Monday, April 26, 2010

The sweet aspirations of a figtree

In south Italy self-sown fig trees grow on every bare patch of dry red earth. You see them on motorway shoulders, in heaps of garbage and among the stony rubble of ancient muretti a secco. Figs are everywhere. Yet I can’t help being impressed by their insatiable desire to reach up, grow and achieve greatness in numbers and measured by the size of their leaves.

In the spring all branches on a naked figtree point upwards ending in bright green dots that turn out to be perfectly shaped leaves that are just about big enough to serve as a Lego doll bikini. The tininess does not last. For every blink of an eye, the leaves seem to grow, and after a few days fruits can be spotted. Like the branches and the leaves, fig fruits point upwards until they are ripe, soft and heavy with juices that weigh them down. For some types of figs this happens in June, and then the birds will be ready and waiting, leaving only empty shells behind. Summer figs are hard to get by.

Still, you will have another chance in September and October unless all the fruits have been sacrificed in a prolonged draught. Figtrees tackle hot periods without rain by turning their leaves into upward pointing cups ready to catch every drop of dew that may fall. As a last resort the tree may have to let go of the fruit, but this is very unusual. In the late summer you are up to your knees in windfalls and beneath each figtree there is a fragrant jam of sweet slippery fruit. Such fantastic affluence really.

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