Wed 24th July.
A day in Como.
The first meal I had when I arrived was pasta (which I thought was the meal) then a course of boiled beef and vegetables (a traditional north Italian dish) then dessert, followed by cheese. I had been in Italy two hours and already had an authentic food experience with a family.
While we were eating, we opened a bottle of Prosecco and a toast to baby George was announced, “To George, the future king”. I was amazed that they celebrated the birth of a British royal, they all seemed very happy, like he was theirs too in a way. Most of my friends at home would never toast to a royal.
Sileno and Rita were my hosts and their daughter was also staying. She studied languages at university but was home for summer and working at a shop in Milan.
Her English was excellent, Rita’s was good, but Sileno often struggled, revealing many humorous dilemmas that he always handled in a relaxed way, usually saying “I speak English” in a soft Italian tone and making gestures with his hands to emphasis his point, with a plea for his intelligence to be noticed in his eyes.
Years ago they moved to Camden, London improve their English and experience life in a city they loved. Sileno wanted to open an Italian restaurant and was working in a restaurant owned by a friend. Unfortunately, one night Sileno was mugged coming home from work, which shook him up and made him uncertain of life there. After some thought and heartbreak, they moved back to Como, where Rita returned to her small business selling clothes. They also had a son that lived and worked as a lawyer in Lugano.
We went out that evening for a walk around the town and then for a drink at the bar where the daughter’s boyfriend worked. The sun was gone and the streets were illuminated with old lanterns. The city felt a lot like the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, lots of small interwoven streets, no cars around, tiled floors. It felt so unique compared to many places from the trip, containing real character and personality.
In the morning, Rita went to work and Sileno cooked breakfast, eggs with rosemary, then we went to a bike shop to get my spokes fixed. The first shop was busy, but the second could finish the work by the end of the day. Sileno told me David Beckham once came to Como and bought bikes for his boys from that shop. They were fond of the British connections here.
Sileno was an avid cyclist, having done many tours averaging one a year for twelve years. He always called them pilgrimages as they were to holy sites highlighting his strong passion for Catholicism. He had been to Lourdes twice, the Spanish pilgrimage; Santiago de Compostela and last year he crossed Turkey, on route to Bethlehem. This year he was planning to return to Lourdes.
Sileno lent me a bike and took me for a tour of the city, out to the lake and back, telling me about the historical figures of Como, namely Alexander Volta who was born here. A physicist who invented the battery, giving his name to the term ‘Volt’ as a measure of electricity.
George Clooney has a house on lake Como and when I mentioned this to Sileno, he picked out a local spot where he had been seen dining. He was considered to be pleasant and was liked and respected by the locals.
We met Rita for coffee in their favourite café. Everything shuts for about two hours over lunchtime, so after coffee, we went back for lunch, which was another set of Italian treats.
I picked the bike up and the problems had been caused by a hemorrhaging of the inner tube on the back tyre, weakening the tyre, altering the distribution of weight and causing spokes to break. They replaced the tyre and spokes and oiled the bike up nicely, which came to €40 which was a good price. I was nervous that the new tyre wouldn’t live up to the puncture-free performance of the Schwalbe. Only time could tell.
There was a lot of talk of where to go that night and when I mentioned pizza, they mentioned their favourite Pizza place was a must. I had worked in a pizza restaurant for six months before leaving for this trip and learnt how to make pizzas from scratch the Italian way and received many compliments about the pizzas. Hence I was very eager to experience a genuine Italian pizza and had been for years, having eaten them since my teens.
I ordered a four seasons and the pizza that arrived was without doubt the biggest I had ever seen, sizing up at about twice the width of a regular pizza. Unsure how to go about eating, I cut it slices and attacked the centre, eventually leaving the crusts unfinished. I struggled and was still eating long after Rita and Sileno had finished.
They picked up the tab and refused to let me pay for anything, showing me more of their favourite part of the city on the was to getting ice cream (gelato) before having a drink outside a vendor they liked.
I had the perfect mix of food, drink and ice cream in me and felt fortunate to have such kind hosts and have plenty more of this to look forward to.
As the sun set we enjoyed our drinks and took our time. However, I started to notice mosquitoes testing me out on my lower legs. The start of a long, ongoing relationship in Italy.