t o r n o

[ 17:59 monday 3 february – eurostar 9449, stazione centrale, milano ]

dalek-voiced announcements echo around the station’s cavernous iron-ribbed vault. a buzzer sounds, the external doors of the carriage hiss shut. we slide out of the station precisely on time.

landing in milan a week ago i was greeted by a taxi strike, the roads around the airport stacked with hundreds of static white-painted cars. i climbed into a bus which crept through the traffic-choked streets emitting sinister announcements that the day’s service would be “irregolare”. the bus deposited me at san babila. i walked towards la scala with my bags and quickly found myself in the midst of a noisy demonstration. it wasn’t clear what everyone was worked up about but every few minutes the crowd got swept up chanting another insulting phrase at the top of their voices. a lone trumpeter played a short fanfare whenever it seemed like things needed livening up. a row of carabinieri with riot shields and guns were lined up in front of the crowd, looking somewhat edgy and self-conscious. i took some photos, joined in some chanting (very satisfying), then picked up my bags and continued. it seemed like a good sort of welcome back to italy.

from la scala i threaded my way up through via verdi, via brera and via solferino to fabrizio’s light-filled apartment, which has again been my home for the week. these days have been blessed with clear skies and bright sun. fabrizio is currently much absorbed piecing together plans to revive an enormous botanic garden around the corner from his house, which has been abandoned for many decades. it’s a big undertaking but the potential is tremendous.

on friday evening bobo, roberta and their friends in the box collective had a party to launch their third group show. the exhibition is in a large modern apartment rather than a gallery, which gives it a relaxed informal atmosphere. it brought to mind the philosophy of the circle group of artists from the 20s and 30s, which challenged the sanctification of art works in museums and galleries, proposing instead that they should be absorbed into living domestic environments. the box show presented diverse work from six members of the group, united by a dark-humoured scepticism of modern society. it was a great party and i spoke to a lot of people i liked. amazingly for a milan art event there didn’t seem to be any of the fashionistas who usually turn up and pose like statues in their carefully-arranged clothing. there seems to be an inverse correlation between the prevalence of these people and the quality of a party.

while i was in london i managed to speak to a few of my stromboli friends. they were all living in temporary accommodation on lipari and counseled against returning to stromboli in the near future. i was sad to learn from antonio that his two boats, on which i have spent many happy hours, have been completely smashed. however last week i called paolo russo and caught him relaxing in his hot tub at home on stromboli. he told me he’d stayed on stromboli throughout all the shenanigans, resisting the calls to evacuate, and that the old strombolani were much amused by the fuss everyone was making. according to them the volcano has an episode like this every few decades then settles down afterwards. contrary to the reports i’d heard the electricity supply only failed for a few hours and one shop has continued trading throughout.

heartened by this information i plan to get the ship from napoli tomorrow night, stopping overnight with sebastian in tuscany. officially the island remains closed to all but home-owners, but i reckon i’ll be able to sneak back. paolo’s advise was to buy a ticket for panarea then quietly disembark at stromboli. we’ll see.

quite what i’ll find when i get there i don’t know. from what i understand there are only 40 people on the island so it’ll have rather the atmosphere of a ghost town. everything is covered in black ash and sand. gustl and valerie’s house may have survived the tsunami entirely unscathed, or it may have been inundated with water. the state of my photo printer, my film scanner, my musical instruments and several thousand slides remains uncertain. i’m bracing myself for the worst but the loss of my slides in particular would be a heavy blow. those little rectangles of coloured film are probably the most precious objects i possess. but i must remember they are only objects.

: c*

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