Dame Muriel Spark

Here in Tuscany at this time of year people are still gathering olives. A whole community seems to be up there in the trees, chatting to each other from tree to tree as they work, telling the news since last year. Many of them now work and live in the towns, making visits throughout the year to their inherited properties, the olive groves. There is a spread of nets underneath each tree to catch the falling olives. They are taken off in sacks to the mill, which grinds them to pulp and pure oil. Few people here cook with anything but pure olive oil. We dress our salads with it. Should any restaurant serve us food with anything other than good Tuscan oil, we know at once. It is as important as the wine from grapes gathered earlier in the autumn: The yield of the vines is another chief topic of conversation. The vendemnia, or gathering of the grapes, is a wonderful sight. A cart piled with purple fruit being brought home by proud winegrowers is truly, on a modest level, a moving spectacle. The local people are very abundant with their wine. A bottle or two is sure to find its way to our doorstep, left by our neighbors, during this season. It is not like the sophisticated wine of French commercial producers, nor is it the great Chianti traditional wine, but it has a rousing flavor all its own which changes slightly from year to year, according to the sunlight and rain throughout the preceding months.


The last time I wrote a diary for Slate, I told of how I couldn’t walk well as a result of shingles (herpes zoster). Happily, one of the Internet surfers noticed this and told his father, Joseph W. Strohsahl, chairman of the VZV Foundation in the United States for the study of post-herpetic neuralgia (which can follow shingles). Within two days a cure, Zostrix, came into my hands by courier thanks to Mr. Strohsahl’s prompt and spontaneous generosity. Zostrix, unobtainable in Italy, is working marvels on my affected leg.