Italian souvenirs by Mirino
We arrived in Milan like lost babes in the wood, carefully driving the little, French number-plated Peugeot, crawling along, obviously unsure of where we were. My girl friend was engrossed in trying to understand the part of the inadequate map that didn't seem to correspond with reality. We were looking for the hotel where we had already made our reservation.
Suddenly, in a secluded, fairly wide, one way lane separated from the opposite lane by a wide expanse of trees and wasteland, I felt the back right tire go flat. It was hot and the driver side window was wide open.
I loosened the wheel bolts of the flat tire, and started to jack up the car, wondering uneasily why my girl friend was talking to a stranger backing away behind me. When suddenly the car shook a bit, I immediately knew that something was very wrong. I called my friend to have her check that everything was still in the car. There was the portable computer still on her seat, but her bag had gone. Credit cards, money, identity card, social security card, driving licence, the lot. Even precious family photographs. All gone in one foul swoop. Apparently they know exactly where women leave their bags in cars.
I finished putting on the spare, parked the car, then we started searching around the area vainly hoping at least to find the empty bag, but we found no trace of it.
We eventually found our hotel however, and gave the hotel manager a long account of our woes. We did all that was necessary informing banks, etc., of the theft to block any unauthorised use of the credit cards. The manager was extremely helpful.
We unloaded the car, then, for what it was worth, drove to the nearest posto di polizia. When it was finally our turn, the police listened with bored expressions. They had heard it all too often before.
Even more discouraged we left. Moments later, not even fifty yards from the commissaria, I felt the back tire go flat, same side, back right, same tactics. Welcome to Milan..
Without any spare I drove as best I could to the nearest garage. The guy who had knifed the tyre came along with us, on his scooter! He calmly mobile phoned his gang mates to let them know that they were too late, there was nothing left to take. There, right next to us!
As the tyres had been stabbed in their walls they were irreparable. So to boot, we would have to buy two new tyres. In the meantime we had no other choice but to leave the car there, at the garage, and wearily walk back to the hotel.
All this as a intro to this great, Lombardian city, but also to point out how marvellous my companion was, because despite everything she was determined it wouldn't spoil our week in Milan. And it didn't.
We admired the fabulous Duomo di Milano, Piazza Duomo, fourth largest Cathedral in the world, strolled down the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and visited as many other sites as time allowed. But what was most memorable, at least to the palate, which has a curious way of according peace of mind and forgiveness to all such wrong doers who are a total discredit to Italy and tourism, was a restaurant where we ate the most wonderful pizzas.
The worst pizza I have ever eaten was this year in Sienna, strangely enough. One of the best was in Marco Polo's in New York many years ago. A certain Pizza restaurant in rue de France, Nice takes a lot of beating, as does Tonio who produces generous miracles every Saturday evening in his pizza van near where we live. But those we ate with fresh and delightful sparkling red wine on the terrace of that particular restaurant in Milan were absolutely superb.
I was also proud to have traced a remote specialist in spare parts for Pavoni coffee machines, and so pleased to be able to replace the dud element for my 'trophy'. The fact that it cost me more than I originally paid for the coffee machine itself was of no great importance. When I told him this he pretended that it wasn't possible, with a smile that clearly indicated beyond all doubt that it was.
Perhaps it comes down to, if you can take the rough with the smooth, you invariably come through such experiences winning, and even richer, certainly with such memories, than ever you were before. Maybe this was also part of the valuable lesson Milan, graciously and ungraciously, had to offer us.
Text © Mirino (PW) November, 2009. Modified Photo (from Markus Mark with thanks).