The world has changed. I knew this, but an excellent program on Al Jazeera about Marco Polo brought this to mind. This happened on a day that I ordered some new clothes from my Italian tailor.
The man travels to meet my son-in-law, who is Italian and needs many suits for his job. We both like Italian fabrics and appreciate workmanship that is better than one can buy off the rack. Today, the tailor mentioned that he will travel to China to service new customers. There is a lot of money is China, and demand for good Western products and services is high. Italian fabric and tailoring are popular, as are German cars and French wine.
The change I mentioned above has to do with fabric. At the time of Marco Polo, people in the west sought silk from China. Now, the flow of expensive fabric is in the other direction.
On my first trip to Italy, I learned the word retardo. On my second trip, I learned how to make vinaigrette.
These memories came to mind as I made my dinner last night. I wanted to write that I learned to make vinaigrette on my first trip, but careful consideration proved that to be false.
My first trip was by military aircraft to Vicenza Airbase. Because neither Switzerland nor Austria permitted US military aircraft to pass through their airspace, a roughly one hour flight took three hours. We were forced to fly around the Alps, but at least the French let us in. Vicenza offered no appeal, so we decided to take a train to Venice. I learned that all Italian trains run late, but at least the country has passenger trains.
My second trip was also by airplane, but it was with Lufthansa. This was my daughter’s first trip, first time in an airplane, and first time in Italy. (It must have made a lasting impression, because she married an Italian.) I recall watching the waiter at the small hotel beside Lago Maggiore whip up a vinaigrette in a shallow plate with a fork. He dissolved salt and pepper in white wine vinegar and then drizzled in olive oil while constantly whisking. Fantastic. I follow the same method, but have yet to equal the taste. Still, this is far superior to any bottled variety.
The photo shows the view from the hotel where I learned to make vinaigrette. Of course, it was taken at breakfast on our terrace, one floor above the dining room.
The tailor I use flew in from Italy to take orders.
That sounds pretentious, but it is not. Well, perhaps a bit, but Italians make the best fabrics and are good tailors. They can do things with wool that no one else can. Most people will never touch such cloth, so are unable to judge the quality or the price/value ratio. The guy has many customers among bankers in Frankfurt, so he does not travel just for me. That would be prententious...and expensive
The first time I had a suit made was during R&R in Bangkok, oh so many years ago. Being from a lower middle class background, I chose the cheapest fabric. Later, I had suits made in Germany, again not being aware of the need to select good fabric. I had blazer made in Hong Kong, which was neither good quality fabric nor good tailoring. I learned about Italian fabric late in life, but still young enough to waste money and enjoy the effort.
I can usually buy clothes off the rack, because I am a standard size. That said, tailored clothes do fit better.
I do not need anything, but a new item of clothing can be nice. Anything I buy will spend most of the time hanging in my closet, because I do not dress up much. When I do, I look elegant. Mostly, I wear track suits. Still, nice clothing made of Italian fabric is a treat...
I do have enough neckties, which I rarely use. I was not tempted from the wide selection, but the display did make a nice playground...
I noticed the following headline in today’s Time:
“Amazon’s New Grocery Service: For $299, You Never Have to Leave the House Again”
I like to stay home, but I also enjoy food shopping. I would not miss enduring a trip to a large super market, but I would miss visits to the variety of shops needed to prepare a proper meal: butcher, cheese shop, green grocer, bakery, etc. I like to ask about sources, freshness, and recommendations.
Today, I discovered a new shop: an Italian grocery store. Upon entering, I felt like I had been transported to a small country town in Italy. The owner, an Italian man and his Polish wife, did all the work. He recommended wines and let us sample; she manned the meat and cheese counter, where we also sampled before we bought. Shopping can be so much fun and a social event in such a place. For anyone interested in good food, Amazon cannot replicate such an experience. I’m sure everything would come wrapped in plastic...
After seeing hotels, office buildings, malls, and the airport in Dubai, one can only wonder if any marble remains in Italy's mountains.
One does still run across relics of the past, who have not received word about progress in human rights and civil justice.
After reading newspapers in Italy, one would not be criticized for believing that the Middle Ages had not ended. Of course, they have not for that Italian enclave known as the Vatican, which still dwells in the Dark Ages or even earlier.
That is the only explanation for a recent court decision convicting scientists of manslaughter for not predicting an earthquake. Vatican geniuses condemned Michelangelo, when his was correct. These legal geniuses have condemned men who could not know.
This is the opposite of what is happening in the US, where people do not even believe in science. No scientist could be convicting of anything.
Today, we took a trip by train to Milan. Why? Because driving to and in that city is a disaster,and parking is worse. The train ride was pleasant, easy, and quick. We need one hour and twenty minutes from the northern end of Lake Como to Milan Central Station, which might have the most-beautiful train station facade in the world.
Summer sales raged in Milan, which is not a bad city in which to face such a rage. Prices of the best fashion and footwear are slashed radically, to make space for the next collection. Who in their right mind would want to wear last season's rags? We succumbed to the lure of a bargain.
Then, we had a great lunch at what I believe is Milan's best trattoria, Baguta. Because we showed up early and at lunch, we were lucky enough to be given a table. This famous restaurant is hidden is a tiny street in the fashion district and does not look like the kind of place that is usually booked solid. But, the food is great and the ambience unique.
One can easily be confused by architecture, especially when tourist flock to every form of holy spot. Worshippers of human deities, ie. brands and their creators, as well as followers of an imaginary old man with white beard have their own monuments in Milan.
At the following structure, people marvel at the creativity and workmanship of humans. A few even leave a contribution in the alms box.
But, the big money comes from something less holy: advertising.
Most people leave their money across the way at similar architectural gems, where the rent for retail space means high priced goods must be sold and names like Gucci and Prada hold people in thrall..
When struggling up or along alleys in Italian villages, one has troubling reconciling the surface with the fact that this country designs and produces such fashionable high heels for women.
Bellagio is, perhaps, the most famous town on Lake Como--I had heard its name. Someone had warned me that Americans swarm the streets. Because the ferry ride is short, easy, and inexpensive, we decided to see for ourselves.
The town is picturesque, well-kept, flowered, and obviously affluent. More tourists fill the narrow streets than in other towns, but are not disturbing. For the first time, I hear Russian babbled. The shops and restaurants are upscale, but the prices are surprising low for such tourist mecca. I am pleased by the lack of neon and familiar retail names. Each business has a unique personality.
Italians are the best at mixing old and new in design, with old taking precedent where old should take precedent. The marriage of stone and metal can be marvelous.
Bellagio is well worth the trip and a town we would visit again. One should not expect shopping malls, Starbucks, Walmart, cinema complexes, or any other blight ravaging US communities. Taxes pay for civic beauty, and strict zoning restrictions ensure continuity. Food is traditional Italian...and excellent. I imagine that one might be able to find a hamburger, but I spotted none on any menu. Pizza, good pizza, yes, but not hamburgers. And, the best ice cream I have had in years, if ever.
The poor Germans, still suffering from starting and losing a war...
Italy and, to a lesser degree, spain were liabilities for Hitler. Now, a worthless army of yesteryear has been replaced by a failing economy in each country. Germans are being forced to pay high taxes and work for more years (than folks in those countries, to name just two)...which might be considered continued war reparations.
The recent bailout of bungled economies and banks in Europe is a fine example of the saying “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission”. Many lived a nice life on borrowed money...and now get more...from folks that have been industrious and thrifty...and stupid.
This is summed up in one Daily Mail Headline:
“Italy claims second victory over Germany in 24 hours
after Euro leaders hammer out bail-out deal against Merkel's wishes’”
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.