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In Memoriam - Brian Brown

Brian Brown sadly passed away on May 11, 2015. We knew Brian from our time living in Barga from 2010 - 2011, and our many subsequent visits. Barga will miss him, as will we.

My wife Kristin and I first met Brian in one of our early exploratory walks through Barga over five years ago. At the time, we were staying at Bill & Cynthia McKibbon’s Casa Rosa on Via Aquadotto, braving the Garfagnana winter with a smoking fireplace and two portable heaters that we nick-named Ned and Nancy in a mittened state of sub-zero living. Back then, navigating the slightly meandering alleys from Porta Macchiaia, acknowledging the dozens of cats and the odd dog, one stumbled easily into Aristo’s, the local bar in the center of town. Brian was usually outside enjoying a drink, reeling off line after line of grunts and sounds to passers-by in his thick Northern English accent.

While our first meeting resulted in only stilted conversation, when we next met Brian, it was with his dog Mac, an intimidating black sack of muscle and teeth. “She’s a right champion! A bull terrier!” Brian would be sure to clarify for you, before petting him like a tiger-tamer.

In fact, we had been negotiating with a dog-breeder in the nearby town of Fornaci to purchase a dog of our own. We had observed a small little Jack Russell at the Barga Benedizione degli Animali, or Blessing of the Animals, a kind of car-wash baptism, where animals march with their owners under a terrace while a priest dispenses holy water from above. Kristin had fallen in love with the puppy, who seemed to channel a zen presence amongst all the bigger dogs, cats, turtles, rabbits, and whatever else kids kept in their homes. The only problem was that neither of us spoke Italian, and we had no way of getting down to Fornaci to finish the deal with the breeder. Somehow we ended up talking to Brian (likely at Riccardo’s Osteria or Aristo’s), and Brian, in an act of militaristic philanthropy suggested, “Look, get in me car, I’ll drive ye down, and we’ll get’er done.”

The breeder, or as we called him, ‘The Judge’ due to his deliberate demeanor and his day-job as an actual judge, was a play-by-the-rules stickler for detail, and we spent over an hour filling in details on a form that most breeders would simply resolve with a handshake. After an obscene amount of back and forth, Brian raised himself up, stuck out his chest, and thundered, “What’s the problem? This guy and girl just want the damn dog!” The judge dropped his pen, and quickly handed over the puppy, but not before Brian managed one of his favorite expressions, turning to us and exclaiming: “This guy’s nothing but a fart in a bottle!”

When someone hands you a puppy for the first time, and you hold onto it and realize through some magical act of transfer you have signed on to be its owner, there is a good chance you may be filled with equal parts exuberance and uncertainty. The latter in this case was further underscored by the presence of Mac, who was waiting for us in the car, taking up the entire back-seat like some sort of animal that had jail-broken from a safari. Brian motioned for me to put our new dog down, and Mac, five times the size, snorted, tensed his neck-log, and gently nuzzled our little puppy into the back seat.

From that moment, borne of happenstance and generosity, Mac was our dog’s protectorate. He would walk beside her, confronting other dogs with a guttural growl, indicating you had better watch out, not unlike Brian had done with us and the Judge.

We spent more time with Brian, visited him at his house, shared drinks, meals with him, and generally lived our Barga life in part with him and the other unique members of the town. Brian generously began to offer his car for us to use on our many day-trips. As his vision deteriorated, he suggested we buy his car from him at a ‘bargain’ price that was more or less commensurate with the car’s actual value.

As the years progressed we moved away to Firenze, but always we could count on Brian to channel our Barga life when we came back and visited. One of our last times we saw Brian was in Malta of all places. We all happened to be there at the same time, and we agreed we had to meet up, given the unlikely chance of all being in some other country together. We arranged to rendezvous in one of Malta’s small towns, and as we pulled up to a brightly tanned Brian, standing of all places beside an Italian café, he waved, scowled and grinned at the same time, and hopped in our back-seat, to take one more ride.

Today, we still drive Brian’s A-Class Benz (which we did end up buying from him). Beatrice, our little Jack Russell, who sat with Mac when she was three months old in the back-seat, she is sitting now beside me, all grown up. Both Mac and Brian have now moved on, but Bea, judging from her demeanor around fellow dogs, still believes that Mac is protecting her, while Brian’s Benz still growls with a guttural brogue, and I can still sense him there, messing with the gear-shift, ribbing passers-by out the window, scowling and laughing all at once.

Brian Brown

7 comments to In Memoriam - Brian Brown

  • Aeryn

    Beautiful eulogy and writing, Dave. Thank you. What a wonderful and colorful character Brian was and is, as he lives on in the memories and hearts of others.

  • Bryan Brown

    Thanks so much for this story, it reminds me so much of my dad. He wasn’t perfect, for sure, but he was never anyone but himself. My soul is still aching from his passing.

  • Marisa

    A beautiful piece to remember a real character. I never knew Brian, but I can tell by this piece that many people will be missing him deeply. He sounds like a special man. My sincere condolences.

  • Liz

    Wow, what a great piece, Dave. The way you write allows us to picture how Brian was, as if we were there with you in those moments. I’m sorry about his passing.

    Liz

  • Bill and Cynthia

    Ah, David, What a lovely piece of writing — heart-felt. I know that Brian, from wherever he is, is giving his characteristic grunt-laugh. Thank you.

  • Mom (and Dad)

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you very much for sharing memories of your friend Brian. I am sure he appreciated getting to know both you and Kristin as much as you enjoyed times with him. The adventures you shared in Barga and Malta sound very special.

  • Tracy

    A very good account of Brian. He could always bring a smile & he loved a good tale. He would of liked your story. I’m pleased you put Mak in it. As he would have said it would have made a glass eye cry. Never forgotten

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