I, your King-Ludwig sized friend, have arrived in Italy.
If you have ever played with model trains as a kid (or still do), you probably (like me) had a fascination with tunnels. You know how it is; trains belonging to all sorts of tracks sort of squiggle into various entrances dug in the sides of snowcapped peaks and then they all but disappear, only to come out scrambled onto each others tracks magically or something… I think all these were modelled after the swiss rail system. The whole way through the alps down to Milano was in and out of tunnels – a marvel of engineering for sure.
Waiting for us at the station was our gracious host, Caterina. Her impressive residence, which was a mere 1k from the train stop and an ancient monastery, used to belong to her grandmother, and was therefore incredibly interesting for me to explore. It was incredibly comforting to be welcomed in to a warm fireplace, responsive wifi, and delicious freshly made risotto.
The next day Caterina took us around Pavia and showed us the local sites (and food). A highlight for me was the crypt and relics of St Augustine. I find it absolutely amazing that things so old (8th century!) and so spiritually potent are commonplace here, so much so that they are sometimes overlooked. Having the place to ourselves, David examined the crypt in greater detail while Caterina and I had a nice brief meditation in our first Roman-Italian church.
After looking through a bit more of Pavia (the university, the river, 2 more churches and dozens of towers), we returned home for another homecooked meal of pasta with artichokes, zuchinni and fresh bufalina mozarella. Caterina insisted that this was not the best cheese she could get us, but I assured her that it was in fact the best mozarella I’d ever had.
Later in the afternoon David and I failed to see the Last Supper, which apparently requires reservations – but it was not an utter failure because we still saw Santa Maria delle Grazie and managed to explore a lot of Milan’s castello. When we were finished, Caterina and her husband Valerio picked us up for an authentic Italian pizza dinner.
Some topics of dinner conversation include:
Caterina: Vale, there is a menu of 100 pizzas and you had to go and make up your own?
Waiter: (with a slightly confused look, turns to me) And for you?
Me: I’ll have what he just made up *point to Valerio*
Waiter: Are you sure? It will be an… interesting pizza. With something like Philadelphia cream (I think this was in reference to the buffalina, which I found almost offensive to his mozarella).. I don’t know what to call it, its not authentic Italian
Me: Yes, I’m sure, I’ll have ‘the Valerio’
Caterina: Janak was mentioning how the British use ‘cheers’ for everything. Cheers thank you, cheers goodbye, cheers your welcome, cheers I love you…
Valerio: Oh… well then I cheers you!
Caterina: Ah thank you!
Valerio: but now you don’t know which I am saying!
Caterina: So now we will have hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinamon, as well as some gelato that is with real cream, no powders or artifical flavors
Me: Wow, I just had a whole pizza and I can’t believe you are making me hungry again
Caterina: I’m Italian, its my job.
And I don’t think she could have said it much better. So far the Italians have lived up to their hospitable stereotypes. I’m on a train to Roma now, where we will be spending the next two weeks immersed in history and food and the history of food.