Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Milanese Supper

There was a large crack, off centre and running vertically, as if a lightning streak had left its mark on the tinted windscreen. The Italian taxi driver's eyes in the rear-view mirror a mixture of hatred and shock. The poor man as angry with himself as much as with my cane, which was, of course, the still-intact instrument of damage. Pantomiming again, he looked at it murderously, picked it up from the foot-well on the passenger side and violently shook it, before attempting to snap it in half. Well, it wouldn't yield; wood is unbending in the extremest of conditions, which made him reach that point we all dread to reach, whereby he flung it at me, sloughed and shaken as I was in the aftermath, on the back seat, though the jolt had also caused the fuzzy brain I'd complained of moments before to vaporise.
The second me that had, in weariness, become separated, had bolted back into my body, as soon as the driver's foot heavily pressed down on the brake, as if it were a rabbit and I were a rabbit hole, which is a strange sensation and not how I've heard it described. Usually, in emergency situations it's reported as being the other way around i.e. there's an upwards escape, not a dive for cover underground, but then, I've often done the reverse to what's expected.
That being the case, however, I immediately felt it was my civilian duty to compensate the driver, for my incomprehension of his language and his accent was largely to blame, and well, it was my cane. He had since calmed down, somewhat, although his gesticulations were still bigger than necessary, and of those I understood I refused in almost as wild a manner. I would not let him take me directly into the city centre, preferring a short walk and the Italian air, yet I paid the fare in full and contributed too to the windscreen repairs.
Having gathered my belongings, we shook hands as if it were a successful business deal in which both had got the outcome they wanted without letting on to the other, before parting company just as swiftly as we'd found one another outside the station: he pulling away with a squeal and me with a sway, assessing my coordination: a spindly tree in a Mediterranean breeze, which in my head I gave a 6.5.
There were no nagging pains that was the main thing, and I judged my gait to not be too far off what it ordinarily was considering all that had passed, and so with my wooden stick in my customary grip I advanced at a pace somewhere between tortoise and hare as my tired eyes skimmed the landscape for a seductive restaurant. Food, then hotel, I'd decided, not knowing what I might find when I reached the accommodation my friend had booked for this leg of his itinerary. No pun intended. My brain, when on an adrenaline high is reduced to picture-word association: Italy, shaped liked a boot, and so on, which in the past has made some frightful situations, but these days I use the excuse that I'm senile.
Shortly, lights beckoned on the right and up ahead, which as I approached grew into an alfresco area with flickering tea-lights, centrally placed, on tables set for two. It was a little early for romance with daylight still only fading, but you could see through into the main restaurant and in there a celebratory feast was in full swing: an animated table of twelve men swapping tales whilst sharing food and clinking glasses. It all looked so amicable I almost wanted to claim I belonged to their party, a late addition whose absence had been noted earlier and who would now be welcomed into the fold of laughter and back slapping. That, not to delude you, was mere fantasy: I knew nobody there, nor indeed in Milan.
Travel-drunk and mesmerised by the winking lights and the dying light of day, I chose to dine in the open-air, but sat facing in so I could continue to observe this band of brothers. Amused by their liveliness, the server attended to me but I barely attended to him: I had only water and declined parmigiana on my rigatoni alla Norma, yet the aroma from the steaming plate caused me to take my glance, for an instant, away, and that's when the fight broke out, over, as I was informed much later, a knocked-over salt cellar. It doesn't bear thinking about, even now.

Picture credit: The Last Supper, c 1520, Giampietrino, after Leonardo di Vinci