City Nature – Olive Trees, Italian Embassy
A bit of the Mediterranean.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It might be dry, dusty and polluted, but Delhi is home to 252 species of trees. (New York has 130.) Right now, the bloom of the semal’s red flowers is ending. Soon, the amaltas will glow with their golden yellow flowers. While every neighbourhood is rich with its neem, peepal or pilkhan.
But you won’t find the olive tree in your nearest public park. It belongs to the soil of the Mediterranean. And yet, there’s a place in Delhi where it is flourishing. In the embassy of Italy, the land famous for its Da Vinci and Michelangelo, and its pizzas and…. olive oil.
This evening Paola Ferri de Luca, the ambassador’s wife, is strolling about the olives in the embassy garden. Her residence is part of the building complex, here in central Delhi’s Chanakyapuri.
The sight of these trees is likely to shock a Delhiite, who may have had olive oil without ever seeing the tree the oil comes from. It is too short for a tree— probably no taller than film-star Amitabh Bachchan — but the foliage is disproportionately vaster, and hangs upon the stumpy trunk like a motionless cloud.
The garden has the same number of olives as there are figures in painter Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper — 13. They were planted in the 1990s under the supervision of the then ambassador, Gabriele Menegatti. The seeds were brought from Italy. Talking on WhatsApp from the municipality of Labro, in central Italy, where he lives in retirement, Mr Menegatti explains that “to Italians, the olive tree is a symbol of peace, of resilience, with widespread roots, growing on very poor soil, demanding little water.”
Looking at the branches, Ms de Luca observes that the trees are trimmed once a year, the most recent was in August. A native of Naples, she confirms that these look similar to the trees growing in her country, though the Delhi ones don’t yield fruit because of different climate conditions.
As the evening progresses, Ms de Luca invites the embassy’s gardeners to celebrate these trees—Kallu, Sharda Prasad, Sunil Kumar, Anuj Kumar, Lalu Ram, and Daya Ram. In their presence, the olives start to look as desi as the garden’s neem.
Olives of Delhi