Tuesday, 21 June 2016

EU Referendum - A Wider Vision

I grew up looking across the English Channel. I grew up wanting to live and work in France. I grew up learning French so I could go across the English Channel and live and work in France. When I was grown up I went to live and work in France. That was before 1993 and the formation of the European Union (until then it had been the less binding EEC), which means it was less easy for a Brit to live and work 'abroad', but it was still possible. It required some focus and dedication, but that's not such a bad thing, is it? It certainly makes you question yourself closely as to your wants and desires which, you could say, is also a good thing. In the early 1990s I went to live in Italy. This was still pre the European Union, but it was still possible to live and work there. Europe was not a closed door.

All the talk about leaving the EU being a big, scary unknown black hole perplexes me. We've lived without being part of the EU a lot longer than we've lived as part of it. Back in 1993, I sat at a dinner and, greatly daring, suggested to my learned neighbour (who's now an eminent QC) that there was more than a little irony in the fact that just as we were witnessing the very bloody break up of Yugoslavia (The Yugoslav Wars), back into its original, component countries, here we were trying to mulch a whole load of historically, culturally and linguistically independent countries into an amorphous blob called the European Union. Had we not just seen that such actions end up - whether many decades down the line or not - with a mass revolt against the political and economic ambitions of the (relatively) few? At the same time (1990-91) we were witnessing the dissolution of the USSR which, crucially, signalled the end of the Cold War. It seemed a little odd that our European political leaders were thinking that scrunching together a group of disparate countries and cultures just because they shared the same bit of Planet Earth (i.e. the Continent of Europe) was a good idea. Had they just sleep-walked through the previous few years of bloody upheaval?

I am fed up with the emphasis - on both sides of the debate - on politics and economics. Why is this not about people? The Human Factor? When will politicians learn that people - especially the British it seems - do not want to be herded and dictated to? Good, effective leadership is about suggestion and example. The European Union, in its current form, is arguably the perfect hiding place for power junkies and bullies and for otherwise no-hope politicians (I'll refrain from naming names): a big unwieldy machine where people get lost and gobbled up in the cogs and wheels and pipes and where gremlins can lurk undetected.

Globalisation - another of the key arguments in the Remain camp - needs careful scrutiny too. It is a very complex subject and has spatial, economic and social connotations. Yes, the world is better linked than ever before thanks to the massive advances in transport and technology over the last century. In that sense humanity is becoming more 'global'. Everyone can travel and communicate across the planet. Trade is easier. Migration is at an all time high. Things that could never be conceived of are now possible. People's eyes are open to all the possibilities out in the big wide world. No-one is confined these days to their village or their town or their country. People's horizons can be truly broad. But does this always breed happiness? Is it not a bit like the baby who's placed in the middle of the room because the parents misguidedly think they will like crawling around and touching everything when in reality they feel insecure and vulnerable and are much happier in the confines of a playpen with a few chosen favourite toys and in sight of their parent? It's great to globe-trot, but more often than not it's even greater to 'come home'. We all need roots. We all need stability. It's a basic human need. Too much choice creates stress and confusion. Carefully selected choice is certainly an excellent thing - but can the same be said of limitless choice? And anyway, even if you don't take this view, I don't believe that globalisation is only achievable if we stay in the EU. Arguably, a world without a European superstate, would actually widen horizons still further and encourage ambitious people and adventurers to take their skills further afield, beyond the comfort of the Eurozone.

If I sound dangerously like a 'Little Englander', this in fact could not be further from the truth. I have never felt particularly 'English' (whatever that is) and am chameleon enough to embrace living in different cultures. However, it is this very experience which also teaches you how similar, yet how different, humanity can be, even within the confines of the Eurozone. I've had the most amazing times living in France, Italy and Spain - particularly living in northern Italy for four years and where my first child was born. It was a wonderful life and we made wonderful friends - Italian and multi-national - almost all of whom we are still in touch with thanks to modern mediums such as Facebook. Nevertheless, while on the one hand we never wanted to return to England, on the other hand we were very conscious that, however integrated we were, however well we spoke the language, we would never actually be Italian. We would ultimately still always be relative strangers in a relatively foreign land.

True, if globalisation and migration continues exponentially, then ultimately we should all feel 'at home' wherever we are in the world. Yet I feel this is a very, very long term ideal. It may certainly eventually happen, but I sense that The People will decide this rather than the politicians - which is what true democracy is all about. Maybe now is not quite the time; or rather, the way in which it is being presented to us is currently not palatable to all. The idea needs time to mature in people's minds and bit by bit the whole integration thing will perhaps take a more natural course. Agreed, that if we leave the EU right now, there may be a delay. Possibly a long delay. But taking stock is not such a stupid thing to do. Assess, analyse and do not be afraid. One step back may ultimately be two steps forward.

Diversification is usually what guarantees longevity (as Darwin's Origin of Species and Natural Selection prove); but such things take millennia of development and adaptation to occur. My concerns are that politicians are rushing the fusion and that there are many who just want to see it as a 'Success Story' in their own political and human lifetime which, in the vast sweep of history, is frankly absurd. If we come out of Europe now - and if others follow - this is not to say that there is no future for a united Europe. Instead it should be seen as a learning curve. The best things in life take time to mature. Why are we in such a headlong rush? Our Prime Minister went to Europe with suggestions of how things could be adjusted and he was stone-walled. Is this the right attitude for positive development of the European Union? I read it more as certain countries/politicians seeing it as a threat to their political careers as well as to their political legacy. And let us also be aware of the language: a united Europe could be a very different thing from a European Union. If we are 'united', we are usually in accord: in a 'union' there can often still be discord.

The Remain campaign has largely focused on economic disaster as their reason to stay; similarly, the Brexit campaign has been associated almost entirely with concerns over immigration quotas. Yet there will be many of us who feel neither of those things. Intelligent people will listen to both sides but ultimately draw their own conclusions from their own observations and convictions. There will undoubtedly be many who vote to leave simply because they feel the political, social and economic model isn't quite right. They will not all be fascist xenophobes causing the UK to become a marginal bit-part in the epic EU drama. Equally, there will be many who vote to stay who feel passionately that the European Union, in whatever form, is the way forward and fear that an exit vote means we will be out in the cold for ever more. While younger voters have never known a Great Britain outside the EU, older voters have. Agreed, we will not be returning to the world as it was then (which would be wholly retrogressive), but at the same time, should we feel unduly scared by the idea of being independent again? As with most things in life, you win some and you lose some: there will be losses but there will be gains. The main gain, in my view, is that we would return to being a proper democracy rather than a member of a superstate where only the most powerful seem able to have a defining voice. Perhaps the disillusionment with our politicians is associated with the fact that none of them seem to have the power any more to affect significant change.

One of the things that is being claimed by the Remain campaign, aside from economics, is that we are safer by being part of the EU. Indeed, the initial six countries that signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, did so as a reaction to World Wars 1 and 2, in an attempt to ensure that no such horrors should take place again and in the belief that we are stronger together than apart. While this is a truism, there is also an irony in the fact that the larger the European Union becomes, the more of a threat it potentially becomes to world peace. We saw the domination of the USSR last century and it was only when it broke up that the Cold War ended: now it is the European Union that is rapidly becoming this huge geo-political entity which is flexing its muscles every time its peace and ideologies are threatened. The suggestion of a European Army alarms me more than comforts me. As western democratic ideologies gain geo-political weight, so the eastern ideologies see them as more of a threat and the territorial and ethical mistakes of World War 1 and 2 (such as the Sykes-Picot agreement), let alone those of the British Empire, come back to haunt us. Terrorism in Europe is growing exponentially: is there not a link here? Moreover, the United States wants us to remain in the European Union as it sees the EU as a buffer between it and Russia. I do not feel safer for having the USA on our 'side' - in fact I see such a stance as simply provoking the age old problem of superpowers vying for world domination in some sort of real-life Bond movie.

Indeed, the EU is arguably becoming less democratic by the day. The Individual seems to be increasingly obliterated by The Group. We have handed over the keys and our right to drive the car. People in their own countries no longer have the full weight of their vote. There are thousands of laws and regulations which they no longer have knowledge of, let alone control of. Some might argue that this is the future. This is what globalisation is all about. This may well be true, but the one factor that is being consistently ignored is The Human Factor. What makes us human is our right to choose, our right to be cognitive human beings not stupid herd animals. This is the factor that is being overlooked, and overlooked at Europe's peril (and, indeed, at the world's peril). If the UK votes to leave, perhaps this will encourage all the countries involved to take a step back and get a better overview; to analyse what works and what doesn't and not be so arrogant as to ignore those areas that are not ideal. The problem we have created is that the ability to have more lucid independent vision has been obfuscated by The European Machine. Elements of George Orwell's prescient novel '1984' are arguably happening in 2016 instead. That's quite a disturbing thought.

So what is the answer? In truth I'm not sure I know. I do believe, though, that sometimes you have to do the hard thing to end up in a better place. That may mean voting Out on June 23rd which will undoubtedly set the cat among the pigeons in the EU; but if that leads ultimately to an intelligent re-assessment of the European Union - what truly works and what truly doesn't, and how a more effective model may pave the way in some far distant future to greater union across the entire world map rather than just in Europe - then perhaps that's a dice worth rolling.

The 'Out' vote, contrary to public perception, could ultimately claim a wider vision than the 'In' vote. Now that would be a turn up for the books.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Definition of Cool

It's a funny old business when one's distinctly middle-aged accountant husband is regarded as 'cool' by the friend of your daughter whose father is, erm....a rock star.

Yes folks, bean counters are officially hip! The father of Friend of Eldest Daughter is drummer with The Verve, but it's the boring accountant who is currently being viewed as Mr Cool: fast car (a battered and bruised Audi Quattro A4 convertible 3.2 litre engine, permanently filthy, which has had various encounters with dry-stone walls due to dodgy handbreak); suit, sunglasses (actually, they're just reading glasses for failing middle-aged eyesight) and a Honda Blackbird in the garage. True, there's a slight 007 edge to the International Man of Mystery but only because we pass like ships in the night and most of the time neither he nor I have a clue what either of us is up to - wedded bliss and all that.

It seems that Turgid Predictability is still highly regarded when all I've ever wanted is to be married to a musician. Hey ho. So did I get something right after all? Are Accountants more revered than reviled? It's interesting that The Young are not despising The Dull. It gives me some crumb of contentment that there is still some respect out there in the Next Generation for hard work and dedication and not just the glamour of celebrity in this XFactor Age.

Meanwhile I must see if I can't wangle some drum lessons with the Rock Star Father. Now that would be cool.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Circle of Life

I turned the key in the ignition and the radio blared on. I would have turned it off if it hadn't been Blondie belting out 'Denis Denis', immediately followed by Abba asking to 'Take A Chance on Me'. It was Pick of the Pops from March 18th, 1978. I was hooked.

I drove out of the village in the darkness, my youngest by my side, and by the time we hit the traffic-less main road we were waiting with baited breath for the Number One that week: it was Kate Bush and her ground-breaking, rather extraordinary debut single Wuthering Heights. A new career was launched. I started wailing away in an unnaturally high voice, actually remembering the words for once, to the great amusement of L. I then went off on a riff of nostalgic explanation:-

' In 1978 I was fifteen, I'd broken my leg skateboarding the year before, I was having orthodontic work, I was madly in love with a boy obsessed with Kate Bush, and who would have thought that here I would be, 38 years on, driving around north west England, braces all over my teeth again, with my own 13 year old by my side, wailing along to Wuthering Heights'....and my daughter added, ever wry, '...at 3.56 in the morning!'

The circle of life, indeed.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Sunshine and Snow

Now that the weather has turned more spring-like, this day, two weeks ago, seems a little surreal. Did we really have snow? Well, yes, we did, over the Mother's Day weekend, but it seems a lifetime ago given how the landscape has changed again since. 

It was the first proper snow of the winter, which I had feared would remain essentially snow-less. How times have changed over the years we have lived here. We would get snow every winter 10 years or so ago, but still never in the way it used to be in earlier decades when the villages and towns of the High Peak would be cut off and the snow so deep that it rose above the dry stone walls and people would ski over it's pale virgin expanses. 

A great sadness to me is that those days are long gone.  I adore the mountains, skiing, and everything that the white stuff brings - cold, bright light; fresh tingling air; a new stillness; footprints.  The other Monday - while we were hardly knee deep in the stuff -  was nevertheless a small reminder of how transformational such days can be. Going back inside the house, for once, was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I could have stayed out there forever.

Below is what I captured that day...

Monday 7th March

Today was simply exquisite: bright sunshine bursting out of a cloudless blue sky and bouncing back light from streams of melting snow and fields of frozen white. Hardly a breath of wind stirred the sharp cold air and the sound of sheep and birdsong filled my wool-clad ears. Indeed it was a day when all the senses sang and the spirit soared in sheer life-affirming joy. I do not exaggerate. It was truly so. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

And so to Como...

After a morning meeting up with an old Milanese friend and then exploring the Castello Sforzesco in glorious warm sunshine, we had a quick, atmospheric lunch in the thronging business quarter of Milan before hopping in the cars and heading up with The Godfather and Son to Lago di Como.

The Italian lakes have long held lyrical associations and never more so than when the likes of William Wordsworth and other poetic exponents of the Romantic Movement were wafting around their sublime shores:-

AND, Como! thou, a treasure whom the earth
Keeps to herself, confined as in a depth
Of Abyssinian privacy. I spake
Of thee, thy chestnut woods, and garden plots
Of Indian-corn tended by dark-eyed maids;
Thy lofty steeps, and pathways roofed with vines,
Winding from house to house, from town to town,
Sole link that binds them to each other; walks,
League after league, and cloistral avenues,
Where silence dwells if music be not there:

Young Wordsworth's obvious attraction to 'dark-eyed maids' aside, Lake Como is a natural draw for those wishing to escape the rigours of city life. Is is the third largest northern Italian lake after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore and, lying in the province of Lombardy as it does, it is the lake of choice for the Milanese (oh, and George Clooney).

Of glacial origin, Lake Como has a startling geography - a deep, dark, reflective slash between tall green hillsides ('confined as in a depth of Abyssinian privacy').  It has both drama and delight in abundance and is the perfect contrast to the more worldly pleasures of the City of Fashion, Design and Finance.

I had chosen to stay in the not-so-imaginatively named Hotel du Lac in Varenna. There are more Hotel du Lacs in the world than I've had hot dinners, but this was a little gem, and very aptly named, it has to be said. Perched on the edge of the picturesque village of Varenna, literally hanging over the eastern shore of the lake, it was all that we could have asked for. Hidden away down a minute lane off the main square (hire a small car), the car park was a challenge in itself. Once achieved, you head down some steep steps to what seems like the back door of the hotel - but the front door would require a swim. A warm welcome awaits - even though we were there on their very last night before closing for the winter season, which would have lent a charmless air to many a hotel. After terrible traffic leaving Milan, we arrived in a rush to see the sunset. Abandoning our bags in the entrance hall we threw ourselves out onto the balcony (and an unsuspecting young couple enjoying a quiet romantic drink) to capture the dying colours of the setting sun and the silhouettes of the mountains as they tumbled into the dark waters in front of us.

A glass of Prosecco inevitably followed, served charmingly by an English lady from the East End of London who came out here on a year out several decades ago and never returned, wed as she is now to the Italian she met back then. Beware those 'dark-eyed maids' (...and men, clearly).

Dinner that night was enjoyed in a lovely little restaurant called Al Prato literally two steps from the hotel in a cobbled courtyard oozing quintessential Italian lake charm and hospitality. I enjoyed three types of lake fish, all cooked differently, as it seemed appropriate but all our meals were equally delicious and took in both meat and homemade pasta all washed down with a beautiful Bardolino.

The following day dawned bright and beautiful and it was bliss to open the doors onto our little Juliet balcony and hear the lake water lapping lightly at the walls below.

I waved to The Godfather and Son who were enjoying the same vistas below us. There was nothing to do but get out there and enjoy it - which is exactly what we did.

.....but ye have left

Your beauty with me, a serene accord
Of forms and colours....

William Wordsworth

Monday, 30 November 2015

Me and My Girl - Memories in Milan

When E's godfather said he was going to Lake Como at half term with his youngest son for the Father-Son bonding time he had done with his other two, I said to N that he should do something similar with his girls. Then I had a re-think and thought, 'you know what, maybe I should go away and have Mother-Daughter bonding time'. After all, I don't do Girlie Getaways (i.e with girlfriends) for reasons I've never fully fathomed (maybe it's just that no-one's ever invited me...?!)

And so it was that I hatched a plan to go back to Milan with my lovely 16 year old first-born daughter to show her the land of her birth, the city where she first saw the light of day and which is reflected in her chosen Christian names. Beautiful, ugly, energetic, fashionable, ancient, modern, cultural, historic, multi-faceted Milan. In all its diversity and colour and glamorous association, it's not a bad 'Place of Birth' to have on your passport - and beats Isleworth, any day, where her sisters were born (with humble apologies to the good people of Isleworth).

Nevertheless, our arrival at Bergamo airport was less than ideal. The entire northern plain was cloaked in a heavy pea-souper fog so not a single tree, let alone the nearby mountains, was visible. Darkness descended as quickly as the torrential rain and by the time we had got the hire car sorted out (a crappy little thing covered in scrapes), we hit the rush hour traffic on the motorway. I had thought to bring a map of Milan but had forgotten to ask for a more general map from the car hire place - let alone a Sat Nav. My phone was refusing to load data and I was too mean to pay for extra abroad so I was driving blind in every sense - fog, directions, darkness, rain - and windscreen wipers which were making a god-awful noise and threatening to fly off at any minute. All in all, not a propitious start and just a tad stressful as I was also terrified of smashing up the car still further as I'd only got 3rd party insurance and E kept leaning across me in a dangerous and annoying manner - and always at a crucial junction - to take photos of road signs to post online to her mates. Somehow we eventually found our way to the hotel in the centre of the city, more by good luck than good judgement - and with just a smidgen of faltering memory from 15 years ago.

I'd chosen a hotel that had a car park and was in walking distance of all the places I wanted to show E. I had asked for a quiet room and we were shown up to a delightful room in the roof, just as I had hoped for. Most importantly, E loved it too and said it felt like our own mini apartment. It was perfect.

After the inevitable logging on to WiFi and turning on the TV for no particular reason, together with a change of clothes and general travel-weary faffing, we headed out in the pouring rain to find somewhere to eat. I had remembered enticing little bars and restaurants at every turn, yet somehow we kept going down the wrong streets where there was nothing but blank shuttered shops and ankle-deep puddles. The rain was still coming down and the stone-slabbed streets were shiny and empty. It was not quite what I had imagined for us, though atmospheric in its own way. After a few false turns, we eventually found ourselves in the Brera district and stumbled across a steamy-windowed restaurant full of diners with a cheerful waiter beckoning us in. I ordered pappardelle with porcini mushrooms as this is the season for them, and E ordered some home-made tortellini. So here we were, finally, eating our first meal in Italy together, travelling abroad together, just the two of us, for the first time. I savoured the moment.

The following day dawned with rain still lashing against our roof lights. It was cosy in the room and I could happily have stayed there all day, but Milan called. Time to get up! Our first appointment was with a friend whose parents had lived in the same apartment as us and who had had her first child, also a girl, within days of me. We were in sporadic Christmas-card touch but had not seen each other for 15 years and I was worried it would be awkward. We stopped to buy her a small bunch of flowers and some rose-petal encrusted chocolate (delicious despite sounding vile - we bought one for ourselves too) on our way up Corso Garibaldi. All over again, I was reminded how this was one of my favourite streets in Milan and it was also the one that had been my neighbourhood, my stomping ground. It's a wonderful street, full of interesting small shops and the occasional larger one (OVS which used to be Oviesse and was a sort of Primark where I bought cheap-as-chips outfits for my little newborn but which has been re-branded and glamourised in the intervening years). It feels like a community within a community. I pointed out my old hairdressers, now a bar, and a few other things of note before reaching my friend's apartment block.

I have to admit to being little nervous as we went up in the lift and rang the doorbell but when the door opened the years just rolled away and we had a lovely catch-up. Her daughter appeared, sweatily, after a session in the gym: she is a feisty girl who decided she'd had enough of Italian education and is doing the International Baccalaureate at a private school in England over the next couple of years. The down side of this is that she is having to eat school meals and has put on weight and broken out in spots (her words, not my observations!) and is busily trying to teach the English how to cook! As is the Italian way, my friend's father dropped by as I was there and they were about to go to the cemetery together to decorate and pay their respects to the grave of his wife/her mother for All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Il Giorni dei Morti).

Leaving them to their family duties, we progressed from here to our old apartment, just a short distance away. We met the new concierge as our old one, Benedetto, had apparently retired a year or two back. I introduced myself and Luca let us have a wander around and go up in the lift to the top floor where our apartment was. I couldn't believe that the same doormat was still sitting outside it, 15 years later! I thought of the day that my parents arrived to see their first grandchild, standing outside, excited and expectant. I'll never forget opening the door to them, baby E in my arms, tiny as a doll, and the look on their faces...I felt so very proud. I would have given anything to have knocked on the door and gone inside. It was such a wonderful place and I was so happy there. White washed walls, lacquered brown wooden floors, windows on three sides and a huge roof terrace overlooking the streets below and with a wonderful view of the Alps on a clear day. It was heaven: my own eyrie from which I could peer down upon the bustling city.

 Via della Moscova, 68:

We then called in at the bar a few doors down which had been our local and where we bought our tram tickets, our proseccos, our cappuccinos and our macchiatos. Franco and Caterina are still the owners, the decor has not changed one jot and I was left wondering if this was sad or really rather comforting? They recognised me instantly and gave me such a warm welcome, remembering better than I the last time we had met, 14 years ago, when E was a toddler and G was a babe in arms. We ordered prosecco, of course, and bowls of complimentary crisps, peanuts and other nibbles instantly appeared. We chatted away as if we had been there yesterday. It was so lovely to be back and the memories came pouring back in to my happy head and heart. We exchanged photo viewing on our phones of children, homes and holidays. Caterina urged me to speak to E in Italian on a regular basis when we got home. It was so natural to speak to her in Italian when we lived in Milan, so much less so when we returned to West London.


We tore ourselves away, reluctantly, after they had offered us the drinks on the house and weren't for dissuading - such a sweet gesture after all these years. We took Caterina's advice and headed up to Corso Como which has been massively re-developed since 1999 and is completely unrecognisable - but not before we stopped for lunch in a restaurant round the corner which had been our local trattoria/pizzeria and has now been turned into a sort of fast-food fish place called Il Pescetto. It was heaving, clearly hugely successful and we happily took our place in the queue to order calamari, home-made crisps and salad from a whole bank of fresh fish choices, selected by you then taken to the kitchen to be cooked however you want them.

Corso Como:

To save our already aching feet and to make the most of the travel pass we had bought from Franco and Caterina, we went down into the Metro at Garibaldi Station, next to the top end of Corso Como and sped back down to Lanza, near our hotel, where we then hopped on a tram to take us closer to Via Monte Napoleoni and the Golden Rectangle of Haute Couture - four streets which contain every top fashion designer you can think of from Prada to Versace, Armani to Valentino and everything in between.

E was in seventh Heaven just soaking up the atmosphere of elegance and unattainable wealth. Porsches and models abounded and at one point E found herself the centre of the Paparazzi's attention as suddenly camera's started snapping all around her. Confused, she looked over her shoulder only to find this tall man, dressed top to toe in black including dark glasses and jet black hair, looming over her with a bevy of blondes (other than my daughter, of course!) on his arms. She tried to get out of the way, as did I, but every which way we moved, it seemed to be the same direction as Mystery Man and all the swarm of eager photographers. Rest assured, I had no desire to be snapped though E harboured the notion that she would be splashed all over the newspapers and gossip magazines the following day! God forbid. (With a little bit of analysis of the things that were being shouted out, we retrospectively came to the conclusion that it was Gianluigi Buffon - a very famous Italian goalkeeper.) So, a short brush with fame and five minutes hanging around outside Prada while E tried to persuade me to follow him and his entourage into the shop (I had no inclination to spend 500 euros on a pair of Prada pants or something just to say I was in the company of some celebrity or other while I keyed in my pin number!) and we were free to move on to the slightly less high octane pedestrianised area that leads up towards the cathedral.

A brief stop in Kiko (make-up heaven for teenagers and more befitting of our budget than Prada) and a call from E's godfather to say they'd arrived and were heading into town, led us seamlessly to a meet in the Piazza Duomo. The rain had stopped, the skies were glowing pink and the silhouette of that magnificent cathedral still managed to take my breath away after all these years. It has been cleaned up since we lived here so the colours of the candoglia marble shine through again. Something I have just learned, in writing this, is that the final touches to the cathedral (which had taken generations to build) were only completed in the 20th century with the last gate being inaugurated on 6th January 1965: how perfect that E was born on 6th January, then, in this very city.

Having joined forces with the Godfather, we decided that it was the perfect moment for an aperitivo as the sun went down. We spotted a terrace high up on one of the buildings to the left of the cathedral and took the lift up to enjoy a drink with the Duomo as a magnificent backdrop.

As dark descended we headed back to the Brera district to find another atmospheric place to eat and end our evening. The streets, unlike the night before, were brimming with people and we fought through crowds gathered around live musicians playing in the narrow streets of this attractive, arty district in the shadow of the world renowned Pinacoteca Brera  to get to our restaurant, Il Cestino.

By the time we sat down, my feet were literally throbbing, and so were my heart and soul - but for different reasons. It was simply wonderful to be back in a place that I loved so much, meant so much and which represents one of the happiest times of my life.

Tomorrow was another day, and there were still more things I wanted to share with E before heading up to the tranquillity of Lake Como and a complete contrast to city life. But I'll tell you about that the next time...
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