Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lemons, lemons and more lemons... oh yes, and paper as well

Like a previous trip I have been extremely remiss in not staying current on these posts.  However I did use that wonder App called Track My Tour (please tell Chris that I sent you if you check it out) which did a much better job.  Here is the link to this part of the trip -- Click here.


You really cannot talk about this part of the world without talking about lemons... and of course the Romans and the Egyptians from whom they 'acquired' the plants and knowledge of how to grow them to this wondrous size and taste.  For you can eat the whole thing, including pith and skin which actually to me tasted rather like delicious lemony biscuits.  The pulp isn't too sour either, nor is it sweet.  Just that happy mid-point between sweet and sour.  Locals here eat them with salt.  Absolutely delicious!

In our stay we had quite a bit of spare time to bimble in between the tours organised for us by Daniele and as much of the time after Paestum was dry and sunny, it was really nice to just bimble up and down the valley in Amalfi.

The town itself is probably no more than 50 metres wide either side of the river floor up the sides of the mountains and the streets are of course very narrow.  Once you pass 1/2 mile or so up from the sea front, the houses start to come to an end and the path, or rather steps, start to get steeper... and steeper.

This is the path that the townspeople used to use when they were running away from the pirates to the little town on top of the mountain -- which may be Ravello or some other little village.

Today of course it is peace personified.

Amalfi was/is famous for paper as well as lemons.  Well they do have that river and ravine after all.  The technique for paper making was brought in from the Muslims in the 12th century (who'd learned it from the Chinese) and with trees and river, you'd have thought everything was perfect... except that it wasn't/isn't made from trees at all.  Rather other plants.  Well actually old clothes which were made out of flax and other plant material.  First of all bleach white with urine and then...

There's a paper museum in the town that I thought would be awful but it was actually fantastic.  They showed us how in this mill (right on the outskirts of town) that they diverted the river to aid the process, the stretching and drying racks and all the rest of it.  The Pope's writing paper is still from these parts.

There used to be 70 paper mills on this river, none today but the plants still remain dotting the landscape up the side of the mountains on the little footpaths into the hills.  They are now fully integrated into the landscape like the lemon plantations stepped up the valley from Amalfi proper.

Pretty amazing sight to see the steps all the way up like that.  The covers are to protect the lemon trees from both sun and frost but as we discovered not everything is well in the land of the lemon.

Daniele had organised a lemon tour for us and so we met Salvatore, an ex-tax guy from Positano who took the business over from his 82 year old dad 3 years ago.  Jam packed full of anecdotes and information, he was withering about the EU primarily and how regulations favoured large companies and hindered small ones to the point where most farmers in the area no longer bothered farming properly so a lot of those covers you see over lemon trees could have been there 5 years or more.  The plants underneath would be rotten by now (his farm is the biggest locally and was in the process of taking the screens off to give better access to nice warm air vital in this stage of cultivation).


Anyway I could go on endlessly about the EU's malign influence here but take away just a couple of things that he told us.  First is about sheep.  Why sheep?  Well the lemon trees are farmed on steps and create a lovely shady screen.  Under the screen the grass and weeds have to be kept down so the old way was to let sheep roam at will.  They couldn't use goats as they eat down to the roots whilst sheep crop the top.  Goats would turn the place into a desert as they have in many parts of Africa, for example.  The sheep would keep everything down and fertilize the soil naturally.  Eating like that would make their flesh slightly lemony itself so it was all a win-win.  The EU forbid keeping sheep without pens which farms don't have.  Futhermore they also forbid sheep fertilizer being used on lemon trees (regulation 1223768, sub paragraph 132456, footnote 19886 or something).  So now farms have to employ someone to keep the grass down and buy fertilizer for the plants.  Many have given up the ghost so lots of the farms aren't looked after at all.

Sheep used to roam here, no longer thanks to the EU
Second is about the steps themselves.  They fall down, not all the time but certainly from time to time.  When they collapse, they cost 10,000 euros to replace or repair.  Salvatore said this farm had 3 such occurrences in the previous year which was about normal.  He repairs them but others do not so the valley walls are gradually disappearing which causes soil erosion and threatens the entire eco-fabric of the region.  We met a journalist and his cameraman who are the Daily Telegraph Paris correspondents down in this region just to write an article about this. Both fascinating and disturbing.

One of the main uses of local lemons is limoncello as the cost to produce and sell is uncompetitive with other locations, so they have to do something creative and of course delicious!

And lemon risotto... just fantastic!
If you don't believe me, check out the article here.  Nice picture of Salvatore in the family museum too.

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