Thursday, 5 June 2014

A stroll down the Navigli canal

Let’s take a walk. Just you and me. We’re going to explore the Navigli canal, one of Milan’s best places for drinking and people watching. It’ll be fun.

We’re starting near my apartment, mainly so I can show you this charming church.

The San Cristoforo sul Naviglio

According to the Wikipedia article I looked up as we were walking here, it’s actually two separate churches cobbled together. Why build two different churches on the same site, you ask? This is Italy, my friend. Asking logical questions will stress you out. The important thing is that it’s quaint. 

The same could not be said for two curiously named places that we’re about to pass on our way along the canal. They're both closed, but that's only one of many reasons we're not going inside. Here’s the first venue:

If you're ever in London, try their English franchise, Tea Chips

Seriously, who outside of Italy would think of coffee and burgers as natural bedfellows? If this place were open, you'd see that nominative determinism is not a big thing in these parts because the patrons are usually swigging beer and guzzling crisps.

There’s not long to think about that though, because here’s a venue with an even more striking name:

Classical drinking

I have almost never seen Johann Sebastian Bar open and I’ve walked past a bunch of times. However, what I have seen, and what I am pointing out to you while you’re avoiding the dog mess on the pavement here, is that the curtains and chairs inside are gold. Puns and ostentation – what's not to like?! 

We’re still not at the main drinking area though, so let’s pick up the pace because I’m thirsty and I know you’re a bit of a lush. The rock bar we’re passing is decent and I might take you there another time, but tonight we’re going to Banco.

I like Banco because they do happy hour cocktails for 6. Also, they bring very tasty mini pizza squares with the drinks. (Technically, this is a form of aperitivo, but that’s a topic for another day.) Thirdly, the tables at the front provide excellent people watching.

Let’s sit at this one, right at the front, and have a look around.

The Italian eccentric 

Britain tends to be rather proud of its eccentrics. The first result that comes up if you type “British eccentrics” into Bing (I know, but I’ve got a Windows phone you see) begins “England may be a small country but it seems to have more true eccentrics than many larger countries”. In my view, there are as many here; people just don't make such a big deal out of it.

Hold that thought because here comes the waitress. I’ll have a Mint Julep and I recommend the Mai Tai if you’re unsure. While we wait for the drinks to arrive, why don't you have a look around? Beergut 80s rocker and his gold clad companion are a decent starting point, but there are plenty of other people here too.

The banks of the canal, seen from Banco

Check your watch. It's 6pm, which means we're right on time for the local "passeggiata." The direct translation is "little stroll," but essentially, the hours before dinner are a time to see and be seen. Half of Navigli is here. Look at the guy who just walked past you. Observe his textures and tones. His hair is silver but slicked, his blazer is blue and starched, and his white shirt is unbuttoned halfway to his navel. Tan shoes match his tanned face, while his red trousers wouldn't be out of place on a Hoxton hipster. He's pushing 70 but he walks with a flourish and there's a shine in his eye that's more than halfway hopeful.

Behind him, there's an interesting woman... and I want you to look fascinated by what I'm telling you because right now there's a rose seller heading for our table and the best way to get him to leave is to be engrossed in conversation. What? No, I'm not buying you a rose. Get over it.

Anyway, this woman I mentioned... She's over there. Do you see? She's the one with the King Charles Spaniel bobbing along beside her. Notice how the ribbon in the dog's hair corresponds with the ribbon in hers? That's no coincidence. 

I don't want you to think that Italy is full of peacocking polished people though. There are some, but that's a stereotype and not the general reality. The best thing about the passegiata is observing a panorama of life. 

Tuck in; you're on holiday

Here's a young couple, all laughter and lust. Leaning against the wall behind them is a guy who's been on his phone since we arrived. His right hand's holding the phone and his left one's in his pocket, but that's not stopping him from gesticulating. If you watch closely, you can work out what's going on.

First, his gestures were fast and – literally –
 furious. Then they became wider, more expansive. He was accepting whatever had happened; shoulders shrugging, arms spreading. Now, though, his right hand moves up and down in his pocket. He is pleading. Has he been stood up? A business deal gone wrong? Whatever has happened, he is not a happy coniglietto (bunny).

That girl in her early 20s at the next table is American. You can tell just by looking at her. She is with a group of males, and seems shy. Did she just meet them at the hostel down the road? They're hardly speaking to her. I can't quite work out the dynamic, but I'd better lower my voice – I think she knows we are talking about her.

If we spend a couple of hours here, we will see Romeos and Juliets, doubting Tommasos and moaning Micheles. We will observe hellos and goodbyes. We will watch the moon rise. We will see Italians young and old in their natural habitat. And tourists. You are far from the only tourist around here.

Let's sit back, relax and order another drink. You're buying.

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  1. very good petrois..though your writing mood has changed...its a little more cross between alan wicker/a Jackie Collins seductive teaser!! a little uncomfortable!!

  2. ps maybe i should start writing a response blog for this area...full of the tracksuit generation of some of the ugliest unkept people i ever seen! think women my age..and think prisoner cell block h...i worry for my looks if i stay in this location too long!!

  3. Cheers ears. Don't worry, the next blog is on ice cream. There won't be anything seductive about it apart from the taste.

    I definitely think you should start writing about janners and swillys. The world needs to know!

  4. :)...i never got notification for this reply...only just spied it... i shall tick the tick box and hope for the best...ah it is being forced into my googlemail inbox which i don't use..forced by the host of this blog!!

  5. The blog is on a Google platform I'm afraid... They try to force everything to do with it to go through their own apps. There's nothing I can do unfortunately!