To travel well requires a receptively blank mind. Quiet the inner chatter. Silence the inner critic and accept what comes my way. So with my husband away on business and the kids and I in Milan for a few days, I start my morning…
Milan, 7am. At my kitchen window. “My” elderly couple across the atrium is early risers. They are mine because, not on purpose, I see them every day. He emerges from their dark brown door at 7am in grey dress slacks, a white sleeveless undershirt. I can’t not see the undershirt because his short sleeved white dress shirt is open like a jacket. He’s of slim build but moves as an old man – rocking from side to side as each step moves him along the balcony of our shared inner courtyard. Garbage bag in hand, he moves slowly on his mission, door left ajar behind him, and out of my sight.
Urban sounds. A digital alarm clock bleats. Doves coo. Kitchen dishes rattle. Keys jangle an ancient door lock. A spoon clinks in a cup of cappuccino? The “ding” of the elevator as it slides in compliance of a pushed command. The low drone of a fan. The high pitched hum of an electric tram engine. Faded “clacks” of its wheels carrying commuters out of the neighborhood. Snap, snap of a rug shaken out over the iron balustrade below my elderly friend. A flustered chorus of sparrows disturbed. Male voices.
A not-quite-so-elderly woman in a shapeless or perhaps Kleenex-box shaped dress flutters over her window boxes of geraniums and greenery. She leaves, and her shadow moves behind her windows. She shuffles and returns several more times to her greenery with a small cup. The shriveled nature of her box display makes me hopeful they are getting water.
A middle-aged woman on the balcony above her stands in her doorway fiddling with something in her hands-texting, I wonder? I have seen her on previous evenings hanging over the balustrade, smoking. She is two floors up and across the building when she does this, in the company of another woman, companionably smoking, their voices of shared experience and opinion echoing into the evening air and over our rooftops. This morning she emerges to deposit a large, bulky shopping bag on her friend’s doorstep and leaves it undisturbed. The curtains at her friend’s flat are drawn and her dish rag hangs limply on her clothesline – a lonely customer for a non-existent breeze.
The air is cool but will not stay this way today. Above the terracotta roof tiles the sky is blue. And the early sun glows on the buildings’ stucco. Soon enough my children and I will all feel sticky in the heat as we navigate our 124 steps to the streets of Milan.
7:30. my children are stirring. Church bells…and louder, and more male, voices. Another large bag is deposited at the friend’s door and with purse over her shoulder, the woman leaves for her day. More noises elsewhere…doors banging, female voices. “Alora!” “Ciao, si, si…” And my elderly friend and his wife have pulled out chairs and are sitting on their balcony. Metal folding chairs, she in a black loose dress and both of them with coffee cups in hand.
Our day begins.