Milan is indescribable. The buildings are all stone and brick in browns and yellows with the the lower six feet invariably covered in graffitti. The streets are a narrow bumpy mixture of cement, blacktop and brick and without lanes. Cars, mopeds, bicycled, pedestrians and even street cars all traverse together without honking or cursing or accident. I am unable to discern who has the right of way - they just all seem to know and no one gets hurt or insulted. I think road rage is non-existant here.
I am in Navigli near a small canal lined with restaurants, shops, cafes, bars, adding chairs, tables, sofas, and street gypsies to the already busy street. I close my eyes and the Italian language feels like some strange ad beautiful song as the foreign sounds run together rather than resolving into recognizable words. This is no longer the feeling I got at Heathrow that even though everyone is still speaking English that I am now the one who sounds funny. This is complete emersion into a place where I do not speak the language. It is frightening but beautiful.
We take dinner at the Bellariva Cafe sitting at at table that is quite literally in the street. Even though it is a mild evening and we are right on the canal, there are no outdoor pests save for the gypsies selling cheap swag. The menu is written on a large slate that hangs above our table but the waiter provides is with a printed version that is in English, more or less. I am learning that the English in Milan still mostly adheres to the Italian idioms and phraseiology, which is only mildly confusing and completely enjoyable.
Our waiter is Daniele, a name he informs us is a woman's name in English. I think he has some good-natured fun with us this evening, teaching us simple Italian and keeping the gypsies at bay. We start with the only wine that any of is recognize, an order of bruschetta and an order of mussels in lemon. We also get a small bottle of balasmic, a small can of olive oil , salt and pepper - "for the bruschetta, not the mussels" we are instructed. The bruscetta is actually fairly standard fare and similar to what I have gotten in Little Italy. But the mussels - they were amazing. The sea-salty pungent (and often gritty) mussels we get in the States taste like an entirely different animal from these. These taste like they were harvested that day. They are incredibly clean, too, smooth and buttery and drenched in lemon. The wine is light and clear and slightly fruity and is quite honestly the best wine I have ever had.
For dinner, we each try something different: tagliatelle ragu - a thick pasta in a meat sauce, ravioli di melanzane - meat ravioli with tomato and eggplant, spaghetti frutti di mare - spaghetti with mussles, and strangozzi - a thick noodle tossed with zucchini, tomato and mussles in a buttery sauce. This last dish was mine and was complete heaven. The pasta tastes fresh and I now understand better what Gareth is aspiring to in his home made pasta. This is and-cut, but is thinner and lighter, though it tastes very close to Gareth's. The zucchini and tomato are very lightly cooked and feel like they were tossed in at the very end to get warmed just enough to release some of the natural sugars but no long enough to wilt. To me, this is vegetable perfection. And the sauce was amazing. I assumed it was butter, but the more I eat the less familiar it tastes. It is devoid of oinions or garlic or any of the other flavors we associate with Italain food, By the end of the meal, I am not sure what it was and cannot sufficiently bridge the langauge barrier with Daniele to find out. He also brings us a white wine for dinner that is sweeter than the red we have finished and goes very well with everything.
We all sample each others food and each feel that what we had ordered was the best dish on the table.
At this point, we are jet-lagged and full and two bottles of wine in and should be proper drunk. We are not, though, whether because we have eaten enough to absorb the aclohol, are drinking a hgher calibre of wine or are just simply too giddy about being here is difficult to determine. And honestly I really don't care. I am out in the world with strangers and have just eaten the best meal of my life. And then Daniele tops it off with a small shot of something that he says comes after every meal. Being Americans, we toast each other and knock it back, much to his (mild) horror. The first flavor I feel is sweet lemon on my tongue, immediately followed by the unmistakable burn of alcohol. This is much stronger and stays in the moth and throat for some time, prompting all of us to grimace and shake our heads. But while Daniele explains to us how we are supposed to sip it after dinner to aid our digestion, I notice that my palate has cleared, my mouth is fresh, and my belly is settled. I ask what it was that we drank and where I can get some to take home. Daniele just says that it is lemon and alcohol and leaves it at that.
And this morning I awoke at what would be my usual waking time on a Monday - 5:00 AM local time - feeling refreshed and ready to go. No hangover, no heartburn, but also no hunger. I love Italy.
|The view from our table|
|Across the canal|
|The moon rising|
|Daniele taking a break|
|Dinner is just about complete|
|One of the many foot bridges|
|Up the canal|
|Down the canal|