Thursday, June 22, 2006

The post with no title

Yesterday I sat down and Blogged for a good 20 minutes. The bad news is I tried to download a photo and got 4 copies of it. While trying to figure out how to remove 3 of them, I managed to close the entry without saving it. Well at least it wasn’t my final draft of a novel or something. This has to happen occasionally with new technology but unfortunately, I didn’t have time to Blog again that day. Well, even Tolstoy must have wasted a draft or two at times. Now I’m in O’Hare airport waiting for my connecting flight (delayed) to Newark and, if we get on in time, from there to Milan.
Last night I probably got around 4 hours of sleep. I impulsively decided to get a laptop to take on vacation with me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be typing this. So far, I love my new toy but I did spend nearly 4 hours on the road (rush hour traffic) getting to the nearest store that stocked the ultra light laptop I chose to buy. This interfered slightly with packing.
How on earth I’ll be able to get these notes onto the internet prior to returning to the U.S. I have no idea. One problem with Italy is that outside of the major cities there is not readily available internet access and I’m nervous about all the rumors I’ve heard about devices that store your keystrokes being loaded onto computers that are found in internet cafes.
Well the most interesting thing that happened to me in the United States on the way out to Italy was that during our layover in Newark, I noticed that I had a phone call the day before from my partner in Chicago. He had called to tell me that we might be evicted from our office. This is a very long story, however, the long and short of it is that my business partner and I have had a long-standing feud with our neighbors in the office building we rent from. We share a wall in common with an Optometrist. Shortly after we moved in we discovered that we not only share a wall but also every bit of random noise they make. Sometimes their office sounds more like a party than like a business. We have had to ask them to turn down the volume of their phones, not to play their television (de rigeur in every doctor’s office I know of) on a game show at top volume at the end of the work day, and not to be quite so loud on their personal conversations in the back room of their office. My office mate has overheard one of their staff discussing how much she likes to spend her husband’s money and I have overheard them discussing which parties they went to over the weekend. On occasion my patients have commented on the “party” next door. Well, one day my partner became so irate that he pounded on the wall. This was on the order of a year ago. This rash action resulted in a threatening letter from our landlord to the tune of do that a gain and you’re out. Since then we have dutifully been laying low.
This was apparently to no avail we discovered. While I was en route to Europe my partner received a letter from the management to the effect that we had banged on the wall again and that we were being asked to leave. The unfair thing is that no one banged on the wall! All I can construe is that either the Optometrist’s staff are lying or that they heard one of my patients, an adolescent with autism, having a tantrum. Alternatively the building is getting rid of us on a pretext. As my partner said, “don’t let this ruin your vacation.”
In fact it won’t. First of all I have no intention of letting anything less than world-class ruin my vacation. Second of all, we aren’t all that enamored of our office due to poor climate control and the aforementioned noise. However, the principle of the thing does gall me a little. After all we didn’t do anything wrong and the building we are in is full of medical professionals so at some point there must have been a patient who made a ruckus.
The rest of our trip was uneventful. Only the usual nuisances of international travel such as cramped seating, lack of sleep and squabbling children (mine unfortunately). Customs was uncustomarily brief–I was amused to find that I could not determine if we were supposed to have our bags checked so just walked through. Then on to the tourist office which quickly arranged transport to Milan in a private car (much easier than alternative when traveling with two jet-lagged children) and a “three star” hotel for 130 Euro not too far from the Duomo.
Three stars was supposed to buy us a private bathroom, air-conditioning, wireless internet access and breakfast but I wasn’t expecting much given that most Milan hotels were much more money. In fact what we got was a private bathroom, hypothetical air-conditioning, although the source would have required a ladder to access, no internet in the room (perhaps available in the lobby but I chose not to try to find out from the clerks who were not English-enabled), and three pre-packaged “croissants” that would have had any self-respecting Frenchman rolling his eyes emphatically. Fortunately the nearest pasticceria was only three doors down (I love Europe) and their baked good were not enclosed in plastic and rated for the next millennium.
I don’t recommend voluntarily spending too much time with two jet lagged children in a foreign country. Especially when running on around 6 hours of sleep in the past 60 hours oneself. I managed to haul the kids on a walk to the Duomo by virtue of holding out food as the carrot and stick and not telling them there was a Duomo at the end of the walk. The kids don’t appreciate the touristic value of “churches.”
We had to make three stops for food. First at a pasticceria–two pizza margheritas, and three palmiers-like pastries. Then at a fruit market–two peaches and a nectarine. Finally 3 blocks later when both children were complaining of needing to use the washroom at a café for ice creams and a toilet. (The deal is you buy the ice cream so as to access the toilet). We were kicked out of the café because in spite of the fact that we had bought ice creams the proprietor objected to the kids’ drinks which had been purchased at stop number one.
A few more blocks got us to the Duomo.. At the risk of seeming low brow, I will admit that I didn’t even try to go in. Actually I ditched the kids for a few minutes. Yes, the paragon of parenting that I am, I left them sitting by a light pole, while I circled the plaza looking at the architecture and in a few shop windows. Of course by the time I got back, they were ready to head back to the hotel. Spending the rest of the afternoon in a small, stuffy hotel room, was my idea of a fun day in Milan. By dint of coaxing and mature parental whining, I convinced the kids to check out the arcade near the Duomo. This is a lovely space covered by glass windows four or five flights overhead. The floors are tiled and expensive shops line the sides. At least some expensive shops. Even my younger son,D., felt the absurdity of a McDonald’s in this space and took a photo of the same. My favorite window was the Vuiton store which backed the luggage with a pastiche of old luggage tags. Unfortunately my photo lacks some detail.
D. took a number of photos with me hovering over his shoulder worried he’d drop my expensive camera. Actually he has a good sense of composition and I enjoy letting him (carefully) use the camera.
After a visit to the Rizzoli store and the inevitable souvenir store (books are inevitable for me, all other items inevitable for D.) , we walked away with a children’s English and Italian dictionary and a new soccer ball (quite snazzy–silvery with the Juvenal logo). Next stop dinner. Another pizza margherita, a vegetarian pizza and for me, a spaghetti con vongole (clams). The clam order comes with a handy wipe for the fingers dirtied by extracting the clams from the shells. The clams are tiny and very tasty but the sauce is a bit to oily for my taste. The pizzas are quite good and the people watching is extraordinary.
Picture us sitting in this magnificent covered arcade. We are in a table closest to the show. The head waiter and his assistants are flagging down passers-by to eat in their restaurant. They manage to do this in a persuasive yet inoffensive way. The diners next to us are Japanese. The man is dressed in an elegant blue suit. The woman is in a formal kimono. This must be the first time I’ve ever seen a woman dressed for dinner in one. She is positively lovely.
The women passing by us are also lovely. They are obviously dressed for a night on the town. The men wear dark suits, ties and matching handkerchiefs tucked artfully in the breast pockets. The women catch the eye, however. Most are in black, formal dresses and walk carefully in their sandals with stiletto heels. No women in comfortable shoes here. A few are equally stunning in floral dresses made of gauzy material. I think they are going to the opera. Lucky them. They appear a picture of comfort, ease and material wealth that I can never hope to achieve. As with French women and accessories, you have to be born to it.
I’m not saying that everyone here is dressed for going out. There are a few business people likely heading home after a day of work. And tourists of every country making the rounds. Shopping bags indicate that they have taken advantage of some of the high end stores around. Street merchants bring out mechanical toys which they try to seduce a few children into buying. A juggler throws pins in the air. All add flavor to our pasta and pizza. Now I know we are in Europe.
We take a leisurely stroll back to our room. Here and there we stop for an unexpected visual treat. Inside a largely closed shopping mall, we spy four teenage boys break-dancing to the sound of their boom box. I didn’t know break-dancing was still in vogue anywhere in the world. I wonder if they are pan-handling but they are a bit off the main drag and seem to have no interest in performing for anyone but themselves. Each steps out into the center of their little ring and begins to perform. This involves spitting on the ground and anointing their shoes (does this improve traction) and then a quick warm up followed by a grand finale of spinning around with one hand on the ground. A kid in red is quite remarkable. I’d love to take their picture, but amateur journalist that I am, do not know how it would be received and don’t.
As we pass a restaurant we see another sort of performer. He is a 9 or 10 year-old boy playing an accordion. D. asks what he is doing. I explain that he is performing for money. “Is he poor?” asks my son. I answer that he likely is and D. would like to know how he can afford an accordion. I explain that there are degrees of poor and that the boy’s parents likely could manage to buy an accordion out of the earnings of their performances. Sometimes when discussing the sadder facts of life, children who roam the streets to earn their food being one such, it pays to feign an absolute knowledge of the facts of life of street-people. Of course, I really do not know how this child came by his accordion. I don’t even know that he has parents. But uncertainty only leads to more unanswerable questions. This is true of life in general but children have a way of tapping into the questions one would prefer to avoid answering.

1 comment:

Kathe said...

Enjoyed reading this one...and nobody else seems to have left a comment, so I figured I would.