This morning I decided to brave the cold once again and hop on tram #15 which would take me to the Duomo. Duomo is the stop where more or less you can find many connections to many trams, buses and trains. I don't know what it is or why I have such tenderness for foreigners perhaps because I am one but this morning a particular exchange with a foreigner touched my heart. The tram arrived and pushing past the young student with a suitcase and ear phones on, I sat down next to an older woman. A woman whose beauty and traces of life were evident from the lines on her face. She has lived. She had short hair covered by a small woolen hat, dark eyes that were filled with stories, and beautiful gold earrings dangling from her little ears. Wearing black pants and brown flat moon boots holding nothing but a plastic bag which seemed to me could be her lunch, she turned to me and asked me if we were at the Duomo. I replied in Italian that in three stops we would be. I could tell from her way of talking and her accent that she wasn't Italian. She appeared to be of South American descent, perhaps Peruvian, or maybe she was Hondurian, maybe even Mexican but from the way she asked the question I wanted to quickly reply her in spanish. Instead I responded her question in Italian inserting one spanish word to which she turned towards me and looked at me closely. I wanted to ask her where she was from, I wanted to give her a little bit of kindness, tenderness that would allow her to understand I understand. I wanted her to know that I am not from here and that I have a good heart. Furthermore I didn't want her to get lost in this big city of cold hearted people even though I'm sure she has lived here much longer than I have. I wanted her to know that I am also not Italian. Instead I asked her where she needed to get off and she replied before the Duomo so she can take bus #54 to take her to TriColore. At this word she smiled the most tender and heartfelt smile. I am not sure what or where that is but something about her response to me softened me, immigrants always do, as do the elderly and the two combined are a tempest of tears waiting to scroll down my cheeks. I guess it's because my mother was an immigrant and perhaps I remember similar moments with my mother. I understand the difficulty in being in different places trying to get by, along, live and engage in the simple tasks of every day life. She brought tears to my eyes and I don't know why. The elderly have this capability of doing that to me. I know I should feel grateful for them for they have lived a life one can learn from but instead I always imagine the difficulty of their lives. I see an older man hunched over from years of working and I am sad. Instead I should be smiling, for he is still moving and at the age he appears to be, it's incredible he still has this tremendous amount of energy and will and strength to bustle along the streets of Milano. I was once told when I was 15 by my high school English teacher that I had too much compassion. Perhaps he was right.
From the time I was little I always worked with the elderly or was surrounded by them. I volunteered as a candy striper at our local hospital and I was assigned the geriatric ward. For years I worked in the geriatric ward where I fed them, helped changed their beds, and kept them company and their souls, both beautiful and tragic rarely leave my mind. I have a warmth and respect for the elderly people for which I am grateful. I attribute this to my mother as from the time I was a small child I hung out with my mother and her elderly friends. I watched my mother as she brought food to our elderly neighbours, cooking special Italian dishes on Sundays just for them. I accompanied her often as I am the youngest of my family and as she went to visit her elderly friends, I watched her and learned from her as she was always there for the elderly whenever they needed some help, companionship, comfort. I love this about my mother. She has the most amazing big heart and never closes her door nor her heart to anybody. I obtained this trait from her, all of my sisters and I have and we are blessed. It is something most people mistake for naivete but in fact simply put, it's tenderness, compassion, appreciation and respect.
We approached Missori stop on the tram, exactly two stops before the Duomo. It is here where the woman got up, her little body, frail legs, and historical face, disappearing from my sight as she got off the streetcar. I stared out the window and continued on my journey towards the Duomo. That little bit of human interaction touching me mostly because it rarely happens in Milano. I thought about that moment until I myself found myself in front of my stop. I got off the streetcar thinking about that woman every second, her story, her life, her face and if she would arrive at her destination safely. I hoped she would arrive where she was intending to go without trouble, problems and I hoped that she had something warm, loving and beautiful awaiting her at her destination. From there I walked to Piazza San Babila and took the red metro line that would bring me to Cadorna. Cadorna is a stop you can get off at which allows you to walk either along Corso Magenta, or towards the beautiful Castello Sforzeca. I didn't want to walk to the Castello today but instead wanted to take a little journey through the "libreria di Spettacolo," a bookshop dedicated to the performing arts. It's not quite the STRAND bookstore in NYC, but perhaps it's more like the bookstore on Broadway called Shakespeare and Co. I felt the need to immerse myself in theater and literature today. I find it inspirational and I needed ideas and inspiration. I found the bookshop and like most stores in Milano, it was closed until 3 pm for their "pausa pranzo," the Italians lunch break. Most restaurants close at 3 until 5 and re-open for dinner, other stores open in the morning until 1 and close until 3pm and re-open for the evening. Some churches also are closed to visitors until after 3 pm apart from the Duomo so it's something to keep in mind if you are out and about walking the streets of Milano. Most bar/tabacchi's are always open but close at 6pm or 7 pm. On Sundays it is rare anything is open and bar/tabacchi's are closed (except by the Duomo) so if you are in search of cigarettes, you will need exact change, a "carta sanitario," a health card to swipe proof of age of majority which is 18 years old, and you will be required to use one of many cigarette machines which are hidden and sporadically built in to walls of buildings. These are usually found near or on major streets and intersections throughout Milano. During the week, it is rare to find a coffee shop open late. The one by my house on Via Castelbarco is open late on Friday and Saturday nights but that's because of the discotheque I live beside called the "Limelight."
In particular the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio is closed until after 3. It is a stupendous basilica located just off Corso Magenta and it is beautiful. Inside you will find a crypt with the Saint Ambrogio himself, his sister and two of his followers although beware the well dressed bodies with skeletal faces. Alarming and intrigueing in nature, I couldn't help but wonder why there weren't any faces made of wax in place of the empty holed skulls...do not alarm, there are responses for everything and do not forget that we are in Italy and appearances are everything and the Italians are masters of illusion. Alas appearances are indeed everything and the response to my question was because the Italians themselves, nor those of the church cannot be certain that indeed those who lie in the crypt are indeed the bodies of those Saints themselves. Aha! The Italians, magicians of the greatest kind. Regardless Basilica Sant'Ambrogio is stunning and beautiful paintings line its walls. The ceiling as all basilical ceilings are, of course is breathtaking. The church in itself is huge and is one of the most ancient churches in Milano built in 379-386 by Sant'Ambrose himself. Most of the church has been restored as it was destroyed in 1943 by bombings but today, with it's stupendous interior and medieval architecture, it is always well worth the visit. The other day while visiting the church, I had the honour of witnessing a wedding. It was rather odd to me but since the church can't be closed or rented for the sole purpose of the wedding, it had to remain open for the bride and visitors alike. Before me photographers were frantically snapping photos, and there was the bride walking down the isle with her two little flower girls, friends in the pews at her side and tourists gazing on, smiling. I imagined something more grandeuse especially if one is to wed at the Basilica Sant'Ambrogio, but she was dressed in a simple white strapless gown and a white limosine was waiting outside for her. Not very grand nor very personal but alas it was a wedding and beautiful all the same. And so my visit to Sant'Ambrogio consisted of staring at two beautifully dressed skeletons with headdresses, while people around me kneeled and prayed and a wedding. Yet to whom exactly were they praying? And who exactly was this bride who unable to rent out the private church therefore exchanged her vows with friends and strangers alike? Questions that will forever remain unanswered. Fine with me, a little bit of mystery leads to a whole lot of magic and intrigue!
I left before the vows as I didn't want to infringe on the union of two strangers and I certainly didn't want to stick around to see if the Saints corpses moved or if they would ever develop faces.
Today, since it was only 2:30pm and Sant'Ambrogio church was closed for the lunch break, I decided to continue walking along the street by Sant'Ambrogio, turning right here and a left here until I surprisingly reached Corso Magenta as that was my original destination anyways. I decided to take refuge in a tiny little coffee shop introduced to me days earlier that is part of Teatro Litto. It's a beautiful little coffee shop, artistic in nature with a beautiful oversized sculpture, black velvet sofas, American music blasting on the speakers, many tables and free internet and of course sandwiches and cappuccino! The staff quite young in nature and also quite artistic, I imagined most of them must be thespians to a degree but I didn't ask. My cappuccino arrived with a tiny little chocolate biscuit!!! Yey!!!! What a lovely surprise and I love surprises. The small things in life give me pleasure on even the coldest and greyest of days. I especially love when they serve your cappuccinos with chocolates and biscuits, it's love in a cup. I just hoped I had enough to pay for the coffee. I only had EU4.00 on me. These days that's about all I have. I am strapped for cash and it is the first time in a very long time where I am not independent financially and that I have been so broke and with Christmas around the corner I know this year will be a Christmas void of gift giving. It's okay because it's not the gifts or gift-giving that preoccupy me, it's that I will feel uninspired to even make something. I love giving and if I feel like I have nothing to make or give, I feel cold and empty inside. Regardless though I am blessed with a beautiful man and a beautiful family and my beautiful little apartment, warm in nature, oh so cozy and I have my EU5.00 Christmas tree that keeps me smiling day and night! This already is Christmas to me but not all of us are made simple and in Milano being without finances, or economic stability can make for miserable moments. I just hope that I am strong enough to help myself and my loved ones surpass these unpleasantries should they arise. I always said there's nothing that a nap, a hot chocolate, a great song or a glass of wine can't cure, let's just hope that's the truth!!!!! It's 5 days until Christmas and tomorrow I will wander around the city and take pictures. I will eat chestnuts, drink hot chocolate and I will aim to go ice-skating in Porta Venezia in Santa's little village that was created one week ago and I will fill my days with a little bit of simple magic!!!!!!!