Tag Archives: milan

springtime is a tease

Yesterday was the first day since I’ve been here that the sun really came out, we got our first taste of spring and the many months ahead. When I first arrived, mid-January, it seemed as though there were a perennial cloud that hung over Milan, enveloping it, that wet kind of cold that really gets under your skin. I got to know the insides of places well, because after any walk of distance you just needed to get inside, rest your legs, warm your hands. People coming through doorways had that winter look on their faces, flustered, and then quickly relieved, trying to put themselves back together.

Then little by little the sun came out, peeking around buildings in long, visible rays. Even when it’s cold here, the sun is so strong, so bright. But yesterday the temperature crept up, winter coats came unbuttoned, and the sun was warm enough that you could really feel its kiss on your face. Everyone stopped just hurrying to where they were going and old stone steps became seats, crossing a piazza became a passeggiata, not just a brush through the wind.

Free from the mindset of where to take cover next, my eyes opened in a different way to this city that I am now tentatively calling “home.” Just a few blocks, down crooked streets, from the main cathedral is a little hole in the wall place with a whole lot of history here: Luini’s. They’re known for bringing panzarotti to Milan, a fried inside-out pizza, sort of like a mini calzone, a perfect lunch on a sunny day. As I made my way there, two lines were snaking out the door and down the street in both directions, and even just waiting there in the sunshine, the street full of people chatting and the scent of fresh-made pizza, torturous to a hungry girl, it was heaven. I would have waited twice as long, with no complaint. The result: worth waiting for. At  2.50, you’ve got to love it when some of the best things in life cost so little as well. (If you wish there were a picture, I’m afraid I ate it all too fast. Maybe next time…)

Some people stayed huddled around the shop eating, resting their soda cans on window sills, but I made my way back to the Duomo steps to take in the sun and watch the world go by. This is really my favorite thing to do. In general, but particularly here. Getting a chance to stop and look at the people that go by, what they’re wearing, the ones in a hurry and the ones taking all the time in the world, groups of young friends and couples on holiday, new parents exhausted by their role by thrilled in their sort of second childhood: experiencing the thrill of it all again through their kids, delighted just by chasing a pigeon a few steps or carrying a balloon.

The day was just a tease, and today it’s back to a cold haze over the city. But it was enough to remind me of what’s to come, and that this is all a strange and lovely dream.


there’s only one reason people come to italy: love.

Last Saturday I was invited to my first ever dinner party as a pseudo-adult. A friend from my teacher training course, who is from the UK originally but married an Italian and has been here a few years, invited me and another student, J, over for some great authentic Italian food, special Carnevale pastries that snowed powdered sugar everywhere, and three bottles of wine: white, red, and prosecco. Got to love it.  It was good company, good conversation, and their two little kids poking their heads out again and again, not wanting to go to bed. I can still remember being that little kid, but this was my first time on the other side. Is that a milestone of some kind?

It has occurred to me that perhaps my friend, A, invited us two specifically because she wants to set me up with J, who just happens to be tall, dark and handsome, with a lovely London accent. At the (very late) end of the night, noting my general distrust of the tram system in this city, she told him, “take good care of her getting home.” I think A would love to live vicariously a little bit through a course romance, and all the gossip that would ensue. But J has also got 11 years on me, and I really don’t think he could be less interested, as anything more than a friend. Especially because we learned something new about him.

It started with simple questions about an Italian ex-girlfriend he had mentioned a couple of times, who started him learning Italian, which is why he came here, even now after they’ve split up. Playfully nosy, we wanted to know how long they had been together, how long ago it all was. “Actually, she was my ex-wife…” he began finally, and as soon as the words came out, my heart silently broke. Hang on, I wasn’t that attached to the idea of us working on our lesson plans together, over breakfast. It’s not that at all. It was the despondence with which he said it, shedding a different light on what we assumed was just a reserved English nature. His reluctance to put that label on himself, divorced, since we’ve known him for weeks before he ever shared this much, and even now, with only two of us. Since then we haven’t mentioned it, assuming it’s privileged information not to be tossed around to our other friends, over cappuccinos at the coffee bar. When I heard the words I instantly cursed my own nosiness; this is why they say that curiosity killed the cat. Of course he didn’t have to volunteer the information if he didn’t want to, but even so, divorce is a topic you should hardly even tiptoe up to uninvited. And it certainly made those 11 years seem like 20.

Because it must be hard for him, living in Italy now, where he must “see” her everywhere, around every corner. Because I may not be divorced, or married, or engaged, or even anywhere near that, but I do know that feeling. You find out sooner or later, everyone comes here for the same reason. I’m loath to tell anyone, and I’ve avoided mentioning it to my friends here yet, because I know it’s totally irrational and crazy. Because it was only someone I saw briefly, and it was years ago now, and maybe he doesn’t even remember me. But even though I try not to, I still think about him all the time. And I’m not usually this obsessive, I don’t want to be, I don’t dare mention it out loud, I just can’t help it. I remember his scattered pieces of advice to me, and my mind always goes directly to them, applying them to current problems. I see little kids here fidgeting on escalators, saying big Italian words like zucchini in their tiny little voices, and I wonder what he was like as a child. And that’s just not normal.

The persistence of these thoughts, even though I know they’re insane, it has to mean something doesn’t it? Isn’t that love, the kind our grandparents’ generation had, writing letters across wars for years, even if there were no response? Keeping the hope alive anyway. Even so, I don’t tell people this. Because it is totally crazy.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t come to look for him. If I go to Florence, there’s a chance I might run into him, but it’s not something I’d plan on. I’m not quite that bad. But even so isn’t he part of the reason I’m here, doing this? Not just that he made me fall in love with the Italian personality, friendly and chatty and bright, but I was also so impressed with what he had chosen to do, something that really helps people, such a contrast to all my esoteric academic pursuits at the time. And here I am, having changed pace, to something that can legitimately help people. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it must be at least part his influence.

I’ve talked about masks, how we’re all slowly getting to know each other here on my course. And this is one of the things that’s coming out, little by little, each person’s love, whomever or whatever it might be, that brought them here. The story’s always the same.

benvenutto a italia

The other day I commented on another blog that I should post my own shameless name-dropping post sometime soon. I should say things like that more often, because somehow the stars aligned to make sure it would happen: on Saturday I ran into two Italian celebrities. Actually they’re the only two Italian celebrities I even know of, to be able to recognize in the first place, so I’m not sure what the chances of that happening are. I know of the actress Monica Belucci as well, but I’ve never seen any of her movies and I probably wouldn’t recognize her in person anyway. It’s sort of like if you went to Colombia and ran into Shakira. Except the funny thing is, since only about two of my friends actually know who this Italian band is, I can’t really impress anyone with this story. But I’ll certainly tell it anyway.

It was the first day since I’ve been here that it was actually almost sunny, so I was enjoying the day walking around the fancy designer shops on Via della Spiga, a street filled with women in fur coats and people literally lining up down the block to get into stores like Louis Vuitton and Hogan. But I was just window-shopping, people-watching,  going in places when I got cold, and building up an appetite. So I made my way to a little “bar” on la Piazza di San Babila (I haven’t completely figured it out yet, but apparently a “bar” here isn’t really a bar, it’s sort of a café, informal restaurant and they often do a happy hour with a big spread of appetizers) and got a seat outside in one of these little tents they do with blaring heat lamps overhead.

While sipping my Coca Cola (the American champagne) I noticed someone standing at the coffee bar looking particularly stylish, with Wayfarers and a skinny black overcoat. He and three friends sat at the table directly across from me and – wait, I know one of those faces. Holy ****. It is, isn’t it? How do these things happen to me?! Is nobody else seeing what I’m seeing, or are we all just being polite? Our eyes met, but I’m not sure if my recognition was obvious – I spent the rest of my lunch trying not to stare, but let me tell you for when this situation inevitably comes up in your own life, it’s very hard not to when someone is in your direct natural line of sight, and they are famous. Luckily I had panino crumbs all over my coat to distract me, and I ran over ways to say “Excuse me, I don’t want to bother you but…” in Italian without the words just being thinly veiled Spanish (my own personal language which I dub Italianish).

Finally I paid my check, got myself together, and did what any other self-respecting, mature, adult, non-teenybopper person would do in this situation: err, I went over and asked for an autograph. They asked where I was from, and I think the implicit question was how does some girl from New York who barely speaks Italian know who we are? The short version is that I had an Italian friend in Barcelona who listened to them, and I started to, and spent basically an entire summer listening to them on repeat. Intelligent me would have tried to relay this information, but I just smiled a lot, thanked them a lot, and collected my autographs, complete with my Italianized name. Apparently I was not the only one who recognized them, but I was the only one shameless enough to approach (this is one term I do know in Italian, senza vergogna), because a few other girls asked for a picture with them and so on. I think it only takes one person acknowledging the obvious, and I’m fine with that person being me. Not a bad way to be welcomed to Italy.

So what? There is no point to this story. Only that, while I’m not really someone who believes in signs, it’s hard not to see something like this as a good one. Seeing as how things are really tough right now, it’s hard not to interpret this as some message that I am meant to be here, that things will be ok, I just have to keep going one step at a time. That I’m on the right path, even if I’m not sure what that is, or where it’s going. There’s a line in one of their songs that I always quite liked which goes: prometto a me stesso la felicita senza limiti, gustare tutto quello che da… (roughly translated: I promise myself happiness, without limits, to enjoy everything that comes my way…) It’s the idea that making yourself happy, without limits, is worth doing things that don’t seem rational or prudent or sure at the time. If we only do things that are sure, we walk around ourselves in circles. Isn’t that why I’m here in the first place?

[Video and more name-dropping after the jump.] Continue reading

wherein i may or may not be completely insane

This morning I woke up at 6, paced around the house, waiting for other people to wake up. I made tea hours before I’m usually even awake and read the newspaper. This morning on the front page of the New York Times was an article about race riots in southern Italy. This isn’t exactly what I needed to see first thing this morning.

Ok, enough being coy. This morning I had to wake up in (what are for me) the wee hours for a telephone interview in a far-away time zone: in Milano, Italia, at the training institute for my teaching certificate. I will find out later today, which is really within hours, since it’s already late afternoon there. Calling 6 hours into the future is a good analogy for how surreal this all is for me: if I go for this course, it will start in exactly one week. On a different continent. Apparently this is how I do things.

A few days ago, mulling over this possibility, I looked through some old things and found a little notebook I kept on my last trip to Italy. It was a long weekend to Rome that I took by myself, spur of the moment, while I was studying in Barcelona. It’s filled with more organized lists of the places I went, and the sites I planned to see, and there are also random things I wrote down — sitting down by a fountain here, stopping for a cappuccino and to duck out of the sun there. These are the words that are the real snapshots of that trip, the letters often veering off into messy diagonals, written in haste. One of the things I wrote was:

The best things seem to happen to me when I just let the wind take me where it will.

I suspect this might not mean too much to someone else. That’s the funny thing about the ideas you write down really “in the moment” — reading them back yourself, even years later, you’re taken immediately back to that spot, the visceral feeling of it, the words sink in. It’s like a cliched phrase that you hear a million times but it doesn’t mean anything to you until you have the experience yourself. But to my eyes, these simple words say a whole lot, about who I am and I how I decide and do things, how I phrase it passively: things happen to me. I always think that I should have a better decision-making process, that I should consciously and concretely know what I want. I could be making a horrible mistake here. I try to gauge how crazy people think I am when I tell them, to see if this idea really is insane. I’m hesitant to tell many people at all. But maybe the way things work for me is for them to just feel like they fall into place on their own. And this thought is enough to push me, to just say yes.


PS: Check out today’s post on Ivy League Insecurities, which touches on a very similar theme, and helped me figure out how to put these thoughts together.