Thursday, 27 March 2014

Mars, bringer of war

The fleeting Milanese Spring

Mushy choice (to listen to)::

March has been a particularly challenging month. I have been forced to ask questions, reevaluate certain things and face up to others. Could the the tower of Babel principle be extended to nationalities too? I often feel like all the really good people, that is to say the dreamers, should be together. Were they once? Did someone back in 100 BC commit a crime so offensive to the gods that this dream world was shattered and these dreamers were dispersed and disconnected from one another? I have some of the best friends imaginable, but they are all in different countries. They are interesting people, creative, curious about the world, tolerant, profound and yet at the same time fun to be around. Where are these people when I need them? For the most part, they are not here, and geographical distance makes me sad. Goodbyes do too. I have had my fair share in the last few years, though a really high proportion have occurred in the last year. Airports, train stations and bus stops as highly emotional places for me. I often choose to avoid them when people are going rather than arriving.

Coming to Milan hasn't been easy. I was born in a small city, Bath, lived most of my life in a small seaside town in Dorset on the Jurassic coast, and for the last few years have spent my time between Edinburgh and the highlands, where my parents (and cats) now reside. I am used to green grass, lazy days with cats, cooking produce straight from the garden and walking out of my door and seeing hills or castles. I often ask Italians whether they like Milan, the answer often conveys that there is a lot of things to do, it's a good place to work/study, but overall they would rather live elsewhere. I remember neorealist films depicting the pianura padana and Milan as a realm of ennui and stress, the dark urban crevice between two beautiful mountain ranges.The town has a lot in common with Berlin, in that it was largely destroyed during the second world war and then rebuilt in the 50s and 60s. This means that in pretty much every street there is a great mix between old and new. I would argue however that whilst Berlin has renewed its image and recreated an extremely individual identity for itself, Milan is kind of soulless.  There are loads of things to do here, people are always busy, but they are here for money or capitalistic reasons like shopping, not because it's their ideal city. Most dreamers have a constant desire to move away or visit the mountains during the weekend....

My experience of Milan is also shaped by the fact that most of my recent process of "discovering" places is actually a "revisiting" process. I knew this city pretty well already, I have been here many times before, but  under different circumstances. Seeing the same places from a slightly different perspective has been surreal and at times sad, though I guess it's a part of growing up. 

I have found some areas of Milan which are truly beautiful, for example the area in which I work, Montenero near Porta Romana, Brera and Washington are calm areas with plenty of trees and parks to distract you from the hectic city life. Being a massive city and cultural melting pot, Milan does offer some of the things which I love about London too. There are endless opportunities: I have recently taken up climbing and there are numerous climbing halls with great facilities, I have found a yoga hall which specialises in MY type of yoga (ashtanga), I have a massive choice of swimming pools, theatres and cinemas, I can always find what I am looking for, you can try food from anywhere on the globe, there are three airports and there's a massive train network, meaning I can travel anywhere. As far as universities and jobs go, the university here is relatively well-organized, the building is beautiful, and upon matriculating I didn't face much bureaucracy. I have found finding a job as an English teacher extremely easy (I may post about the advantages of being a traveling English mother tongue in the near future), and a relatively enjoyable way of earning money.

My linguistic missions are never fading. I must confess that after just 3 years of study, I feel extremely content with my level of Italian. Whilst I may still struggle with Medieval texts, I can cruise through contemporary works. More importantly, I can dream, think and reason with the language without giving it a second thought. It's now a part of me. I am maintaining my French with Duolingo and le Monde. In all honesty I have neglected Chinese lately, feeling more of an impetus to brush up on my basic Japanese in order to get by this summer. I am studying German as an outside course, which is proving to be really enjoyable, and the pace is satisfying fast.

Despite my obvious criticisms with regards to Milan, I have found some solace in climbing. It offers a refuge in the city and an escape from the city, and an opportunity to get up close to nature and interact with it. I am finally coming out of hibernation and doing some exercise, also in the form of running and swimming. I have found two great climbing companions/teachers who have taught me the ropes and are pushing me every time we climb together.

Climbing in Valle d'Aosta

There are also some exciting projects I have coming up: seeing Chris Sharma tomorrow, a yelp elite event on Monday (to which I am taking three VIP guests), skydiving, a trip to the Cinque Terre and potentially also Verona in April. Then of course Japan and Vietnam this summer after a little time at home in Scotland. I do however have to take some written and oral exams here in May and June.

Milan is not my favourite city in the world, but it has taught me that I am not a city-for-the-sake-of-it kind of person. I love nature, and need some kind of balance between nature and an urban environment. It is also super important for me to find some "personality" in a city, something which I can identify with and feel a part of. 

I am still a long way from knowing where I will "end up" one day, though for the meanwhile I can say that I really miss Edinburgh. Aside from the bitter cold and strong winds, it really is a perfect city. It's beautiful, cultural, full of green spaces, eclectic, eccentric, alternative, independent, international...  There is something for the adventurous and something for those who want a cosy place to have some tea and cake. I am pretty ready to go back for my final (and stress-filled year). But first, three more months here. Let's do this...

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Courses, Climbing and Carnevale.

So I am "well" into my courses now, even if everything still seems quite introductory. Surprisingly the Italian university system does excite me far more than the French one, I feel quite motivated to read and study as no one is pushing me to do so. That said, my reading list is already pretty long and daunting. I have also been assigned the courses I wanted for 4th year in Edinburgh: The Monster in French literature and Freud in France. Another long reading list...

The last few weeks have been intense in terms of socialising, trying out classes, and going on day trips. I have had many visitors and a lot to organise. Now I have hit the month mark, having arrived on the 8th February. I am generally enjoying myself here, but do feel an intense need to "re-appropriate" this city by experiencing new things. I have also tried to do whatever I can to keep my spirits raised and body healthy during the last few Winter months. What has happened in the past few weeks that is worthy of mentioning?

Yelp organised a climbing event a few weeks ago at Rockspot Sud-est. For 15 euros, yelpers got full equipment hire for an hour and a half, an instructor and full access to all facilities in the climbing hall. We also got unlimited access to the sauna. I was a little skeptical about climbing initially, knowing I sucked at bouldering which requires a lot of strength. Luckily for me, climbing seems to be more about technique and balance, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent at Rockspot. The sauna was also very relaxing, and I got a late night lift home from some fellow yelpers. Yelp is a great way to meet people in a city and try out new things.

I mentioned the many visits. Shortly after Vivek went home, my boyfriend came to town. After a whirlwind tour of Milan we were off to Venice for the carnival, something which I have always been interested in seeing. This was my 4th trip to Venice, and it was a very different. We tried to The masked visitors came in an impressive array of colours. We also saw a famous Korean pop star, and left the concert swiftly. Venice is still the beautiful, romantic but touristic labyrinth it once was, but I have changed. The first day wasn't so busy, being Friday, and we were incredibly lucky to have a sunny and warm day in February. In the evening we walked through almost empty streets listening to classical music which was reverberating through the narrow streets. We walked for ages trying to find the source, and eventually hit a city wall and watched the lights of what were probably fireworks illuminating the night sky. It was truly surreal. It felt like a reenactment of some war scene with cannon balls flaring in the distance and the unlikely calming sound of Vivaldi and Grieg. The next day was less pretty due to intense rain and attraction closures, but we did get to see a massive downpour and a hail storm.



Back in Milan we tried Passaggio Obbligato, a bouldering hall which seems pretty popular in Milan. It was small but there was a nice vibe. We both found the difficult routes demotivating, however, and the grips were pretty old and used. I doubt I will do bouldering again, given the pain I subsequently felt in my arms. During the course of his stay we ate a lot of food out, including an aperitivo at my favourite bar Ginger cocktail lab, a Japanese dinner, a mediocre Indian Thali and lots of pizza...

A day after he left I was reunited with three friends from Grenoble. They were only in town for a couple of days, during which we met up with some of my Italian friends and found that we could converse in many different languages. We walked a lot, talked, they got to see my university and Milan in the sun, we ate pizza and lots of vegan food, I felt sad when they left. Too many sad goodbyes this month, for each goodbye I went back to my room feeling lonely with a sense of emptiness. Their presence made me nostalgic about Grenoble, and I had a great yearning to spend some time in the mountains.

Fortunately my craving was satisfied. A few hours after they left a guy on couchsurfing invited me to go climbing by Lago Iseo at Predore. I felt a little unsure, I had kind of planned on spending Saturday in pajamas feeling sorry for myself and trying to catch up on work. I went on a run to get a clearer mind, and decided to say yes. I was then informed that another seat was free, and at the last minute invited an old school friend along, Dorothy, the one who hosted me during my first week. It was too late to hire equipment, but she borrowed my harness and one of the guy's friends. We had a beautiful day, 21 degrees celcius and a cloudless blue sky. I managed 4 climbs, one was 5 or 6b (I think probably the first) which was a little ambitious being a beginner, but with a slow and steady pace, I managed. Our host and his friend were lovely people who kept helping us out and giving us tips as we attempted our first climbs. We spent the entire day out there and finished off the day with a picnic and a drink in a bar by the lake. Being outside really brightened my spirits and made me feel happier here in Milan. I will definitely keep this up and would like to try out some of the other outdoor sports which are available in Lombardy, such as kayaking and canyoning.

In the last week I have made a few investments, a climbing harness and a pair of climbing shoes. Yoga costs 13 euros a class here vs 10 euros for climbing. Which seems the best value? I am now just doing yoga twice a week in my room with my Decathlon yoga mat, run 1-2 times a week and intend to go climbing 1-2 times a week, once in rockspot and again in a natural setting, which provides a great excuse to escape city life.

This week I am getting my haircut (potentially a fringe?), keeping up English lessons and catching up on work I have missed whilst entertaining people. On the horizon I have a trip to Turin planned with a nice Grenoblois, 2 seasons of breaking bad to plough through, a mountain of work, a few tea/coffee socials,  and another outdoor climb in a fortnight.