About once a week, usually on a Friday morning, we find a small red Fiat parked just outside our barrier.
We usually find it when we're leaving home to drive to Acqui Terme to share a coffee with our ex-pat English-speaking friends.
An old man stands beside the car leaning on an open door or sits inside the car huddled in several layers of clothing. When he tries to move, he is slow and stiff. It's as if he's been frozen for some time and is just beginning to learn to move again. We suspect he suffers from arthritis and that his joints seize in the damp and cold of our Piemontese Autumns.
We don't know why he comes or what he is doing here.
Although we always say hello to him and sometimes even extend ourselves to commenting on the weather, we suspect he speaks Piemontese dialect because we can't understand much of what he says back to us.
One week, I asked him what he was doing here. I suspected he was collecting mushrooms.
To our surprise, he said he was collecting 'tartufo' (truffles)!
We had never suspected that our humble little valley could be a source of these precious little treasures. There is considerable income to be had from truffles. Italians all over Piemonte have dogs that are trained to help them find them. Foodies all over the world pay unreasonable amounts just to have a few meagre slices of these pungent little earthy lumps shaved over their meals.
The concept of income is interesting to us. For the following week, we find ourselves contemplating the purchase of a truffle dog. We look with uncharacteristic interest at all types of hunting dogs.
However, it only takes us a few days to realise that we don't want to be professional 'dog-poo-picker-uppers' so we decide to leave the truffle hunting in our valley to the old man.
We still wonder how his poor old body allows him to find and pick the truffles...but I guess the mysterious tradition and the immense value of a tartufo is enough inspiration for him...