Almost Local in Milan

Italians can be incredibly hospitable people. I recently met a group of friends at a festival here, and upon discovering we were all heading to Boom Festival in Portugal soon, they offered to host me with them in Milan until then – and to road-trip to Portugal together for the festival.

Is this real? I feel incredibly fortunate.

So, here i am, in Milan, hanging out at people’s houses (well, apartments, actually) like i live here. Strangely, it seems the entire city has gone on vacation this month. I’ve been told that because August is a sticky, sweltering month of heat in northern Italy, many people take this time to travel elsewhere. It feels like we have the place mostly to ourselves.

Most of the new friends i made, despite being mostly around my age, still live with their parents. Apparently this is common in Italy until people get married. I’ve been couch-surfing between the flats of different friends, staying a few nights at each spot. In the mornings we wake up and make stovetop espresso, and somehow it’s perfect every time. Wine for lunch is not uncommon, and it seems everyone i’ve met so far in Italy knows how to cook.

As a woman raised in the Deep South, i can honestly say i’ve never been anywhere until now where i’ve been escorted out of the kitchen by a man. These guys know what they’re doing, and they aren’t afraid to demonstrate. Steamed mussels, stuffed mushrooms, pastas of every variety – made at home, as if it were nothing – Italy is every bit the culinary paradise i always imagined. My new friends accommodated my pesca-tarian diet with grace, although i couldn’t help but surmise i was missing out on a great deal of the experience by skipping the meats. The home-grown herbs and peppers, however, were exceptional.

Of course, the Italians are proud of their immense history in art and architecture, so we had to do a bit of sightseeing. We went to Il Duomo di Milano, bought pizza, and walked around the plaza like tourists, even though everybody but me had grown up there. At the time, Il Duomo was partly under reconstruction, but it was still clearly obvious why this cathedral (the fourth largest in the world) is such a legendary architectural marvel.

Near Il Duomo is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with a tiled floor featuring a famous mural of a bucking bull in the coat of arms of the nearby city of Torino (Turin). According to my friends, it is good luck to step on the bull’s testicles with your right foot and spin around – so, of course, i did. I can’t say i wasn’t smirking inside, considering the irony of getting good luck in Italy from such an obvious gesture of emasculation. Anyway.

After a few (okay, several) drinks and a bit more wandering, i felt almost like a local.

Traveling alone, at its finest, is the most prime and pure opportunity to fall in with a group of like-minded people living somewhere and see a place the way they present it. All i had to do to feel accepted was promise to try to learn Italian, but to never try to talk with my hands. Deal!

Thank you, Milan.