Being in Bra

Yes, there is a town in Italy named “Bra”. And apparently, not many people here understand what that word means in English. I am staying here with my mother’s cousin, Eric, and learning about the town, and generally what it might be like to live in Northern Italy. Where are we? Here at this link.

Eric’s house is located in the “fraction” of San Michele, a part of Bra. The neighbors keep goats, chickens and a donkey. His home is on a hillside with a beautiful view of two castles in the distance, and it has a little land and a long driveway off an old, narrow road. There are fruit trees, as nearly everyone has in the area, strawberries, some kiwi plants and there are geraniums on the porch. It’s very pretty, with the advantage of a decent breeze most of the time. I can see that he has spent some time and thought carefully modernizing the house, including freestanding stone stairs, some neat lighting, modern windows, and all kinds of interesting gadgets. My cousin loves technology – I think he might be more into it than some of the guys I know in Silicon Valley. He’d fit right in in California. He has a gizmo that turns the house land-line phone off based on a timer, so if someone calls too late at night, you’ll never hear the phone (to think, I have been unplugging mine on Friday nights all this time). He’s streaming all his television in HD via Slingbox from his home Tivo in Washington DC. When I saw that in action, I must admit, I was impressed. Apparently he’s got some kind of Verizon fiber optic uplink. Day before yesterday we took the car to the accessory installer to get the new stereo put in; it has Bluetooth, a microphone attachment, a USB port and the buttons change colors. I think he might be the most tech-savvy guy in the region. If he’s not, I have no idea what you’d have to do to beat him out of the title.

Bra is not far from Torino, and neither is it far from the heart of Italian wine country (e.g. the towns of Alba and Barolo). There is good food here, good coffee, and Bra is full of friendly, helpful people. The crowning glory, though, is the gelato. It is probably the most inventive and I think most delicious I have ever had. I almost don’t like to say that, because I don’t want to imply that the gelato elsewhere is not excellent; it is. Most of the gelato in Italy is good, some is very good, and still others are exceptional, but overall, Bra wins the prize as best. “Sublime” is the word that comes to mind in describing the Bra gelato. I had cherry and “crema de la nonna” (“grandmother’s cream”) combined the other night, and earlier today a coconut flavor combined with peach that was just incredible. They make up incredible flavors here that are hard to describe. It’s not heavy, it’s not watery, it’s so flavorful, and all of it is perfectly balanced. I have to slow down or I am going to gain five pounds here. The pastries are good too. Uh oh!

Thanks to Eric’s friend Marisa, I got a haircut yesterday. She introduced me to Fabrizio who gave me a great haircut. It even looks cute if I let it dry by itself, which is good because I could not justify packing a hair dryer on this trip. I wish I was more able to maintain a hairstyle, or any style, though, as that is important here. But after traveling for weeks in the third world, my stuff just isn’t up to it. Later in the day, we did some yard improvements, putting in new flowers, which is always fun. I did some laundry and we found out that the dryer doesn’t quite work. Things get hot but not dry. Hm. Now the clothes are line-drying, the Italian way, on the porch. Last night, we went to Torino and walked around town. I took some pictures and we found a little trattoria that wasn’t too expensive, where we met an American ex-pat friend of Eric’s. She was very nice, and has been volunteering in restaurants and even a ciocolatteria to learn about the ways of Italian food. Today we are scheduled to go to Alba and do some shopping, and help one of Eric’s friends interview an American musician on the radio. Marisa and I are planning shoe shopping; I still haven’t found a pair of sandals I like and it’s in the mid-nineties here every day (~34 C).

I feel a little out of my element because my Italian isn’t very good and a lot of people don’t speak English. Not that they should – I am in their country, after all. People have been very hospitable to me and I can barely express how much I appreciate it, or really get to know them, which is the most frustrating part. I would like to get to know Marisa better, for instance, because I really like her, but I cannot speak her language. Eric is acting as a periodic translator and that is very gracious, but it is hardly fair to him. He is making me try to speak Italian and I am glad for the practice. Mostly I try to follow along and catch enough words to know generally what topic is being discussed and occasionally add something that I hope is remotely on topic. But any nuance or humor is lost on me 99% of the time. I’m not sure what to do about that beyond just doing what I am doing: listening and trying. I am also self-conscious about my appearance since I am not dressed appropriately at all (that is, with style). Partly it’s because it is so darned humid right now that it feels impossible to look good, and partly because I am nowhere near as skinny as most of the people here. How they do it with all this excellent gelato floating around I will never know! What a delicious problem to have: living in a town named Bra and trying to sample sparingly of the world’s best gelato.

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