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OLIVES by Mort Rosenblum

OLIVES

The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit

By Mort Rosenblum

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-86547-503-2
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Genial, offbeat feature writing from the AP correspondent who observed The Secret Life of the Seine (1994) from his own houseboat; now he's got five acres in Provence overgrown with olive trees, and he's smitten with the cult of the olive. The magic, surprisingly, can be catching. A fully engaged curiosity enhances the reach of Rosenblum's repertoire, from the turf of the cultivators to the politics of commerce--and from Kalamata, where he samples some of the best oil of his life (though there's no place on earth like the olive souk in Marrakesh), to California, where olive trees are moving in on the vineyards. Wherever he goes on assignment, Rosenblum finds ``brothers in the olive,'' ready to take up the great debate on the best way to press oil. With a little stroking, they might offer a visiting aficionado a taste from their own stock: ``Gold,'' one connoisseur calls the bottle he parts with reluctantly (it crashes to the floor unsampled during Rosenblum's bag check at the airport). The assaults of nature and the uncertainty of the marketplace, fodder for kibitzers all around the Mediterranean, mean that most members of the olive-growing fraternity have to have day jobs. (Private holdings have anyhow been diluted below subsistence level over the millennia by cumulative adherence to the tradition of dividing a man's olive trees among his surviving sons.) In Italy, bulk-buyers misrepresent superior oils from elsewhere as their own and compound the fraud by adulterating them; in Israel, memorably, a Jew and an Arab go into business together exporting olives in fitting response to the accelerating peace; in Croatia, where nobody's tending the trees these days, refugee children play war games using the abandoned olives for ammunition. The world as seen through the window of an idiosyncratic passion, rendered by a raffish pro. (line drawings)