When I arrived at Linati airport I wasn’t too sure what to expect.
The two hour flight from Heathrow left in the dark and rain and when we arrived the countryside seemed to be in a dismal state: soaked, windy and somewhat muddy.
But there is no better remedy for Londonitis than seeing friends and on that particular grey morning it gave me no greater pleasure than to see the petite figure of the lovely Alice running up to me.
Alice and her boyfriend Marco are without doubt two of the most lovely hunnies I have ever met. But we didn’t meet in Italy (this was actually my first time) nor did we meet in New Zealand or Australia – we met in China. Yes, in 2012 during an artist residency in a tiny place called Fuyang about an hour away from Hangzhou (about three hours away from Shanghai) I met two of the most lovable Italians ever.
Okay, slight bias here but anyway.
It’s not like we became best friends immediately, there were over a dozen artists and we all had artwork to produce. Not to mention I spoke no Italian. And while Marco was very fluent, Alice though she knew English (much better than my non-existing Italian) would often let Marco do the talking. But during the course of those three weeks, which also included her birthday, we did become close friends and I promised that should I ever visit Italy, I would make sure Milan was my first stop.
For those who read my London posts you would know that last year for almost five weeks I was lucky enough to be working for Royal Holloway at the University of London. I not only had the opportunity to work with some amazing artists and academics while preparing for an international conference – I got to be host to different artists who had come for the conference and the exhibition that ran in conjuction with it. I also was working on the exhibition whenever a spare moment was found, so needless to say at the end of it all I was slightly zonked to put it mildly.
So when Alice and Marco asked me “what would you like to do during your ten day visit” I wasn’t very helpful at all by saying “whatever you like!” But if they had any misgivings as to their crazy kiwi guest they soon vanished as the realized that all I wanted to do was eat beautiful Italian food, consume copious quantities of vino, visit The Last Supper and go to Venice.
Wait, I hear you saying, The Last Supper is in Milan? Not Rome?! Yep, that’s how I felt too, but it was pure serendipity that I could actually visit one of the most brilliant paintings in the world. And it was totally worth it. That might actually deserve a blogpost of its own.
But what I loved about these ten days was the hospitality. If these two ever wanted to open a bed &breakfast they would have no problems. Using Alice’s parents house might be handy but I was utterly loved, fed, spoilt and absolutely adore these two.
Luckily Alice is an artist (who works across a range of media) and so could take time off from her work to spend with me. We spent time with her sister Linda, her gorgeous niece Beatrice and just time being girls together. No agendas, no compulsions, it was just simple and relaxing without any of the tourist stress that goes along with such situations.
In the evening we would meet up with Marco and either go out for ‘happy hour’ or eat with friends. The former is an Italian institution that has been in my humble opinion bastardized by the rest of the world. You pay between six to nine euros for a drink between the hours 7-9 and you have access to a beautiful buffet. This can include all sorts of delectable nibbles as well as pastas and simply party food like chips and popcorn. Needless to say it doesn’t last long but is utterly scrumptious.
Why stay at home when you can have the happiest hour of them all?
Italian hospitality (in my limited experience of course) is beyond comparison. I love the fact that every night (or almost) you share food and drink with friends, it not only made my Italian improve dramatically; but as the majority of Alice and Marco’s friends were artists or engaged in some creative capacity conversation was always lively. When we weren’t dining we were at an exhibition. Almost every other night we went to a gallery showing and it was my best induction into contemporary Italian art.
Being a theatre maker this was an opportunity to observe, reflect and explore visual narratives as well as sculptural statements and being in the company of artists who worked in the field made the experience incredibly satisfying.
That’s not to say we didn’t go scaling the Duomo ( a fabulous and awe-inspiring Basilica) the largest in the Italian state and only second in Europe as well as go shopping at the amazing outlet stores (no exaggeration there is a reason Milan is the fashion capital of Europe) and walk along the canal. All perfectly lovely and very special.
But what I remember most distinctly were the evenings spent in the company of my friends. For example, the night at the Therme Spa. It’s definitely not something most tourists would do (and that’s already a tick in my box) but was the most utterly divine place to completely surrender to your senses. Not cheap, it was thirty odd euro but was absolute luxury and included an assortment of different pools, sauna rooms, meditations places, water beds, air beds, memory foam nap-time mattresses that were in these cage-like domes as well as a buffet with unlimited champers.
Like I said, highlight of my trip. The other major event was a road trip to Venice. It just so happened that we decided to visit the Queen of the Adriatic on the final weekend of the Biennale! And so Alice, Marco, their friends Max and Natalia (more artists) and myself headed out on Saturday morning for a three hour roadtrip.
When we arrived, the weather was awful. Cold and miserable and there were rumours of flooding. The entire city is built on bridges so this is a more than a little bit of water. But the advantage of being with Italians who in fact visit Venice regularly is the fact that (once again) I eluded the tourist ghettos. I could stand in awe and be inspired by the incredibly beautiful architecture and craftsmanship but rather than consuming every second I still managed to gain a beautiful perspective on and in the space. We had local favourites that night and utterly exhausted all had tea and then collapsed into beds at our rented apartment.
What a joy the next morning to wake up to brilliant sunshine. It boded well not just for the biennale which was a solid hour walk from our apartment but made Venice seem that much brighter after the spitting rain of the night before.
We made our way past churches and mask-makers, places where Mozart played and beautiful shops where paper was carefully crafted, and I loved every moment. The Biennale itself was incredibly satisfying even if the New Zealand and Australian pavilions were disappointing. The stand outs for me were Scandinavia which used ethereal trees to sculpt space; Israel whose clay sculptures, sound and disco effects merged to create a bizarre but absorbing rendition of how sound is carved; Belgium whose astonishing use of supposedly dead trees and branches constructed incredible shapes and figures with aerial viewing and Russia, whose installation could definitely be included in the participatory theatre realm. They had a strange version of the Rain of Danae where only female visitors would be allowed to go into a pit where gold coins would fall form the heavens. Thoughts of penetration etc. etc. use your imagination. Women were given plastic umbrellas to prevent them from the ‘falling rain’ and instructed to pick up a few coins and return them to the entrance they would continue to get recycled. A strange, if somewhat exclusionary gender based practice but one that nevertheless encouraged high levels of audience engagement.
We spent the majority of the day at the Biennale and then like good Italians we ate and drank and headed back home to Milano. It was definitely one of the best weekends I’ve had and so much of it was thanks to being surrounded by such intelligent
and creative people to share the space with.
Tuesday saw me head back to London for the premiere of Namatjira and some long over due time to catch up with my sister Talei Alani. Then it time to bid adieu to London time before having a final farewell on Thursday with my girlfriends Aimee, Tilly, Sharlene and Charlotte before heading back out to the land of Oz.
And so it ends. An Italian adventure to remember.