After over four years in Milan, I am leaving this country liking coffee about as much as I did when I first arrived here. What that means is, I still prefer the smell of coffee than the taste. If I do indulge in a cappuccino or latte macchiato, it has to be decaf, (or ‘deca’, as it is called by super cool people), because this way I steer clear of the crazy side effects coffee seems to give me. I could essentially pound through the pavement by the jitters I experience, as well as the incredibly sore stomach I feel. My ideal ‘coffee’ consists of a cup of frothy milk stained with a smidge of deca espresso-a latte macchiato. (Did you know, ‘macchiato’ means to stain, soil?). You will never catch me drinking a ‘caffe’ (an espresso shot), or a ‘doppio’, (double espresso shot), or a ‘caffe coretto’ (shot of espresso with drops of alcohol in it), or a ‘ristretto’, (a shorter shot of espresso, so technically more punched with caffeine, which is precisely what italians need in the morning before they get into their cars).
There are literally fifty ways to prepare different types of coffees, and I never tire of analyzing italians at the coffee bar enjoying their cultural ritual. Venice’s strategic position in the trading world in the late 1500′s somewhat sealed this nation’s fate because it allowed for coffee to arrive there first from Muslims trading in North Africa, the East, and Egypt. The inaugural coffee shop in Europe was opened in Venice and the rest is finito. Fast forward over 400 years later, and java worshippers stand at every bar in the city, at any time of day to drink out of the tiniest saucers that make them look like they’re on set of an Alice in Wonderland movie. Two or three sips later, they are done, pay their 1 euro, mutually plant a kiss on each cheek of their coffee compadres, and leave the coffee bar to the tune of fifteen fast ‘Ciao’s’ exchanged between one another. It is impossible to not smile when I hear italians bid each other farewell.
Then, there’s the espresso-to-go. Some italians order their coveted potion while they are on the run. These folks must be seriously busy. They get handed a urine-sample size plastic cup (with a tiny lid to boot), which contains the coveted 2-3 sips of their coffee. Why someone would not have time to actually consume their beverage on the spot is ponderous, especially since it probably takes longer to walk to the coffee bar to order your coffee, than it takes to drink it. And, being serious coffee connoisseurs, I imagine the taste gets spoiled by the plastic of the cup. But, that is neither here nor there because then again, italians scratch their heads in confusion at us North Americans when we get Venti-sized coffees, decorated with whipped cream, caramel, candy cane and pumpkin spices and sip them all day long. They are so big, we may even nuke them in the microwave to keep them warm which is surely ghastly for italians to accept.
At home, Lumberg is the coffee addict between the two of us. His coffee shrine consists of a Nespresso machine. For me, I like their chromatic capsules-the colours are great, they present well and are excellent tools to do math homework with Little Miss Stubborn and the Albino Hulk. And to my untrained pallet, they taste great-my favourite is Rosabaya de Colombia but I think that is because I like saying the name of this flavour. That being said, the capsules can get pricy over time, so if you’re looking to feed your coffee addiction on a budget, consider Gourmesso. They make great-tasting coffee capsules that fit most nespresso machines, but are about thirty percent cheaper than the original. I recently received a whole bunch of samples from Gourmesso and they got used up without complaints by Lumberg, myself, and friends who happened to stop by. Check them out.
Other things that we are packing up with us as we prepare to leave is a converted pallette for simple balsamic vinegar and olive oil. This combination is stupendous and no other dressings for salad are ever needed, in my opinion. We have also adopted italian time for dining which begins at 19:00 hours and where home-made pesto with Sicilian cherry tomatoes on penne is perhaps the best thing to eat in the history of the whole wide world, (and who knew pesto is so easy to make!). By now, Italian breakfasts make sense too. A brioche (essentially a croissant) with coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice is actually really good and keeps you full for a while indeed, (at least until the first coffee break in the morning which I hear usually takes place twenty minutes after you arrive to work).
Outside of culinary things, I personally am starting to believe that scarves can be worn with any outfit as I have so often seen by the fashionable folk around me. Italians are also correct in assuming actions speak louder than words and I have been told my use of extremities to communicate has become more fluent. I have always been somewhat of a hand-talker, but now it just looks like I don’t understand the concept of the game of charades because I am using my voice AND my arms to tell a story. Lumberg tried to test my restraint while I was telling a story and I nearly spit at him in frustration from not being able to use my hands in my dramatic recounting of how I bought peas first and then broccoli at the grocery store the other day. Little Miss Stubborn has most definitely taken on the classic pinched-fingers-against-the-thumb where you move both hands in short but rapid motions to the front and back in front of your chest, as a form of exasperation. She also utters the words ‘Ma, dai!!’, which means ‘Oh come on!’ when I ask her a plethora of things. (Are you trying to simulate this motion now? Because I think I did it about 8 times while writing this post to try and describe it properly).
All four of us have also incorporated the italian ‘beh!’ while we simultaneously shrug our shoulders if we don’t know the answer to something or need to express subtle surprise akin to saying ‘who knew?!’. But perhaps the holy grail of all things absorbed by living in Italy for years is the use of the word ‘basta’. It stems from the word ‘abbastanza’ which means ‘enough’, and it is so effective when used as a command to indicate you have had enough of something. When the kids act up or I go on a purse-adoption fiesta, a few ‘BASTA!!!!’ words are dropped and the kids (and I) temporarily behave. (Are you saying it aloud now??)
On the other side of the spectrum, there are some things I will not be taking with me as habitual souvenirs. I think I hate smoking more than when I landed here four years ago, and yet it seems that it is a well-liked extra-curricular activity by so many people here. Lumberg has started to snack on parmesan cheese, of all things, because they’re sold here in convenient tiny snack packages. I appreciate the italian methods of keeping cheese sacred, but munching on bars of parmesan is about as appetizing as chewing an effervescent vitamin tablet, sans water. (cough…cough…coughcoughLoricough…cough…cough).
I also will not be jay-walking in London. Ever.
Here in Italy, I can cross an intersection when it is safe to do so, even though the lights tell me not to do it, walk right past a cop who clearly witnessed me committing this soft crime, and nothing would happen. Back home in Canada, once upon a prairie time, my girl-friends and I rebelliously jay-walked across the street thinking we were way cooler than Avril Lavigne singing Skater Boy, until we saw a cop on a bike watching us the whole time. Naturally, he called all five of us over to talk to him and we just knew that everyone around us looked at us thinking we were such bad asses. Too bad we were 16 and sort of shitting our pants because we didn’t have money for the tickets he was sure to write us, and also because the Polish Princesses NEVER got in trouble. In the end, we got a wide-eyed stern lecture from the officer and pretty much never jay-walked again. Then, I moved to Italy and resumed my bad-ass ways. This madness will stop in London.
Lastly, I always admired how italian women look sexy on a motorino or bike wearing skirts, heels, a scarf, and their bike helmets. They zip around town (from coffee bar to coffee bar, I presume), and look simply fantastical, composed, and confident. For over a year now I have been using Milan’s bike-sharing program (BikeMi) because the kids are out of strollers and it has been great fun. I have tried my hardest to look sexy and composed on my bike, but my hair too often resembles the lead singer of Mr. Big in their To be with you video and I wobble on my bike like a novice circus performer on a unicycle. When God was giving out sport skills and sex-appeal, I foolishly went to stand in the strudel line up and got stuck with a sweet tooth and my clumsy ways. I’m most definitely comfortable on a dance floor/speaker, but two weeks ago I confirmed that I will leave this country never looking good on a bicycle.
Recall above I was recently telling Lumberg about my grocery adventures without using my hands to do the explaining. On this particular day I decided to bike home with my groceries in my basket because so many people around these parts do so and they look cool. In Canada I won’t be able to cycle home with my maple syrup because the suburbs aren’t necessarily built for such a way to travel, and no one really bikes at -30 degrees. This was my chance.
In the middle of an intersection as I drove over tram tracks, from my grocery bag fell my peas. Followed by my broccoli. I pulled over immediately, already blushing and as I bent down to pick up that night’s side dishes for dinner, my trusty biceps failed me and were no match for the bike that I was holding up with the rest of my groceries in it. Gravity tipped the scales and my bike fell to the ground, thereby spilling even more food into the street. By now, the cars perpendicular to my shit show were given the green-light blessing to go and I had to scoot to the side of the street before I could resume collecting my items. As I tried to adjust my bag in my basket, it ripped, making everything else even more unstable. I cut my hand a bit when my bike fell and I’m pretty sure I felt a muscle in my back yank, and naturally my Mr.Big hair was all over the place and impeded me from properly seeing all my food. Just when I thought I had repacked all my groceries and dignity, people were walking in my direction again (the cars perpendicular to me were once again stopped and I had new spectators for my uncoordinated recital), and an older man called to me to tell me I had left behind my buffalo mozzarella. He then proceeded to bend down to pick it up for me and I suddenly got scared because he was fairly older and walking slow already and all I needed was him snapping something. But, he picked it up without displacing any vertebrae and I was able to finally head home. I laughed to myself as I rode home knowing I will definitely not be taking any biking skills home with me too. (It appears my ability to be anti-cool and anti-coordinated is pretty much indelible. This past Friday as I casually strolled to meet friends for drinks, I walked square into the glass door of the venue at which we were gathering. With freshly applied make-up, hands in my pockets, ear-phones in my ears listening to funky tunes, and face smashed flat against the glass door, I was obviously rocking it. Behind me, a chorus of ‘oooooh!!’ erupted among the smokers who witnessed it all happen, but they don’t matter (recall, I loathe the act of smoking). Lucky for me, the entire venue is covered by glass at the front entrance and the patrons at the 10 tables right at the entrance all witnessed my solo debut. Many laughed (rightfully so!), and one bar tender who saw it too tried to stifle a laugh as he asked me if I was ok). My reputation is eternal like polka dots.
So, that brings me to today. We have 11 days to go. Our neighbours below us will be thrilled to see us go and I blame the children and their wild running ways for this. They don’t say hello when we pass each other in the halls of our tower, and once when I was watering the flowers on our terrace, they came out onto their terrace below me and asked me to stop trickling water from my plants onto their…. plants. I sat in our court-yard the other night after I got home late and just allowed the memories of the past four years take over me. In our court yard, the Albino Hulk crawled on blankets when he couldn’t yet walk, Little Miss Stubborn took heaps of her stuffed animals for walks in her baby stroller, we did science experiments, and now the kids learned to ride their bikes. Never did I expect Milan to keep such a grasp on my heart, (and hence today’s title entry borrowed from Florence + the Machine, on whom I have an acoustic- girl-crush. Her voice and red fringe make me jealous and this is one of my favourite tunes from her), but I’m so glad it has. Leaving the Great White North I recall my friend Mark telling me to not be sad over leaving Canada and that I will find it even harder to say good-bye to Milan one day. I never thought for a million years that he’d be right. So effing right.
My filibuster tendencies have taken over again. Time to shower. Basta!