Odd things happen in Italy, sometimes so odd that I have to pinch myself.
Take my run last evening, for instance. Tripping merrily along, brain in neutral, soul in harmony with the singing birds, I couldn’t help noticing that the surface of the quiet strada bianca was liberally dotted with sheep poo. Now I normally have this remote rural road all to myself, at any time of the day or evening, so the fact this wasn’t, after all, my own private running track, was all too obvious.
I made a mental note to be more careful than usual, not wanting to end my run by having to attend to mucky shoes as well as the usual heap of clothing.
Suddenly, a battered white Fiat Panda came towards me round a corner. It was moving slowly and I was astonished to see that running alongside it was a sheep. It was one of those catwalk-model type of sheep that litter Italian hillsides, its laughably long, flamingo-thin legs appearing quite inadequate to support a normal sheep-sized body.
My senses were having to take in not just the spindly sheep, looking extremely bewildered and lolloping along beside the slow-moving car, but a loud baa-ing and bleating that was coming from the car.
As the car and the sheep went noisily past me I tried to compose my features into a look that said “Please just carry on. I am aware I’m in Italy where weird things happen and so I am trying to appear unconcerned.”
My calmness lasted only a few seconds until I couldn’t resist turning round to observe the mobile charade from a different angle.
This was when I worked out what was happening. I think a flock of sheep had been down the road earlier, but one of them, my flamingo-legged acquaintance, had got left behind. (Probably draining its caffe corretto in the bar and hadn’t noticed its mates had gone.) The shepherd – i.e. the Panda driver – reached the destination with the flock, found he was one short and drove back to get him.
Now heading once more for the fold, the driver made sure the spindly one kept up by leaning out of the window making very convincing bleating and baa-ing noises.
All was obviously going to plan until they encountered me, aka Blunderbug. When I stopped and turned round to stare in disbelief, so too did the sheep. The bleating shepherd drove on, unaware.
Sheepy and I maintained our stand-off, dismayed and amazed in equal measure by the sight of each other, until the Panda hove back into view, this time in reverse, at high speed. The driver, no longer bleating or baa-ing, jumped out, scooped the surprised sheep up in his arms and bundled it into the boot.
And so ended the evening’s entertainment. If I hadn’t witnessed it I would never have believed it, but of course this is Italy, where anything can happen – and usually does.