Friday in Milan. I found myself wandering around the entire city on foot. By the time I'd returned to my hotel room I was variously exhausted, lonely, and anxious to see more. I considered calling my friends in the Hara-NDC crew to see if I could tag along on what was probably going to be a fun group dinner, but thought the better of it, as I'd just be mooching.
So I decided I'd grab dinner alone at the local Pizzeria.
7pm. RoRo' Pizzeria. RoRo on Via Fauché is actually a classy bistro with a full menu, wine list, and everything in between. I was seated by a clean-shorn man in a form-fitting suit... which made me realize that every restaurant I'd been to from day 1 was staffed entirely by a wait staff of clean-shorn men in form-fitting attire. In other words, I had not been served by one woman during my entire 5 day stay.
While I was reading the menu I overheard a two-top near me (Korean woman and older white man) argue with the waitor about the leftovers they wanted to take back with them. They were stereotypical Americans -- talking loudly to each other in English about how bad the service was, and then talking even louder to the waitor when he misunderstood their barked orders for a "to go container." [The couple kept repeating "WE WANT THIS TO GO." And it was so obvious the waitor thought they were saying something to the effect of "we want to go (leave)." The argument ensued when said waitor cleared their plates, hence denying them their precious leftovers.]
After they'd sufficiently complained, the Korean woman and I made eye contact which I immediately shut down by burying my face into a notebook. Please don't bring me into this. Please don't bring me into this.
Said Korean woman came up to me and asked, "are you Korean?" (in Korean). Amazingly, I was somehow able to communicate that my mom is che-il kyoppo, but that I don't speak the language well. She gave me the Han-look of disappointment almost all Koreans give me when they learn of my background. Whatever. I should have told her I was the bastard child of Hirohito and a kisaeng.
Then she starts asking me where I live and what I'm doing here, and adds finally, in Korean: this restaurant is horrible. The service is really bad and I think if it's not too late you should leave... or at least that's what I gleaned. I just said, "ku re?" and didn't budge. Finally she left.
Soon I was well off into my first course--sea bass topped with a ginormous prawn and fried herbs. Delicioso. My beer arrived and a table of three was seated right next to me.
Second course -- risotto inferno -- which I ordered on the assumption "inferno" indicated spiciness. What to my amazement the risotto was black-red, and sour. I observed:
Inferno must mean "dark and scary," and not "spicy" as it would in the U.S.
I nudged the risotto around and pondered every bite. I heard the people sitting next to me murmur about me. No doubt making fun of how I'd just ordered the one dish on the menu that was decidedly tourist unfriendly. [Just so it's clear though: I loved the dish. It just came at me totally out of left field is all.] One of them kept telling the other two to shush in the universal language of a finger at his pouting lips, and then finally he leaned over and said:
You li~~ke za riSO...tto?
(formatted to approximate his accent)
Anne: Yes, but I think it was cooked in vinegar. Aceto. I like it but it's sour.
Man: Ah... I~ think it i--z not! aceto. I~ think it i--z waaahn.
Man: Si. In facto, I know! it i---z. I am the owner of this restauranto.
Anne: (Face turning the color of the risotto)
Alfredo was the owner of the restaurant, which specialized in Tuscan cuisine. Risotto Inferno was named for the red wine the rice is cooked in. Red=Hell.
Alfredo insisted I join his party and let him feed me all their specials. I can safely say I'd never had any of these foods before. Rare steak filleted from the spine (a two-foot long section of the bovine spine on a silver platter, to be exact), with bitter olive oil as sauce. Pure raw chocolate inside chocolate ice cream. Grappa, Sambuca, Biondi wines (I know these aren't exotic beverages but I just hadn't had them before).
His friends were a show in and of themselves too. Filippo, a doctorate, and the director of the insurance division of a major Swiss bank. Priscilla, a designer at Dolce & Gabanna. Francesca, the head of T.T. Holding, whose biggest client is Toyota Europe. David, Priscilla's colleague, and dead ringer for Gary Sinise.
Despite being the five richest people I now knew, my new Italian friends were entertained by the fact that I was in town for the Furniture Fair, an event they see take over their lovely city every year but had never participated in. I talked my best talk, and by midnight we were promising to be each others godparents.
After we'd sucked the RoRo vine of all its liquor, Alfredo asked:
12:00am Wish Nightclub. It's like a Bret Easton Ellis version of Milan. Alfredo leads us past a swollen crowd of miniskirts and Armani suits to get into the club/bar. The owner of the bar is the color of a Hermes bag he's so fake-tanned. Leads us in and buys us rounds of champagne and limoncello. We go out to the smoking area where five different West Indians beg Alfredo to buy off their roses for his ladies. His "no!"s get increasingly irritated, but finally he admits:
Two of these guys come to my restaurant every night. (Alfredo pulls his fingertips in like a drawstring bag, and shakes invisible maracas in the air. Eyes half-closed.) I am so prrroud! So prrroud they come to my restaurant. My restaurant! Every night they come!!!
1:20am Some underground club near the Duomo. The totally piss-drunk Alfredo has driven the four of us through Milan to check out "the most exclusive club in the city" in his ginormous BMW, all the while yelling at Filipo to translate the "beautiful song" playing on the radio.
Filipo: (waving his hands and screaming) Don't forrrget me. Don't forrrget the memories. She is singing don't forget don't forget. OK, I think Anna understands now.
[Incidentally, Filipo lived in Boston at one point so his English was actually pretty good.]
Same routine: Alfredo leads us past a crowd and hugs the bouncers who usher us downstairs.
Afredo: I want that you meet the 80 year old bartender.
I don't know what I was expecting when he said that, but lo and behold: an 80-year old specter of a bartender wearing a perfectly creased Armani suit with white pocket square and pinky ring. His pate glistened with the product he used to gel the five strands of silver hair combed over it. He pours gin and tonics over completely transparent ice cubes.
We drink. A lot. Then we dance. Alfredo looks at me like I'm from China.
Alfredo (laughing): You do not dance like you are frrrom New York, Anna. You dance like you are from Vancouver.
2 or 3am. Outside the club. I'm supposed to take a day-trip out to Venice or Lake Como or something in just a few scant hours, and I'm dizzy from drinking. Alfredo keeps insisting I stay up all night and catch the first train out, but I am falling over myself drunk. Priscilla finally agrees we should all go home.
We had our picture taken by one of the earlier rose-vendors on a polaroid they also sell snapshots from. They decide I should keep it.
Filippo drives. In front of my hotel everyone says they hope I had a good time. I repeat several times that I had a great time.
Filipo: Don't forrrget about us. Don't forrrget Italy. Don't forrrget Milan.
Anne: Trust me. I will never forget this.