The main street of this teeny town came to an end all too quickly, and as we sought further shops in which to browse, or maybe the pub for a quick stop, my eyes stopped on a most unusual sight. My brain took a moment to clarify that I was indeed seeing what my eyes thought they were seeing. Ahead on the road, just around the corner, a couple were walking along the footpath, leashes in hand, taking their donkeys out for a walk.
They were miniature, these donkeys, but still quite a bit larger than the largest of dogs. I came to stand alongside them as they stood about to my waist, heads at that moment down to the ground while chewing on tufts of grass along the path's edge. For just a moment, I hesitated. These people mustn't get too far in their stroll without being stopped by a curious stranger. Mah, it's too much to ignore. I sidle up to them, wondering what is the appropriate approach for a donkey? I mean, with a dog I ask the owner, let the dog sniff at my hand and then give it a pat. What's the street etiquette with donkeys? With limited thinking time, I blurt out a desire to give them a...pat? The owners smile widely and indulge me, maintaining their friendly demeanour as I ask why one would have donkeys as pets in this way - are they good companions? Do you ride them? Use them to pull a teeny tiny cart along a teeny tiny road? We are told that indeed they are good companions, and contrary to the belief of my friends and myself in reflection afterwards, apparently their droppings are not as nasty to clean up as a dog's. Who knew.
Donkeys take me to the rural village in Italy where my father was born. Alongside the stone wall that ran around the edge of the old town, near where my great grandfather once lived, we often saw a donkey in a ramshackle fenced area. Over the times we visited, often at intervals of years, the donkey remained. We would exalt at the sight of it, "Il asino!" and wait at the fence to offer a friendly word and a scratch. It's head would turn, slowly as if too heavy, the short, stocky body body following from front to back, turning in a wide and deliberate circle. With pronounced steps, in no hurry, over to the fence it would come and allow us a few minutes to take a photo and wonder if this was still the original donkey. Was it whiter around the face? Did it stand a little taller? Despite the first photo that we took being tacked on the kitchen wall in my parent's house for years, we never were too sure. I like to think so.
Having thanked and bid farewell to the owners, I noticed as we rounded the next bend that they'd been accosted not ten metres further along the street by a band of young men. Seems that even if the donkeys themselves lack interest for their owners, the same can't be said for the community at large.