The metal gate was covered in papers carefully taped into plastic sleeves to make them waterproof. Some offered dog walking services, others training classes. On the right side, two mismatched gloves were fit through the slots in hope that someone would find what they lost. Into the woods we went, but as we walked to the turn in the path, what we thought was a little dog park opened up into a sprawling field of olive trees drenched in the sun. To the left beyond another fence, a herd of sheep and two donkeys grazed. To the right, we found a group of owners and their dogs. A ring of plastic chairs in the center of the grove welcomed us, and a woman dressed head to toe in different shades of purple waved us over in welcome. Luna bounded into the mix of Labradors, Jack Russells, Beagles, and Hounds. Always the smallest one, always taking off like a shot of lightning.
A chorus of Buongiornos welcomed us, and the woman in purple stood up and grabbed chairs off the stack as she started the most elaborate introduction.
“I am Donatella and that one over there is mine” she commenced with a sweep of her hand at a terrier puppy that was scruffy, all legs, and wiggling involuntarily of excitement. She continued to introduce us to everyone there, as well as their perspective dogs. Normally at the park closer to the center, owners will politely chat, and there is a group of “regulars,” but this felt like we had walked into someone’s private backyard party. A rooster crowed somewhere up on the hill. Luna and the rest of the pack of dogs took off into the woods on the far end of the park. Each owner smiled a welcome as they were introduced.
“…and that woman over there is deaf and she has the beagle there.” Donatella continued, pointing toward a woman seated at the picnic table using sign language to talk to someone on Facetime. “She usually keeps to herself but we understand her very well when we chat in our own way,” she smiled and sat back down into her own plastic chair, satisfied that we were properly briefed.
Over the next few hours, I sat and drank in the Florentine accents and the sunshine. I wanted to explore the top of the park more, but this little family of dog owners was too intriguing to leave today. One man came dressed in a purple Fiorentina soccer sweatshirt (everyone loves purple here because it’s the team color – like wearing Red Sox stuff in New England) with a golden retriever appropriately named Viola, who wouldn’t let anyone else throw her ball for her. Another woman shuffled in with a little terrier that apparently refused to leave the house unless he wore a sweater and a jacket. A seven-month-old hound dog puppy bounded in followed by a younger couple that worried he’d squish Luna.
At one point, another French Bulldog was invited in without his owner from another section of the park after Donatella saw him looking in from the gate.
“Let him in, let him in!” She called over to a woman that had just arrived with her two dogs and then turned to us. “That’s my good friend, Sara, with her two dogs.” She explained and stood up with her hands on her hips and again reassured Sara that the bulldog could come join us. “The little one of hers reminds me of Bambi with those silly legs” she giggled at her friend’s little mutt that did, actually, resemble a newborn fawn.
“Si, Sara! It’s Oscar. I’ll take responsibility he’s fine! His owner’s just over there reading.” She insisted as the rolly-polly Frenchie bounded over. “We take care of each other in here, isn’t that right, Oscar.” She said petting his big flat head as he snorted like Stitch used to.
We left after a few hours with an overly muddy, but extremely happy puppy, and a new place that is reigned over by a Queen in purple. Everyone really did seem to take care of everyone else, and it felt so comfortable. Normally, we sit overlooking the city – the Duomo glowing in the sunset. It’s gorgeous, but it’s still the city – with little parks corralled into walled in gardens. The dogs fight, the owners don’t talk much. Today, we pointed our backs to the city and walked into the countryside just down the road, and found an oasis in the silver shade of the trees – complete with a whole new set of Florentine faces that I’m very excited to get to know.