Photographic Interlude: Milan

This time, you can skip right to the photos.  As always, the password is “suisse”.

You know that odd feeling you get when you wake up in the middle of the night in a strange place?  At first, you think you’re back home in your own bed.  Something small shatters that image—perhaps an unusual slant of light or the way the bed is turned.  For an instant, you want nothing more than to be home.

Try waking up in a hostel in Milan after spending two months in Echallens.  My first response was to want to be back in Echallens.  The feeling was almost cozy; I was longing for a place that is only just beginning to be home.  But that reminded me how I still sometimes wake up in Echallens wanting to be in Lincoln, and my well-whiplashed brain waxed melancholic.

Milan was fantastic.  I could detail what we did each day, I could share the stories and jokes and meals, but I won’t because then this would be just one more I-had-a-great-time-travelling post.  And the last thing needed in this crazy dark world is lack of depth.  So buckle your seatbelts and—ok, just kidding, it won’t be that hefty.  After all, it is only the middle of the week.

The most frustrating thing about Milan, especially at first, was that I could only understand a very little bit of what was going on around me.  I don’t speak Italian, and so beyond ciao, buongiorno, and grazie, I couldn’t communicate in the local language.  But that frustration led to what was the most beautiful thing about Milan: I realised how well I’ve adjusted to life in Switzerland.  I’m far from speaking French fluently, but I can do so much in French, and I only realised it because I spent this time in Milan.  In fact, French is becoming, in a small sense, my language; when I got lost looking for my hostel, I exclaimed, “Mince!  Et je fais quoi maintenant?”  I was even tempted to use a stronger word than mince.  Only after several seconds did I realise that, in a moment of frustration, my brain had chosen French over English.  I am incapable of explaining just how delighted I was to find French in my subconscious.

But my adaptation to life in Switzerland goes beyond French—in Milan, I found myself a bit put out at first that people didn’t apologise when they bumped into me on the street, and I hesitated before crossing empty streets against the light.  The latter is especially comic, because in Nebraska I cross against lights all the time, but as it’s not the most acceptable thing in Switzerland, I adjusted to waiting for the light.  I’ve also adjusted to a more Swiss economic mentality; the first thing I noticed about Milan was that in general, everything was about half the price of what it would be in Switzerland—at the grocery store, I bought bread, yogurt, cheese, and nuts for what would be just cheese and bread in Switzerland.  Needless to say, I took full advantage of that disparity!

Little is more rewarding than being multilingual.  When I walked into a pharmacy to buy a bandaid for my blister (because, of course, I forgot mine in Echallens), I responded to the clerk’s ciao and then asked, “Do you speak English?”

She hesitated.  “A little.”


“Ah, oui, oui!”

Of course, I then realised than I knew very little of the French vocabulary I was going to need, but I launched in anyway: “Est-ce que vous avez des bandages [making a sign for a small squarish thing] pour blisters [pointing to the back of my heel].”

“Ah oui, big or little?” She took out two boxes to illustrate.

“Euh, big je crois, n’est-ce pas?”

“Sì, sì,” she replied.

We ended with, “Merci, au revoir,” and a giggle.

I love it.  I love looking at the word regali and knowing it must mean presents.  I love seeing girasole and making the link with tournesol.  But most of all, I love that when I see something in French here, my first response isn’t “Oh, that’s French,” but “Finally, something I can read easily!”  Only after realising that my internal voice said that with a thick accent does it register that French is—slowly—internalising.  Slowly, it really is becoming my language.

The funniest thing about Milan is what Italian did to my brain.  At the end of every day, after having relaxed all day speaking English and being around friends I know well, I felt like I needed to work out mentally.  So I’d set my mind to process the day in French, and . . . my brain would produce nothing but wordless rhythms and accents, most decisively Italian.  I love that Milan gave me an appetite to learn how to put words to the rhythm it has impressed on my brain. But the most important thing that Milan showed me is that Switzerland and the French language are more a part of me than I realised.


One Comment Add yours

  1. CHG says:

    Beautiful story, lovely photos.


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