Monday, 28 March 2016

Excerpts from Joe Pieri's book The Scots-Italians

Here are a few excerpts from Joe Pieri's book The Scots- Italians

"The hills above and around Barga were dotted with hundreds of tiny hamlets whose inhabitants lived at a bare subsistance level, and whose way of life had not changed in a centuary. Most of the land above Barga was owned by an absentee landlord, Pietro Bertacchi, who let out little parcels of  his huge estate to tenant crofters and their families."

"The rental paid to Bertacchi was not in cash, but consisted of one half of everything the land yielded: olives, cured ham and meats from pigs, cheese from sheep and goats and milk products from the cow that grazed on every hamlet, and grain and wool, if the croft was big enough to sustain more than a just a few sheep."

"Every year at chestnut harvesting time scores of families would climb up to Bacchionero, either from the Lucca valley beneath or from the other side of the Apuan Alps, journeys of many miles made on foot over rocky and dangerous paths. Men, women and young children, they would all set themselves to the gathering of the precious chestnuts until mountains of them had been accumulated in the area in front of the church. The harvest could last for a week of so, with the peasants sleeping in barns or stables or wherever could afford shelter from the cold autumn nights............When the chestnut flour had been poured into sacks, one half of these were put aside for Bertacchi, ready for collection by his agents................ Their work done, the chestnut harvesters would return home. Payment for their work consisted of as much flour as they could load on their backs, and father and mother and children, all heavily laden with as much as each could carry, took to the rocky paths with their loads, some to descend into the valley below, and some to climb back over the Apuan Alps into the valleys there, a backbreaking journey of two or three days................ I helped to load the landlord Bertacchi's share on to his agent's mules, and I still have clear memories of the departing chestnut harvesters, laden like beasts of burden with sacks of chestnut flour, winding their way along the hillside paths."


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