18 June 2008

Po' in the Po Valley

You last left your intrepid hero in the bowels of the former, as Oprah would have put it, "You go, Slavia!" But finally, from behind ye olde iron curtain, I have been crapped back into Western Europe. I thought I heard this on the overnight train from Ljubljana to Venice, but perhaps it was only my imagination:

"You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sightseeing and the sound of tourists but of mindless football fans; a journey into an overpriced land whose boundaries are that of the Schengen Agreement — next stop, the Euro Zone."

I was surprised to find that European trains are *less* comfortable than Indian ones. I wonder who the genius was that designed all the blocks of seats to face one another so not only do you constantly bump your knees against the other passengers, but you have to stare at their ugly faces for hours.

I arrived in Milan midmorning some days ago but had to wait until the evening to meet my host here, the charming and dashing Lorenzo. So I left my bags at the luggage room and tooled into the heart of one first Italian city in nine years. While Milan has a reputation for being unattractive, I think it's pretty enough, at least in the center. I walked past La Scala, where it's always been my dream to see an opera. "La Traviata" was on last night, in fact, but I was too busy getting drunk in the park outside the second night of Radiohead (more on that anon). As far as sights go--I saw few since I am now totally uninterested in them--I have to admit I was impressed with the duomo here, a ginormous white pile of towers, statues, buttresses, and even flying buttresses. But forget all that, because the coolest thing about it is you can go up onto the roof! Not just to the top of a tower, but actually ONTO the roof! Can you do that anywhere else? I've been to many cathedrals but none that permitted access there. As you can tell, I was delighted. See, some things still impress me. After that, I briefly met Raffaella, who, due to a miscommunication, biked halfway across the city to get a concert ticket from me that she mistakenly thought I had. Sorry, Rafaella! After that, after that, I randomly stumbled across a Peter Greenaway installation art exhibit presentation thing featuring Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper". This was pretty cool, too--Greenaway, in a departure from his usual pissing Cupid weirdness, uses special lighting and a soundtrack of mystique to explore and bring alive the painting, printed in large scale on a wall, in interesting and unusual ways. I felt after seeing it that I probably had a better experience of the famous painting than if I had actually gotten an appointment for the real one. I think I spent the rest of that day drinking coffee (LOVE IT here), eating pizza (still better in New Jersey), and wandering idly as is my custom. In the evening I met up with Lorenzo, and he was kind enough to cook risotto basilico for me. Yum.

The following day, I somewhat stupidly took a day trip to Verona, two hours away by train. But I had wanted to stop there--nothing could keep me away from the House of Juliet (I'm not joking). Also, I was supposed to stay with a man there named Sauro, who I kept changing my plans on. In the end, he was gracious about that, being a traveler himself, and still met up with me there for a brief tour and explanation about how the Church still owns the country. I skipped the Roman amphitheater on his recommendation (unusual behavior for me, but perhaps the Italians have had enough of Roman amphitheaters? they were preparing to perform "Aida" in this one), but I did pay too much money to visit the ridiculous House of Juliet and have my photo taken on the balcony. How could I possibly resist that? Beneath the balcony, there is even a bronze statue of Ms. Capulet. The famous photo most people (men) have taken there is of themselves holding her tit. I so wanted to ask them how they felt about doing that to a barely pubescent girl (Juliet was probably 12 or 13), in mid-photo naturally. But I did not.

In every way, Verona is a spectacularly beautiful city, perhaps one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. These Italian cities really are too much for me. They are just too attractive. I can't imagine living in such a place. Ah... sigh. Enough. Hightailing it back to Milan, I arrived in time for a major downpour. You may recall that I bought four tickets to a Radiohead concert here, hoping I might sell three of them in order to make some money, at least enough to pay for mine. These tickets were quite expensive, as was the cost of shipping and handling from the UK to the US and shipping again from the US to Italy. I thought I was so clever because, naturally, these tickets would be in high demand given the stature of this, my favorite band. There was, unfortunately, a certain football factor, other even than the rain and the presence of mafia selling their own tickets, that I could not have anticipated and because of which I cannot even bear to disclose the sad outcome of my little enterprise:


Truly, my friends, I had no chance. What can one do when the universe is so aligned against you? I went in and enjoyed the concert anyway with Raffaella (who bought one ticket at my cost) and some other Couchsurfers. Que sera la vie.

The next day, since most people selling tickets for my show couldn't even give them away, I had the bright idea of going to the second show. Unfortunately (for my plan), it turned out to be a gorgeous day with no football, and the scalpers had no mercy, even after the show started. Nevertheless, I *still* had a great time hanging out with a bunch of even more couchsurfers and miscellanious Italians on the grass outside, listening for free and getting completely drunk. This morning, no hangover.

Sadly, I did not make it to CERN. My tour was cancelled, and they couldn't guarantee me a spot for the following day, so I opted not to waste time, money, and my own dwindling energy going up to Switzerland. No matter, today I am off to Avignon. Ciao!

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