Time and Wilderness

Although we’re in the middle of a heatwave in the Garfagnana (Tuscany), August is when we stock up with firewood for the winter.

You see firewood stacked at the roadside everywhere.

Firewood stacked at the roadside ready to be sawn into shorter lengths and split.

At 8.05 on Friday morning I hear Domenico’s tractor chugging up the cobbled street to my gate. Before 8 am, people might be asleep. Domenico is considerate, but can’t conceive of anyone sleeping later. He fetches his wheelbarrow from his cellar and starts unloading the logs.

Domenico's wheelbarrow is 50 years old and still going strong

Domenico’s wheelbarrow is 50 years old and still going strong.

He places each log in the wheelbarrow, and when it’s full, wheels it through my gate to a small open cellar window at ground level, where he tips out his load and returns to the tractor for another.

One barrow load at a time

One barrow load at a time

I squat at the window and throw each log through it into the cellar.

My turn to now to throw the logs into the cellar

I muse on how many times each piece of wood has been transferred.

We work at a leisurely but steady pace, sometimes stopping to chat. This is the tempo of the Italian countryside.

Casabasciana surrounded by wooded slopes (photo: Andrew Bartley)

Casabasciana surrounded by wooded slopes (photo: Andrew Bartley)

Our village is surrounded by woodland which appears to the untutored eye as wilderness, uninhabited except by wild animals and birds. In fact, every tree and the land it’s rooted in belongs to someone. Domenico is as at home in the woods as he is in the village. He knows it intimately: the names of the localities and all the varieties of trees. I ask him about the different types of wood he’s brought me. I know stringy, yellow acacia and assume most of the rest is chestnut, but he corrects me. This is olmo (field elm) and this one frassino (ash). Why don’t I see them when I’m out walking in the woods? Perhaps I didn’t look on the north side of slopes near water courses.

The essence of slow travel is to have time to absorb the culture of a place. My food tours are rural, and although I don’t ask my guests to help me stack firewood, we do visit people like Domenico. We meet artisan food producers and sit around chatting over a pot of cheese curd and a lengthy home-cooked meal.

Mario philosophises at the lunch table

Mario philosophises at the lunch table. (photo: Janette Gross)

At one point Domenico wheels in another barrow load of logs before I’ve finished throwing the last load into the cellar. I speed up, and he says: ‘Non c’è fretta’ — there’s no rush. It’s a message you find all over, from restaurants to aprons.

Sign at restaurant: 'If you're in a hurry, come back when you're not'.

Sign at restaurant: ‘If you’re in a hurry, come back when you’re not’.

Garfagnana dove il tempo non corre (Garfagnana where time stands still)

Garfagnana—Dove il tempo non corre (‘Garfagnana where time doesn’t run’)

If you take one Italian souvenir home with you, this message should be it: there’s no rush. It’s allowed in your carry-on bag and it weighs nothing.

Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
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