I thought the Piazza del Duomo would be the best place. Certainly the thought itself eased the thought of the awkwardness of arriving on time (for once) in Milano, before sunrise, and having to wait for the hotel room. Off to the Piazza, then, to watch the sunrise.
I watched the Duomo evolve in the changing, growing light. Then the camera crew busy with a boom. The watching mixed with a smell. The smell mixed with a sound. They turned me away from the sunrise, to three trucks packed full of long-nosed, long-eared sheep, not at all sleepy.
Standing longer gave the reward. The trucks were disgorged into a pen improvised from metal traffic barriers, expanded, added to, as the animals stumbled down to the marble. Three crook-bearing, sunburned country men – one old, wand-thin, mustached, one young, sleeveless, alert, one middle-aged, rotund, red as a sun from sun and tee-shirt – were helped by the quick, cogent movements of a brilliant black dog. A pied pony, as round as the red shepherd, stood tranquilly by. When the sheep had all re-huddled, the round one took the reins of the pied pony, the two helpers pulled aside the barriers, and man and pony stepped slowly forward. The sheep eagerly followed, leaving behind receding barriers and a tan disc of turds on the pavement.
The sun was now up, and I walked around the squarish Duomo, reacquainting myself with its white ornateness, and down the galleria, salivating in front of the silver shop and the restaurant that serves such a copious aperitivo. I came back out of the galleria's shade to the sun, then a bleating. The sheep were returning, still following the round pied pony and its tranquil owner along the Duomo wall. the bleating was cut by a pebble-storm of Italian; I was being chased off the Piazza.
I crossed and went behind the barriers, now herding the humans, and watched as nothing happened. The sheep stood and admired the Duomo's portals.
Over a bullhorn someone yelled, "Renato!" And the red shepherd began to lead his pony away from the church. The bullhorn yelled "Ragazzi!" and a group of children ran to the strolling flock, waved, whooped, imitated sheep's gait, flocked around the flock. The camera boom slowly descended as the shepherd slowly advanced. The dog was the rapid one, darting across the back of the flock. The bullhorn shouted, "Finito!" The pebble-shower of Italian invited us back onto the Piazza. "A documentary?" I asked. "Yes," she said with a smile. "Renato is the last working shepherd in Milano."
published 31 December 2011