Today was my last day of work at Villa Maiella and I admit I am extremely sad.
Yesterday after lunch service Luca and I went on a little adventure. He took me to the honey factory where they make some of the best honey around, a product we use in the restaurant and a sure local treasure. The place is called Apicoltura Bianco and Luca and I were lucky enough to get a private tour of the little factory. They have over 50,000 bees and make something like 20 varieties of honey.The man who operates the factory was so nice, he took us through all the steps that go into producing the honey and then let us try any flavor we wanted.
They make all sorts of flavors, from your normal millefiori and acacia, to honey made with infusions of nectar from green apple trees, thyme plants, and raspberry bushes. They even had a honey that they infuse with saffron, a concoction they call Oro & Oro, because of the deep golden color of the product and the expensiveness of the saffron itself. The owner even let us try some raw honey straight from the honey comb. It is something that he enjoys immensely but cannot sell to the public due to health regulations. It was truly a rare treat and I was extremely impressed at how good it was.
Luca bought be a present at the factory, a little wooden plank that holds four little jars of different honeys. I then picked out the Fior di Acacia honey that I need to make my gelato for finals, and a jar of the green apple honey because not only is is bright green, it also really tastes like green apples and honey! It blew my mind how perfect the apple flavor was, it completely brought me back to the Rosh Hashanah dinner table and I can't wait to use it this year to surprise my dinner guests (whoever they may be). The owner bagged up my items and then, just for good measure, gave Luca a jar of his favorite flavor, and threw in a jar of millefiori and raspberry honey for me for free. The total cost of it all?? Ten Euros! He practically gave us this stuff. It was so generous and so nice of him, the jaded New Yorker in me couldn't believe it. So now I am literally stocked full of delicious Abruzzo honey to take back home.
After the honey factory Luca took me to a really special place. On the side of the mountain Maiella there is a natural cave that is now the decorated resting place for a fallen Italian soldier from World War I. A hero who gave his life to save the life of his comrade and fellow soldier. The story goes that his brigade was on one side of the river while the enemy flanked the other. The soldiers had crossed the river to attack but were being beaten badly and were forced to retreat. Once back to safety they realized that one of their men were still on the enemy's side of the river. Without thought of his own safety this soldier crossed the river alone to retrieve his wounded friend. He carried him over his shoulder across the river to safety, all the while being shot at mercilessly by the enemy troops. He made it all the way back to his platoon with eight bullets in his body, he was rushed to the hospital and just before he died from his injuries he was awarded the medal of honor. This soldier now lies in a white marble tomb under the mountain, his heroic tale on display for all to see. This cave was breathtaking and completely decorated by friends of the soldier, many of whom were artists and sculptors. I suppose they chose this location because of the natural beauty outside and the natural dimensions of the cave itself.
Everything about this place is so special to me now. I realize that it would take much longer than just two months to really explore it completely. However, as my time here draws to a close, I am so grateful for the time I have had, the experiences I have shared with these people and this town. I feel endlessly blessed for all of it.