pulling out my old sneakers and trying to figure out what one wears to go cut grapes off the vines. Saverio (the lawyer with the agriturismo/cooking school/vineyard) said he would be happy to have me on his “squadra.” I had no idea what to expect other than the one word that seemed to exist in everyone’s tales of prior years: “faticosa.” Okay, so it was tiring. I could handle tiring. But was it difficult? Was there skill involved? My Italian professor Alberto seemed convinced I was going to cut off a finger, so I resolved to pay close attention to what I was doing.
Saverio told me to be at Angela’s bar bright and early this morning and I was ready when the San Gallo truck rolled up to take me and the rest of the squad to the fields. Much to my surprise, there were not wizened old men working the harvest, but lots of young men and woman, some students, some professionals, but all anxious for a little extra income.
I noted right away that everyone had brought their own cutting tool. They are called forbici…basically big clippers. Saverio provided me with one, then I was handed a bucket and told to start cutting. There was no direction on which grape bunches shouldn’t be cut. For example some had green on them in places and others were dried out like raisins. I finally asked Mohammad who was on the vine next to me for assistance. He told me which to discard. “Butta alla terra,” he said for the ones with green on them. I obligingly snipped and tossed away the ugly grapes. The work wasn’t hard but you did have to pay attention so as not to snip yourself along with the grapes. I began to get a sense for the way the fruit weaved it’s way over the vine and worked out a rhythm. If we’d had some music, it would have been even better. The only gross thing was the constant arrival of spiders and other insects who were residing in the mature vines and weren’t happy about the disruption.
We finished the first field in an hour or so, and then had to wait for the tractor to come back so we could start a new load. We repeated the process in two more fields and by 1:00 it was time for lunch. The rest of my squadra is heading back now for the afternoon cutting, but I have a student for English, so I will go back again in the morning. I had an opportunity to chat with some of the other people and found that two sisters had come down from Florence to participate. There were also two guests of the agriturismo who were helping out just for the fun of it. “Are you getting paid for this?” the American from Maine asked me. “God, I hope so,” I replied. But honestly, even without money, I can see the allure. Blue skies, acres and acres of gorgeous vineyards, grapes so ripe they burst on your fingers if you apply too much pressure, and the satisfaction of being part of something that has been going on for hundreds of years. The wine will taste that much sweeter this year. I look forward to another day and another bucket to fill!