A respectable Canadian farm has a large green lawn out front. The Swiss farmer has an apple orchard. And the Italian farmer along the Cote d’Azur has an olive grove. Pietro, who runs the bed and breakfast we found last night near Andora, proudly served us his own olive oil with salad from his own garden (no E-coli!). But the terraces on the hillside that once were covered with olive trees are overgrown with scrub brush now. The only thing to remind us of the once thriving olive industry in Andora is the Olive Museum. –Economics, Pietro said.
We followed the coastline, the deep blue Mediterranean Sea to our right and terracotta villages and towns hugging the rugged harsh hillsides on our left. (Stopping at the beach, I thought that the warm clear water I am dipping my feet in is tainted with the blood of Libyans on the opposite shore.) We turned inland – leaving the olive groves and vineyards, pine nuts and figs. Passing through deep mountain valleys covered with chestnuts and oaks we came out on the other side of the last tunnel to rain and expansive wheat and barley fields.
I never associated Italy with rice. But why else would risotto be a favourite national dish? Robert wanted to drive through the flat farmland around Milano, and we must have passed by rice paddies for an hour or more, before and after Novara. Sometimes the rice fields alternated with corn – the source for another national dish – polenta. So I guess the wheat fields we saw must be for pasta!
As we got closer to the Italian border, Robert reached back 50 years for a little Italian. When he was a child on their family farm in Switzerland, they used to employ Italian workers, like most other farmers. He picked up enough words then to find us a room now and communicate at least the basics with our hosts. Those Italians working in Switzerland either went back home or are respectable citizens of Switzerland now with good jobs. The farm workers have been replaced with people from Poland or the Slavic countries (former Yugoslavia). The new Schengen rules with the EU, regulating the movement of people across the border, have made it so much easier to employ workers from outside Switzerland, especially now that the former Eastern European states have joined the EU.
During our five days in France, I appreciated again the fact that Canada is bilingual. Between my three years of high school French many years ago, and the French words beside the English on every package of milk (and everything else) I was amazed at how much I could pick up. But now I’m pretty much at a loss. I know almost as much Bemba (from Zambia) as I do Italian.
Example: If we order latte caldo – why is the milk hot?? What’s the issue with a camera in my room (camera=room…)?? And who ordered the fish with my linguine?? So that’s a little what a new non-English speaking immigrant feels like in Canada!