One of my favorite blog posts is back!
Today I am chatting again with someone who has decided to make Italy her home and this makes me really happy. I have had this section on my blog for years now and I still am super excited when I have the chance of chatting with an expat. It’s always a real pleasure for me!
This time I interview Brandy Shearer of Alor Consulting, a marketing agency, who writes about Italy and experience about living here on her blog, called Art of Living on The Road. There you will find lots of posts about life in Italy, wonderful photos (Brandy’s husband is a photographer), travel tips, and even a very detailed account of how it was moving from the US to Italy in the midst of a pandemic!
I have ‘met’ Brandy on Instagram and I was immediately struck by the fact that she lives in Bardonecchia, a remote location in the Alps, in Piedmont. As you may know, foreign people living in places other than Florence, Rome, and Venice always spark my curiosity and I really wanted to learn more about Brandy and her life in my country.
She very kindly accepted to be interviewed and shares with us lots of interesting views about the Italian lifestyle. I have found especially interesting to read how not knowing the language is hard for her, especially because she feels she has momentarily lost her independence because she always needs a ‘translator’.
And I love how she committed to learning the language as if this was her job because I truly admire people who move to Italy and really want to be part of the country, something more than just being ‘resident tourists’. Moving to a new country without speaking the language very well requires lots of bravery and I really admire Brandy – and all of you, guys, you know who you are – for doing it.
I am sure she’ll be able to speak the language fluently soon and finally enjoy this experience completely. Thanks, Brandy for sharing these thoughts – and many more – in this interview. Now I’ll let her speak!
Hello Brandy! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Hi Cinzia! Absolutely. I’m Brandy Shearer, an American girl-next-door who moved to New York City for my career and ended up falling in love with, and marrying a handsome Italian Artist & Photographer named Paolo Ferraris. Paolo is now a dual Italian American citizen and I am a dual American Italian citizen.
In 2013, we launched ALOR Consulting, a boutique content marketing agency, for international food, beverage, and hospitality clients. After seven years of saving beyond our means, we attained financial freedom early. In April of 2020 (what timing!) we took a major step, and moved to Italy to focus on our artistic projects. Right now one of my projects is sharing our journey and Paolo’s beautiful photos of Italy on ALOR.blog. So you could say we’re semi-retired in Italy or you could say, we’re two artists who moved to Italy and we’re just getting started!
When did you visit Italy for the first time? What was your first impression of the country? Is that impression changing now that you live here?
My first trip to Italy in December of 2012. Paolo and I had been dating for about a year and a half at that point, and I was under a romantic spell the entire trip. To me, Italy was pure magic. It lived up to every expectation I had for it based on movies, books, and travel magazines. Over the next seven years, I traveled extensively throughout Italy with Paolo. The diversity of each region only made my crush on Italy grow stronger.
My first impression of Italy wasn’t wrong, this is a romantic country in love with enjoying life, but now it’s deeper for me. However, since moving to Italy, I now see the notorious bureaucracy, and the consequences of not prioritizing green living more clearly. Italy is ahead of so much of the world in quality of life, but behind on things like clean air, and heavy reliance on plastic usage.
Brandy and her husband Paolo in Veneto wine country
As a citizen living here, I feel protective of Italy now. I cringe when stereotypes are depicted in movies, when restaurants outside of Italy claim they make “Italian food.” I personally see the benefits of a national health care system that prioritizes preventative care and yet the cost of over the counter medications like aspirin and vitamins drive me bonkers. However, the low cost of good wine and cheese leaves me in awe and grateful to the local artisans of Italy.
All of that to say, like any good relationship, my understanding of Italy has grown over time. My love for Italy includes the good and the bad, it’s unconditional.
In 2005, I had planned an epic solo trip to Italy when a job opportunity that would pay me to move to New York City opened up. I faced an either or. Go on a once in a lifetime trip to Italy or take a once in a lifetime opportunity to move to New York City. I choose New York.
It was a difficult decision, but I ended up producing creative work for lifestyle entertainment brands including InStyle, HBO, Food Network and Discovery. All of which added up to experience that meant I could establish a remote client base as a Consultant, which gave me the freedom to work from anywhere in the world. Along the way I met Paolo and the rest is history!
Oh boy was an adventure! After years of saving and asking ourselves how to move to Italy, Paolo finally said “We call Delta.” So we did. We booked one-way flights to Italy, gave our apartment building notice, sold everything but our essentials, and then, COVID hit.
an iconic yet always great view of Florence
The day our flight to Italy was canceled, talks of lockdowns in Washington began spreading like wildfire only, we couldn’t shelter in place. Our apartment had already been re-rented. It was time for Plan B. What I call “Go time!” From that day on it was an all-out sprint. We had to get mobile fast and be ready for any opportunity that presented itself.
Monday March the 16th I called movers who arrived on the 17th. By 6PM that night we had sold our car. The 18th we caught a flight to Florida to hunker down with family. There was an earthquake at our connecting airport, and we were re-routed with massive delays. This was mid-March when airports were terrifying places to be. It was a mess!
When we arrived in Florida, we rebooked flights to Italy, only to have them get canceled again. We feared we were in for the long haul until we heard about 200 Italian students stranded in Orlando after being laid off by Disney. We snagged seats on a repatriation flight on April 19th and we’ve been here since! Had I not become an Italian citizen in September of 2019, who knows what would have happened.
You haven’t been living in Italy for a long time, so maybe this question comes a bit early but is it easy to get used to living in Italy? Are you experiencing some culture shock? If so, what is the hardest thing to get used to?
Living here and visiting here are two very different things. I felt it almost immediately. The language barrier is real for me. That’s been draining. Speaking is a basic survival skill. Being without a fundamental grasp of the language, is humbling in a lot of ways.
Let’s just say, I don’t mind masks right now. They cover my face when it turns beet red from stumbling through asking the butcher for a tagliata. I’m at the stage where I understand far more than I can say. I’ve given myself permission to make learning to speak Italian my job for the next six months.
Brandy and her husband Paolo in Sardinia
So far, the only real culture shock is everything car related. The garages and roads are so much smaller here! I white knuckled pulling my car out of our garage the first time. My first time driving in Torino scared me. Not a judgement on other drivers, more a judgement of myself and my courage.
Americans are very rigid drivers. Meaning, this is my lane, this is yours and that’s how it goes. Europeans are more loose, they sort of go with the flow. It can be scary the first few times you drive. Plus, turning left across five lanes of traffic without a light, I’ll be honest, I’m still avoiding certain intersections!
Living far away from your home country must be hard. What do you miss the most about the USA (apart from friends and family, of course)? And what is the one thing about Italy you miss the most when you’re abroad?
I can’t skip over how much I miss my family and friends because getting to them is so hard right now, and none of them can come here. Plus with COVID it feels dangerous to even try, so I know it’s going to be a long time before my personality can come out again. That’s something you don’t think about until you realize you can’t make jokes or have conversations like you used to. Your personality is on hold when someone has to translate for you.
Which brings up the thing I miss most outside of family and friends, my independence. There are a lot of things I simply cannot do on my own right now. My husband has to come with me for anything critical until my language skills improve, including Doctors appointments. Oh the humiliation of having your husband translate “you have to lose weight.” In America I’m tall and slender, not so in Italy. I’d much rather been alone when I learned that. What a motivator that moment was to learn faster I’ll tell you that!
a breathtaking view of the Langhe region in Piedmont
Outside of my independence which I’m working hard to regain, If I had to say what I missed… the nature and the beer culture in Portland, Oregon. We could walk beaches with no one on them for miles then go have one of 100 locally made IPAs. Plus, New York City. I’ll forever miss the energy and buzz of life in New York City. She’s one of a kind, that city.
When I’m outside of Italy, what I miss most is the appreciation for simply being. I believe it was Pietros Maneos who said “In America, one must be something, but in Italy one can simply be.” Call it dolce far niente, call it just being, I love that in Italy it’s okay to take time to be in love with your own life.
Lots of people dream of moving to Italy and sometimes they have a stereotyped image of the country. What are your recommendations for people dreaming of living in Italy?
Ask yourself, are you flexible? Are you resilient? If you’re not sure, make sure. Find a way to spend at least a month in Italy and live life, like you do at home. Go to the markets, cook meals, make dinner reservations, get your hair cut, get a mani/pedi if that’s your thing. Do your laundry, drive if you can.
If you’re a flexible, resilient, adaptable person, moving to Italy can feel like an adventure. If any part of living your normal life feels like a frustration instead of an adventure in Italy, you should think about taking more time to decide.
Also if you haven’t traveled extensively in Italy, I’d say take a note from American travel writer Rick Steves. The further south in Italy you go, the more Italian Italy gets.
In other words, if you don’t like Italy by the time you get to Rome, you’ll struggle more in the south than you will in the north. If you’re not sure where to try your month in Italy, go for a central region like Umbria and test the waters both ways. Personally- I love Italy north to south, heel to toe, which is why I choose Italy as home.
enjoying beach life in Sardinia
Let’s speak of tourism now. You live in Bardonecchia, quite a remote Italian location. Can you tell us more about the area? Why should people visit it?
Bardonecchia hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics and to this day remains a skiing vacation destination. The nature in Bardonecchia is jaw-dropping all year round though.
In summer, the hiking is world-class. I’m constantly discovering more trails, streams, ranges, and waterfalls. It’s honestly Alps bliss up here. Plus there two gastronomic institutions I love here. Ugetti is a “Masters of Taste” Pasticceria that’s been in Bardonecchia on via Medail since 1954. No matter where I go in Italy, if I say Bardonecchia, I hear “Ugetti!” and watch as people’s eyes glaze over with dreams of hot Krapfen.
Gastronomia Natta is the other. It’s right up the street from Ugetti and it’s been carrying the most amazing local products since 1908. For my first Ferragosto, I had a local Pecorino Stagionato Sotto Fieno from Natta that I promptly raised up Lion King style and said “one day little cheese everything the light touches will be yours!”
the valley of Bardonecchia seen from Torino
There is a lot of Alps nostalgia to enjoy in Bardonecchia and it’s close enough to Torino that it’s the perfect nature weekend getaway. Plus you can hop over to France for lunch either by hiking and stopping at an Alps Refugio, or a 45-minute drive gets you to Briançon.
Speaking of Italy in general, what are three things people visiting the country should do to experience Italy at its best?
I love this question! There are a million things from getting lost in Venice to finding romantic hillside towns like Pienza that will turn a tourist into a local Italian wanna-be. For me though, these are my three favorites.
1. Visit small wineries in either the Veneto or the Le Langhe wine region. I love Tuscany too, but Veneto and Le Langhe have the best wine and food without as much focus on tourism.
2. See Sardinia in the off season. Sardinia is heaven on earth. An Italian Mediterranean island with 1,242 mesmerizing coastal miles, and over 100 beautiful beaches. Golfo di Orosei had the kind of clear water it felt like I’d waited my entire life to see.
3. Stay at an agriturismo in the Basilicata region. You’ll experience the best Italy has to offer when it comes to food and hospitality. At night, find a local bottle of wine, a view, and do nothing. Just sit, sip, and be.
the beauty of Italian Alps
Do you speak Italian? Are you studying it? If so, are there resources you can recommend to people learning the language?
Before moving to Italy, I spoke tourist Italian. Dove il Bango kind of stuff. Right now, I’m full on immersion. What’s helped me most, is making Italian a part work and part fun. From watching HGTV (home reno) shows to reading the IKEA catalog I stick to Italian.
On Instagram I follow Italian language and learning accounts like yours InstantlyItaly which I love! It helps me pick words that I turn into word associations or flashcards to practice, practice, practice.
I believe in working hard, but I also believe in working smart which led me to Nathanial Drew’s “I learned Italian in 7 Days” video. Now, I haven’t learned Italian in 7 days since watching the video, but it did make me work smarter and learn faster.
Duolingo is a common go-to, but it takes too long and practically speaking, learning to use the 1,000 most commonly used words in Italian is going to get you a lot further faster than La tartaruga non legge.
Thank you Brandy for sharing your experience with us!
All the amazing photos in the post are by Paolo Ferraris
If you are interested in more thoughts about Italy, I have a whole section of interviews with expats. I have chatted with a Canadian living in Bergamo, a Polish girl in love with Rome, an American artist who lives in Umbria, another American who moved to beautiful Tuscany, a Mancunian who now resides in Molise, a Scottish lady who is now happily living in Veneto, a British couple who lives and work in Garfagnana, Tuscany, a US lady who runs a hostel in Rome, an American lady who now lives in a beautiful Tuscan villa, a lovely couple who lives in Tuscany part-time, a writer from Seattle who has been living in Rome for 15 years now, a couple who has just gotten Italian citizenship, a lovely Texan who moved to a tiny little Italian village, a super energetic travel expert from the US now living in Rome, two young YouTubers who live in Prato, Tuscany, a Texan lady who lives in Turin, Slovak girl who now calls Bologna home, a Mississippi lady who is now Neapolitan, a girl from Canada who has fulfilled her dream of living in Florence, a New Yorker who now calls Ischia home. and an American lady who chose the countryside near Naples as her new home.