2. I can sort of understand why some people hate Milan. It lacks the quaint provincial flair of other cities in Italy. It's not as distinctive and brimming with living history as Rome. It's not as cool as Florence. It's not as beautiful as I hope Venice will be when I experience it for the first time in a couple of days. Milan is like a musty antique store in need of a duster and some lemon oil, but that's precisely its charm. Shabby chic might not work for me as an interior-design scheme of hotels like Chateau Marmont in L.A., but in a major metropolis (where I don't have to breathe in the mildew while I sleep or put my toothbrush on the counter of its only bathroom, one that is neither sleek nor modern, per my bathroom requirements), it epitomizes that ugly-beautiful thing that I can't get enough of and that was the primary source of Berlin's (and Buenos Aires's) visual appeal.
3. Once again (following my Ramadan adventure in United Arab Emirates), my timing is off. I've arrived in Milan on a national holiday called Ferragosto. Going by Italian's similarities to Spanish, I think it means something like "August holiday." The significance of the day, though, escapes me. All I know is that it meant when I arrived in the Navigli district around 9.30am, it appeared to be a ghost town, with nearly all of the stores closed and most of the people in hiding. Like Christmas Day in Buenos Aires, by the end of the afternoon, the streets were bustling, and restaurants and bars, if not many stores, were open for business. Be careful what you wish for. I probably won't have another peaceful moment exploring these streets.
4. This is the first time since I moved to Buenos Aires in 2006 that I've been to Italy (my last trip was in late September, 2004), and I can't believe how handy my Spanish is here. I can understand most of the street signs and a lot of the written word, too. I've already had a few words in Spanish with an Italian local. I wonder if I'll hear my second-favorite language (after English, natch) as much here as I did in Berlin, which had a surprisingly large number of Spanish and South American visitors and expats (the public relations coordinator of Hotel Adlon Kempinski characterized the latter as an emerging trend while giving me a tour of the five-star hotel), as did London the last time I was there, three and a half years ago, and as does Bangkok today.
7. Never judge a 3-star hotel by the worn exterior or the cranky receptionist (whom I later killed with kindness until he was reborn a somewhat chatty, cheerful guy). Hotel Milano Navigli might not look like much from the outside (and after dragging my luggage several kilometers from Piazza Missori, due to the spectacularly bad directions given to me by the lady at the Stazione Centrale information center, I was dreading what I'd see on the inside). But surprise!: It's turning out to be one of my favorite hotels ever. I love the brown and silver metallic floor, the balcony (a rarity in a three-star property), the spotless bathroom packed with toiletries, and the brown toilet paper (a color I've never seen in that form before). Alas, with a bidet also included (yes!) in the layout, the brown toilet paper will be mostly decorative.
7. Someone asked me if I'm Italian, which I found strange until I remembered that Italy has a black cabinet minister (the country's first, who's a woman, too), and she's assigned to integration. I wonder why our conversation in English didn't give away my nationality. Oh well, maybe I'm blending in for the first time in -- well, ever. Maybe despite that offensive orangutan crack, Cécile Kyenge's integration plan is actually working.
8. It's not every day that you get to dine in front of a castle (Castello Sforzesco) while sitting next to an elderly couple who appear to be still madly in love. "Bon appetit," the woman offered when my pizza bianca arrived, just as her husband bought her a single red rose from a guy who was selling them. This is exactly what I've been wanting, I thought to myself, as I later watched them walk away, hand in hand.
9. I can't stop thinking about one of my most embarrassing moments ever, which happened the last time I was in Milan. I went out to a club one Saturday night with some people I had met, and at one point, I got so lifted by the music that I fell off of the platform on which I was dancing and landed on my face. Then I got up and went on dancing. It wasn't until the next morning that I realized I'd procured a fat lip, which didn't go down in time for me to begin my new job the following Wednesday as a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly. I must have been quite the sight for judgmental eyes at work, though no one in Milan even seemed to notice.
10. Also on my mind in Milan: Paolo, who was a beautiful 24-year-old budding fashion designer visiting New York City from Milan when we met in the summer of 2000 on another holiday -- his. It was Tuesday night at Beige (a weekly party that I hear is still going strong at B Bar), the evening before a big Teen People photo shoot with Nelly and Mystikal, and my friend, colleague and occasional wingwoman Cara had something to do with getting us together. Paolo and I went out two nights later, and we ended up being nearly inseparable for the rest of his time in New York City. He spoke very limited English, and he didn't understand what was going on in Committed, the Heather Graham movie we watched in my apartment after dinner that Thursday night, but neither one of us cared.
Then I went and broke the cardinal rule of holiday romance -- which is file it under foreign affair and go on with your regularly scheduled life -- and went to visit him in Milan, leaving on the day after the hotly contested Presidential Election of 2000, which still wasn't resolved when I returned to NYC 10 days later. We laughed, we drank, we ate, we visited his hometown of Genoa (which went on to become my second-favorite Italian city, after Rome), we got lost in emotion. But all good things must come to an end. Our week in Milan ended in tears -- mine. If the good ones aren't taken, why do they always have to live on another continent?
Paolo and I were in and out of touch in the years that followed, but we saw each other two more times: Once was when I ran into him in a bar in the East Village and woke up the next morning not sure if I'd dreamed our reunion until a text message arrived from him saying what a nice night he'd had. The second time was when he came to Buenos Aires in 2008, a vacation I wouldn't have known about had I not found him on Facebook, which I'd only recently joined.
In my usual hyperbolic way, I used to consider Paolo the love of my life and/or the one who got away, depending on whatever mood I was in, but I'm not so sure what I think of him now, so many holiday flings later. A few days ago, I sent him a message letting him know that I was coming to Milan, but I never heard back from him. Maybe he's finally learned his lesson about love and holidays. That would make one of us!