The winter was too cold this year, and the frost has taken its toll on the lemon trees. I did my best to save them, to no avail. Lemon trees are delicate and the winter unforgiving. People often stroll by and comment on the beauty of the grass which abounds: “It looks like a football field”, they say. They ramble on about the beauty of this uniform green patch, blissfully unaware of the vast variety of vegetation which once covered the very same land. Farmers alike have had chemicals forced upon them; diversity has been sacrificed for durability.
Look at this lemon! Look at the beautiful color! Carmela, a client who regularly buys fruit from me, once explained to me that the color “Naples Yellow” has enjoyed longstanding popularity, having even been found in Egyptian glass of the XIX Dynasty.
I love the objective beauty of certain fruits, the ubiquity of them. If you look at this apple for example, its color astounds. It’s red, marvellously red, to the point where the relationship between the color red and apples becomes natural. The lemon possesses the same inherent quality, color, a mysterious elliptical shape.
Look at the basket of fruits over there! Carmela once said it looks like a still life. One can certainly learn something from observing a composition of fruits. If you look past the objective qualities it becomes possible to lose yourself in its essence. I have spent my life caring about lemons, the texture, the shape, the smell, and the color, this beautiful yellow. I could never forget this color, always the same, always different. From the beginning of the season until the end, the color is burned in my mind. Carmela loves to talk to me about the color. Did you know that there’s also a type of paint called “Lemon Yellow”? Carmela told me this as well. The funny thing is that Lemon Yellow isn’t even the same color as real lemons, it’s slightly darker. I find this funny.
I use lemons to clean my hands. I make a fantastic crushed ice with lemon juice, which I give to both of my nephews. Dora, the oldest of the pair, tells me she wants to be a farmer like me and I’ve already started teaching her tricks of the trade. We had quite an awful outbreak of cholera in 73’ and even then, the ill were given lemons for relief.
And after all of this I, now, find myself forced to replant almost all of my lemon trees, thanks to a cruel winter. I might be repeating myself but my plants are my life, these trees are my life.
Yesterday, as I do every summer, I set the excess grass and brush ablaze. I always took pleasure in doing this. It’s a symbol. Something which represents what once was and what is to come. And you know what? Now they’ve started telling me when and where I’m allowed to do this even. It’s ridiculous. I mean, the smell of smoke and soot on the ground is something which reminds me of my childhood, the endless summer days spent in the countryside. But now it’s enough of that, I still have some trees to attend to. You should stop by sometime my dear. If you find the time.
Excerpts from a conversation with Mimì, 75-year-old Neapolitan farmer