The train car is almost empty.
It is just past midnight.
This is our last time on the airport train…the Malpensa Express.
I am sitting across from him — his eyes are closed. Behind him two men have boarded the train. The controllore stops by to check their tickets. They have none.
They fish in their pockets for euros. He begins talking with them about the World Cup — about South America. They are all laughing now. The controllore is entertaining them — seems he is quite charismatic.
He seems to love his job.
Now we are in the taxi line at Cadorna Station. Now in the taxi. It is super late.
Or super early.
It is our last week.
The next morning it is a miracle to wake in Milano…lunedì — Monday.
After laying out the first load of laundry to dry, I hit the streets.
The sun is strong, reflecting off the pavement, the streetcar rails, again.
Already it is so hot — fa caldo!
But the locals — they play it cool.
Long sleeves in light fabrics — they seem unaffected. Women in skirts and pants that swing when they move…swish swish swish. They are all delicious and I want to hold them all in my eyes, in my heart.
I go to my regular place with my tea, my carafe of water. Here there is air, diffused light, green growing things all around. I love this place.
On a Monday morning, even, there is a couple sitting near the entrance, canoodling.
I told S that I thought the week would go fast. Good thing, they said…because otherwise it might be excruciating. But…miracle…I can start school again this week. And he is busy at work, anyway. This is the day that I walk back into class. The teacher is super funny. We are all laughing. He inscribed his book for each of us…for me…alla prossima…until next time, he says.
And I am packing. Bags get neon orange luggage tags. I break a duffle simply in the act of testing a zipper. The pantry is empty. Refrigerator…empty. I stop to buy a gift from my favorite artisan downstairs, pop into my favorite boutique and receive a hug.
I am lucky to have a dinner with B across town. I am lucky to have a day with S. We are like twelve-year olds…we buy matching bracelets. I pack some more, listening to the news from home.
R and I have an apertivo with S. We laugh the whole time. Then is the last morning with S. The lunch with W. More goodbyes.
The last day now.
Absence of taxis (darn turisti!) so I make myself walk to Bridge, to sit, to say goodbye. To my disappointment Livio is not there. I cannot say goodbye to him — cannot thank him for recognizing me morning after morning for greeting me when the days were dark and difficult. But I order my last one — I sit at a table facing the Naviglio Pavese. Two men over the age of seventy, in pink long-sleeved shirts, despite the heat, stand next to the Naviglio and throw bread to the ducks. They talk, they gesture to the ducks. Here, the ducks speak Italian — they know all the gesti — the gestures.
Everyone walking in is talking about the heat. Fa caldo! — they are saying…this is like Sicilia! But in Sicilia, it is chilly and raining.
Last night there was a festa, a party, a gathering, at a really old public pool which has been remodeled as an absolutely gorgeous social gathering place, with flowers growing everywhere, grasses, food, people at tables everywhere drinking Lo Spritz — talking, laughing, the most festive of Milano — women in bikinis and dressed for evening. Everyone without shoes. They are removed at the entrance. They called it Nudo Piedi — Barefoot Apertivo. On the longest day of the year we sat with our friends.
We parted with the words “big American hug” and best wishes for each other — for health, for luck, for happiness.
We enjoyed the beautiful night, the beautiful city until long after sunset, then hailing our taxi and dropping into bed.
Just under the surface are our feelings. We leave a large part of ourselves here in Milano, in Italia. We are acutely aware of this.
But this morning…we are putting socks and other small things in the tiniest crevices in the suitcase. The last bottle of wine goes to work with R.
I memorize every detail of every bearded man, every young woman in a pink dress with black sneakers and every black dress with sparkly ones. Bicycles cut in front of automobiles and the drivers turn, see me and shrug. This has happened more times than I can count.
There is new graffiti everywhere. It says “Resistiamo” — we will resist. It says “Difendiamoci” — we will defend ourselves. It says “No nazis in my town”. It says “F— the Fascisti”.
It is a difficult day for everyone, it seems.
It is time to cross the bridge from The Bridge — for that final haircut — il mio taglio milanese.
At my haircut it was busy — they hurried me through, knowing I wanted to get to my lunch.
The lovely lunch with R’s colleagues…al ristorante Indiana. They asked me if I filled my suitcase with Italian knits. I nodded my head, R laughs.
Then class — we read the news in Corriere della Sera…then an article — we had a selfie with classmates. Day is stretching…everything is going slow and going fast.
Our proprietario arrives with a bottle of wine and cheese for us, to thank us, to apologize for not being as detail-oriented and I would have liked him to be. Call me when you come back, he says. I will find you a place to live. We exchange glances, nodding.
We go back to our favorite place, just down the street. Just the two of us. When the owner comes to the table he tells me, you guys look so sad. But we are okay. “You are my favorite dinner partner”, I tell him.
And you, he says, are mine.
We choose something light. We take pictures of the streetcars as they go by. The heat is finally breaking, there is a breeze. The meal, everything, is ending too quickly.
We walk down to the gelato place. We have to have gelato the last night, right? I order caffè con cardamom, una crema di nonna Paola — two things I have never allowed myself to have. We play with two little boys who find us extraordinarily interesting…more interesting than their cones.
And they leave. And we leave.
And we start to feel things. Too many things, we feel.
We climb the stairs. We open the door. We put the last things in the suitcases. We brush our teeth.
And just like that our last day goes by. Our last week. An academic year.
And something else…begins.
…and on our way out the door, into the taxi, our portiere says — “andate in Ingleterre?”-– you are going to England? No, I say, andiamo in Stati Uniti. We are going to the States.
“I have always wanted to go to the States,” he says. “I have always wanted to see where Elvis lived.”
Oh, Tennessee, I answer. ‘Graceland’.
“Sì’, Graceland”, he says. Then….”Alla prossima…”
Until next time….indeed.