Archive for November, 2014

Magic Moments

He’s quite the sage is Uncle Ben. I’m talking here about my dad’s youngest brother and not the old bloke who does the savoury rice dishes. Not for the first time, I’m very pleased I took his advice.

‘Lake Como, chap. You don’t need too long in Milan, boy, get yourself up there for a bit.’

He’s right. Alan Partridge’s über-glib put down of London; ‘go there and be stabbed or under-appreciated’ could apply equally to Milan. More so, if anything.

In the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the one of the world’s couture capitals, I concurred with Steve Coogan’s character’s second point. Thankfully, the first even more tangible point doesn’t happen.
I spend much of my time in the city seemingly swimming against the wash of the immaculately sculpted and impeccably groomed. Frankly, if style’s not your thing (And with my hair and dress-sense, it’s fair to say it’s never been mine…) there’s little reward for spending much time there.
And, if money’s not your thing either (again, something I’m not great at…), then there’s much to see but little to do here too. Don’t get me wrong, Milan is well worth a visit, but I had hoped for more from the first stop on my maiden Italian adventure.

Como, on the other hand, is a treat. Walking down from the station through the city’s walls, an instant calmness becomes the visitor. Alpine vistas stretch into the distance, the greenery pockmarked by the hill top residencies of the savvy Savoys. Stowed boats lol passively. The autumn colours and bright sunshine make for a transfixing blend with the serene skies. The gentle lapping of the lake upon the shore and the boastful fly pasts of the local sea-planes all add to the peaceful scene.

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A stroll by the lake soothes the soul. A walk through the labyrinths of stone clad courtyards likewise. All in all, Como is a very acceptable choice for a lazy Sunday morning.

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Admittedly, by the time I choose to take my leave, Milanistas and visitors from further afield have cottoned on to the majesty of the Southern Alps. I climb the steps back to the station and get ready for my second big night of the weekend…

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

It did. Kind of. As I disembarked the Metro at Assago Forum, I bumped into a bloke who looked like Bernard Cribbins.

But if we’re using ‘funny’ as in a ‘bit odd’ as opposed to Eric & Ernie funny then, yes, there were one or two things to relay. Mind, I doubt you’ve ever seen a blog post, or indeed anything else, dedicated to the Lads from Les-tah with a Frankie Howerd inspired title before? Witter ye not!

Assago, situated to the south west of Milan is industrial with a capital ind. Charmless swathes of neon-noon lighting illuminate the Lombardy dusk. No bewildering gothic architecture and pleasantly cobbled streets.
Just lines of faceless international conglomerates and identikit factories, hulking, sulking hotels and enough roundabouts to keep the by-now-doddery planners of Britain’s 70s new towns happy in their retirement homes.

I reel as I take in my new surroundings, and not just because of my brush with the Cribbins clone. Right said Fredo, hang on uno momento!
I’ve come all the way over here, me plus no-one, hundreds of miles away just to see my favourite band play in Mil….

…ton Keynes.

Really?

Only the Italian signage gives the game away. Then the unmistakable sound of a mighty-agh Tom Meighan cry-agh at an early soundcheck splits the Assagoan air to remind me why I’m here. It’s not Eaglestone. It’s not Conniburrow. It’s not even Downs Barn. Thank goodness.

What it is, is Kasabian. The greatest British band of their- ok, my- generation. In Milan. The Mediolanum Forum, Assago.

A quick shufti of the local surroundings reveal no pre-match boozer to catch the Empoli-Juve game in. Because ersatz English pubs full of football and foreboding pop up everywhere. Yes they do. I even glimpsed one in the heart of Milan’s fashion district earlier. Clearly, nothing is sacred. Clinging to this flight of fancy, I reasoned there might be one close to tonight’s venue too.

There isn’t.

There are, however, two enterprising local blokes with a coolbox roped to a sackbarrow standing by the Metro exit selling knocked off bottles of warm lager and water. Grinning in deference both at their daftness and of great memories of tucking into similar bootlegged bevies on the Galle fort while watching England play cricket, I pass up this unique opportunity to ‘keep it real’, and repair to the only place selling liquid refreshment of an interesting nature near the venue.

A Pret-A-Manger/Costa/Starbucks type homogenised eaterie throbbing with good-looking plastic types (there’s not really any other ‘types’ over here, in all honesty) deliberating over rows and rows of plastic-looking paninis and piling into plastic pint pots of Pilsner Urquell. And, bless the hosts, for all their brain-drain deco faults, they’ve not watered any of this Czech champ down. It is a very decent pint.

Ah, the plastic pint pot. The preserve of any gig worth it’s salt. I stroll into the venue head held high. Thoughts that I could be the only other English representative here, at the home of Italian basketball, are proved incorrect by the sight of a phalanx of middle aged Brits stood around at the back of the auditorium in rugby shirts and silly hats. The Great British Stag Do: ragazzi will be ragazzi. The stands swell as the crowds begin to pour in. Even the Slipknot cast-off God-awful crap-ness of the warm up act (“This song’s all about high-fives!” Really? Jog on, wuck-fits.) takes nothing away from the build up. The atmosphere of heightened expectation goes up notch by notch.

Can you feel it coming? It’s time to do this. Forza Milano! Forza Kasabian!

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Breakfast With Bergomi

‘How do you like your eggs in the morning?’ opens Dean Martin’s cheery refrain played out in breezy breakfasts bars and restaurants the world over. Ironically, and rather sadly, considering the connections of the aforementioned singer to the land of his forebears, that song doesn’t play here.

‘Here’ is an old hotel in Central Milan where the character is reserved strictly for the endearing structure crammed in among the busy alleyways of the ancient capital of Lombardy. Instead of Deano’s sublime warbling comes the unwelcome racket of the local MTV’s ad breaks for ‘Cheesy-peas’ or some such Fastshow-like nonsense. The hotel’s matriarch sternly keeps watch, oblivious to the over-bearing television. A ‘buongiorno’ is uttered without bonhomie and my coffee order taken without so much as a ‘va bene’.

Breakfast is free, thankfully. Which is the best thing that can be said about it. The TV barks out more shouty incomprehensible barf. A troupe of Korean tourists eagerly map out their days sightseeing, safety in numbers is clearly the way forward in this gaff. One or two more guests stumble in and are greeted with the same frostiness as befell my arrival.

The fruit juice is served in one of those cups they give you to swill your mouth out in the dentist’s chair. The contents taste the same as the stuff they give you to swill your mouth out in the dentist’s chair. I move on to the espresso. It’s as bitter as mine host’s demeanour.
The bread rolls are set out with the functionality of croquet balls in a rack. And taste as such. Croissants like puffy boomerangs are the alternative with a meagre selection of gold-foil wrapped soft cheeses and unhappy looking yoghurts.

Wedged into my corner table I watch as Mamma moves un-smilingly along the same route from her seat, elevated like the head of the convent’s might be, to kitchen, from kitchen to seat, and back again. Drinks orders taken, doled out and dispensed with the kind of welcome usually reserved for the lifers on death row.

In fact, I have seen this kind of growling, scowling uncompromising performance many times over before. Watching Football Italia as a teenager, this style of totalitarianism was doled out on a weekly basis by the then captain of Internazionale (Oh, go on then Inter Milan), Guiseppe Bergomi.
Hotel guests are put in their place like opposing forwards stealing into the penalty area. There’s no shirt pulling, elbows or other such intimidatory tactics. But then there’s no need to. Mamma rules by fear alone. The catenaccio of the cafe-bar, belligerent and brutal. Pure Bergomi.

Breakfast comes to an end. No sign of the eggs of Deano’s song. And thankfully, looking up for the last time at Mamma, no sign of that song’s kiss either. I grab my things and head, into the autumnal Milano morning air. Hopefully there’s a bit more ‘bienvenuto’ and a bit less Bergomi to this city….

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