|Newsletter No. 597
|A trip to Milano
21 to 25 June, 2004
Today is Fête de la Musique. Also France is playing Switzerland
in the European Championship football in Portugal. Evgenia, a visitor
from St.Petersburg, is up and out early. I call John Calder and we discuss
having dinner together tonight. Barbara Sherman passes and we discuss
the menu for next Sunday. I quickly shave, shower, shampoo. Then do a
laundry load across the street. Talk with Sheila Colvin and we agree to
dine tonight in Montreuil. John's niece, Maria Laptev, arrives today from
Brussels. Steve Peters calls and asks if he can pass and use my computer.
He wants to send e-mail to his bank in Australia. It in not a problem
and over he comes. Go out front and order a take-away lunch for Steve
and me. Jodi Poretto will arrive this evening. She flies from New Orleans
via London. The dinner with John, Sheila and Maria is fun. My first time
to meet Maria. Very impressed.
Up at 7 for coffee, shave and shower. Jodi and I manage to exchange news.
This morning I fly via Easyjet to Milano from Orly. Evgenia goes to London.
Jodi Poretto and Hanna Dalipi will guard the atelier while I am away.
My flight departs at 11.10 and am scheduled to arrive Milan Linate at
12.35. Discover at the Easyjet check-in desk my passport expired in March.
Fortunately my Carte de Séjour is still valid. Sit next to a couple
from Vancouver in the lounge before the flight and next to them in the
plane. They have a daughter living in Paris who is an aspiring actress.
They say they would like to dine Sunday the 11th of July on their way
back to Canada.
After an hour delay, we finally are on our way. It's a quick flight. Just
over an hour. With Sasha's instructions, take the #73 bus to the center
of Milano. Talk with two young handsome lads from America who are, I suspect,
male models. Give them a leaflet about the Sunday dinners and one of them
tells me he lives in Paris. He promises to dine with his girlfriend when
he gets back in France. Take the metro to S.Agostino and walk the short
distance to Sasha's shop, StocKMarket, at 19 via Solari. She greets me
with a big hug and introduces me to her beautiful assistant, Laura. Give
Sasha the kitsch wall "thing" she left the last time she was
in Paris. She is pleased and surprised. Minutes later she takes me upstairs
to her father, Aleksandar Stefanovic. After the bear hug from Alek, am
introduced to his son, Georgio, who has just arrived from Manhattan and
is on his way to Florence. I have heard about Georgio for years but we
are meeting for the first time. (Also learn that Bill Clinton gets his
suits from Georgio. Maybe the reason Bill looks so good these days. The
current issue of Time has Bill on the cover. I fail to ask Georgio if
he is wearing one of his suits). Sasha and I talk about John Flattau.
He is at Lake Garda with Joanna Przybyla and wants Sasha and me to join
them today or tomorrow. Sasha says that it is very difficult for her to
leave Milano because of staff problems. She wonders if we can talk John
and Joanna into coming into Milano tonight or tomorrow. Later Sasha manages
to talk with John and he agrees to return to the city tomorrow at mid-day.
Alek and I sit on his terrace and we discuss life and love. He tells me
that he plans to come to the Edinburgh Festival the 19th of August and
will stay a week. He and I first met in Edinburgh in 1962 when I co-organized
"The Writers' Conference" (with John Calder and Sonia Orwell).
This is excellent news. I try to telephone Nanda Pivano and discover she
has moved to a new apartment and has a new telephone number. We speak
and she invites me to her place tomorrow afternoon. She also invites me
to marry her. Why not? I try to reach Stella Baldi but no answer. Success
with Angelo Quattrocchi in Rome. He tells me he is a publisher and has
published 70 books. (Later when I am back in Paris, discover Angelo has
posted me his catalogue of books). Go downstairs and sit in the Bar Bajka
and have a salami sandwich and a cappuccino with Sasha. She introduces
me to an American woman with a dog. They continue to stroll past. Sasha
returns to her shop and I read the New York Review of Books. An interesting
article about life in Iran for women.
In the evening, Sasha, Alek and I go to Muciaccia for a pasta dinner.
I remember that Kyle Roderick Goldstone and I dined here about 7 or 8
years ago when she was here doing research for her book on Gregory Corso.
I loved it then. Tonight the place is less crowded because Italy is playing
Bulgaria in the European Cup in Portugal. Everyone is home and glued to
their TV sets - even Sasha's husband, Claudio, and her son, Corso. We
have the restaurant almost to ourselves.(Later learn that Italy beats
Bulgaria 2- 1, but because the Denmark - Sweden match is a draw (2-2),
the Italians are out of the Championships.) Our dinner is delicious. Alek
and Sasha do not allow me to pay. Afterwards Sasha drives us to Gelateria
Marghera, a famous ice cream spot. Alek and I indulge. Again delicious!
This time I manage to treat. Two euros!
Sasha drops us back at 19 via Solari. I call John Calder in Paris and
pretend it is a collect call. He is not fooled. Alek and I talk a long
time with John and Sheila.
23rd: It is strange to wake up in another bed in another city. But
nice too. Alek and I go downstairs to the Bar Bajka for croissants au
chocolat and cappuccinos. All Italy seems to be upset with the Scandinavian
"fix". Alek introduces me to Derek, a fellow from England, who
teaches English. His company has been taken-over and he is not sure of
his future. I ask if he would like a coffee and he asks for a glass of
red wine. It is surely a little early to start the day with wine. Nevertheless
get it for him.
Back upstairs, Sasha calls to say that John and Joanna will be at their
hotel at Noon. I get directions from Alek and depart to meet them. Make
a mistake by wandering in the direction of John's hotel and fail to find
it. A fellow sends me back the way I came. Then I ask a pretty young woman
for directions and she tells me to follow her. We get on another tram
and go many stops away. I know we are not going the correct route. But
she is a pretty student of psychology. Finally leave her and find a taxi.
When I arrive at the Mercure Hotel, spot John standing outside waiting
for me. The hotel is very near Sasha and Claudio's old apartment where
I stayed with Kyle. Joanna joins us for lunch. She and I met via Richard
Demarco at the 1986 Edinburgh Festival. And again in 1988 in Edinburgh.
She lives in Poznan and is a sculptress. I think I introduced her to John
Flattau when I arranged a photographic exhibition for John in Warsaw sometimes
in the 1990s at Stash Pruszynski's Café Ejlat. And they have been
friends ever since. We select the Pizzeria Tradizionale. It is next to
the Caffè della Pusterla. Joanna has a fish dish and John and I
have pizzas. (I remember that I loved the Caffè della Pusterla
and spent a lot of time there years ago.) Our pizzas are so large that
we can barely manage to finish them. Joanna goes off to a meeting and
John and I take the tram back to Sasha's store. We three sit outside her
store in the Bar Bajka and make dinner plans for tonight and how we will
pass the next few days. Sasha has booked two places for John and Joanna
for Da Vinci's Last Supper for tomorrow Noon.
In the evening we dine in the Ristorante Sciué Sciué across
the street from Alek's apartment. (Alek and I dined here, just the two
of us, in April 2003 when I was passing through Milano.) We are six tonight:
Alek, John, Sasha, Claudio, Corso and me. We have a big feast and John
and I manage to share the bill. Afterwards John goes off to have a drink
with Sasha, Claudio and Corso. Alek and I return to his apartment. An
It was a lovely evening last night. All Italy is upset this morning because
of the Sweden-Denmark football match. The score was 2 -2. This means that
Italy is out of the European championship. Of course there is talk of
a Scandinavian fix.
John Flattau, Alek and I take the tram into the center of Milano to visit
the Feltrinelli International Bookshop. John wants to purchase a book
to read on the plane to JFK. (Earlier he gave me Henning Mankell's The
Fifth Woman - his plane reading to Italy. He also gave me Cara Black's
Murder in the Marais.) We three wander about the bookshop and discuss
books we have read. Finally John selects Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
It is my recommendation because he is about to see Da Vinci's painting,
The Last Supper. Alek has a meeting and leaves us. I walk with John the
short distance to Cenacolo Vinciano. I check to see if there might be
one ticket available. And there is. John picks up his two reserved places
and gets a third one for me. He is early for his rendez vous with Joanna
so he and I grab a light lunch. When we have finished, it is time to meet
Joanna. And time to enter the Cenacolo. I must say it is much ado about
nothing. Not sure what I expected. But not really impressed. Outside a
woman asks me questions about my reasons for visiting Italy. It is a survey
for Telecom Italia.
Joanna leads us slowly back to their hotel neighborhood. We stop to explore
a place Joanna found yesterday. It is a bar, restaurant and theatre called
Town House. Inside the owner, Gustavo Pancaldi, proudly shows us around
the place. It has only been open a few weeks. He is from Buenos Aires.
I give him an invitation to come and dine when he is next in Paris and
he gives me his card. We wish him luck with his new venture. I suspect
it will be a great success. When we exit, discover we are very near the
Caffe della Pusterla.
Back at Alek's apartment, manage to take a wee nap. Then shower, shave
and get dressed. Call Stella Baldi and this time I reach her. We have
a good talk and she promises to come and stay with me in Paris and to
bring her boyfriend with her. Also get Nanda Pivano on the telephone and
she tells me to meet her at the Palazzo Isimbardi at 8.30 this evening
for an event that she feels I will enjoy. I know that Sasha is cooking
a pasta dinner tonight. I hope I can manage to meet Nanda and to have
some of Sasha's pasta. Call Sasha and tell her that I am going to a literary
event and will arrive late for her dinner. She says it will not be a problem.
Alek helps me to locate the Palazzo Isimbardi and tells me to take a taxi
Late afternoon I decide to take the tram. Not sure where I am going but
spot a woman with a British Museum shopping bag. Ask her for directions
to the Palazzo Isimbardi. She speaks English and she tells me to get out
with her near the Caffe della Pusterla. She walks me to a bus stop and
gives me directions. Board a bus and ask another woman if she knows where
to exit for the Palazzo Isimbardi. She instructs me to get out the stop
after her exit. I do so. And ask a fellow on a bike and he points down
the street to a queue. I join the queue and am told by a handsome man
and his lady friend (wife?) that I am in the correct queue. He speaks
English and his friend speaks French. They tell me the event is entitled
"Playing with Passions" and will feature Erica Jong, Tahar Ben
Jelloun, Fernanda Pivano reading three love poems, screenings from Delacroix
and Sappho's iconography plus Antonio Ballista performing Franz Liszt,
Skrjabin, Granados and Debussy on piano. It is a great evening. It is
all a part of "La Milanesiana" - a month of literature, music
and cinema. Almost speak with Fernanda Pivano and Erica Jong when I think
the evening has come to an end. But they troop back on stage for a question
and answer session. Since this could go on for a long time, I decide not
to wait. Otherwise no pasta for Jim. It would have been nice to embrace
Nanda. And to have spoken with Erica. She and I met at a Fisher Verlag
party at a Frankfurt Book Fair years ago. My son, Jesper, photographed
her in Manhattan. And she once contacted me about mounting a plaque for
Henry Miller at 18 Villa Seurat. (Erica's biography of Henry Miller is
excellent). Nanda Pivano is perhaps the most famous translator from the
English-language into Italian. She has translated William Faulkner, F.
Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Allen Ginsberg, Jack
Kerouac, and many many others. She is also a delightful lady. I always
enjoy her company. I feel sad to be leaving without embracing her.
Outside ask an attractive young woman on a bicycle where I might find
a taxi and she points toward the Duomo. Thank her and walk the short distance.
Sure enough there is a taxi stand. Give the driver directions to Sasha's
apartment. He and I chat in French all the way.
Find the correct door and ring the bell. Claudio buzzes me inside. Everyone
has finished dinner. No more pasta. But Sasha makes me a delicious omelet.
I am also introduced to a friend of Sasha's. But this friend has to get
up early tomorrow so she soon leaves us. It is late and all are tired.
A taxi is called. I am dropped first. Joanna gets out and gives me a warm
embrace. I ask her to send my best wishes to Jan and Elzbieta Kaczmarek
when she sees them in Poznan. She promises to do it. John says he will
come over in the morning and have a last coffee with me. Upstairs find
Alek is busy with translating a book. Fall into bed.
Friday, 25th: This
morning I fly to my beloved Paris. The flight departs at 13.10 and is
due to arrive at Orly at 14.35. Alek and I are up early and go down for
the morning coffee ritual. To our pleasant surprise, we discover that
John Flattau is also here to have coffee with us. Afterwards collect my
bag. John and Alek walk me to the metro. Say goodbye to John, but Alek
continues with me in the metro. I tell Alek I can find the way and he
does not need to go with me. But he says he has an appointment in the
city near S.Babila and my bus stop to the air port. Alek makes sure I
am on the right bus. And I am soon on my way home. Paris here I come.
Ready or not.
Make my way to the Easyjet counter and am greeted with the terrible news
that the flight has been cancelled. A ground staff strike. Oh no! I am
told that it might be possible to get me on the flight tomorrow at the
same time. But it is not sure. What to do? There is an Alitalia flight
leaving for Paris in about 20 minutes.
I rush to the Alitalia counter. Yes, they can sell me a Business Class
ticket for 536 euros. Damn. What do I do? Painfully I decide to get the
ticket and to fly right away to Paris. It all happens quickly. Rush to
the departure gate. I am the last to board. And then I discover the plane
is 95% empty. Maybe 10 people in economy class. Three women in Business
Class and I suspect them to be Alitalia flight attendants. I cannot believe
I was charged 536 euros. This sum plus the 125 euros I paid for the Easyjet
ticket and the whole thing comes to 661 euros. Still I must admit it is
a comfortable flight - much nicer than the Easyjet flight.
We are soon on the ground at Charles de Gaulle 2 and I wander outside
to find a bus to Montparnasse. Hear two young women try to ask directions
to the Montparnasse Air France bus. Tell them I am going to the bus and
they can follow me. When I talk further with them, I learn they are sisters
from Northern California and have a train to catch. If they take the bus,
they will miss the train. I suggest we share a taxi and they might just
well be at the Gare Montparnasse in time for their train South. They agree
and we load their bags into a taxi. Of course they are traveling with
too much luggage. Soon we are rolling toward Paris The driver takes the
Eastern route, so we pass my stop first. I contribute 20 euros (which
is more than half the total fare) and tell the driver to drop them into
the Gare for their train. He says OK and I tell them that they will make
it. Invite them to dine on Sunday when they are back in Paris
Home again! Thank you, John and Sasha for talking me into making the trip
to Milano. Thank you, Alek, for hosting me once again. And all three of
you for being such good friends
Lots of post, e-mail and telephone messages await my attention. Thank
you, Olivier Joly, for sending me the Edinburgh International Book Festival
programme. It opens the 14th of August and runs to the 30th. So many friends
will be participating: John Lloyd, Germaine Greer, Alan Furst, John Calder,
Lesley Chamberlain, Alastair Reid, Robert McCrum, Neal Ascherson, Stewart
Conn, Geoff Dyer, A. L. Kennedy, Alan Taylor. A two week feast!
Cathy Monnet, Mary Bartlett, Antonia Hoogewerf and yours truly are all
busy with the cookbook, "Cooking for 100 - Dinner at Jim's in Paris".
If you have a story to tell, a tale to relate, fun gossip or anything
to contribute to this opus, do not delay. Send us your input right away.
We hope to have a fairly complete "book" ready for the Frankfurt
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,