Milan – New Beginnings

So it’s officially been one week in Milano. One long week. Christine left yesterday morning for a school trip touring all types of places, from the Illy Coffee plant to some places that make prosciutto. I’d love to tour a prosciutto plant. Hot damn. With this trip comes some serious alone time for me. Being in a foreign country all by your lonesome really tests your true self, and brings on the feeling some prisoners have of solitary confinement, with the choice to get out and explore, and communicate with the outside world, and step outside and go to the store… ok, bad analogy. It’s tough only knowing so much of the foreign language, leaving yourself not-so-confident with doing the simplest things that you’ve grown so accustomed to. Going to the bodega for a soda. Stopping in the pub for a beer. Conversing with someone at the bus stop. All of these things wiped completely off of your list of things you take for granted on a normal day living in your native country.

It’s not so bad. I’m not going crazy. After the first day of being apart you start to think, shit – we went four months without seeing each other, then you say, well we face-timed almost every single night, and I had plenty of people to see and talk to throughout my day. Not this time. Yesterday I ventured out into the real world by myself during the day (Note: Milan is in the 90 degree temps right now in the late afternoon so it’s not so bad being indoors) to the grocery store to pick up some groceries for the next few days, planning on hunkering down and getting some personal things done online. The trip wasn’t so bad. Christine and I practiced the process a few times before she left. Step one on check out: the checkout woman or man will ask you if you have your “card” (kinda like your preferred savings card). You easily answer, “No.” Next she’ll ask you if you have a bag. Again, it’s either “No” or “Yes.” I usually bring a backpack so I can schlep more groceries, but do keep in mind they charge you for plastic bags… and they’re not plastic either, they’re like a stretchy hybrid bag made of what I can only imagine to be plastic, rubber, blubber, and silly putty. Then, when all is scanned and done, and while you are still loading your bags, they will give you your total. Easy peasy if you brushed up on your Italian before you got here like I did–otherwise you can just look at the register. No matter what denomination of bills you have, they’ll ask you for something smaller, or exact. I don’t carry a pocket full of change around, so I simply say, “No.” Finally, the easy part: the thank you and goodbye. You can’t get this wrong, well maybe you can and I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time, but you say as many different goodbyes after you say thanks. Example: Ciao, Ciao, Beuenosera, Bueanaserata, Grazie… and then just leave. Don’t look back. Afterwards, I felt a little ballsy and decided to stop into a little bakery to grab a slice of pizza to take home, and found myself asking first before anything, if they spoke English, “Parla Inglise?” Woman says “No,” and doesn’t have a smile on her face. I play it by ear with what little Italian I can spit out, and using my hands I end up walking down the street on the way home with a wrapped piece of pizza, a smile on my face and a plan in my head.

It’s not so bad. Having 2 whole days of alone/free time has really helped me catch up on some things I’ve been wanting to do, and things that I’ve been planning on doing since before I got here. Like looking into how to make my own pasta sauce (I will be a pro at this, give me a week), and reaching out to fellow photographers and creatives in the Milano community via the social site Glossom. I must have sent out a “Hello, I’m new to the area” to about 75 different people today.

I do find myself sleeping in a little… errrr I mean a lot. In Milan, they have draw down shutter shades for all of their windows, no matter what floor you are on. I can only compare them to store front roll down grates. We are on the third floor, and I imagine it’s either to keep you sleeping without any sense of time, or to keep the thieves out that have the very good jumping skills or tall ladders. I find myself first waking up at 8 because I can hear the traffic outside. Then again at 11 because it’s still really dark and my girlfriend isn’t here to wake me up with her flailing arms. And then finally after checking all of my emails and social networks on my phone, I finally get up at 1130 to make some espresso. My plan for tonight, and this is the same that I did last night, is to leave the house at 11pm to go explore the empty streets. Keep in mind, it’s still really hot at 11p.

Last night I followed a familiar path: going straight south about a quarter mile, then following the street that veers left by the Crocetta metro station and taking that down. This is the same street that you would take to get to PAM (the grocery store), as well as going to the far superstore grocery store, Esselunga. We went to Esselunga the other day. The first time for both of us, and that was the farthest we had gone down that street. Sure you can take the tram, but I’m a walking explorer. I need all the visual landmarks I can get. So I set off last night at 11p and started in the direction of Esselunga. Some people were still out, mostly waiting for trams home, or walking at their casual pace. Me, being who I am from Chicago, I’m a fast paced walker. I know I stick out. I’m also from Uptown, where you walk as fast as you can at night and always check what’s going on behind you. I have the ability to keep tabs on everyone and everything within a 50 foot radius. I have humanity trust issues from living in uptown. So once I get past Esselunga, things start to look not as nice as they do in the neighborhoods that I have walked through since I’ve been here. There was also a group of 4 unattractive women wearing skirts and really ugly high heeled shoes on the same side of the street that I was on. I passed them… maybe ladies of the night? They appear in this adventure later on. At this time, it’s about midnight. Further down the street there are a group of men arguing about who knows what in small cafes… One was wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey. I gave him a mental what’s up, but no eye contact this time of night. No one was on the streets except for the random worker heading home every now and then. It’s really easy to see why most of these buildings, everywhere in Milan, have some kind of horrible graffiti on it. I can imagine doing a beautiful piece in silence, only hiding every 8 minutes when some random person passed by on their walk home or hiding in the shadows from a passing tram. So I kept walking, and at this point, the apartments turned into what look like larger slums. And the deciding factor to turn around was passing by a giant abandoned building, smelling of asbestos, and the basement windows smashed out, not recently, but decades ago, and nappy bed sheets fluttering in the wind, of what can only be a hobo camp set up on its interior. I mean, it wasn’t just a way to cover up from people coming in, it was privacy. There were no more tables set up on the side walk on this street. There were no more kids walking together home. The streets were empty. So I decided to walk back.

Now, earlier, I mentioned the ladies of the night, the women who I assumed could be prostitutes. They were still out on my way back, but this time in different formation. They were scattered up and down the block that they initially were on, on different corners, just standing smoking cigarettes. This was my final assumption; presume that they were in fact prostitutes. Ok then, that’s solved. Hey ladies, nice knowin ya.

The rest of the walk home was normal. The same familiar streets that I have quickly grown accustomed to and the pleasant welcoming hum of my favorite air conditioning unit. I say this now, but maybe I should switch to decaf after 8p. Perhaps I’ll try my luck in a different direction tonight.