Friday, 21 August 2015

What's the point of offering an olive branch?

I'm back in Bodrum. It's the first time I can say it as last year was the first time I'd been here - in Turgutreis. This time I'm in the olive-groved hills. In fact, olives are everywhere. The trees line the roads, whether in groves of the kind that have patched the scrub for millennia or just as solitary, gnarled and impassive observers of the latest human folly. They fringe Annie's pool; they tower over the village, their topmost leaves reflecting the sun with surprising brilliance; the young ones have silver trunks that shine like birches and the old ones are grey like thick, cracked, grapevines moulded from ash.

All these olives, and the question nagging at me is: why are olive branches the age-old symbol of reconciliation? It's not as though they're difficult to find. You would have thought that the settlement of a dispute would start with the presentation of something difficult to get hold of: at the very least something you need to climb for, or dig for, or search for, or pay through the nose for. But an olive branch? They're everywhere - the ancient world's version of the petrol-station bunch of flowers, ludicrously easily grabbable on the way to the wronged girlfriend, or the irate friend, or the disappointed parent. You can close your eyes and stick out your arm round here and you're more likely to grab an olive branch than you are thin air. Not breathing them in is often an art as you amble across country.

"An olive branch?! Could you think of anything else???!" you can image the tragic classical heroine crying. 

"No, no, this is special olive," our hero would stammer. "I didn't get it from the tree by your front door/front gate/opposite your front gate/ growing out of the pot in the corner/poking through the wall/in one of the rows of dozens in your dad's garden/your dad's garden/bloody everyone's garden [delete as appropriate]. I paid a fortune for it, honest. It's golden apples that are ten-a-penny, darling."

"Really? I'm sorry my love. Of COURSE you're forgiven!"

Ancient girls can't have got out much.

And yet, perhaps there's more to the olive branch. And not just because I'm all for a conciliatory gift that doesn't cost much (I've had occasion for many of them over the years and I'm bound to need plenty more). What I didn't realise until Annie explained the other day was the processing it took to make an olive (or several, to keep the cost down - top tip there) edible. Cutting each one in the right way, soaking in water, replacing the water several times, and then putting them into either salt water or olive oil is the basic process. Nothing as simple as a grape that you just pluck off an almost equally ubiquitous vine and bung into your mouth. 

So maybe that's what the whole olive branch thing is about: the symbolism of the branch merely being the beginning of a process that has to be worked on, and given time. And the ubiquity of the olive branch makes the point that the reconciliation is staring us in the face pretty much everywhere if we could only be bothered to see (and grasp) it. 

And now I realise I'm coming on a bit Thought for the Day here, and in my mind TFTD should be taken outside and given a good kicking before being forbidden to come within 500m of a radio microphone ever again, but perhaps we could all benefit from a lot more offering of the olive branch.

Mind you, next time I'm in hospital you can bring me grapes, please. And at other times a golden apple will do nicely.

A post kindly written by Simon Hardeman, our house guest this week .  Good isn't it!  Not surprising really as he is a journalist who writes for The Independent newspaper and  teaches fledgling scribblers various aspects of writing at Greenwich University. He has a band too.


  1. You have good taste in house guests!

  2. You do have some illustrious guests!

  3. B to B, I think your guest's Thought For The Day is terrific and I'm going to carry it around all day. As you know, we could use some proffered olive branches here in Turkey right now.

  4. Excellent...and no doubt you are picking up some tips for that book you really should write x

  5. Really interesting post by your guest. I grudgingly bought some olive oil this week as our supply of first pressed Italian olive oil has just about dried up. Last years crop from Sue & Will's 100 trees was ruined by bad weather and this years not much better. As a tenuous link to your guest - Sue also writes for the Independent (Travel section) and back in 2009 wrote an article for them on olive oil production in the Sabina Hills.

  6. Now there's a guest you can invite again if he will write something as thoughtful and thought-provoking next time. I really enjoyed it.

  7. Great guest post! And I'm happy to be a house guest AND cook for you if I'm ever back in your part of the world again, just sayin! ;-)