The first night in Italy, we spent in the home of Isabella’s father. His house was in the outskirts of Parma, so it was a short drive from the train station. The night was very dark, with a bit of rain, and it was quite cold, certainly not what I had been expecting. We drove through dark narrow country lanes, like passing through tunnels of thick green foliage, the only visibility provided by the cone of the car headlights ahead.
We turned in to an even smaller lane, with the tree branches reaching over and the greenery caressing the car as we passed, until we reached an iron gate. This gate looked like the gate of the old mansion in ghost movies, with nothing visible except the foliage which was drooping over the lane and draped over the gate. A bit beyond was the shadowy shape of a building.
It was hard in the dark to get an impression of the house, other than that it was very large and seemed to be very classically Italian. But once we got inside – it was a true Italian palazzo! Not huge, but many spacious rooms, spotless and perfectly decorated, with furniture that looked to my not very experienced eyes as if it should be in a museum. An elegant and narrow staircase spiraled up to the bedroom floor, as immaculate as below. Isabella’s father, a very elegant and charming man, was perfectly fitted to his surroundings.
In the morning, I could see the lovely countryside all around, green and lush, as we left for Isabella’s house, about an hour or so drive away. Tuscany is a wonderful area, it was easy to see why it was so popular with visitors and celebrities (even George Clooney has a house in the town near Isabella’s house – sadly, he wasn’t at home…).
Isabella’s house is not an Italian palazzo. It is a small house in the middle of a very quiet part of the village where there is a bit of home agriculture – vegetable gardens, a few cows and horses…The neighbors all around are friendly and quick with a greeting (something which I have found to be true in all of Italy), and several of them still believe that the best method of communication is the human voice, at high volume, to be heard over distance. Isabella had to explain to me at first that her neighbor was not yelling at her, that was just the way he talked…
The first thing met at her house, after hiking a few hundred meters up a rather steep incline – the car can’t be parked next to the house – are cats. Isabella has a lot of cats that have decided that she is their principal provider. They hang out around the house, especially on the porch, frequently reminding her that the food dish is empty, and are perfectly willing to share in the dogs’ food as well when the opportunity presents itself. Some of the cats are special friends of particular dogs, and come to sleep with them. They are allowed into the house in the hallway, and the door is usually open. However, to prevent them going upstairs to the bedroom, Isabella has invented a cat barricade – a wire basket sort of thing that is the width of the stairs and is balanced precariously on the edge of a stair half way up. If cats try to get over this, it falls, making a big clatter and scattering the cats in all directions. The cats have learned that they can’t climb over it, so they stay away from the stairs. I had to learn to step very carefully over this barrier whenever I wanted to get to the bedroom or bathroom. I am very proud that I only knocked it down two or three times while I was there!
The living room-dining room, on the main floor, which is also Isabella’s work room, is first of all a dog room. There are many dogs that live there. The sofas are lumpy and old, and have developed a shape that is very conducive for dogs to curl up in, or for a person to sink into and be unable to get out of. Puppies have a pen here, so that they can spend all their time with people and other dogs, and there are crates, each dog knowing his own, and when he can be in, and when he can be out. Nothing is expensive or elegant, an approach that I understand very well – this way it is possible to enjoy the company of the dogs without worrying about the furniture. My furniture has also always been of this sort…
In the back there is a fenced yard, where all the dogs get a chance to be out for some hours several times a day, and to bark at the cow of the neighbor.
Upstairs, it is possible to see the influence of Isabella’s father. The bedrooms, bathroom, and hall are clean and orderly, and there is even one special elegant antique chair – which is not to be sat on. This is the territory of people, not dogs. I think it is usually the territory of guests, Isabella often sleeps downstairs on the sofa with the dogs…
The dogs were all very enthusiastic to see me, especially Tutti, who climbed on my lap and asked, “Is it time for me to come back to Israel now?”, and Ziva and Calimero who vied for my attention. Every evening when we came back from the day’s activities, I had to spend some time saying goodnight to them, or they would refuse to settle down and go to sleep.
The first day there, I went with Isabella to complete various arrangements for the upcoming workshops and seminars. The venue was lovely, an agro-tourism location, which had a horse stable, some guest rooms, and a wonderful restaurant (I am still dreaming about the food). We also went to the nearby village to do some shopping. It was like going back in time – small family grocery shops, where everyone came everyday to buy fresh food for the day’s meals, everything paid in cash, shelves with about five hundred different kinds of pasta, and many different kinds of sauce, and much more fresh produce. Everyone knows one another, talks, passes the time of day, no one is in a hurry…No traffic in the village, everything quiet and peaceful, people sitting outside enjoying the sun, and everything spotlessly clean. And of course, the wonderful scenery in the background…So lovely!
The next day was a grooming workshop presented by Mia Ejerstad, probably the best groomer and handler in Europe and an outstanding teacher. I would be participating in her workshops the next weekend, giving lectures on dog behavior, but this one I was able to observe. As it was specially for collies, border collies, and Australian shepherds, it was a great pleasure to watch and learn new things, and meet new people. And the food…!!!
There is no way that I can talk about Italy without talking about the food. I am not talking about gourmet food and fancy restaurants, in my nearly two weeks there, I never ate in a fancy restaurant, only in people’s homes and in simple country restaurants. And everywhere, the food was wonderful – simple, but full of taste, and healthy. I have always loved Italian food, but this time – amazing!
On Sunday, we had our daylong seminar on the Canaan Dog. In addition to the Italians, there were participants from Germany, Czech Republic, and France, several with their dogs. The atmosphere was lovely, and despite the language differences, everyone seemed to understand my talks and to be able to communicate with one another. It was great to meet people I had until now only known from internet communication, and to also see old friends. I am so happy to see the growing and serious interest in the breed, and the willingness of people to make an effort to come and understand them better.
The only problem was the weather. It was sunny but very cold! Everyone agreed that it should not be like this in Italy at the end of May, but it was definitely not what I had planned for when packing. I had to dress in layers of summer clothes on top of one another…maybe I have started a new fashion trend…
With the first seminar over, I now had the week to relax (relatively). Isabella and I had made some plans, and also there were preparations for the workshop/seminar that would be held the next weekend.
And there was La Spezia….
Coming up in Italy Part 3…
|Tutti - "Can we go back to Israel now?"|