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Italian plums

Sweating under the hot Italian sun in ski socks, hiking boots and my husband’s giant Levi’s, it hit me how preposterous it was that I moved any of my stillettos to our new house.

The reason for my get-up was this: ortica aka stinging nettles.  The plum tree is surrounded by them, and I’m here to harvest the plums.  My thoughtful husband insisted I pull on his work jeans for full coverage against the thigh-high nettles that fully carpet this part of the garden.  He told me I wouldn’t need socks since his man-sized work jeans pooled over my hiking boots, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

The tree was full of greenish-tinted yellow fruit the shape of chicken eggs.  Standing on my tip toes to tug one from the branches, I realized they were more ripe than I first thought.  When I rubbed my thumb over the skin, the polished peel gleamed translucent gold, barely green at all.  Fabio said the barely-green ones would ripen off the tree.  I pulled down two more.

Staring through the craggy plum branches, our garden in July was a marvel to me.  Overgrown from every angle.  The rosemary bush had sprouted 50 outstretched arms from its trimmed winter shape and the steep carved terraces blended into one hillside with swaying grasses, weeds and wild flowers.

Although I’ve talked about it before, I don’t think I truly understood something until this last visit.  It hit me as I was picking the plums, trying to reconcile the beauty of the lake view with the prickery, knee-high ortica with sweat running down my shoulders.  Moving from the cement-covered, elbow-bashing island of Manhattan to outskirts of a small village in the foothills of the Alps was really going to be a massive change to something very different.  Holy crap.

I jumped to grab another branch for its dangly ripe plum.  Early next spring, Fabio says we’ll pick the baby ortica before they develop their stingers to make ravioli with ricotta and parmigiano reggiano.  It’s part fairy tale and part hard work.  I can’t wait for it to be 100% reality.

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