The week that was (27 July 2017)

- There was a wonderful article about Bruce Pascoe in Saveur, you may (should) know his work, particularly via his book Dark Emu – “To Pascoe, food and agriculture are tied to acknowledging sovereignty, and may also create a pathway to reparation for an ages-old culture that thinks of land in metaphysical terms, not as mere real estate.” Hear, hear. I also loved this: “‘We were such great astronomers, because we knew the sky so well. Europeans stare at the stars, but aboriginal people also see the spaces between, where the dark emu resides.’ Perhaps that’s how Pascoe knows to look at an overgrown field on the edge of an airstrip and see a loaf of bread in Australia’s past—and another in its future.” 
- On the topic of Australian terroir, I have just finished reading The Cattle King, a book looking at Sir Sidney Kidman’s influence on Australian pastoral traditions. There was much in there about the land we have foolishly ignored, trampled over or let go. "In the old days the creeks did not run so fast nor flood so easily. Now so much top soil has been washed and blown away that the creeks had silted up. Only the hard surface of the earth was left. The rains, now, just ran off this hard crust into the silted creek. In old days much of that rain would have been absorbed by the topsoil. And the saltbush and grasses and shrubs and trees which then bound the topsoil together would have flourished and carpeted the earth with rich feed for stock." The book, beyond a fascinating tale of adversity and triumph, looks at the impact of sheep and rabbits on Australian soil, both eventually destroying "... the scanty binding that held the last of the soil together.” 
Kidman was a fascinating man, with a respect for the traditions of the land and our unique terroir, but, perhaps most of all a respect for the water. Many of his lessons on this front were learnt from the original custodians of the land. The long cycles of drought and floods, the chains of land that would shift with the long seasons. There is a lot we can all learn from from Kidman (if you haven't read the book, you really should): generosity, charity, waste, terroir, respect. It is an excellent read about an Australia I know too little about. 
- I have now moved on to CEW Bean’s On the Wool Track, where the impact of sheep on our is further explored: "This delicate country responds like a piano to whatever touches it." Bean asserts that Australia was one of the first lands to rise from the ocean, I'm not sure about this (anyone??) but I have spent some time trying to understand why our soil is considered among the oldest on earth. My understanding is that Australia missed an ice age 20,000 years ago, meaning we missed the opportunity to shed a skin that most other land masses had. If any of you know about this, please do let me know. I'm fascinated.
A parting thought from Bean: "The sheep carries the evidence of every separate paddock into the woodshed." Meaning that, like a tree's rings will tell the story of its life, so too can a lock of wool. Nature is incredible. 
Postcards from Pantelleria:
In an effort to understand Australia's unique and complicated terroir I have long been intrigued bythe different seasons attributed to the land by Australian Aboriginal nations - in some cases up to six seasons were traced each year. Winds, migratory patterns and plants all played a role in the distinction. Of course, over the wide country that is Australia, this makes considerably more sense than the cookie-cutter British/Euro model.
The winds are crucial to life and agriculture in Pantelleria. Last week it was the hot Sirocco wind that ravaged the island, carrying the dusty, dry air of the Sahara. Today the Mistral blows, rattling down the Rhone Valley, gathering speed before it shoots out over Provence (recently causing untold damage in wild fires that ravaged my old home town near Bormes-les-Mimosa) and then across the Mediterranean to the black pearl, my current volcanic island home. I have learnt the island is like a magnet, for me it is all attraction but apparently for some people it can be an equally strong repellent. 

I have mentioned the distinct lack of water here, which is exacerbated by these winds, but I have not yet mentioned the red water tankers that careen around the tiny island roads. A little out of place, a little Mad Max, they are in charge and have complete right of way. You hear them before you see them, honking on approach to any corner. It is your responsibility to get out of the way ... you want to do it quickly. The inhabitants respect for these trucks and the water they bring is something Kidman would have understood. 
Beyond the winds and the water, I am captivated by her rugged beauty and her warm inhabitants. I have been enveloped into the daily life of my local bar and now eat family meal with them every day - a lot of pasta, a lot of capers. Interestingly, the sea only forms a small part of the local diet. The wild winds play their role in that too, beating the ocean up against the cliffs, but it is also to do with the steep volcanic walls that continue under the ocean; the small fish have no protected habitat and instead it is the deep-sea fish you find on menus. But there are ricci di mare. I'm doing just fine.