I have spent three weeks in Milan, and I now feel a sort of immersion calm, probably stemming from the routine I’ve fallen into. I now find myself following the flow of the city, rather than standing out like a blockade in the road. My Italian is coming along quite nicely (or at least I think it is…); I can navigate the city by metro, bus, or on foot despite my appalling lack of directional sense; and I am now able to discern whether or not a restaurant is a ‘tourist trap’ (a term we’ve coined for a wildly over priced establishment). When I go shopping I no longer give off the vibe of obvious-American-tourist but rather potentially-mute-Italian, as I can understand about 95% of what anyone says to me but can rarely generate a response in an appropriate amount of time. Notwithstanding my shortcomings, the realization of these transformations has been monumental for me. I came to Italy knowing my time here will be short, and as such I endeavor to assimilate as much as I can to absorb the most I conceivably can.
Most weeks, one out of my three Italian classes occurs outside the classroom. These field studies have made finding hidden gems and local hangouts in Milan much easier. I never would have found the bar (Italian bar not American bar- think coffee not beer) with the best brioche or the bakery with the freshest bread without these excursions. Last week, we went to a restaurant and learned how to hand-make authentic Italian gnocchi and ravioli. This is a huge feat considering my complete lack of exposure to anything culinary (I’m the kind of girl that texts her parents a picture every time she makes something from her three-meal-entry-level-repertoire because she’s so proud). Though I probably won’t be able to replicate the masterpiece of a meal I created under the supervision of such a talented chef, I was able to witness how pasta is supposed to be made. With the high availability and sometimes inevitability of eating such delicious food, I’ve wondered for years how Italy as a country isn’t morbidly obese and unhealthy. But now it’s all starting to make sense. Yes, Italians eat a lot of carbs and not always healthy ones. But the carby dishes are made with fresh, simple ingredients; as opposed to the plastic or whatever it is that goes into the pasta and bread I’m used to. The norm here is to go to the grocery store 3-4 times per week, because food expires so quickly. While I initially perceived this as a hassle, I now understand the benefit. Without the addition high quantities of unhealthy preservatives, food expires. The simplicity and minimal adulteration of most food here is refreshing.
With regard to my day-to-day life in Milan, I’ve become a sort of regular at a few places close to the IES Center where I have class. In spite of a few hiccups early on (like when I ordered a ‘latte’ and was served only hot milk or when I ordered a pepperoni pizza and was served a pizza with some weird peppers), I can now sit alone at a restaurant where I usually have lunch knowing I will be joined by a specific server for some pleasant conversation and an inevitable Italian lesson. I regularly start telling a story or talking about my day in English, before I am quickly interrupted with “Madison, no… Try in Italian!” Although these not-so-subtle pushes are sometimes frustrating, I’m so appreciative of people like my new friend Francesco. He not only respects my efforts to learn about Milan’s culture and Italian language, but also helps me with it and inspires me to try even when I don’t want to. This is starkly different from the treatment I’ve received in tourist traps, where my Italian is scoffed at and responded to in snooty English. But hey, at least I’m trying. No sir, you can’t bring me down! (Because my Italian teacher told me not to lose confidence, and because I’m floating along on my daily cappuccino-induced high.)
Milan- despite all the marvelous places I’ve traveled to on free weekends, you’re still my favorite. Sto una favola!
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<p>I'm Madison Qualy- a swimmer at the University of Miami. Saint Louis bred me; Miami deals with me. I am a junior, double majoring in Ecosystem Science and Policy and Marine Affairs, and minoring in Spanish. I hope to attend law school and practice environmental law. I love sports, animals, and wine. Follow all the tomfoolery I get into in Milan via my posts!</p>