Pronto, you are in the land of Gucci and Armani

Pronto, you are in the land of Gucci and Armani

MILAN DIARY

Pronto, you are in the land of Gucci and Armani


From the moment of arrival in the land of Gucci boots and Armani suits, my ears were treated to a musical cadence of altos and allegros! The Italian sing-songs her speech, so to speak. The trajectory of a normal conversation goes from an animated high, does a do-re-mi suddenly and hits a low only to screech a moment later. This is best heard in the metro trains, trams, buses and at cafes, where the collective cackle of students, hausfrau, businessmen, wannabe models et al flood you till you feel your ears will burst.

Anglophiles be warned: There’s nary a syllable of English you’ll hear in all of Milan, leave alone a word or phrase. Banal, basic stuff is still all in Italian — water, fork, booze, days of the week, hours — even the phone is answered not with the universal ‘Hello’ but ‘Pronto.’ Why, I watched Quantum of Solace with Daniel Craig saying “mi chiamo Bond, James Bond” and even digested Slumdog Millionaire with the lil boys of Mumbai slums running around saying, “ciao amico, buona sera!”

To this day the sign-boards are all in Italian, police officials, politicians, businessmen, students, models all speak solo Italiana, “Inglese non parlez” is a common refrain. I share my apartment with a South American woman Isabelle, who speaks only Espanol and Italian and me only English. Yet we have a great conversation for an hour every night! With innovative pantomime, complicated sign language and a digital translator. I’m here to teach English to sundry Italians. Apparently. Proselytised in the process, I now very comfortably say, I like... Tomorrow it rain?... We go to take break. These things happen no?

Along with their sartorial sense, the Milanese take their nightlife very seriously. A concept unique to Milan is the apertivo, or simply, happy hours, where you can order just a drink and all the food is on the house! Little wonder then that they flock to the numerous bars and cafes by the droves post seven in the evening, all days of the week. Why, at eight in the morning on a minus two degree day, it’s perfectly normal to order a beer or a whisky and top it off with a caffe. Whilst cackling away at some Berlusconi-ism. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, by the way, is to Italians what George Bush was to comedians in the US. But it will strike you, how is it these people can sing along to the contemporary English rock blaring in the bars, in perfect diction, when they don’t speak a word of English?

You can’t help lauding the designer dreams that Milan has accumulated. Most of the denizens are very well dressed, coat, muffler, gloves, cap, sweater and boots, impeccably coordinated in the thick of winter on a heavily snowy day. Not a strand of hair out of place. And this is best displayed at — Via Monte Napoleone — the El Dorado of the fashion world.

It’s a street where the wares of Versace, D&G, Prada, Armani, Louis Vitton, Dior, Trussardi, Ferragamo et al squat in splendid casas. Monte Napoleane along with St Andrea, Porta Venezia, Corso Como forms the fashion quad or golden quad of Milan. Suffice to say bling is the watchword and even the pedigree poodle struts, branded paw to tail.

India. Yes there is a small Indian presence on the Milanese landscape, either running businesses or restaurants. The perennially packed Indian restaurants like Namaste, Sri Ganesh, Sarla, Rangoli, testify to the Milanese palate for Indian cuisine. Govind Sharma, the amiable proprietor of Namaste, is often requested by Italians if they can take pictures of the Krishna deities and paintings in his restaurant, if he knows yoga and that it has been their life’s desire to travel to Indh-ya.

On the other hand, there are Italians (like many Westerners) who really don’t know the difference between India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Here I must inform you, that Milan is teeming with Sri Lankans and Pakistanis at every piazza and street corner, every tram or metro has a smattering of Sri Lankans. Somehow my mind cannot comprehend how and why a Sri Lankan or a Pakistani would choose to migrate to Milan, of all. I mean Milan is not exactly a place promising better employment or money.

The Italians have a classic contribution to neologism, a simple single word: bou.

(pronounced beau) To impress upon them that you are no arriviste, just keep saying bou, bou, with regular frequency. Distend your face to an expression of nonchalant arrogance and disdain whilst saying it. Bou is just a muffled way of saying, I don’t know (and don’t care too much either). For the Italians, especially the Milanese, everything “depends” like: What’s your favourite colour? Depends.

Excuse me, where is the Duomo? Depends. Is your husband nice? Depends. Go figure! Oh mamma mia, did I forget another anthemic survival word — kazo! Translates to a four-letter word. No, it doesn’t start with a ‘f’!

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