Mother Nature is giving us one last sensory overload before the dark and quiet of winter. Colors are vibrant but tinged with decay. The air carries the scent of earth and smoke; the smell of sunlight and freshness is relegated to the back of the closet along with t-shirts and sandals.
Our Umbrian fall smells of abundance.
Chestnuts, mushrooms, truffles, grapes, fresh olive oil, the last bits of the orto, the calming, restful smell of the heavy morning mists all beg you to slow down and get ready for winter.
It also means it’s time for us to go back to NY. I’m saving up all these smells so I have something to remember when we go back.
The prickly smell of wood smoke, that little tickle it makes in the back of the throat, this defines the smell of Montone once the days are cool and the nights long. It’s what people talk about when they remember Montone, ringing bells and wood smoke. Some people still heat their houses and water with wood fires because they never joined the community gas line when it was put in, so we still need our wood cutters. The thunderous rattle of a tractor load of wood being dumped in front of Carla’s house is a famliar sound in town.
When I open the bottle that holds our freshly pressed olive oil, I’m back in the olive grove, I’m back at the mill inhaling that strangely euphoric smell. We were at the mill last week, and I swear that smell releases endorphins. Everyone is happy, the workers are smiling, the people waiting are excited to get their oil, there is a contagion of happiness and expectation.
Of course there is the earthy, sexy, urgent smell of truffles. Citta di Castello’s annual “Tartufi Bianchi”, “White Truffles” festival is an olfactory bacchanal. Greedy eyes and noses suck up the wanton wafts of truffle drenched air that linger and seduce as you walk by. “Hurry up, smell me, I’m perfect right now, eat me tonight.” You know the temptress truffle is right, and you empty your wallet and bring her home.
Building a fire and grilling meat seems like the proper way to welcome guests to dinner. We’re drenching grilled bread with our fresh, bright, green olive oil, It’s time for sipping new wines, and then going back to drinking an aged wine because how much youth can one tolerate?
My finger tips are blackened from cracking open roasted chestnuts, and cleaning fall artichokes; Jeff’s fingers are rough and grubby from cleaning out the orto.