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Posts Tagged ‘San Joaquin Valley’

Forestiere Gardens

Family is one of those things that one has to deal with from time to time.  I don’t know why we as human beings feel this unnatural need to stay in contact with someone just because they raised us.  As far as secondary family ties, well lets not get me started on that.  Maybe it stems back to tribal days or early times when family meant survival.

As cold as I try and come off I too unfortunately fall subject to the archaic sentiments of the heart.  Once a year I make an effort to see my folks.  Last year I made two, a trip to Portland Oregon (read my Portland Blogs here follow the breadcrumbs to read the rest of the adventure) and a trip back home to New Jersey for my sister’s wedding.  I absolutely hate going to New Jersey.   It was bad enough I lived there for over 10 years.   After all of that I was spent on family for quite some time.

My parents had not come out to visit me here in Santa Barbara in six years and the last time they were here I did not make nearly the impression a person of my stature should.  At the time I was living in a rundown tenement with 12 other guys smoking blunts all day and getting into all sorts of trouble.  Long story short they were far from impressed and I have always felt whenever my mother and I talk on the phone or she thinks about me living in California she still sees me living that old life, when in actuality I am doing alright these days.

This year while discussing our annual visit my parents decided to come out and visit me.  Since they had already seen Santa Barbara and I live there we decided to go on a tour of Yosemite, Tahoe, San Francisco and Hearst Castle.   It was to be a California adventure.  The tour started out in Fresno.  FRESNO!  I know that is what I thought too.  Turns out there are these underground gardens in the heart of the city that some crazy Sicilian guy, Baldassare Forestiere built between 1900 to the late 1940’s.   As three crazy Italians ourselves we just had to check it out.    My friends if you ever find yourselves in Fresno I would say it is a must see.

The entrance to this wondrous subterranean place.

The entrance to this wondrous subterranean place.

The story goes Italian immigrant and master citrus grower Baldassare Forestiere bought a large plot of land in San Joaquin Valley where Fresno stands today in 1906.  After realizing that there was too much of a concentration of hard pan on his land to grow a citrus orchard he had the crazy idea to tunnel underneath the hard pan and grow fruit essentially underground.  What he ended up with was a forty year tunneling project that produced a 10 ache system of tunnels connecting, bedrooms, patios, living spaces, planters, citrus trees, grape vines, a ball room, and an underground aquarium.  All this he did alone with his own two hands.

One of the many maze like tunnels.

One of the many maze like tunnels.  With one of the worst flat spells I can remember going on this is as close to the tube I am going to come for a bit.

I have to admit I was not a believer until I pulled up in front of the grounds and saw the tops of large citrus trees and grape vines coming out of the ground.  I knew right then I was in for an extraordinary afternoon.  When I walked down the steps in the first tunnel I came face to face with the trunk of a 100 year old orange tree still healthy and producing fruit, UNDERGROUND!  Citrus trees are lucky to produce fruit for over twenty years let alone 100.  Forestiere must have really known his shit.

This tree is about ten feet underground

This tree is about ten feet underground

Tree top growing out of a cut out in one of the tunnels.

Tree top growing out of a cut out in one of the tunnels.

There is nothing like a good Italian when he gives into his own insanity and gets on a tear.  We will cut off our own nose to spite our face.  Forestiere couldn’t grow his orchard.  Instead of packing it up and moving someplace else he did his own thing and build an amazing architectural anomaly.   It reminded me of the old Roman caves in Italy that are used to cure meats, cheeses and age wines.  When you climb down into Forestiere’s submerged dwelling it is like you are entering into the man’s soul.  I am not going to say any more about this enchanting place that maybe you have to have some Italian blood to truly love.  Here are some of my photos of the place.

The Kitchen with a cat iron stove and oven.

The Kitchen with a cat iron stove and oven.

One of the bed quarters

One of the bed quarters

The bath tub

The bath tub

It is amazing what the human spirit is capable of when he puts his mind to it.  Forestiere’s underground gardens are a testament to such.  These days I am rather jaded so for something to grab my attention it must be a sight to be seen.  I don’t know if it is the Italian in me that loved this place so much or the eccentric or both, but I would certainly recommend a visit. The again I did also spend the majority of my adolescence hanging out in my parents basement.

Forestiere loved to make and enjoy his wine.  A man after my own heart.

Forestiere loved to make and enjoy his wine. A man after my own heart.

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