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A pervasive sense of style

I might have my issues with China but that said, one of my favourite places in the world to have breakfast is in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I love the hustle and bustle. The mania that passes for normalcy. The smells. The noise. Even the windows dressed with dead ducks have their appeal.

Practically every Chinatown I’ve visited has been the same – full of life and vigor: Vancouver BC, Los Angeles, London, New York. And that in itself had created a pattern in my mind, a pattern that has been broken by Chinatown in Milan.

IMG_0136 (800x600)Okay, in fairness, while San Francisco’s Chinatown has its origins in the gold rush of the 1900s and takes up about 22 blocks of the city, the one in Milan is much, much smaller and far more recent.

Chinese immigrants first arrived in the city as far back as the 1920s but it wasn’t until 1979 and onwards that they started to come in earnest. By the turn of the century, there were about 10 000 Chinese immigrants in the city – and probably more today. Located between the streets of Via Paolo Sarpi, Via Bramante, and Via Canonica, Milan’s Chinatown is one with a difference.

IMG_0154 (800x600)And what makes it different? It has style. Milanese style. The Milanese are a stylish people. Enviably so. And, apparently once the Chinese vendors figured out what makes the Milanese tick with regard to shopping preferences, they adapted accordingly. Instead of the noisy chaos, there’s a quite elegance about the place. Duck is still readily available but the window space is given up to parma hams. Chinese ‘stuff’ in all its forms and fancies is to be had, but displayed with a certain panache that San Francisco probably wouldn’t know what to do with. And while many locals moved out when the Chinese retailers first moved in, they’re slowly coming back. The area is prospering.

IMG_0142 (800x592)IMG_0158 (800x598)And yes, there are the money markets, and the tacky shops selling the usual Chinese fare but even those have some class. But there are  expensive designer shops, too – more upmarket – catering to the Milanese pocket and the Asian tourist. It has everything that your usual Chinatown has – in style. I was bemused.

IMG_0147 (574x800)What got me though, was how well the two cultures have blended and how part of the city Milan’s Chinatown is. It seems to have assimilated. Or has it? I read that Chinatown is the target of many prejudices and tension. The fear that many Italians have of China is mainly due to the fact that the very important fashion business suffers from dumping prices and copying.

And apparently moves are afoot to relocate it to another part of town… where it would be ‘less infringing’. Who knows.  If you’re in Milan, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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Grateful 20

It’s been years since I’ve had a roommate. Yes, I have the occasional house (flat?) guest – but rarely for more than a week at a time. I’ve not had to share my precious space with any degree of regularity for a very long time. So when I heard myself saying: ‘sure – no problem – stay as long as you like’, I shocked myself.

‘As long as you like’ turns out to be a little over a month. And I was away for most of that – so in all reality, the co-share happened for one week, with a break, and then another week. But all the time I was away, I was house-sharing, too, (except for two days). So, in effect, for the last five weeks or so, I haven’t been living on my own. And surprisingly, I’ve lived to tell the tale. Actually, I’ve quite enjoyed it.

My plants are good company but they’re not ones for talking back or offering an opinion. Spending a few hours in San Francisco pairing socks was quite a treat. Doing load after load of laundry (with a dryer) was better than a day out at Disneyland. Cooking for more than just me is downright pleasurable, especially as I don’t have to do dishes. And having my windows cleaned… now that made my year. Who would ever have thought that glass could be opaque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was getting a little worried there for a while that I might have gone beyond redemption, that I might no longer be fit to live with someone else. But as the inimitable GM gets ready to move across the river, I’m grateful that she’s taught me that I’m still livable with. All is not lost. What a relief!

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Noticing the unnoticed

It was shortly after midnight. I was standing on a street corner near Fisherman’s Wharf waiting for a cab. Up the road, one stood waiting outside Fiddler’s Green, its light on to show it was vacant. I assumed it was waiting for someone to finish their beer so I didn’t walk towards it. Instead I waited. Patiently. I was in no hurry back to my hotel.

It crawled towards me and stopped. I got in. The driver turned and said that he liked what I was wearing. It was very colourful, and if he might be so bold, he also liked the frame on which it was hanging. I laughed.

Robert Graham is a self-professed connoisseur – by which he means that he notices things that other people don’t see; he enjoys what he terms ‘the privilege of noticing the unnoticed’. Of German and Irish ancestry, he has racked up more then sixty years on his meter and has been driving a cab in San Fran for the last twenty-five. Before that he wrote garbage for the Associated Press – his words, not mine.

As we started to climb the hills to Fillmore and Fell, he talked. He spoke of life and how disposable it is. He spoke of how we no longer see each other; we no longer take the time to really look. He told me that he meets lots of interesting people and that his friends are always amazed because they never seem to meet anyone of note. He said it wasn’t rocket science – you just had to look, to notice.

As he’d noticed me.

He told me that the Irish were known for their introspection, and for conversing with their muses. He is writing a book that his agent reckons will make him rich in his old age. But he doesn’t need the money. He has enough. What’s more important is that he leaves a legacy; something to show what his life has stood for. He is convinced that he was put on Earth to write his books and to share with the world the things he’s noticed – the things they would never notice unless he pointed them out. He wasn’t boasting or self-aggrandising. He spoke with a quiet conviction that left no room for incredulity. I believed every word he said.

He told me that I was almost at my destination and that he regretted that the trip had been so short. He would like to talk more to me, to get to know me, to whisper in my ear. He told me he saw the beauty in me and that quiet certainty that said I knew myself.

The meter read $14.50. I gave him a $20 and told him to keep the change – it might finance a few words, perhaps even a whole sentence. He said he wanted to give me something and that all he could do was to give me a discount. He asked if I’d accept $10 change. I thought about insisting that he take it all and then realised how selfish I was being. This was his cab, his story, his show.

I said I’d keep an eye out for his book. He said that if ever I was walking down the main street in my home town and heard a fat man calling to me, it would be him.

I laughed and said goodbye, knowing he’d already left a legacy – he’d shared with me the privilege of noticing the unnoticed.

Grateful 22

Last Saturday, I was in Ireland at my oldest friend’s wedding. She’s not the oldest person I know, but aside from my family, she’s the friend I’ve known the longest. We’ve been friends for 40 years. I had a ball. It had been 20 years and more since I’d met a lot of her family and while I recognised most of them, few of them recognised me. I’d been keeping track of them over the years and had regular updates from Úna about what was going on in their lives, so I had the advantage. I took a perverse pleasure in chatting to them and watching them search frantically for a name to put to the face and the context … and then fail miserably. The excuses? I’d changed my hair and now wore glasses. Not once was time a factor.

This Saturday, I’m in San Francisco for what would have been my best friend’s 50th birthday. We’d been friends for 21 years. I’m catching up with people I met 10 years ago – recognising faces but having a hard time putting a name to them. They’ve been hearing about me over the years from Lori and so now the shoe is on the other foot. I’m the one at the disadvantage. Many tears have been shed and many more are still in the making. It’s a tough time for everyone.

These two women – both of whom have played an important role in my life – have never met. I think sometimes at how segrated my life is. Sometimes, my relationships remind me of a slice of pizza. The segments/chapters of my life are the slices and I’m the plastic piece in the middle that keeps the lid of the box from soaking up the cheese. I have a leg in every slice and yet most of the slices barely touch.

Numerous times in the past week, I’ve had to encapsulate the last 10 or 20 years of my life into a few sentences and in each retelling I find myself marvelling at what a truly blessed life I lead. As someone put it yesterday – I’m living the life that most people dream of.

Today, as we celebrate Lori’s birthday, I’m truly grateful for my pizza.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

The Hungarian Jägermeister

I brought a bottle of Unicum with me on my trip to San Francisco. I knew my mate PW was an inveterate Jägermeister head and figured that I’d educate his palate by treating him to a bottle of Hungary’s finest. Personally, I lost enough of my youth to Jägermeister and have never been a great fan of Unicum, but that didn’t stop me spreading the joy (or is that misery?). He produced the bottle at Jack’s in the Cannery and treated all those present to a shot – a taste test as it were.

The term Jägermeister was born in Germany in 1934, making its first appearance in the new Reichsjagdgesetz (Imperial Hunting Laws). According to Wikipedia, the term was applied to senior foresters and gamekeepers in the German civil service, while the topmost gamekeeper was Reichsjägermeister Hermann Göring. Thus, when the liquor was introduced in 1935, the name was already familiar to Germans and was occasionally called Göring-Schnapps. YouTube is rife with accounts of the damage this drink can do… despite its composition being mainly herbs, fruit, roots and spices (56 in all, compared to Unicum’s 40)  including anise, poppy seeds, saffron, ginger, and ginseng. It sounds almost healthy. I’d heard at one stage that it was banned in 13 US states because of its opiate content… but then maybe I’d had a shot or two and just imagined this.

As the brave lined up to sample this exoticism, eager to find something that would outdo the Jäger and enter the folklore of San Fran’s finest imbibers, I sat back and watched. Had I had my camera on me, the pictures of those faces would have spoken a thousand words … and more. Various pronouncements (most of which can’t be repeated lest this blog spontaneously combust) made it quite clear that Jägermeister it wasn’t. Nothing like it at all. Then began the conversation as to which other digestif it compared to.  By the time they’d reached a conclusion, the bottle was empty. Enough said.