I didn’t want it to happen, I really did not foresee the possibility, I had never envisaged the prospect, had no desire to be adopted, but it has happened.  It came as a shock and happened in an instant, well almost!

On Thursday of last week I was driving home from Gubbio, and had just stopped to chat to Dino when I was spotted for the second time.  Timidly walking along the road looking sad and somewhat dejected, but, at the same time with just the merest a glint of hope was a dog.  I asked Dino if he knew anything about her.  He said that he had not seen her before.  I had, maybe three weeks ago, the same sad, rejected dog but again with a seemingly hopeful look.

That time I had stopped the car and timidly she came towards me and looked for affection.  Sad but alive eyes, coat in bad condition, but not overly thin.  She was obviously living rough but finding a source of food.  I made enquiries of another neighbour, one who is always in his car, shotgun or truffle spade on the passenger seat.  He told me that she had been wandering the valley for over a month. I learnt that Massimo further down the valley when he fed his dogs he was also giving her food.  I later learnt that Dino casts dog food around for his many dogs and cats, and it was obviously this that drew her to the place where we first met.

Having lost both my dogs early last year, I had decided not to take a new dog.  Except for a brief period I have lived with dogs all my life, and I rather relished my dogless freedom.  Yes, it is true that my guests missed the dogs being around.  One of the many questions asked by returning guests; ‘have you got  a new dog yet?’ My guests are really important to me but I decided that even with their pleading a new dog was not going to enter my home.  Having no dog meant I could be more just me.  Of course there are downsides to not having dogs.

In this past year deer have slowly been encroaching ever more courageously into the garden at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  At first their playground was below the swimming pool and down by the sauna, near the the greppo.  But a few weeks ago on going down for breakfasts I noticed that the Lobelia had been completely chewed in the vases on the main terrace.  Had to be deer.  Deer in the garden are just about ok, but if the damage is to get more widespread and frequent preventative measures will have to be taken.  I also did not want to think that deer are the precursor to wild boar feasting on my roses..  I stopped my daily walk round the valley, and have not replaced the exercise with another.

Anyway I digress.  back to the prologue.  The second encounter had me convinced.  The dog was so seemingly friendly and in need of a home that I scooped her up, and put her in the back of the car.  Once at Bellaugello she jumped out of the car and circled round me looking so happy.  She smelt – badly – obviously and had a skin problem, so I attempted to keep a distance.  Persistent little thing.  Of course I had no dog food so boiled up some pasta and found the remnants of some left over supper and gave it to her.  Soon scoffed, she looked for more.  I dug out Bobby’s old bed and put it in my porch.  As guests know I am asthmatic and allergic to dog hair so no way was she ever to be coming into my house.  The porch is a great space, amazing views and delicious with the wisteria and jasmine growing outside the windows.  Ideal for a dog room.

The next day I decided to head down to Perugia to the vet.  Of course no lead, so tied by a shoelace I popped said dog into car and headed down the road.  As I suspected she did not have a microchip.  The vet thinks she is about 2 or 3 years old and obviously abandoned by a hunter.  What callous bastards hunters are.  She was given a treatment for eradicating fleas and ticks and a huge pill for evacuating any worms.  I was told she was part Breton part English Setter.  We headed home with instructions to let the flea treatment work and so not to wash her for two days.  Last Sunday l dug out the old dog shampoo and gave her a jolly good wash.  She was quite accepting and did not struggle.  Now smelling nice I had to make the decision would I adopt her?

It took me to Thursday to make up my mind.  In the end I took her back to the vet and we had her microchipped and registered in my name.  “Vita Allegra” is her official name, but of course she does not respond to that.  The vet had said he thought it too long so registered it as name and surname.  Why did I adopt her when she will only be a complication in my life?   Because I cannot bear the thought of a dog being abandoned.  It is cruelty beyond belief.  I also thought that the inconvenience to me pales into insignificance related to a life for a dog on the street or in the dog pound.

She medium small size, is super affectionate, and clearly has been a hunting dog.  Obviously abandoned because she is scared of gunfire, so no use to a hunter, she is very intelligent.  If I tell her not to come into a room she stays on the threshold.  Naturally if I tell her not to chase deer she does exactly what she pleases!  Now being regularly fed and with a stable home she is looking healthier and happier.  Best of all she has got me back to going for a daily walk.

She might not yet have a daily name but I have been adopted 🙂

Listening recently to Yuval Noah Harari talking about developments in “AI” I was struck how increasingly we are left with fewer opportunities in making our own choices.   He cited his own coming out and how already AI is targeting his own sexuality in target marketing products and services.  By monitoring simple things as eye movement while browsing, algorithms adapt marketing strategies to present products specifically for him.  Algorithms pick up minute details.  Looking at an image of a group of people, a gay man’s eyes will focus, not on the girls, but on the guys in the group.   He goes on to say this is used to market product to him with images of sexy guys.  Hot sweaty men appear in Coca Cola adverts and he feels constrained to buy the drink.  To my heterosexual friends different images are used.  All of this on an individual basis and increasingly this invasive AI will creep up and control us ever more.

Now turn this argument on its head.  Ok, technology is replacing ancient inherent life skills, but is it a new concept?  For a long time it has been widely accepted that a place chooses you.  Be it a home or a holiday location, I strongly believe that if you are in touch with the real world, you are drawn to the right place.  Places also have different auras in my opinion souls.  These auras and souls attract the right person to their place.  For you sceptics, please do not click off, please read on, just humour me a bit.

Guests arriving at Bellaugello Gay Guest House are struck by the beauty and tranquillity and positive vibe of the place.  They often ask how I found the location.  The answer is simple; it chose me.  With my ex partner I had been searching for a spot to open a guest house for guys.  The search had taken over five years.  We had specific ‘must have’ attributes for the place we wanted to live and run the business.  In those five years we had seen so many ‘wrong’ places.   Either the location was not right or more importantly the place just did not feel ‘right’.

From the moment I turned into the road at Valdichiascio without even having seen Bellaugello I instinctively knew the place was meant to be.  Four kilometres down an astonishingly beautiful country lane and I arrived at the place I am thrilled to now call ‘home’.   You pass many houses, this was and still is a farming community.  People were born and raised in the houses and many still live where they were born.  I remember that first drive down the road, my heart fluttered, raced, it felt good and so positive.

It took over three years to transform the long abandoned farm to the guest house it is today.  Initially, logically, I am sure there were some raised eyebrows.  A gay guest house in rural Umbria, possibly the first such place in Italy was a new and different concept for this traditional community to have to cope with.  However the community did accept me and as well as good neighbours, they have become good friends.

In our little valley some 14km from the medieval town of Gubbio we are a community of some hundred and twenty.  As I wrote, some were born here and have never moved from the valley.  Some, like me, have chosen to move here.  I am not the last ‘incomer’.  In my years here I have seen the older generation sadly pass on, but happily replaced by a new generation.  Kids have been born here.  Although farming does continue, even though on a smaller scale, many are now forced to work outside the valley, returning home in the evening.

A large tract of Valdichiascio was an estate, which, in the major part is still is owned by one family.  The families living in the various houses dotted along the road all worked for the estate.   The ‘Mezzadria’ ended here in the late 1970’s and the estate gave a small parcel of land to the various families that they could continue to live in the valley.  This, with us incomers, is our valley today.

By tradition residents congregated each year on 8th September for a lunch in a field.  Every family brought food and wine to share, that is the way we do things here.  Living in detached houses, often separated by a few km, and previously without cars, it was a rare occasion to be together.  Sadly before I arrived this tradition had lapsed.   It occurred to me that this lunch should be revived,community is important to me.  Discretely, I made tentative enquiries and was met with a delightfully positive response.  Yes! a neighbourhood lunch would be a great idea.  We formed a tiny steering committee, and set the date of 30th September.  Invitations were hand delivered to every house.  WhatsApp messages buzzed to and fro, and neighbours asked what they could do to help.

Sunday dawned, a blisteringly beautiful day.  Bright sunlight, warm, later hot.  The men arrived with tables kept from previous lunches that had been stored at the church and began setting them up on the lawns at Bellaugello.  The women were all still busy cooking at home.  Bright cheery coverings were laid on the tables.  We opened the box of biodegradable plates, cutlery and glasses bought specially for the occasion.  Bellaugello soon began to look very festive.  BBQs were set up a short distance away so as not to smoke out the party and we lit the old wood oven.  At 11am I began to have doubts, would people turn up?  Was I mad?  Had I, as an incomer have any right to suggest this party?

By midday people laden with exquisite home cooked dishes wended their way down the path to the main terrace.  Soon the table we use for breakfasts and dinners was groaning with quiches, pastas, torta al testo, prosciutto, salads, breads, bbq sausages, bracciole and savouries.  Oh! how well we all ate.  I had set the dining room table for the deserts and it too was totally covered with a vast array of delicious home cooked crostatas, cakes, biscuits and tiramisu.  Everyone brought wines and Prosecco, the youngsters provided the music and the party continued.

I did a rough count; we were over ninety neighbours.  We all chatted and ate and drank, so, so well.  From the very old to the very young, (both requiring help but in different ways) delightfully, so many neighbours turned up.  Those that did not were few and had previous engagements.

As somebody later remarked, nobody was on their cell phones.  It was astonishing, six hours and the only cell phone usage was to take photographs.  People actually talked to each other.  It was a real party.  People mixed.  People who I have never seen talking to each other were deep in conversation.  The priest came, dressed casual, he too is an integral part of Valdichiascio life.

Let some photos do the talking:

So strong is our community that people are vying to hold the next year’s party lunch at their homes.  I feel so very privileged to live and work in this great community.   I realise just how precious and rare it is to be able to live in such an environment.  To be able to share this gem with guys from all round the world is particularly special.