We planted a couple of olive trees six or seven years back and imagined how it'd be to one day eat our own olives. They took some planting, as have most the trees on our block, because a belt of limestone lies about two feet down, running beneath the greatest part of our garden and the surrounding land. To give any tree a fighting chance, it's often necessary to prepare a deep hole, breaking through three or four feet of soft stone with a cold chisel or a roadbreaker until, below it, appears the finest beach sand you'll ever see.
One of the olive trees suffered a setback about three years ago during a storm. A eucalypt split in half and fell across it, more or less removing its crown, turning it into a shrub, and it's only begun to come good recently. But the other tree - well, that's flourished, and this year its branches have struggled under the weight of a decent crop.
The birds usually claim any fruit we grow long before it's ripe, but olives are an acquired taste it seems and so they've been left more or less intact. Even so, I wasn't sure what process eliminated their natural bitterness before bottling them, so I trawled through numerous websites until I found a recipe I thought might work, and then spent last Sunday afternoon picking the lot.
It's a matter of bruising the olives first, and then soaking them in brine. Each day, the brine is drained off and a new batch mixed up, removing any leaves or bad olives that appear. And the process continues twelve or thirteen times or more, until their bitterness is gone. There's something calming and therapeutic about all this, like kneading bread or treading grapes, which may, I suspect, make the finished product even more enjoyable.
There's no analogy in this to writing - to growing a story from seed, or grafting one to older stock, and pruning it to encourage the promise of fruit, year after year, draft after draft - anymore than there is to similar processes, and I haven't a clue whether our olives will be edible or not. However, in my imagination I've created a picture of marinating them in basil and garlic, and enjoying them with a glass of merlot, a chunk of bread, a round of Brie, and with the pleasure of good company (and a few tales to tell) or a good book... so whichever way you look at it there's usually a story not far away at all.
The books I'm reading at the moment are DBC Pierre's Ludmilla's Broken English and Robert Corbet's Shelf Life. I'm reading Shelf Life for work (looking for a Young Adult fiction title that deals with workplace themes, worthy of a class set) and enjoying it. I'm a fan of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, but am not far enough into Ludmilla yet (page 77) to know whether I'm going to love his excesses with language or not. I have a bowl of olives at my side, a chunk of bread...
Happy reading. Bon appetit.