It’s Sunday lunchtime in Bra, a small town in Piemonte, northern Italy, and all the shutters are drawn in the apartment buildings around me.Closed shutters all along via Vittorio Emanuelle, Bra, Sunday afternoon
A car rushes by, church bells chime on the hour (also a little after the hour – well, this is Italy), and there is the occasional sound of women’s voices, but apart from that it is very quiet. Almost hushed.
Are they eating lunch? (there aren’t any cooking smells). Visiting family? Napping? Watching TV? Doing the washing?
In the apartment block on the other side of my apartment, torn jeans, sweaters and sheets are hanging on lines suspended from balconies. An old woman has just opened a door onto her balcony and returned inside with a dustpan and brush.
Earlier I noticed a young handicapped man emerge from a door and hobble onto his balcony to retrieve what looked like some long white onions from a makeshift shed. One of my reasons for coming to Italy, apart from doing the Master’s degree this year at the Universita delle Scienze Gastronomiche, was to expand my world.
Back in Sydney, I’d reached a stage where career opportunities had all but closed for me, due not only to the shrinkage of newspapers and magazines, but also to ageism. Trying to find work as a food writer and stylist had become increasingly difficult over the past 5 – 10 years, a field now monopolized by food bloggers and food porn.
I hoped/hope that through moving to the other side of the world out of my comfort zone – and attempting a Master’s degree – might open a door or two for me and point me in a new direction, though many people here are surprised I’m a studentessa, and not a professoressa (ageism again?)
As much as I love this little town, I fear that the closed shutters might signify closed minds. Provincialism. Or perhaps it’s because they value their privacy?
Seduced as we are in Australia by images of Italian food, fashion, design, art and culture, how many of us ever penetrate beneath the surface? It’s something I hope to do this year, as well as improve my Italian – oh, and finish the degree.
I muse on this because I’m sitting with the kitchen door wide open and the sun streaming in as I write. Perhaps this is just very Australian, or a habit I picked up from my father who sits outside in the sun every afternoon when he’s finished work.
Mind you, I’m lucky to have a balcony on the second floor of a small new apartment block which faces south-west, important when you live in the northern hemisphere. Maybe the Italians living in the opposite block have already nicknamed me the “crazy Australiana”.Boh!
There were very few of them this morning at the swimming pool when I was doing laps – and the sun was streaming in through the windows there too.
On the day of my departure, my daughter gave me a precious gift – a small beige and cream-coloured Angel of Freedom, with the words “allowing dreams to soar” written underneath.
I packed her in my hand luggage as her wings are made of wire, and in her hands she holds a small butterfly, also made of wire.
“You gave me wings to fly,” said my daughter. “And now it’s your turn. Finally the roles are completely reversed.” But when I unpacked her the other day, the butterfly was missing. I gasped and felt carefully all around the bottom of the bag.
Phew! there it was – so very fragile. I carefully placed the butterfly back in her hands, and hope it continues to remind me of how much lighter I felt on the day I departed – and how lucky I am to be here.