We call him Tartufo, an Italian word with a whimsical and nonsensical tone and, as our host Bruno at Agriturismo Preggio pointed out, his nose is black and shaped like the wild and elusive fungi that populate the Umbrian forests.
He is a far-ranging Maremma Shepherd dog, who had come to Preggio as a limping puppy seeking refuge from an abusive Sardinian shepherd who grazed flocks of sheep in the neighboring fields. Finding shelter in the community of other liberated Maremmas at Preggio, Tartufo enjoyed a blissful salvation.
Bruno, a former IT entrepreneur and his multi-skilled wife, Elena, nursed Tartufo’s broken hind leg and gave him the kind nurturing that is extended to all living things at this organic farm and vineyard. Tartufo now only suffers the foolish excesses of canine youth, a very imposing-sized canine youth – roaming the countryside with an auspicious curiosity and a naïve, doggy self-confidence which allows him to approach any other feverishly barking cani with insouciance.
The daily walks, or passeggiate, that define our rhythm at Preggio had, in no small way, become the impetus for this year’s ”greatest hits” tour of Italy and Austria. This year our visit to this remote region of Umbria spanned Easter weekend, which meant we would celebrate with Elena’s home-made breads, pastas, farm-raised duck, braised trespassing wild boar, field-gathered greens (weeds, to a less discerning culture), and farm grown cheeses, jams, honey, and cakes.
We also enjoyed the lively company of 2 families, Australian and American, who are on vacation with their adorable children from their overseas assignments in London. The Aussie fellow, Jacob, was taking advantage of the hilly locale to prep for a bike race he has entered this summer that is routed from Geneva to Nice. (Walking these mountain roads was quite enough for us, Grazie.)
After a hearty breakfast of all the above-mentioned alimentary, Lisa and I set out on the winding climb to the hilltop village of Preggio, and attempted to dissuade our initial escort of 4 dogs from leaving the property. That discouragement worked on the more nap-prone elders of the pack, but Tartufo insisted on providing guidance and protection up the dirt road that climbs through the woods and country homes (a beautiful retreat is owned by Danes across the road) and past every barking hound and watchful eye that pave the approach to the tiny Commune. We could tell from Tartunfo’s calm authority and reckless exploration that he had covered this ground before.
At one point he slipped under the wire fence of an adjoining field and vanished before we could track or recall him. Ten minutes later he came trotting down the single lane towards us, stopping to deliciously lap up fresh water from a running rivulet, saying in body-postured dog-speak – “what’s been taking you so long…?”
At the crest of the hill is the hamlet of Preggio – not a rich tourist-preened regional cousin like Cortona (featured in “Under the Tuscan Sun”) or the rougher working class, Citta di Castello, where we saw the political underbelly of the scaled-down local economy.
The damp, cold church in Preggio is known in ecclesiastic circles as housing a thorn (!), reportedly culled from the crucifixion crown of Jesus (authenticity is currently in active discussion). We, along with Tartufo, witnessed preparations of the pageant that occurs annually the day after Easter Monday.
As we descended the hill returning to the farm via the twisting road, Tartufo, again lurched into the rough country. We called to him to return to our little protected fold to no avail. Thirty minutes later, as we arrived at the comforting sight of smoke drifting up from the farm house chimney, we saw Tartufo waiting for us at the gateway. His yawn and big stretch questioned why we had taken such a long a circuitous route, when a vertical beeline through the steep forest and vineyards, made all the sense in the world.
We hope that when our Italian memories stir us to return to Preggio, an older, wiser, but certainly as loving, Tartufo, is here to protect, guide, and delight us.
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