National Geographic : 1944 Jul
Behind theLines inItaly BYCORPORAL MACON REED, JR. * LL SICILY seemed tobecovered with mashed-up ripetomatoes, smaller, more pear-shaped, and lessjuicy than our own. In every doorway andvacant space in the sun lay planks and stone slabs covered with mash, which was getting considerable at tention from the insects. Itwas tomato paste in the making. That was my firstimpression ofItalian life. Since then, along with tens ofthousands of other behind-the-lines troops, Ihave seen and mingled with a great deal ofItalian life, some in Sicily,- butmostly onthemainland, and I never get veryfar from those tomatoes. The Italians eat thispaste, orsalsa, atevery meal. Most city familieseat asmooth, strained, commercial productput upinstreamlined, sanitary fashion; butwhat weeatwith our village friends down thehillistheold fashioned country stuff, scraped offtheplanks and slabs, liberally salted, andputupinan open stone crock. Itisatleast half peels, and a slight fermentation gives itaspecial tang. Chicken or RabbitStew? Each Costs $5 When G. I. grubonour own Monastery Hill palls unbearably,we drop over thebank to "Mama's" and order rabbit orchicken. A medium-sized specimen ofeither costs $5. Mama waddles tothe salsa crock and ladles liberally fromitinto thebigiron pot. Then she chops in alittle onion andgarlic, adds water, and heaves thepotonto thetri pod in the open fireplace. Papa by now hasfinished cutting upthe meat, and in it goes.We situnder thesmoke blackened rafters ofthe ancient stone inn overlooking the sea, and over aglass ofwine watch proceedings inthe giant pot inthe corner. After aboutanhour wearebusy agreeing that Frenchcooking seems overrated, and we are also busytrying tododge thehead, if it was a rabbit. Italians eat all of arabbit, with thepossible exception of the fur.Wearewilling togo a long way down theroad with them inthis, but that head! There issomething discon certing in the one-eyed-profile stare ofhalf of a cooked rabbit head. Enthusiasm of anItalian friend forbeans cooked with salsa led meinto adelightful cross-country junket.Beans, at90cents a pound in the black market, andotherwise un obtainable, are an impossible luxury among our villagers. My friend, however, heard a rumor that beans were only 30cents apound atavillage 40miles away. Red Orrell isincharge ofalittle outfit near this village. Ihad a36-hour leave. The circumstances just naturally dovetailed for meinto ahitchhiking expedition across sun dryhills and abig plain fullofarmies. I was looking forRed and forbeans. Tall Grapevines and Deep-cut Roads Leaving aside themilitary, themost interesting phenomena Iobserved were thedepth oftheroads and theheight ofthegrape vines. Itseems tomethat thevines certainly must bethe world's highest. Across theplain stretched row after row ofwidely spaced, rather tall, and almost limbless trees. Upeach trunk ran acable's girth ofgrapevine, and often asnot, ataheight of50or60feet, thevine would betrained outover space tothenext tree, 50ormore feet away. The object, sothenatives said, was togive thegrapes theutmost insunshine forthegood ofthewine. The trees, apparently asort ofpoplar, were permitted togrow just enough twigs and foliage tokeep alive. Anincidental result ofthehigh-flying vine scheme was that itpermitted thelarge-scale cultivation ofwinter wheat ontheground below. The little dirt lanes and roads across this plain, aswell asthose onthehills, arealmost always cuttoaremarkable depth, enough tohide from sight ahorse and cart. Why? Just amatter ofafewhundred years, possibly three orfour thousand, oftraffic that hasgradually cuttheroadbeds down into thesoil. Red's outfit turned outtobepractically onthewater, surrounded by sand and never-end ing., ordinary low-level vineyards. His off-duty men spent alotoftheir spare time hanging around back ofthebeach, hun grily eyeing aflock ofbirds offshore. Bill Bittner had pronounced them wild ducks, and there was always theoffchance that hemight beright and that they might come inclose enough forashot some day. The boys stayed back ofthebeach because *The author, amember oftheground troops, Army AirForces, has been intheMediterranean theater ofwar since theUnited Nations' invasion ofNorth Africa inNovember, 1942. Before entering theservice, Corporal Reed was aWashington, D.C.,news correspondent. tSee, inthe NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Sicily Again inthePath ofWar," by Maynard Owen Williams, September, 1943; and "Zigzagging Across Sicily," by Melville Chater, September, 1924.