Serendipity. Friday night Harry bought a nice book on the sights of Milan. While having coffee outside and people watching on Saturday morning I find an entry in the book about a cool luthier shop, so we add it to our increasingly long list of possibilities. We head out on our walk, through the Brera art school district, La Scala opera house, the fancy stores in the Galleria, and the cathedral, all close to each other and all stuff we had planned for the day before the Zappa concert on Sunday. It starts to rain to so we give up on going up to the roof of the cathedral, and find a place for lunch (and shelter). The lunch is so good, and leisurely, that by the time we’re done, I realize the luthier shop (“liuteria”) is now closed. We decide to head out anyway and at least look through the windows. It also gives us a chance to hop a tram, which Harry was hoping to do, and the place is near the canal district (Navigli) of Milan which is supposed to be pretty cool, in a bohemian sort of way.
Indeed, it is. The liuteria is amazing, even just through the windows. We walk along one side of the main canal and check out a loooong flea market on the other side. Around 5:00 we sit outside at a wine bar for aperitivi (and to rest—we’re old). More people watching and at long last a break in the clouds and a great sunset over the canal. It turns out our waiter is Italo-Argentine. Harry’s dad in Anglo-Argentine, so Harry and the waiter chat a little about Buenos Aires.
Harry goes online and finds a tiny jazz club nearby. I know just enough Italian that I see that this place suggests making a reservation online, but not enough Italian to figure out how the reservation system works. We have about 4 hours until showtime so we decide to stroll over and see if we can make one. We find the place, set in a residential neighborhood off the beaten path, but it is closed up. We go looking for a restaurant but end up sitting at the bar of one because, again, no reservation. The bartender is Italian but he lived in Australia so we can speak in English. Harry asks him to make his (the bartender‘s) favorite drink, and this guy blows us away. I now “get” the whole cocktail culture thing.
We try again at the jazz club. It’s not quite open yet, but Harry walks in and sweet talks the barmaid to reserve us a couple of seats. We can’t see the band (a gypsy jazz trio—bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar) but they sound great and we order a platter of mixed meats and cheeses and breads and soak it all in.
Finally, a tram ride and a short walk and we’re back at our hotel, once again hanging out on the sidewalk and people watching (but now at midnight)—just like the dozens of Milanesi around us.
That was such a good day. I felt lucky to be able to sit by the canal with Tony, watching people, sunsets and dachshunds. When we started our day, we were sitting at the coffee shop downstairs, drinking cappucini and smoking. I bought a little 5 pack of small cigars at the tabacchi. A tabacchi is more than just a tobacco store. It’s like a general store where you can get everything from bus tickets to Kleenex. Ours even had a counter where you could get coffee or a nosh. Very convenient, as were the 5 small cigars. I could smoke 1/2 of one while Tony smoked one cigarette. The Milanese are much more civilized about smoking than we are in the States. While you still don’t smoke inside (which is fine), many more people smoke and you can sit in sidewalk cafes and so forth and nobody gets bent out of shape.
As we started on our journey, I saw an interesting passage off to the right and veered off that way. Tony noted how comfortable I was in going off the beaten path. But, really, it’s a city. You’re not going to get that lost. This got us over toward La Scala, the opera house and the statue of Leonardo in front of it. I had Tony take a picture of me with Leonardo standing on my shoulder. Nyuk, Nyuk… Nancy Doyle has some connection with La Scala through the Marlboro Music Festival so we were hoping to go to its museum but never did.
While I would have liked the museum, I’m sure, when you’re in a city for 2 days, you can’t do everything. I find that I really like spending time wandering around a city, just drinking it in without any particular cultural touchpoints in mind. You see how the city moves and breathes, what its colors are and I’m sure if I could smell, what its smells are.
Between La Scala and Il Duomo there is a Galeria mall from 1877 with all kind of fancy shops like Prada and Rizzoli. There was a little tiny art book store, Libreria Bocca, which had this great floor made of these tiles which were glass boxes with little dioramas or objects d’art in them. There was a very nice Mark Rothko book there which was on sale. I wanted to get it for my brother Desmond but felt it was too big for my carry on plus I was too cheap. Are we noticing a pattern here?
The Old Fashioned that the bartender made me was exquisite for a number of reasons. My first reaction was, really? An Old Fashioned? I’m giving you carte blanche here and you’re going with that old war horse? But what a horse it was. First he put a sugar cube on a black napkin draped on top of the glass. He then used an eye dropper to infuse the cube with two different kinds of bitters. I never asked what they were. I wanted to keep some mystery to his creation. He then dropped the cube in the glass and muddled it with a teaspoon of water. Then he filled it up with Michter’s rye and Bob’s your uncle. No muddled orange and no muddled cherry. But an exquisite Old Fashioned.
But then he asks me which hand I drink with. I’m flummoxed for a moment, partly because I have no idea why it matters but also because I always have trouble telling my right from my left. I look at my hands, make a drinking motion and tell him, “The right”.
He says, “OK, put out your hand.”
I do. He says “Turn it over.”
I face the palm down. He produces a little spritzer bottle and sprays something onto the back of my hand. It is an Alloro cocktail finish. You just smell a hint of laurel when you lift the glass up to your mouth. It is a sublime experience.
This guy was so much fun. It was great to sit at the bar and watch him and his team get ready for the night. I feel like we were shepherded through this trip by various kind and wise waiters and waitresses. Tipping isn’t a thing in Milan, so I guess they get paid well enough to live. I kept leaving tips anyway.