Some Things Stay the Same

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 Some Things Stay the Same

 

North of Mill Park is a composite setting of a matching house and garage.  Made of orange brick and wide in its design, it is much like any other block,  characteristic of the northern suburban building sprawl of the 1980s.

When I meet the don of this domain Frank, he is bent over washing a milk crate of empty bottles from last year’s passata. And now, in Spring 2014, he is preparing for next year’s harvest.  In my peripheral vision, I notice the tomato seedlings, inconspicuously covered by plastic bags, to be planted for this coming season.

Frank leads me to a light blue corrugated aluminum garage door that juxtaposes against its sandy colored bricks, reminiscent of a 1970s colour scheme.

This place has a harvesting story or two.

“This garage is 35 years old,” he says and leads me through the door.

“And it’s huge.  It’s 80 square metres.”

Upon entering it looks like any normal garage.  It is dark.  The car is parked to the left, as if floating in space amongst an organised hotch-potch of recycled kitchen furnishings, tools, and a duck stuffed in mid flight, hung high on the wall, overseeing the terrain.

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“This is where we make the passata, and here is where I shell and store the fagiole (beans),” he explains.

What conjures up are imaginings of community congregations and harvesting in amongst neatly organised mismatched furniture:  a kitchen bench, an old table and the kitchen cupboards housing 1960s glassware, and sink recycled from a previous inhabitance, transferred to equip the garage in support of year long harvesting activities.

As Frank explains the machinations of harvesting, I see the product of his genius.

In the chiaroscuro distance, a couple of hind hoofed legs hung in the ceiling, come into focus.  They look as though they are running a race standing still.  These are pork legs; hung to dry as the meat is maturing, ready to receive their last coating of melted lard and chilli to seal in their goodness.  Otherwise known as prosciutto.  “They need about one year for them to be ready,” says Frank.  “It’s a winter thing.  This year we made capocollo (traditional Italian pork salami made from the muscle meat from neck to shoulder).”

Anna, Frank’s wife affirms, “Once it’s done, tastes like nothing else.”

This is all part of Frank’s repertoire in the garage.  “Summer we make jam and the tomato sauce.  In April it is the wine.  Winter it’s the ham.  Spring is the planting in the garden.”

And further in the back of the garage is a fireplace next to the kitchen set-up, with logs stacked on the sidewalls, evoking a winter setting.

“I do everything,” he says.

And it’s no surprise.  Just as the garage is his master, the garden is his maiden.

Evidence of his handy work is everywhere.  Out of the garage window there is a view into the garden.  What appears to be a small suburban acreage, bordering eight properties, is a small, organised paradise of green.  The soil has been lovingly tended with manure to receive its crop.

The beginning of Spring means that activity has presided here with stakes prepped up to string up the borlotti beans.  The rows of Calabrian cabbage appear like open flowers as if dressed for the Spring carnival.  All matter of life here receives it nutrients through a small-networked hand-built irrigation system that is attached to the large water tank.

It is a well-known secret amongst the Italians of upper northern suburbs that whatever Frank makes is good.  Really good.  Not one to boast, but the evidence is framed and hung upon the garage walls, Frank having come first and second in the local backyard garden competitions, two years running.

“Where did you learn all these things,” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “From my father.”

“Where did he learn?” I ask.

“From his father,” he says. “And his father?”  From his father, and so the story goes.

The magic of transgenerational knowledge practised in the present, transferred by spirit into the hand and on this little plot of land, all the way from the town of L’Aquila, Abruzzo to Mill Park, Victoria.

This whole enterprise seems to work on its own organic clock and echo a peaceful co-existence.

To the left is the chicken coup, where chooks live harmoniously with the rabbits.  Noisy miners nest strategically on the roof of the garage, in view of the three stone fruit trees of paradise, grafted to bear white and blood plums and nectarines, ready for pecking.

There is a thunderous thumping on the tin roof prepping for lift off.  “They sound like elephants!” I exclaim.

“The birds, they got to survive too,” he says with a kindly awareness.

We go outside to look more closely at this tree. “I make jams from the fruits of this tree.  I pick the fruit, stone it and put it to the boil.  We do all this in Summer.  Here… take some of this plum jam.”

He reaches in the deep crevices of small storehouse behind the garage and pulls out two unmarked jars and hands them to me.  This gesture of giving is much a part of southern Mediterranean migrants who have harvesting in their bones.

Signora Anna confidently interrupts the conversation, “You finished yet?  Wanna coffee?”

“Anna is a good cook,” professes Frank.

“It’s good to come here to the garage,” she says.  “When I gotta cook the tomato sauce or the chicory for too long, it doesn’t smell out the house.  And, well who’s gonna look after Frank?  He’s always here.”

“I like to use the garage, it is more relaxing, and you don’t worry about making a mess.  Especially, it’s really nice to have the fire in winter.  To smell the wood burning and cook the fresh sausage over the fire.  It’s like being in the village,” explains Anna.

“You know… this place has many good memories where we still come together on New Year’s Eve and tell stories with old friends,” reminisces Frank.

“Before, we used to get together a lot for kids’ birthdays and barbecues.  It was as good as gold to have a garage like this.  But now, the times are different, they are changing, you know what I mean?”

I know what you mean Frank. But some things can stay the same.

 

Blood Plum Jam recipe

 

 

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