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Wednesday 8 January 1997

Stefano's alarm just went off. It's 8:10, his clock says 8. I'm on my second cup of tea and have spent nearly an hour reading bits and pieces of Cesare Romanò (sic): Abbazie e monasteri d'Europa; also reread in its totality a charming little booklet of poems titled "Mammacannibale: ricettine per gustarsi una bambina piccola" by Letizia Cella, which, considering the subject matter, is remarkably gentle and tender (so to speak). . . .

1130h, same table but suitcases basically packed: neither Stefano nor I were sure everything would fit, altho' he in fact was almost positive they wouldn't, I that they would. (I won, easily.)

Of course I sort of cheated, but not really. Coming here I had my onboard case and my big suitcase, with inside it my skating bag; leaving, I'll carry both the onboard and the skatebag. I also left 6 large bottles & one small plus a large book; and this morning threw away 9 socks and my corduroy trousers — completely shot to transparency in the crotch. Careful packing did the rest: I'm ready to leave.

Now maybe a bit better description of my time in Switzerland on Monday, then yesterday (shopping, S. Lorenzo, S. Ambrogio) to catch up:

On Monday 6 the reason we went to Mendrisio — Stefano and Emmanuela — was to check the year-end inventory done at the Swiss outlet store: strictly a little business trip, only 60 km away and no more than 3h15 in Switzerland.

The customs entry was tough-looking, but the only people I saw stopped in our 2 transits, were a couple of Arab-looking men; we were waved thru.

Of Switzerland I saw only the sprawl around Como, and 2 seconds of the celebrated lake; the nearer mountains, not tall: cloudy and foggy, anything else lay shrouded; then Mendrisio itself.

I'd told my fellow passengers it would be a special moment for me, a re-birth, when I set foot on Swiss soil, since I have no memory of having been in the country I was born: in 45 years I'd never been back.

So of course, we park in the parking lot of the outlet mall — named "FoxTown" — where the store is, I step out all excited and close the car door behind me — quite forgetting Emmanuela was in the back seat. I was mortified, and apologised (it really was not that big a deal) but remained embarrassed all day. I took a picture of the view from the parking space where with touched down; and into the extremely clean new-looking mall. No more than ten minutes there, and then, unexpectedly — Fox Town is on the outskirts of the town, I thought too far away to see anything, so I just stepped out with no coat just a light sweater thinking I'd just get a few hundred yards of Swiss soil under my feet just to give the visit some reality — unexpectedly I walked to the very center of Mendrisio, visited three churches, then walked out past the mall to a fourth church, then back in: from 1110 to 1230, a real little sightseeing tour in fact.

I wanted to get out of the Zona Industriale, and wound up at the (large) station, where a map showed me how to get to the parish church: no scale, so I looked at the map of the road and timed myself doing one-third of it; to discover that I'd have plenty of time.

Big bourgeois houses, then more narrow normal European streets. Not particularly clean, by the way. The parish church of SS. Cosmas & Damian tho' 19c is not unattractive mostly because of its siting; right next to it a small remainder of possibly medieval tower, unmarked.

A bit more walking, in the general direction of Fox Town, and the streets got narrower and older looking and I bumbled on the small church of S. Maria — this being Ticino canton, everything is in Italian, by the way — signposted as rebuilt in the 16c‑17c but retaining its 12c belfry and a 15c fresco; also as being on the site of a Roman villa. Open, deserted, small — the size of my house, if that — very dark, dampish and in bad shape. A left side chapel almost forms a second nave; at the rear a sort of alcove with the fresco lit both by electric light and a few candles.

Back onto a road, still with the idea of getting back to the mall — Stefano'd said they'd be thru in an hour and a half — and I came upon the tiny Oratorio della Madonna delle Grazie, the size of my livingroom, you open the door and you're confronted with the altar: which is quite attractive (with 14c fresco). An indication of just how small the oratory, is that the two holy water stoups on either side of the door are outdoors; which I've never seen elsewhere, or don't remember.

Time pressing, and only a few frames of film remaining, I walked a bit faster toward Fox Town, assisted by a large prosperous-looking woman in her late fifties in a large fur coat who showed me a scorciatoia — remembering Umbria and knowing myself all too well, I was dubious; but it worked: altho' in fact I did get just slightly lost . . .

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And then just before the remembered turnoff to the mall, I saw a sign directing the tourist to the 9c chapel of San Martino — so of course I went. It wasn't in fact too far, and was of mild interest — unfortunately the more interesting stuff (the 9c remains, the outside being 11‑12c; and some frescoes I could just get a glimpse of thru a heavily grillworked window under the shedlike modern porch) is inside and the very thing that makes the church attractive, its isolation in a field in the snow, also makes it vulnerable so it was closed. Some blind arcading and a bit of good stone outside, though: just enough to make my walk thru the Mendrisiotto (the name for the area around Mendrisio) a real outing, though.

And with that, back to the store, a bit of milling (the two Swiss staff had joined in a general discussion of [. . .] — the occasional shopper wandering thru failed to abate the discussion), and off to Milan in basically silence, arriving at the store around 1:15.

Speaking of which, it being 1230, I need to interrupt this — being caught up thru Monday, there just remains yesterday — and show up at the store around lunchtime, 1:30 to 3 if they take it; they did yesterday, at 2:30 I found the store closed and them at the bar —

2130, Stefano's apartment, in bed. He's on a train to Florence to sleep at home because he has a summons to appear in some commercial case, apparently for half an hour before a magistrate in Pisa in an 11‑year‑old affair: he lent his name to an uncle who then went bankrupt and/or died, or something like that. Stefano left it wide open as to what I'd do, and I'd originally decided to go with him if he slept in Florence, and not to go if he found an early morning train from Milan, which he didn't — but then I changed my mind, why would I go to a terrific expense to mill around in Pisa for an hour?

To catch up: yesterday and today were rather similar days; yesterday most of the day I bought books (and 4 maps for an Australian woman on the Net)​a and even clothes: a jacket and 3 pair of pants; plus a scarf for James and oboe music for Jennifer and a CD for her Mom. Then I saw S. Lorenzo — interesting — and S. Ambrogio — wonder­ful, nearly 3h in there and almost 4 rolls of film: I actually had to leave and find a fortunately nearby Kodak store to get more. Walked thruout.

Ditto today after lunch at the bar with the gang — I like Senada — except my camera batteries gave out and it was very difficult to find some so I lost an hour of daylight. I saw the dismal minimal remains of the amphitheatre;​b and S. Eustorgio which my Blue Guide says is more interesting than S. Ambrogio but I don't know how they can say that! and a long walk in the dark thru semi-slummy and then very dull areas, back to the store where I sat and read Palladius's Historia Lausiaca, actually only all the introductory material —

Stefano out of the store and a cab to the Stazione Principale for ₤10400, I left him in the downstairs hall, and took the subway back to his apartment, a block and a half from Amendola-Fiera; his train was at 2000, he was there at 1951, I was in his house at 2025; having started the actual vignettes of the H. Lausiaca on the subway.

Here I ate a few dry sweet biscuits, some wild boar sausage I bought in Volterra, and actually made some spaghetti with olive oil and hot pepper and salt. Tap water — nothing to drink except tea (the very first day he instructed me not to make coffee, it was too complicated. . . .) which I don't think I should drink this late at night.

Later Notes:

a For the purchase of which and their mailing to Australia I was never thanked or even acknowledged. If I turn you down for some similar request, now you know why.

b Somehow my wanderings to find the amphitheatre didn't really make it into my diary; setting up this page a couple weeks later, I remember heading down in the gathering gloom to the southern parts of Milan to where it was supposed to be; finding not a single sign, but bumbling on a street promisingly named "via delle Arene"; an enclosed green space, sort of a cross between a park and a vacant lot, behind a tall spiked fence to my right; no entrance anywhere, circumnavigated the area back up a commercial boulevard on the other side; investigated alleys of chop shops and the areas behind them looking for the Northwest Passage; and finally, after having deambulated clockwise some 345°, spotting an apartment building where the gate was open because an oral surgeon worked there.

From the back yard of that building I got my only glimpse of a lumpy sward of grass with below grade a few vague outlines of what I think is the cavea; my camera thru the one place in the fence not too badly blocked by trees, and presto! for several years this was the only image of the amphitheatre of Milan on the Web:

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Now the area has been cleared and the slight remains of the amphitheater can be visited.

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Page updated: 11 Jul 23