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"Alas, I know if I ever became truly humble, I would be proud of it." -- Benjamin Franklin

Episode 40: Alba, Italy and the $1000 mushroom
@ Where`s Cherie?     Aug 05 2002 - 16:43 PST
Cherie always follows the rules.  The sign said "no bra" didn't it?  Those Europeans are so free-spirited.  This picture was taken just outside Bra, Italy.  The sign conveniently lets you know, that you are not in "Bra" anymore.

Cherie always follows the rules. The sign said "no bra" didn't it? Those Europeans are so free-spirited. This picture was taken just outside Bra, Italy. The sign conveniently lets you know, that you are not in "Bra" anymore.

cherie writes: November 2000

The next adventure began with Matthias, a friend we met while snowboarding in Austria. He and his friend Edoardo had a trip planned to Italy, and since I would be traveling alone for a few weeks (Kristi back in Virginia) I invited myself along.

If Matthias and I were attracted to each other, he would be the perfect boyfriend. He loves to cook; I love to eat. His car has heated seats and GPS (so I don't get lost, but if I do, I don't care because my bum is warm.) And, he pulls the car over when I want to take a picture or go to the bathroom. A girl can't ask for much more.

Matthias is a different sort of chef than Antek (from Munich.) Matthias uses 12 plates to create one dish and Antek uses one plate to create 12 dishes. Antek can find everything he needs in his own cupboard, and Matthias can't find anything he needs even after searching every market in town.

When Matthias served dinner, I wanted to break out my passport because we were trying wines from five different countries. We had dinner feasting to the melody of classical music while the rain raged at the door like a caged tiger. My wine glass trembled as the pounding of the music and the pounding of the thunder became indistinguishable. The rain regulated itself to the music the way a baby regulates her breathing to her mother's. The roar of the storm was just loud enough for Matthias to misunderstand everything I said:

Cherie: "I want to eat healthy."Matthias: "You don't want to help me?"

Matthias likes expensive wines, and each wine (some older than me) had its own Riedel hand blown wine glass to taste it in. I have never mixed well with precious glassware and in a few hours the two nice glasses were in three nice pieces. Matthias just smiled and said, "At least you broke the most expensive one."

After that, the next time Matthias ran into me, he should have been driving. So we took a drive down Germany's "Romantic Road" and visited towns with more letters in their names than people on their streets. Example: Tauberbischofsheim. Are they kidding me? It sounds more like the name of an incurable disease than the quaint town it is.

Long drives make for good conversation but I couldn't help but knit my brow and scrunch up my nose when Matthias exclaimed, "I am a virgin!" He has two children, so I just waited patiently for an explanation, wearing Mona Lisa's enigmatic smirk. He was born September 11. I think he meant he is a Virgo.

On our way to Italy we went through Konstanz, Germany (named after my Aunt Connie.) Except I hope that she won't be mad that they spelled her name wrong. There we picked up Edoardo, an Italian who was going to give us an authentic tour of Northern Italy. Edoardo is one of those well-fed Mafia types that waves people away when he's finished with them. He waved me into the car, and we pulled away.

Driving through the Swiss Alps, Matthias asked questions like, "Would you like to listen to Pavarotti or Metallica?" Pavarotti and then Metallica, of course.

The trees were blushing with autumn's fervor and each town looked like a painted ceramic miniature Christmas village. The Alps looked more like sugar frosted desserts hugging Swiss towns like Vaduz (which has more banks than people.) I wanted to stop and open a Swiss bank account (just to have one) but we didn't have the time. It's on my list of things to do.

Switzerland just legalized marijuana, but everyone knows that country has always been about "peace." We didn't try any pot because we were headed to Italy for some 'shrums. Not the hallucinogenic kind, the rare white truffle of Alba. It is a mushroom that costs over $1000 a pound ($2300 per kilo.)

Now, anyone who knows me, understands that I HATE mushrooms. So, the prospect of eating a $1000 mushroom (okay...truffle) is about as exciting for me as a another visit to the thimble museum of Creglingen, Germany. But I figured, if they want to drop a grand on fungus, I will gag the yucky things down.

So I did, and they were incredible. I never even chewed; the truffle just disintegrated on my tongue like a giant snowflake. So it was confirmed once again, I have expensive taste. In the future, anyone who wants to buy me a $1000 mushroom is free to do so.

Then we went wine tasting visiting the villas of the Borolo region in Italy. The scenery was almost as delicious as the wine. The light illuminated the grape leaves and turned them the bright yellow of burning magnesium. Appreciating the surroundings a little too much, we got lost (even with GPS). We were as tangled up as the grape vines weaving the towns together. "Haven't we seen those grapes before?"

It is easy to get lost in Europe. The town signs don't tell you where you are, they tell you where you are not. There is always a city sign with a big red line through it--so if you are not sure where you are, at least you know where you are not.

I made Matthias and Edoardo stop the car after we drove through the town of Bra, Italy. I stood with my bra in my mouth, the giant sign behind me reading "No Bra." As usual, I was just entertaining myself. No one else seemed to think it was funny. (Though I think they were excited about the idea of me removing my bra.)

We tasted the best wines of the Borolo region and Edoardo fussed about each of his wines the way an old woman fusses about each of her cats. In a snotty voice I said, "This wine has a deep ruby color with a rich bouquet balanced with floral overtones and hints of spice that surrender to a clean cherry finish. On the palate it is full, but young. I would say it should evolve in 5 to 8 years."

That line could have fertilized the vineyard for years; it was bullshit. But, it sounded good. And that is what really counts in wine tasting--it's not what you know, it's what you pretend to know.

Our next stop was Milan where we wanted to buy the latest fashions, see Leonardo Di Vinci's "Last Supper" and visit the Duomo (the third largest church in the world.) The clothes were too expensive to buy, we couldn't see the "Last Supper" because we didn't have reservations, and if I go to one more cathedral, my parents will think I am going to become a nun. But, it was nice to be in Milan, where 5 minutes takes about 20.

Next stop: Venice. I have to see if there is still a spark for me in Venice, or if I am completely devoted to Prague.

Click on each picture to see it full size.

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