The Italian Connection

Driving by night through northern Italy to Lake Como we awake to small streets in the village of Ossuccio

Guidando di notte attraverso il nord Italia fino al Lago di Como, ci svegliamo nelle piccole strade del villaggio di Ossuccio

Profoundly touristic in summer the area is sleepy by winter. Our purpose is to learn about restoring dry stone terraces by connecting with local people.

Profondamente turistica in estate, la zona è assonnata in inverno. Il nostro scopo è imparare aripristinare i terrazzamenti in pietra a secco, mettendoci in contatto con la gente locale

Traveling with stone mason and conservator Pat Hickey from Wexford, longstanding cultural links between Lombardy and Ireland makes this trip into a special pilgrimage for us.

In viaggio con l’esperto costruttore e conservatore Pat Hickey di Wexford. I legami culturali di lunga data tra Lombardia e Irlanda rendono questo viaggio un pellegrinaggio speciale per noi.

Built in ancient times possibly by Romans or perhaps by Greek slaves brought by Romans to this area, these terraces are home to a grove of beautiful old olive trees.

Costruite in tempi antichi, probabilmente dai romani o forse dagli schiavi greci portati dai romani nella zona, queste terrazze ospitano splendidi ulivi secolari.

We meet Zaira Pedrini who became engaged in a rescue of the area’s heritage when planners proposed to plough a road directly through this property which belongs to her family.

Incontriamo Zaira Pedrini che si è impegnata nel salvataggio del patrimonio dell’area quando era stata proposta la realizzazione di una strada che avrebbe dovuto attraversare questa proprietà che appartiene alla sua famiglia

(Pedrini with daughter Matilde)

Zaira invited Norman Haddow mastercraftman waller from Scotland, to teach how the terraces may be restored. Work began last year!

Zaira ha invitato il mastro costruttore scozzese Norman Haddow a insegnare come possono essere ripristinati i terrazzamenti. I lavori sono iniziati l’anno scorso!

(Norman views last years achievements)

Due to changes in agriculture and globalization, small holdings are no longer considered profitable – in the same way that much of Ireland’s once precious farmland now goes to waste.

A causa dei cambiamenti nell’agricoltura e della globalizzazione, le piccole aziende non sono più considerate redditizie, nello stesso modo in cui gran parte delle terre agricole irlandesi, un tempo preziose, ora vanno in rovina.

We learn about the challenges of working on steep slopes – it requires much more energy than being on gentle ground.

Note how each loose stone must be captured lest it rolls downhill and lands in the village below!

Impariamo a conoscere le sfide del lavoro su pendii ripidi: richiede molta più energia rispetto ad essere su un terreno pianeggiante. Ogni pietra libera deve essere messa in sicurezza per non rotolare in discesa e atterrare nel villaggio sottostante!

A happy international group of volunteers begins to clear this section which has collapsed due to flooding, until foundation stones are exposed.

Un felice gruppo di volontari provenienti da diverse nazioni inizia a ripulire questa sezione che è crollata a causa della spinta di acqua e terra, fino a quando le pietre di fondazione tornano in superficie.

A stunning view of the island of Comacina, and Zaira’s mother Milena who does the extremely important job of feeding the workforce

Una vista sbalorditiva dell’isola di Comacina e di Milena, madre di Zaira, che svolge l’importante lavoro di nutrire il gruppo

with home made meals including polenta, a regional dish.

con pasti fatti in casa tra cui la polenta, un piatto regionale

Foundation stones which have been disturbed by the weight of earth are lifted using a fulcrum, leveled and re positioned.

Le pietre di fondazione che sono state compromesse dal peso della terra vengono sollevate usando delle leve, quindi livellate e riposizionate.

In Italy dry stone terraces are recognized by UNESCO as being of intangible cultural heritage of humanity importance. We in Ireland are working towards the same goal for our own dry laid heritage.

In Italia l’arte della pietra a secco (it’s not the craft but the art itself to be considered) è riconosciuta dall’UNESCO come patrimonio  immateriale dell’umanità. In Irlanda stiamo lavorando per lo stesso obiettivo.

As with collapsed walls the world over, there is never enough stone for rebuilding. So we look to the mountain above for a fresh source.

Come per i muri crollati in ogni parte del mondo, non c’è mai abbastanza pietra per la ricostruzione. Quindi abbiamo ricercato nuovo materiale nel pendio sovrastante.

(Serena brings up the height)

After erecting a net of double sheep wire below, stone is rolled down hill then handled in stages to the work site. Tricky enough in an avalanche area.

Dopo aver eretto una rete di contenimento, la pietra viene fatta rotolare giù per la collina e quindi gestita in più fasi verso il sito di lavoro: abbastanza complicato in una zona di frane.

Gravity does the hard work.

La gravità fa il duro lavoro

As ever this work fills you with respect for it’s original builders

Come sempre questo lavoro ti riempie di rispetto per i costruttori originali

and the generations who toiled to survive here.

e le generazioni che hanno lavorato duramente per sopravvivere qui.

The true spirit of ‘meitheal’ the Irish expression of the ancient appliance of cooperation to social need, is in action here. This universal system is the only practical way forward.

Il vero spirito di “meitheal”, espressione irlandese che descrive un’antica modalità di cooperazione, è in azione qui. Questo sistema universale è l’unica pratica da portare avanti.

 

(Gabriele topping off the wall)

In a few days the group rebuild 40 square meters of terracing including this section with a drain to deal with future flooding.

In pochi giorni il gruppo ricostruisce 40 metri quadrati di muro, compresa questa sezione con un foro di scolo per far fronte ai futuri flussi di acqua.

We form lasting friendships and exchange knowledge, with evening talks and shared values. Zaira hopes that this model may be taken up by other local people to arrest the decline of terraces which would be a fantastic outcome of her work.

Stringiamo amicizie durature e scambiamo conoscenza, anche grazie alle conversazioni serali e la condivisione di valori. Zaira spera che questo modello possa essere adottato da altre persone del luogo per arrestare il declino dei terrazzamanti. Questo sarebbe un risultato fantastico

(Norman and local beekeeper Peter Moltoni)

                                   The people here are as beautiful as the landscape. Our heartfelt gratitude remains with the walls we build together.

Le persone qui sono belle come il paesaggio. Rimane la nostra sincera gratitudine con i muri costruiti insieme

 

16 thoughts on “The Italian Connection

  1. The steepness of the slope, shown well in #9 & 10, suggests significant difficulty in building a wall with enough backset to shore the soil behind, especially if onrushing climate disruption continues pour down rain.
    In #10 exposing the foundation stones, I note a layer of rubble above and behind, beneath who knows how many centuries of soil, which suggests that much f the terracing is indeed ancient.
    A beautiful photo essay.

    1. Thanks for your observations, and worth noting that a fresh water well lies directly below the collapsed section, indicating a natural path for water in that particular zone but no doubt added to by increased rainfall. The earth behind the wall was wet clay. Other sections were disturbed by hazel saplings which had to be dug out.
      I’ve amended the text to include aspirations that this project could act as a model for other landowners to restore otherwise un affordable stone work. We get back to the old Irish expression ‘meitheal’ – a universal system of many hands!

      1. That pic of you at the roots of an especially ancient olive tree reminds me of the test canny Penelope set Odysseus.
        The spread of the olive could almost be the template for the expansion of capitalism – it only produces oil vegetative propagation though the seed is easily dispersed by birds, which yield a much less useful fruit.

  2. Louise I resonate sympathetically with your comment on the significant difficulty in building a wall with enough backset to shore the soil behind. I have numerous collapsed sections on my terraced mountain in Mayo due to increasing rainfall, and that is echoed along the mountains of the Atlantic West. The method of preventing displaced stone rolling unhindered down the mountainside (stretched wire) is a technique I leapt on as it resolves one of my big issues. Your “Limewindow” posts are a valuable new form of “meitheil” in themselves.

    1. Thank you Marie I’m happy to hear these articles may be of practical benefit. Prior to developing the downhill system we tried lugging stone from an adjacent site, and after two exhausting hours of precarious wheelbarrow action had very little stone to show for it!
      It was then Patrick began to talk about how Machcu Picchu was constructed from the top downwards, not by heaving material uphill or sideways. We spent the whole morning securing a double sheep wire safety fence at the foot of this mountain. Plenty of loose stone up high there to harvest, as it falls from the cliff and gathers at roots of trees. Then we tested our net with rugby ball sized stones which built up against the net forming a bank, making it more secure, before rolling down the big boys. Incredible how much momentum they gathered on the incline, and furthermore, if they struck stone on the journey down they BOUNCED and could potentially jump over the net!
      I can forward you some pictures of the process in action.
      I recently learned from a colleague who had worked in Haiti on terraces after the earthquake, that many locals suffer from hip complaints from lifetime graft on slopes.

      1. I was more than a little afrighted by that short video showing the attempt to wheelbarrow a large stone which then tumbled down the hillside.
        Fortunately it was caught by the others held by the net but just a little more momentum and it could easily have bounced over and continued on down the hill.
        The idea of using the stone from above was the traditional method of building roads in the high Himalayas for centuries until the euroid educated engineers decided that was too old skool.
        Cue decades during which expensive, new roads simply slipped down the hillsides each winter, either with their annual burden of snow (in the Himalayas? hooda thunk) or when it melted.

        1. The clip is a wee bit dramatic but shows stone being intentionally dumped from the wheelbarrow. The reason for the shouting was the barrow tipped earlier than planned, to show the difficulties controlling weight. This was the final drop to the work place terrace. Previously that stone had already journeyed down a purpose built chute on the terrace directly above, and prior to that rolled down the mountain over larger distance into the net which I described in my reply. Three stages of handling!
          It never ceases to amaze how centuries of knowledge is wiped out by what you describe as ‘euroid educated engineers’. This process doesn’t happen overnight, but in a short time, in comparison to the period which is required to develop the real, original skills!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts on this, I really appreciate it. The wonders of meitheal and what it can achieve.

    1. Anna what a blessing that we have retained the word in our native language, if not wholly the mindset in modern Ireland, and it is great to have people in roles like yours who are switched on to this. By necessity in the past, but we see repeatedly in such large projects at home also, like Tír Chonaill or Mulranny Stone Festivals for example, just how important the concept is. Not only to achieve the work and share skills,but for the social cohesion it brings across cultures, genders and generations. Zaira who runs this project in Ossuccio is switched on to the meitheal, but interestingly we haven’t yet found the term in Italian, if indeed it exists or existed in the past, Makes me appreciate even more the unique value of meitheal.

  4. Stones connect people, through hands, mind and heart!
    Thanks Aloisia for opening your limewindow on our experience… I’m so grateful for all we shared!

  5. Fantastic trip to make, I’m sure you and Pat worked hard as ever. Great link made, lots learnt by all and a heritage structure benefits from the accumulated skills and energy put into its restoration. Brilliant.

  6. Thank you for this beautiful and interesting post, Louise. Congratulations to Zaira for taking action to save and restore the stone walls and for protecting the local heritage. Thumbs up to Norman, Pat, you and all the other participants on a job well done.

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