While searching the wild, upward switchback road on this mountain pass to locate an unpronounceable, remote hillside village in the Italian Alps, we decided to take a short break, pull off the road, leave our rental car and explore for a while on foot. Walking a short distance to a clearing, the crest of the village running along the mountain was now in full view. It looked fairy tale like, perched and waiting for later discovery amid the tall dense forest. Suddenly we were aware of the only other vehicle we had encountered on our hour-long drive through the foothills to this mountain location. It was parked a short distance off the road, close to the amazing panoramic view of the tiny Italian village we were heading to called Montefegatesi. (Try pronouncing that!)
Within moments of our arrival an unusually dressed man was walking briskly down the hillside and out of the deep woods towards us. He had a large basket tied with a long, leather strap, draped across his chest to carry something he was obviously collecting. He was smiling broadly as he walked up to us, excitedly speaking in his Italian language. Wearing a funny little hat, carrying a wooden walking stick, a hand-rolled cigarette was dangling from his lips as he spoke. Although we could not understand a word he said, we could tell by his enthusiasm that there was something he wanted to show us. As he opened the hatch-back of his miles-worn, very small automobile, there was a bright blue, plastic basket placed inside that was carefully lined with large, fresh, bright green leaves of some type of fern. On top of those he had carefully placed his delicate prizes of the day from his morning of foraging in the quiet, leaf-strewn, forest paths. We gathered around him and were surprised and delighted to see such an interesting variety of delicate mushrooms and various types of fungi resting in his basket.
He proudly held high and posed with his largest and most magnificent discovery so that we could take photos. Although we did not understand the words he spoke to us, we understood clearly that this long, sought after collection from the fall woods was something very important to him. It was an honor to encounter this unique individual that obviously knew these remote alpine woods so well that he was able to find such a special treasure, one that I am sure his friends and family will be enjoying at an upcoming Italian feast.