THE ITALIAN MOUNTAIN PEOPLE 358. Mountain village gardens.—Toni Damiani lives in a stone house, in a village of fifteen stone houses on the mountainside, beside a fine stone road that crosses the mountains between Florence and Venice in Italy. What mountains are those? Toni's father has a vegetable garden and two little fields of an acre each, on which he grows wheat one year and beans the next. The hillside on which the village stands is so steep that the land would wash away in the hard rains if the people had not made it into steps, or terraces, that go up the hillsides like steps for giants to climb. The grassy terrace banks hold the earth in place, so that the people can grow their crops on the level tops of the terraces.
All together, the gardens and cultivated fields belonging to the fifteen families of this village are only about as big as one American corn field. A mile and a half away, on a spur of the mountain, Toni can see the gardens around the next village. Between Toni's village and the next are trees—nothing but trees. Chest nut trees are everywhere, up and down the mountains. Only very far away in the plain, distant and hazy, can he see any more cleared lands.
359. Mountain tree farms.—For miles and miles, every chestnut tree on this mountainside is of an extra good variety, so that it is a tree yielding many nuts of fine quality. Toni's father has fourteen acres of chestnut orchard. Even the play ground around the village school is shaded by big chestnut trees.
Toni's mother has ten fine mulch goats which browse on the bushes and grass beneath the chestnut trees. Toni and his sister Maria take turns herding the goats to keep them from wandering away on the mountain. Each morning and each eve ning their mother gets a pail of goats' milk from her ten goats. Some of the milk is kept for the family to drink; the rest is made into cheese, part of which is put away for the winter, and the rest sold.
360. Chestnut harvest.—In September, Toni's father spends two weeks cutting down with the scythe the bushes and weeds that the goats have not eaten. This makes it easy to find the chestnuts when they begin to fall in October. October is a busy month. School closes at chestnut time, so that the children can help do the great work of the year. All day long the whole family is out on the hillside picking up chestnuts, and several times a day the donkey with two sacks of nuts on his back is led down to the village.
The chestnuts are spread out, two or three feet deep, in the second story of a little stone house beside the garden. This chestnut house has cracks in the floor, through which smoke and heat come from a slow fire in the basement below. Thus the chestnuts are dried out so that they will keep like wheat or corn.
After the nuts are thoroughly dry, Toni's father beats them with a stick, so that the brittle shells fly off. Sometimes the dried nuts are pounded and used as we use oatmeal. Sometimes they are boiled and used as we use boiled potatoes. Some times they are ground and made into flour. Bread made of chestnut flour and cheese made of goats' milk are good food. Some of the dried chestnuts are used in the winter to .feed the goats, the donkey, and the pig.
After the people have picked up all the best nuts, they turn the pigs out among the trees to have a jolly time hunting through the leaves for chestnuts. Thus the pigs are fattened before they are made into ham, bacon, and sausage for the family's winter meat supply.
By the middle of November, the chestnut harvest is over. Toni and Maria then go to school, and read in their geographies about America. Their father has begun his winter work making furniture in his little carpenter shop beside the stone road. Some of the men in the village go away in the winter to work in the stone quarries and at road-building, whenever they can find a job.
361. Other chestnut nut orchards and villages of chestnut grow ers are to be found in many parts of southern Europe. There are many such in the central highlands of France, on both slopes of the Pyrenees Mountains, on the slopes of the Alps in France and in Italy, and along the Apennines from one end of Italy to the other. Whole mountainsides are covered with chestnut orchards -in the islands of Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia, and also in the mountains of Greece and in some places in the Balkans. Ever since the time of the Roman Empire, fifteen hundred years ago, these chestnut forests have been feeding thousands and thousands of mountain people and their animals, in all the European countries that touch the Mediterranean.