It starts with the locals, with their quality of life, their ability to be happy and their respect for the land they live in. Then the tourists will find a way!” – Carlo Petrini ~ Slow Food
Since moving to our Valley in Piedmont we’ve been up close and personal to the local livestock. Flocks of goats come past our door daily, the cows graze just above our house and we’ve even been diverted by a huge white sheep dog guarding his flock when we were out walking. I now dodge various types of pooh on the road, know it’s lunch time by the passing of tractors and returning of the locals for lunch.
I have to admit to initially being scared of the cows roaming the meadows here. Completely clueless I grew up in the suburbs of Australia and apart from the occasional visit to a dairy farm run by friends of my first boyfriend way back in my 20’s I’ve had nothing to do with rural animals apart from taking the kids to the petting zoo at the school fete.
Now I live in a community immersed in the rhythms of nature, in touch with where their food comes from, a lifestyle less reliant upon the latest device for entertainment. I actually still know very little about this lifestyle, about the role of livestock, the shepherds and their flocks and how it all fits into the Valley I have come to love.
My view of the Fiera is still one of a tourist, although I now know many of the faces and even get to go behind the scenes (this year we saw them putting the mammoth bells on the cows before leaving to join the parade) I still have a limited understanding of the significance of the celebrations held in May and October when the animals are paraded through our village of Bobbio Pellice.
Tradition is alive and well here in the Valley, I see it in the face of a grandfather carrying a young child on his shoulders, a tiny boy with curly hair and traditional shepherds hook (and yes he knows how to use it), the boys strapping on huge cow bells whilst finishing off their second bottle of vino, they happily pour some for us into plastic cups.
Although this way of life is one I may never truly understand it’s one I deeply admire, this community has a right to be proud and to celebrate the seasons. I am as always honored to be a small part of this community and to have been welcomed so beautifully.
Living in a medieval Borgata in the Alps means we have goats, sheep, and cows passing our front door, I can literally reach out and touch them. I love watching our neighbors two white dogs round up the straggling cows that feed on the long grass along the road. With a little nip they soon have the herd together and on the move.
Watching the old ladies here hand rake the pasture above our house ready for grazing, I am reminded of all we seem to have lost with large scale farming. They have an understanding of the seasons, the mountains and they can usually tell me what the weather is going to be like with a great degree of certainty. They continue to fascinate me.
We have a guest staying with us from California, her name is Marina and she is doing workaway which means she helps us with five hours of work and we provide meals and a place to sleep. We took her to see the Fair and she was a big hit with the locals as you can see.
She and Sam have redone the fencing, planted the ‘orto’ and we all spent a day in Turin eating gelato and wandering the city.
She is leaving on Sunday for Florence and I’ll be sorry to see her continue on her journey. As our neighbor Antonio told us, she has a gift from God and a beautiful heart (she is an artist and he asked her to do a painting of his house). She and Carina made apple cakes today, they have been walking the mountains, gathering wildflowers and she has done many sketches and paintings around the Borgata.
I can’t wait to hear how she falls in love with Florence, I spent a week visiting as a young backpacker myself many years ago.
Life here in the Valley is full of surprises, as an outsider looking in everything is new, the ancient traditions passed down through generations are a complete mystery to me, one I hope will remain within the Valley for many years to come.
Now I know the names of the men and women moving the animals from pasture to pasture and to be milked. I can even say I have had a try at milking, but only for a few minutes with no resulting milk.! Our friend made it look easy, he’s been doing it all his life. He invites us to sit down to a simple meal of pasta, cheese and home made vino, an absolutely incredible meal and one I’ll never forget.
A day at the Fair now means so much more to me, it’s a celebration of all the reasons we moved to Italy…..oh and don’t get me started on the local Piedmont food!
If you ever get to Piedmont come for a visit, we’ll show you a side of Italy even I didn’t know existed.