AUTUMN, WINTER, AND SPRING AGAIN
THE STORY OF A WEEK IN ITALY
THE STORY OF A WEEK IN ITALY
When I left the US it was chilly. The series of railed connections, be they trains or subway cars, aged me just about a year until I reached JFK. If not for the layover at my friend Richard’s house I may have collapsed from exhaustion.
It was clearly early winter on the outside and there was no reason for me to believe that the rest of the tour would be any different. If you look at a map most of my destinations are roughly more than a bit north of Philadelphia lattitudinally speaking, so I just thought winter everywhere. Even Rome, lying roughly equivalent to Washington DC was still subject to cold weather. And we got what we bargained for.
Audrey left the tour after four really successful photo shoots in the city of Roma. And since that time I’ve been trekking alone all over Italy, and will be doing the same for the next two weeks until I return home. And since it has been almost two weeks since Aurdrey and I landed in Rome, I’ve seen just about every season this side of summer until today. Today I woke up to sunshine and basic warmth. While it may only be roughly 65 degrees outside, it sure beats trekking home from a tram breakdown in Milan durning a blizzard.
Watching the television upon my incredibly late arrival back to Tuscany, and to the home of friends that I met on my first trip to Italy back in the summer of Y2K, it was obvious that I witnessed something first hand that doesn’t happen very much in these parts. According to my friend Sandro, “the most organized of Italian cities (Milano) was stopped by confusion.” And I was there to see it. In fact, while there my host Mayo joked that I brought the snow with me from the north. Alas, Sandro’s family said the same thing about the cold here in Tuscany since he arrived here from Finland two days before (and boy was it cold here).
In many ways I simply lost sight of the real reasons behind the project because I was caught up in a whirlwind of traveling, and my eternal struggle to grasp the Italian language enough to communicate with all of my friends here instead of always making them speak English to me. But, somehow, catching a punk show in a small town outside of Milano slapped me back into reality. It was strange seeing an American band play along side a number of Italian Punk bands, and there be no significant differences besides the obvious one of the American band singing everything in English, and screaming “Grazie Italia,” over and over at the end of the show as though it was an olive branch extended over the Atlantic Ocean.
In fact, while shooting at this strange club in a secluded alley I noticed a lot of similarities between Punk Rock kids all over the place. Basically, they are all a lot alike. Not that being alike is a good or a bad thing, because it is just a thing. What is remarkable is that of all the things that America has exported, Classic Hardcore has probably been one of its greatest. Unfortunately, the shittier elements of Hip Hop culture made it over here too.
As an aside, I was standing on the platform of Livorno’s central station watching a cell phone commercial on the track-side television. A young tough looking an awful lot like Eminem was performing all of the most clichéd commercial hip-hop moves in an oversized white tee shirt and hat half-cocked to the side, while trying to convince me to go Vodaphone (I think, but I was too busy laughing to be convinced). It is so strange to see this kind of thing here. Ten years ago when I first came to Italy nothing like this was happening. Italy was Italy and America was America, and then Berlusconi took office (more about him some other day). In my estimation this media tycoon stood to gain everything by importing American Culture to Italy because we’ve soooooo effectively learned to control the spending habits of our adolescent population, as where Italy, up to that point, the spending habits of immature brats was relegated by parents. Now, not so much.
It appears that American Punk Rock band, those of years gone by, have really shaped the ideology of the European Punk scenes. We’ve met at least one person at every photo shoot that had seen Black Flag (which is a bit more than we’ve found in our American photo shoots), and the American bands still kinda dominate the record collections of the folks that I meet, so I guess that American Hardcore has done its job well in terms of making Punk Rock something that is socially real, and not just something that is in obscure documentary books at your local Punk Rock book seller.
In fact I would say that most of the people that I’ve met here in Europe in general have had a more profound understanding and interest in a more equitable Hardcore scene that doesn’t restrict one to just a certain aspect of it (straight edge, crust, old school, etc). They love it all, the whole damned thing. The fact that I’ve seen so many American band shirts makes the point that Europeans not only love these bands, but their scenes are heavily influenced by them. Good or Bad, I have no idea. All that I know is that it makes communication way easier if you have things in common, and that is good for me.
I spent the last four or five days in Milano. The last time that I was in Milano I was there only to see the public Velodrome. When I got there, and it was very close to the hostel where I was staying, I was amazing. The biggest velodrome that I’ve ever seen. Wooden track under a huge timbered roof. Amazing. If you know my love for cycling you will understand my near orgasmic love for this velodrome. However, I heard from my host, Mayo, that this velodrome, sadly, no longer functions and there is no plans to renovate it for future use. Sad.
Anyway, if one word could sum up my experience in Milano it would be EXTREME. It seemed that from the second I was met at the train in the cold rain by Mayo that everything was going crazy in Milano. With the holiday season on, his leaving to come to Los Angeles for the holiday, the cold rain that would soon become snow, and my insanely tenacious flu were just the basics. However, the ensuing blizzard was just the knock out punch. Luckily, BFL scored a bunch of Lifer’s, and from the perspective of the book it was a successful mission.
I was really only slated to be in Milano for two days but “things beyond my control” seemed to keep me there eternally. I could see in the eyes of my host that I was beginning to cut into his holiday plans a bit, but raging winter storms made travel nearly impossible. But for the first few days of the trip Milano was a winter wonderland.
Mayo is in a band called La Crisi (The Crisis), and we were linked up last Spring by a mutual friend, Amy Toxic, in Boston. Amy told me that Mayo and one or two of his bandmates had the bars tattooed on them and that I should try to photograph them in the US. Strangely, when this news came to me I hadn’t even begun to book the European dates, but as it became clear to me that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet La Crisi I reached out to Mayo and asked him if he would organize something in Milan for me, and I would come there…! He said yes, and so I compelled myself to make an effort to make Europe happen too; and look what happened.
My train arrived at Milano’s central station at 10pm. There was no heat on the train (and it was fucking freezing), so I could barely feel my feet upon stepping off out of the car. Snapping a few shots of the station at night, I walked to meet Mayo at the gate and we were off to his home. He assured me that his apartment was warm, and so upon arrival I couldn’t wait to get my shoes and socks off and sit by the radiator to warm up my feet.
Meeting his fiancé, Valeria (sp?), rapping a bit about what I was doing in Europe, and showing them some pix, it was suddenly 2am and time for bed. I slept like a log until like 6am when I woke up and realized that my cold was back; and this time it was pissed off. For the next three days the flu would hammer away at me and my hosts were more than happy to help me in any way that they could. They allowed me to sleep for hours, made me food and coffee, and gave me medicine. It was truly amazing how well they cared for this stranger in their house. And what started out as a three day trip turned in to a three day trip and two days of nightmarish weirdness connected to a sudden snow-storm-gone-blizzard.
Somehow, though, sitting here in my friends’ home in Tuscany, where the sun is shining and it is relatively warm, I really cannot believe that I just came through the winter wonderland. It was awesome. Got a lot done.
GAINS TRUMP LOSSES
Okay, so I was sick as hell. Who hasn’t been, right..? So on the second day Mayo took me out to see the city. Like I said, I’d only ever been to Milano one time and that was to see the Municipal Velodrome, so this was candy. Mayo, like most of our European hosts, knows his city well. He’s lived in Milano most of his life, and so he has a particular love for it that is evident from his desire to spend time in the downtown section, and he knows a lot about its history (which I love). He showed me around the Brerra-district, and that is when we saw snow for the first time. Flurries, but snow nonetheless. I shot a bunch of photos, and off we went. Of my favorite things of the day was this creamy little pudding/drink called the “zabaione” and the Christmas Market. I mean, hell, there is a lot to love about Milan if you have the right host, but zabaione would be worth the trip even if you had a bad host.
Zabaione is not only difficult to pernounce, but it is so potent that it is hard to eat fast. Eggs and sugar beaten up until they are a sweet, warm liquid, then topped with a concoction of liquor, and then topped again with sweet, whipped cream, um, this little confection is man’s ruin in my book.
I am willing to bet that zabaione is available in more places than just Milano, but it probably goes under a different name everywhere. The closest that it came to anything that I’ve ever eaten is if you totally undercook crème bruelle to the point that it was drinkable, and it was infused with something like rum or some other sweet liquor. I cannot say enough about zabaione, and it is my person mission to learn to make this crazy drink/desert when I get home the the US. Otherwise, I am gonna try to track it down here in Tuscany, or on my next visit to Roma.
After a few hours of walking and eating and stuff like that we headed back home. Eventually we had to make it to the show, and the show was about ¾’s of an hour outside of Milano, and so off we went. We arrived home, ate a fast meal, and then took off for the shoot. We got lost a few times, and even though I don’t always understand Italian (especially if it is spoken fast) I do understand the universal truth of mates arguing in the car about which turn should have been taken. It was a funny scene. I kept my trap shut. Eventually we made it.
The show was at a local bar/cantina in an alley in a small town in what seemed to be an industrial zone, and we entered at the point when most of the bands were arriving. The show was, well, a show. Punk shows don’t differ too much from town-to-town in the world, so I set up shop and shot like 5 barred folks from Milano, including on guy that saw Black Flag back in 1983; so that was pretty cool. I am thankful for the opportunity. Food, drink, music, records to buy, and people to photograph. What more could I ask for?
The show was over, my head throbbing from my cold/fever and a full day of walking around Milano, I couldn’t wait to get home and go to sleep. So, we made that happen. Upon arriving home and preparing for bed I knew that I was seriously fucked. My head was close to exploding. Mayo and Valeria gave me some medicine to help me sleep, and I did so; however restlessly. By the next morning (Sunday) things started blurring. I don’t remember on what day I made my way into the city looking for a restaurant suggested by a friend back home, but on that day the skies were gray to the point of near-black.
An hour later the snow was coming down heavily. An hour later city traffic was going haywire. All that I know is that I was walking, taking pix, eating heavily, and trying not to let my flu keep me from exploring. I had a zabaione, I ate focaccia, I asked directions, I bought salami at the Christmas market, and was much the full-on tourist. I love it. Nobody watching, I did all of the tourist stuff that I could and didn’t care before it was time to board my tram.
An hour later, stuck in a massive traffic jam behind 6 other stuck trams, the folks in my evacuated and started walking home. The trams in Milano are not heated, and so sitting/standling/lying in one of these things is as cold as a refrigerator in the cold weather. Evacuating was the best thing to happen to me, and the walk home in nearly a foot of snow while watching the citizens of Milano stuck in their cars for however long was kinda funny. Funny, yes, but I knew that my flu would suffer from the walk, and upon arriving home I just went to sleep for a while. Luckily, I’d overeaten.
I was slated to leave the next morning and so when I woke up after my little walk I planned out my day. The weather outside was certainly frightful, and so I anticipated delays. No matter how much anticipation of delay, you really don’t know delay until you are in the situation.
My plan was to wake up at 6:30am, take the train to the subway, the subway to the central station, and be on my IC train by 8am. Great plan. Most of my plans worked well up to this point. However, when I woke up there was about 15 inches of snow on the ground. While city transit was moving, it was moving slowly. Everything was in delay, so when I got to the station there were thousands of holiday travelers milling about the station trying to get their tickets for trains that may or may not have been operating. That is when I started to worry.
Hastily buying my ticket I ran to the platform to find out that my train was not only on the board, but was so far in delay that an hour later it was cancelled. FUCK, my train was cancelled and I had to be back in Tuscany (where it wasn’t snowing) to meet up with my friends there without causing serious strife, which can be the case if dinner is interrupted or something like that.
Anyway, I stood in a one hour line just to be told that they would refund my ticket, and I could take another train to Tuscany (no guarantee that it was to be on time) and it would cost me an additional 50 or 60 dollars. So, to sit in a cold-as-fuck train that was not going to be on time, I was being asked to pay almost 100 dollars. Fuck it. I rebooked for the next available IC train at 4 and called Mayo. “Yo, Mayo, my train is cancelled and my next one doesn’t leave until 4pm. Can I come back and crash at your spot..?,” “Sure, I will meet you there in an hour..” I could tell that he was bumming, but he took me in and made me lunch.
A few hours later I was back at the station and my train was delayed by almost an hour, but it was actually on the platform. I crawled on board, cozied up in my seat, and waited for the train to pull out, which it did, but only after 4 more people crept into my cabin and started rocking out on their cell phones. I was surrounded by 3 young women and an older guy. The older guy was awesome. When his phone would ring he would step outside the cabin to talk, while the girls would giggle and yell on theirs; thus keeping me awake for periods of time where I really wanted to be sleeping. Better that with the fact that (1) there was no heat (and I was frozen for the entire trip), (2) the snow was rain once we reached Genova (so the train had to go very slowly), and (3) I almost missed my connection train due to lateness, which would have had me sleeping in the central station in Livorno (and there was an inch of rain water on the entire floor), so the gods must have been smiling on me to get me to Cecina, to the home of my friends, and under plenty of covers to keep me warm for my 12 hour hybernation.
Today marks the first day in three weeks where it is warm enough to leave the house without massive winter apparel and I am preparing to explore, but Christmas gifts, and find a zabaione (if applicable).