Thursday, 31 January 2008

Milano: At the supermarket (Part II)

After unloading my thoughts about Milan yesterday, I feel like I just have to come back and write more. There's just too much to say. I can almost touch the feeling of emerging into the city life and it is becoming more solid by the day. My new apartment, my new neighbourhood and my new independence have allowed me to explore aspects of the city which I'd never had a chance to explore before. It feels like i'm in an entirely new place.

Living alone teaches you a few things. Grocery shopping, for example. For someone who ran from a supermarket like a dog would run from a bath, the scavenge for food is quite a learning experience. Where I live, there's only one decently close supermarket at walking distance. The others are there too, but i'd rather not lug back bags full of groceries for half an hour. Anyhow, this mini supermarket is enough for all I need to get. I go, I shop, I pay...and then I freak when I see the bills i've accumulated. When my parents told me Milan was expensive, I didnt quite wholly believe them. I do now. As fun as it might be to stock up on all the pastas, tortas, and carne ( meat), I've finally realised what my parents meant when they said life in Milan is expensive. I'm not even thinking of the utility bills yet...

Apart from the cost, the whole experience of grocery shopping now feels like an adventure. I'd never before brought fresh affetato ( fresh sliced ham and stuff), so the first time I go, I'm dazzled by the choice I have. Prosciutto, coppa, salame, pancetta...these are just names of some. And even within these, there are choices among the variety and prepartion.

When I finally drag myself out of there, I stumble into the cheese section. I dont even know the names of half of them, much less the difference between each one! Gorgonzola, parmiggiano, brasaola, taleggio, mozzarella, pecorino, ricotta, mascarpone...phew! These are just the ones i've tried, there are about a plathora of other kinds which I don't even know about! Each kind of cheese has a character of its own, almost an identity. You identify it, and use it accordingly. It's really fun to see cute little old ladies pick out cheeses, each for different use, picked out precisely for their purpose. Not that Italians don't like to experiment, but still, there's a certain amount of conservatism when it comes to their cheeses and wines. They have to be just right. Give Italians Japanese food, and they'll lap it up with pleasure, but don't mess with their own cuisine. No complains there, why tamper with perfection?

Moving into the wine section now. My knowledge here is a little scarce. Actually, not a litte...I have no clue how to select wines. I went wine shopping with my friend recently, Italian of course, and realised that it's almost sacred territory, to be handled with much care. He meticulously scanned through the entire section ( time no bar, patience no bar...for HIM...I was on the verge of tying him to the shopping cart and dragging him off!), and picked out the wine which he thought would go with the food. The food, happened to be Indian chicken all the spices drown out any effect that the wine could have. Still, never argue with an Italian when it comes to wine, even the least interested will know more than you. I can bet on that. While I stood apart and let my friend go about his business inspecting wines, I just read the names i'd heard often enough and never really paid attention to. Bonarda, Chianti, Asti, Spumante, Barolo, Gavi..these are just naming a drop in the ocean. Red wines, are more commonly used, though the whites are pretty diffused too. My knowledge of wines ends here, there's a world to be explored though...

Italians are traditionalists. Even in modern city settings, i.e Milan, they refuse to give up their traditional tastes and dishes. Microwavable dinners are a strict no-no, and ready-to-eat stuff is still looked at with...well, disgust. I don't blame them, when your tastes buds have been so used to the freshness and the richness of good food, anything less is not easy to adjust to. And why should u? When you have the best available right in front of you, why would u want anything less? I repeat, time is really not a priority when it comes to good food! For example, I would never think to go an extra 100 metres to buy bread. I'd just pick one off the supermarket. My italians friends don't approve. I go shopping with them, and they do visit the bread shop to buy the fresh bread, about which I wouldn't think twice about. Oh well, I still got a lot to learn I guess...

The rest of the supermarket is more or less the same as any other place I guess. What surprises me though, is that even a universal and equable concept like supermarkets, has been so wonderfully italianised here!

Next stop...well, i dont know yet. You'd have to read to find out.
Ciao ciao for now!

Milano: my love-hate relationship (Part I)

Fashion. Food. Fun. Friction. Fiction. Yes, all these words are bound to come up when one thinks about the city I currently reside in...Milano. The name itself starts a film reel in the head, with frames of world class fashion shows, outdoor cafés with pretty red and white table cloths, cobbled streets with rickety trams, overwhelmingly grand architecture, young people frolicking along in their fashionable clothes and businessmen in their designer suits and busy schedules just scurrying along.

Then the film reel stops.

A slowly forming realistic painting creates itself on a white canvas. The palette has all kinds of colours. Along with the pastels and the brights, there are also lots of greyscale shades and dark tones. The artist, me in this case, draws from a fragmented set of observations which don't quite fit well together, but still proceed to form a picture... a juxtaposition of stereotypes and the unexpected. The picture completes, and forms an idea...and idea of a city, which people know by the name of Milan.

In true form, this city is full of contradictions. You expect an Italian city to have the typical italian features of a laidback life and a noisy neighbour, but Milan stands out like a sour thumb in the otherwise homogeneity of the rest of Italy. In a country where food, wine and art are close to worshipped, the Milanese hardly find time for decent meals..let alone appreciate art. Yet, you give time to a typical habitant of this city, and they'll definitely give in to their italian gene and settle down for a long meal. The legendary nosy neighbour doesnt exist at all, in fact, you hardly get to see who lives in you appartment building, except the times you see a random lady drying out laundry ten odd times a day! Unlike other cities in the country, you're more likely to come across bars, shops, banks and office buildings than outdoor cafés and black clothed ( with headscarf) nonnas ( grandmothers) .

Did I just mention shops? Let me apologise for just brushing past that so casually. If there's any religion Milano follows, it's shopping! I happen to be extremely pious in this sense, may god bless the fashion houses! I solemnly confess to be have fallen into the fashion frenzied hysteria that engulfs the city. Its there and you just can't avoid it. Try as you might, but the fashion just seeps into your daily life. Suddenly one day you realise, that you've actually started caring about what colour shoes would match the outfit you have to wear to your grandmother's. Yes, scary thought, but what can you do? Pretty may be an enormous understatement when you see the kind of clothes and shoes displayed on the shop windows. As many of my friends have admitted to, the sight of some of the shoes have nearly driven them to orgasmic pleasures. I can't explain it, you have to see it to believe it. And if you don't believe it, then Milan has LOT to teach you! As I said, its better to cave in early, cuz as the saying goes, if you can't beat them...

My life here just got interesting about a month back when I moved into my new apartment in the center of town. Having lived in suburbia for 2 years too long, i'd forgotten why people complain about traffic in the city. Try sleeping in the center, and you'd be reminded of it in a noisy fashion. Motorbikes are noisy. Honks are noisier. Both together...Italian traffic! Apart from that, I realised how many people just stay out till late at restaurants and bars, talking about pleasantly superficial day-to-day happenings and enjoying a few drinks with friends. Drinking is a time for socialising and I really admire the casualty involved with it. There's the typical italian affinity to a casual drink with friends, its like reliving a Leopardi poem.

There's a lot more to say...a lot more to recount and as usual, no time. So the rest will just have to wait, till I gather more meat for more Milan-disecting sessions.

The journey has just begun...

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Yet another beginning

New year, new home,
new beginning, new end,
an era's seen its last,
and another has begun.

The dream now breathes,
it lives its own present,
the future merged somehow
with the moment today.

The snow has returned,
whiteness prevails again,
the grey shades of winter,
have brightened once again.

The house is now a home,
a space I call my own,
the bird has finally risen,
and flown out of the nest.

Yet the trickles of fear,
stain the returned smile,
a tear somewhere stings,
and with it a heartache brings.