Saturday, December 20, 2014

Via Copernico

Nothing plunged me deeper into exile than living in the Via Copernico in Milan. 

It was not far from the Sondrio subway station, and Vespa-infested.

In the next street there was a horse meat shop and an old-fashioned grocer, where you had to ask the clerk to ferry items down from the shelves. 

I learned a lot of Italian begging for red wine. 

I was both impressed and alienated by our beautiful apartment. We had an old-fashioned elevator with iron doors, a concierge, and a terrace with hydrangeas. Such a snake-like name for such a pretty flower!

Outside the Milanese never cleaned up after their dogs.

The Milanese never cleaned up anything in public, though their homes and persons were impeccable. Never a crooked tie. Never a run in a stocking. But dog shit everywhere. 

Nearby there was a garden named for Gregor Mendel. Herr Mendel, I cried, return me to sober German-speaking lands! Give me parks that aren’t littered with junkie syringes.

I had to look up Copernicus to remember where he was from. Like Mendel and myself, he spoke German but wasn’t from Germany. Though for Italians I might as well have been German, since I arrived there via Germany. 

Which was fine with me. 

But I was not one of the many Germans who tell you they're Italian in their souls. 

First thing to do when a German tells you he’s “Italian in his soul” is make the Italian gesture for “what do I care,” which involves flicking your fingers out from under your chin dismissively. 

I can understand not wanting to be German, but this is baloney I've never bought. 

What does it mean to be Italian in your soul? To toothbrush your eyebrows until the perfect look is achieved, but sneak off when your beagle craps on someone’s front steps? The soul is invisible, not manifest in gestures or good taste in suits. The Italians have no more soul than anyone else, they’re just less inhibited.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Love this observance. Is there anything you don't write well?

Merry Christmas!

By the way, when last I visited my daughter in a New Jersey city whose name escapes me, they had not caught on to doggie bags either.


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