We have lived in Italy for 5 months now and I have discovered something that has struck me as interesting. I really haven’t missed one of the icons of American life…the car. Some of you on reading the title for this posting probably thought that I had made some typographical or spelling errors and, I guess, I did. It should probably be car-free and car-less for you see we have not had a car at our disposal while living in Bra. We did, to be accurate, rent a car twice for 3 days at at time. Once when we went to Verona and later to travel around the surrounding area of Piemonte to visit the wine towns of the Barolo region. As part of our daily lives we do not use nor find a need for a car.
Granted, we live downtown in the “historic city center” of Bra. This means that we have within a few blocks almost all of the things we need for our basic survival. We live above a fish shop and across the street from a fresh pasta shop. We are a few doors down from a produce shop and across from what I fondly refer to as “our hardware store.” Going the other direction down our street and within a block or two are a pastry shop, a cheese and salumi shop, a meat market, a bakery, “our” coffee shop, a nice restaurant for whenever we want to celebrate something (every few weeks), and my barber. Actually, there are several pastry shops, bakeries, meat markets, produce stores, gelaterias (places to buy gelato), etc. within easy walking of our “flat.” No car needed for those. If we need to do some more extensive shopping there is the COOP about 6 blocks away or, for those times when sufficient just isn’t enough there is the Big Store (Yes, that’s what they call it in Italian!) which is about 2 miles away but you “have to” pass by a great gelateria on the way to or from there.
To get to school, which is about 4 miles away, I have been walking in the mornings when it is cool and taking the bus back in the afternoon when it is hot. I have a bus pass so the logistics are pretty easy. There have been a few times when class hasn’t ended near the time when the bus heads back from Pollenzo to Bra and I have had to 1) wait, 2) walk or 3) catch a ride with the 2 or 3 students that do have a car. In general, though, not having a car for school is not an issue.
So, what have I learned about not having a car vs having one? It really can be summed up in the title. Being “carless” can be felt to be a burden. “Less” means missing something…not whole. One could view that as being deprived of something. On the other hand, being “carfree” means free of the responsibility of having to depend on an oft undependable item with all its needs like fuel and parking. “Carfree” can truly mean “carefree.”
There have been very few times when we have felt ourselves to be “careless” about being “carless.” One is when we want to make a quick weekend trip to one of the quaint small towns that surround us and to which there does not appear to be any reasonable way to get to other than by car. We tried, for instance to walk to Cherasco, a nice town about 6 km from Bra…an easy walk. It would be easy, too, if there was a path to walk on that was not in the direct path of cars and semi-trucks. We got to within about one kilometer of the town and found that a bridge separated us from our destination. There was no way to cross the bridge on foot. I tried and had to turn around and return after only a dozen feet or so while a semi-truck was stopped, holding up busy traffic, waiting for my retreat. Biking would be equally as treacherous. Many of the students have bikes but I haven’t found a need for one. The issue of safely riding a bike on highways is the same and bikes have been stolen.
So, we are car-less and do not feel deprived. We have learned to navigate the train and bus schedules and have come to enjoy traveling, on trains (mostly) or buses. It can be freeing having nothing to worry about except watching the countryside or reading or writing this blog posting…completely carefree.
Posted on the train from Trieste to Milano.