A Milanese Aria
Spontaneous and heartfelt ... at the post office - A THREE-MINUTE TRAVEL TALE
A Milanese Aria
La Posta Centrale of Milan feels like a train station at rush hour. I shift my bag to the other arm, my weight to the other foot.This is going to take forever. I could finish an entire crossword while I am waiting in line. This grand marble structure with its domed ceiling, sends back the echoes of quick stiletto-heeled footsteps, the rustling of newspapers, the crying of babies. Italians have learned how to form a line, in a way. Of course, older people are always allowed to cut into the front of the line as a courtesy, so it takes longer than one would imagine. Everyone is talking loudly, waving their hands, amiably bustling about.
I watch this dance of Italians: people scurrying across the wide hall in all directions, in, out, arms full of packages, drippy umbrellas trailing. Stylish cadaverous models, bored, chewing gum. Older women in expensive, impeccable suits and carrying Fendi shopping bags. Children are running, playing tag, slipping and sliding, their mothers half-heartedly trying to corral them without losing their places in line. It’s a Milanese madhouse, total Italian bedlam. As a visitor, I am loving every minute of it.
Now a small elderly man comes in the south door, a black fedora is on his head, a jaunty wool scarf wound around his neck. A yellow knitted vest peeks out of his overcoat. He carries heavy net shopping bags – one in each hand. He shuffles to the middle of the hall, puts down his burdens. Taking off his hat and pressing it to his chest, he looks up at the dome and begins to sing. I recognize O Soave Fanciulla, an aria from La Boheme. The crowd becomes absolutely silent as the slightly wavering tenor voice fills the entire post office. Everyone turns toward him. All buying and selling and bickering stop. Children pause and stare, their fingers in their mouths.
When his song is finished, the old gentleman puts on his hat, picks up his two heavy bags, turns and walks out. No one says anything, no one applauds, they all just smile and nod at each other and turn their faces back to the business of the day.
The interlude is surprising to me, and yet so delightful, so quintessentially Italian. A man’s got to sing, so he sings. He puts a small gift out into the world. He doesn’t expect acclaim. A few minutes of unexpected beauty in the middle of the day, is treasured by everyone, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be fine if we were all just a little more Italian?
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