Wednesday, April 19, 2017

ciao ciao italia

On my final morning as a resident of Milan, I watched the moon rise over Torre Velasca, and everything felt decidedly symbolic. This building has been voted again and again one of the world's ugliest structures, but when it was propositioned to be bulldozed, the people of Milan revolted. It is an icon, one of the city's greatest treasures.

One of the things I have so desperately loved about this city is how little it gives away for free. It is a place that has to be worked for.  It is raw. Harsh but in its hidden compartments so delicate, ugly yet strikingly beautiful, grungy but so impeccably chic.

In a country that inherently possesses an exaggerated richness of landscape, architecture, art, culture, and cuisine, Milan stands alone as the easily overlooked and frequently misunderstood black swan of the boot.  There is nothing obvious about it. It is not a city that attracts people in search of an easy life or a dreamy weekend getaway. It is driven by hunger and perhaps a bit of madness.  It is possessed by those in pursuit of a dream, meanwhile equivalently dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, in that way only Italians really know how.

I passed both the most difficult and most beautiful years of my life in Italy. The greatness it and its inhabitants possess petitioned my humility, the cultural richness and rigidity forced me to adapt. This city does not accept anything but the best version of yourself. I have never known a community to be so vested in helping, supporting, loving, and generally enjoying the company of its members. What Italians lose in nationalism they gain in altruism and culture. 

People ask me all the time why I moved to Italy and now I tell them I moved for love but stayed for the tagliatelle.  If you have ever dreamed of living in this country, I could not encourage you more to do it. Or at least for a bit. Whether for the love of food or art or lifestyle, Italians will teach you how to live simply but with passion. And you will no doubt emerge a better human having spent your time in their company, with those who through and through really do do it better. 

I have taken the initiative to procure a brief cheat sheet to your transition in the event you decide to pack up and go: 

1. The bureaucracy and general life maintenance procedures are riddled with kafkaesque catch 22's. Most people think there are no rules in italy, that anything goes, but this couldn't be further from the truth. There are instead so many rules and regulations (many of which are laughably draconian) that they actually compete with each other, forcing you to break one just so you can adhere to another. Cheating and cutting corners is basically built into your survival code. 

2. Do not order a cappuccino after 11am. This is social suicide. 

3. Forget about paying for things with your credit card. You need cash. And you need exact change. Tellers, cashiers, and store clerks will deliberately and audibly sigh of exhaustion and scorn you if you are not prepared with the precise amount of coins. 

4. 15 minutes late is officially still considered on time. This is not a joke. In universities it is called a "15 minute academic delay" and you are still within your rights whether you are a student or professor. 

5. There is no snacking so stop randomly eating and do not dream about eating on a public train or bus.

6. Lunchtime is at 1pm. You stop what you do and you go there. And by there, I mean some designated place devoted specifically to dining. There is no chow permitted at your desk. And if you are eating at home YOU MUST SET THE TABLE.

7. There is no life before 7am. so plan your gym session for after work. 

8. If shit appears to be hitting the fan, everyone will panic and complain for a few hours/days/weeks, and then spontaneously all will be magically resolved because someone important somewhere made a phone call. Go ahead and join the catastrophe club but remember it ALWAYS works out even where the possibility seems impossible. 

9. Do not wear open toed shoes until sandal season. It doesn't matter how hot it is. Ladies, that means May. Gentleman, you wear socks with your dress shoes until late June and there is no exception unless you're ok appearing really smug.

10. When driving your car, do not make the mistake of parking in front of a driveway or inside the lines deemed for residents or on the curb on a night when there is street sweeping. Simply park your car on the sidewalk and all is good. 

11. People still smoke. Get over it. You may actually start yourself and LIKE IT. 

12. When your gym says it closes at 10pm it actually means 9:30pm. 10pm is when the employees get to go home and now they need to spray off your elliptical. 

13. There is no fettuccine alfredo, garlic bread, or spaghetti with meatballs. This was all a hoax. Also, there is no salt in the bread in Tuscany so stay away from it, not worth it. 

14. Nobody here appreciates a snitch. Ever. So mind your business and keep your mouth shut.

15. If you forget your wallet, come back and pay later. It's never a problem.

Italy, you have been a dream, and while my heart breaks to leave you behind, the fact that there are seemingly more Italians under the Queen Mother mends my achy heart. And besides, now that I'm in your system, we will always be tied by that inescapable bureaucracy. 

Arrivederci ai miei amici piu cari, vi porto sempre con me. 



Allie Rose said...

#5 and #13 are reason enough to leave, amiright??

Jeff said...

Hahaha, so true. I love ordering a cappuccino after lunch with Italians. It's kind of like leaving your blinker on to mess with a tailgater.

Nicole said...

Very nice account of Milan. Brings back nice memories to me!