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Friday 10 January

Malpensa Airport, past the controls area, seated at a little round table, one of fourteen widely spaced in the otherwise empty bar area on a piece of second floor overlookingº the tarmac; mine the only table occupied. In front of me, a Delta jet with the pilot going thru his checks: a stewardess just climbed aboard. On the table, Stefano's scarf, a gift to me as I arrived, beige plaid with charcoal and tan stripes, a useful big warm wool thing but of course he picked a color I don't wear, just as I brought him wine he won't drink. . . . On top of it, my camera, in its case: the batteries removed per airport rules and in a pocket.

I'm stripped down to my shirt — the last thing I could reasonably wear outside a rink, and even then a bit much: my silver Tin Woodsman T‑shirt. I am — or was, before removing jacket and James's windbreaker, and the scarf, and a sweater — quite hot; but the usual airplane thing when space in my luggage is tight!

I ordered 2 apricot "paste", which should have got me the apricot-filled croissants I was looking at; instead, they went and got 2 doubly expensive but excellent open sablé tarts. [. . .]

Yesterday's brief tourism was a longish walk around the back of the Duomo to take some pictures of the church of S. Stefano and the Ca' Grande, which turns out to have a wonderful if overscale courtyard, doubly difficult to photograph: requiring a wide-angle lens, and construction kind of everywhere ruining most of the possible shots. Quite charming also the little cloister of the church of S. Antonio, now given over to some kind of diocesan youth outreach, which I bumped into quite accidentally — well, not quite: on the principle of the thing I go places one way and return by another, and it's on the return street I just pushed myself into.

Bookshop where I found some (small, pocket-type) classics not available in Loeb: Greek novels mostly; but also a 3-vol. reproduction of a 17c guide to Milan, and a selection, from among the letters of Petrarch, of those dealing with travel. The letters were written in Latin but I have a modern Italian translation: there are some charming stories and observations.

Back to store at 5 — when I stopped in at 1:15 Emmanuela told me Stefano'd been delayed, would be back at the station at 5 — and he came in within five minutes, looking surprisingly rested.

I then turned around and went shopping at two high-class fairly conservative men's stores: Davidde Cenci on the v. Manzoni and Doriani on the v. Sant' Andrea off the v. Monte Napoleone at the S. Babila end. I bought 4 lovely shirts for me at the first; three ties for me and a glaucous grey-green cashmere sweater for Bill Thiry (which at that price I certainly wouldn't have bought for me, despite being pressed to do so at Cenci's!) —

0820 Chicago, 1520 Milan time; the flight left on time so I've been airborne for going on 3 hours. After a magnificent few minutes over the Western Alps (we did a full circle once to corkscrew up to altitude) incl. views out of my R wing window — no seat neighbor — of the lakes, then of most of Switzerland and I believe I did recognize the Matterhorn which the captain later said had been visible on the R of the craft, we've now settled into total cloud, and since we were supposed to cruise at 31,000 feet I'm finding this very very high for clouds? (I'm sitting near the flight path map; if the return trip is like the incoming, the coast I saw 2 weeks ago must in fact have been W Scotland: I'll check my atlas, the coastline was of a distinctive shape).a

Continuing with yesterday:

Before leaving the store, long palavers, started by il Booby, as to whether I should get shoes: my idea was that Stefano and I were — maybe, if he wasn't too tired — to go to a particularly nice restaurant, and I really couldn't go in sneakers; accessorily, I have no other shoes and do need some and will soon buy some, so why not here? Anyway, back and forth on this Stefano, Emmanuela, Senada and I: finally the three of them said "Don't buy shoes" to which I said "Voce di popolo voce di Dio" and in fact I did not.

Returned to the store with my purchases — Stefano wondered how I could buy a 650 ML sweater for a friend, and was there more to it, and I said no. . .! At 1935 we'd closed up the store, and Stefano took me to a Milanese-type restaurant (he only goes there once a year, not much his style) called Al Ma. . .something.b

Overbearing waiter who wanted to push me into eating this or that, which Stefano stopped: saying he would make the choices (as he did, with my input); but for the wine, I was pushed — Stefano couldn't help — and wound up with an undistinguished vino di tavola (odd that the waiter should push — hard, too — towards the cheapest not the most expensive); I went up one price level among those he suggested: mistake, I should have gone for a Brunello despite knowing it — almost all the wines, incl. what I drank, were 25 ML — the wine the waiter really pushed was 18 ML — only 3 wines at higher prices, but big jump to the 90 ML range; not counting 3 wines very old, 1947 to 1922, the latter of all things a Rioja at 450 ML. . . Not the place for good wine, really.

Primo: three single tortellini, each different color — red, white, green — and different stuffing and sauce; and a half cup of risotto; which will inevitably remain my reference risotto (the only other was a plastic-trayed thing on the train to Orvieto with James in 1993); OK but no big deal: slightly glutinous yellow sauce, some saffron but mostly turmeric judging from both the hue of yellow and the flavor, with small cubes of unidentifiable meat, the rice al dente.

Secondo: an osso buco — very good. Stefano had an "unbreaded" cutlet smothered in onions, looked good. I did not finish the bottle of wine.

Dessert: a castagnaccio and I had an unidentified grappa from the Friuli, pretty good, dry, but no stars; which I insisted for at the same time as the dessert: Stefano chewed me out for this, but when I'd twice before elsewhere asked for the grappa with my dessert, I was ignored. The castagnaccio is an unsweet pie with a filling of chestnut flour paste and a topping of pinoli, much like a pecan pie: and was very good.

Stefano raced out of the place — which doesn't accept VISA, so he paid cash, leaving 10 ML over 140 ML bill because he wouldn't wait for his change; he's chewed me out for leaving tips — once, at Talamone where the waiter in fact provided free prosecco which is why I did it — and at the Chinese restaurant there was a long hard mêlée about tips (Claudio sustaining why not? if the service has been good; Stefano telling — for the third time in my hearing — how he tried to leave a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard once without tipping and was caught at the door and forced to tip: which, if his English was sufficient (? I've heard a bit of it, it's by no means as good as my Italian, and I have misunderstandings occasionally), was unusual and shameful behavior of the American restaurant staff): so I know this was hardly normal for him [. . .]

Up, showered, finishing touches to my packing; and out at about 9:10; to the Four Stars, where I had a camomile — didn't want coffee before my flight — and stept out for lire so I could give Stefano 150 ML for last night. He drove me to the station, where we arrived at 0940; I bought my bus ticket (₤13,000), he and I stood on the sidewalk by the bus until 0955: he felt the need to chatter about Japanese tourists [. . .]

Somewhere over Canada, 1330h Chicago time, 2030 Milan: [. . .] At 1100/1800h I woke up from a nap to see the S tip of Greenland and low dull-looking mountains northwards in a widening arc to the horizon — Now I'm suspended in mid-air over a solid undifferentiated mass of cloud. . . . [. . .]

Later Notes for the Web:

a What I saw was the westernmost peninsula of Galloway in Scotland, from Corsewall Point to the Mull of Galloway.

b Al Matarel.

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Page updated: 5 Aug 12