In case you haven’t guessed by now, musicians love to eat. Maybe it’s genetic. They adore food so much that usually, when dining together, all they talk about are previous eating or cooking adventures. It’s probably no accident that the tour concerts seem to get better as our eating experiences improve and intensify. Don’t get me wrong. We’re professionals. We can play through the pain. But it’s nice to go out on stage, once in a while, when you’re fat and happy, too. Last night was a case in point. Our Milan concert was a smash. Was it because we got together and talked about previous performances or rehearsed particularly well? Not at all. We’re in Milan! During the acoustic check, people were all raving about whatever lunch they just had. To paraphrase, “an orchestra travels on its stomach.”
No two ways about it, Milan is one of Europe’s greatest capitals. The history is unbelievable, from the Gauls to the Romans to Napoleon to Mussolini and his mistress being strung up here (already dead) just so people could vent. It’s been a world leader in art, architecture, music, fashion, and finance now for hundreds of years. If only American city planners and mall designers had been paying attention.
Milan is prosperous because the Milanese “rock.” They work, they move, they hustle. Two million strong, mostly in the streets and yet somehow it doesn’t feel crowded. Maybe it’s the open feeling of the piazzas and the gallerias. Or the way the city is laid out in concentric circles rather than in a rectangular grid. Like I said before, the Italians really seem to understand space.
On tour, the one-night-stand bit gets awfully tedious when your hotel is out in the Bronx. You roll into town and often have only three hours to eat, sleep, and warm up for a concert. No time for taxis. Forget the public stuff. We’ve been coming to Milan for nearly 20 years. I can’t ever remember being able to find our hotel on one of those city maps they give out at the front desk. This time we’re two blocks from the Duomo. As my teen-age daughter, Ariel, would say, “YES!!!”
After the concert, we stroll past the Duomo (on the “seven wonders of the world” list, this structure has got be a high alternate) and find a chic little restaurant on the rail of the galleria. The ceilings must be a quarter-mile high. You’re inside, but you feel like you’re outside. At Ristorante Biffi we enjoy a leisurely meal and watch the ongoing show provided by passersby. It’s all so unreal. Whoever said, “We’re all just actors in someone else’s play,” must have spent a lot of time hanging out here. Has anybody said that? Risotto with seafood and mushrooms, sautéed calf’s liver Venetian-style, spaghetti with shrimp and mussels. By now you’re either bored to tears or starving. Suddenly some concertgoers spot us, “Nostri artisti (our artists),” a woman calls out, “Bravo!” “Grazie, grazie,” we respond. For us, tonight, I guess it’s see and be seen.
We finish up with some fresh strawberries and other sweets (like super-creamy flan and “thousand-layered” napoleons), then top it off with strong espresso laced with grappa. The Italians consider grappa an after-dinner drink; it’s really a semi-ingestible type of paint thinner.
It’s after 1 a.m. We head back toward our hotel, but Richie B. insists we stop at Ambrosia, a bar just behind the Duomo, for an amaro. Italian “bars” are different from the American version. Sure they carry alcohol, but also serious coffee, sweets, gelati, etc. You could bring your kids here. Oh yeah, amaro, in case you’re wondering, is the digestive equivalent of Roto-Rooter.
We sit outdoors under white umbrellas in the shadow of the great cathedral, chatting and sipping our digestivo. A few tables away sit six noisily dressed women. In a corner, hunched over an espresso, is a woman in her 80s dressed like a bag lady except for a mink stole. Our waiter, a good-looking young Jamaican man, is over helping the “foxes.” They get up to leave, wiggling from here to Genoa. “Mahn,” says the waiter, “did you see those Brazilians? They’re transvestites. They’re ahfter me. I tell them, I’m a stallion. Don’t come near me. Get away.” He then tells us that the old “bag lady” is actually a very wealthy woman, lives in a big house, has no family or friends, and comes here nearly every night. She, too, gets up to leave and exits slowly in the direction of the Duomo. Our check signals the end of this unexpected coda. We stroll back to our hotel having shared both sides of the curtain this week. The run of this play is done. Ciao.