Exploring, Visited

Publik Wine Bar

Publik1

Wine bars in Cape Town are scarcer than a gold hen’s tooth. And when you do find one, you realise it’s not a hen’s tooth at all, just a shitty piece of yellow dirt. Caveau? hah. Harold’s? Please. Oblivion? Pull the other one. ‘Wine-bar’ in Cape Town is something to add to the title of your restaurant to make it sound better. It is an empty, hollow phrase. As long as I have a few glasses and a couple of boxes of Overmeer, I can happily change my name from “Harry’s Bistro” to “Harry’s Bistro and Wine Bar”. Continue reading “Publik Wine Bar”

Exploring, Wine Reviews

Fable Mountain Vineyards: “Don’t label us, just look at our labels”

fables lake

Apart from wine, work and grapes, vineyards provide us with much beauty. The aesthetic pleasure we find in vineyards, I think, stems from the collision between lands that produce good wine grapes – hills, steep slopes, river banks, mountainous valleys – and the human intervention of grape farming.

The steep steps of the Douro, the magical, almost mystical Ribeira Sacra and the slate cliffs of the Rhine immediately spring to mind. Wild, untamed, brutish and violent nature set upon by farmers who order, constrain, and align it to rows of pruned vines. This contrast is where the beauty lies. The starker, the more defined the line between that which is feral and that which is cultivated, the more I think it excites the viewer, the stronger the shove is in the direction of  the sublime. Continue reading “Fable Mountain Vineyards: “Don’t label us, just look at our labels””

Exploring, Visited

Beer is Good, Wine is Excellent, What About Wine in Beer?

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I have been saying this for a little while, and now the eminent MW Tim Atkin has agreed: now is the most exciting time to be involved in the South African wine scene.

If you are into new and sparkly things, however, the local craft beer scene may be even more exciting. It is burgeoning. Nowadays it feels like you can’t open a garage door in Cape Town without finding some bearded, skinny-jeaned chap messing about with barley, hops and water.

The one producer who for me is leading the charge in scale, quality, and intent is Devil’s Peak Brewery. I first head about them when I tasted my first Indian Pale Ale, the King’s Blockhouse IPA. It’s a super hoppy, fruit bomb of a beer. On that day I woke up to a different beer drinking life. The insipid, fizzy, flavourless larger scales fell from my eyes. No longer was I a Black Label sipping Saul, but an IPA guzzling Paul. Continue reading “Beer is Good, Wine is Excellent, What About Wine in Beer?”

Exploring

A video to keep you going

In my renewed attempt to resurrect this blog from the claws of internet irrelevance (although there is an argument that it has always been there) I have been failing. The last post occurred in response to people employing me as a ‘blogger’, and I felt that I should at least write one post around the time of employment.

Anyhoo, there is another post coming up about the rigors of wine judging (rigors, ha) but until I have got those letters in the correct order, I thought I would give you a video I made for Wine Cellar of the Cape Wine Makers’ Guild VIP/Media tasting held at the CTICC recently.

Adi is funny.

Exploring, General

It’s been a while, but I come bearing gifts, or at least a good deal.

It has been ages. I have been a naughty, naughty blogger. Can someone please spank me with a good ‘ol Jeroboam.

Terribly sorry, what with a real job and writing a weekly column for 2Oceansvibe.co.za I have sorely neglected poor little Wine and I.

I will be trying to rectify this situation over the next couple of weeks. There will be a lot more anthropomorphizing of wine, trying to see how many amazing wines I can drink without going broke, dancing like I’m a Lanzerac  Pinotage from 1969, and basically injecting a large does of joie de vivre back into this blog.

But what has got me excited enough to start greasing the pixels again is the Big Bottle Festival happening from the 26th to the 28th of this month.

It is going to be a cracker of a festival. It is being held at the The Cellars-Hohenort and there is a crazy deal where you get a two nights stay and tickets to all the events. That’s the one I really want. My birthday is in March, but if you all club together and get me this you can skip 2013. Seriously go check out the line up of wines.

Too lazy? OK here are a few:

15 litre bottle of Guy Charbaut

9l 1995 Domaine du Pegau Cuvée Laurence Chateauneuf du Pape

4.5l 2007 Niepoort Batuta and a 2005 Sadie family Columella

I also heard there will be Brazillian models. Now as I am all out of kidneys to sell, and no one will take my liver I am still not sure how I am going to get into the dinner. I will make a plan though. I have been writing my number on a many ladies’ toilet doors with my hourly rate. So far no luck.

But enough about me. What about you. Well I can hook you up with a super deal for the walk around tasting event, where south Africa’s finest will be pouring their wines from big, bad-ass bottles. If you buy three tickets to this event I can swing it so you get the fourth one free. Tickets are R450 bucks a pop, and when you check out the wine list, you will see this is a complete bargain. So mail me at harryhaddon [at] gmail dot co dot za (don’t like spam much)

See you there.

Also, I am not being paid or being given free shit for posting this. Jorg – who is the ring-master of this circus – is a mate and I reckon he throws the best wine parties in the land. So I am always happy to plug his gigs.

Exploring, General, Visited

Dirk Niepoort: A humble, Croc wearing maverick.

Presidents and pilgrims, wine makers and drinkers, wine writers and merchants all come to the Douro Valley to meet Dirk Van der Niepoort, and he greets them all equally in his shorts, shirt, and Crocs. And despite being an incredibly famous wine maker – one of the few who, according to a British wine merchant, is asked for autographs – Dirk is a friendly, humble man with a knack for making wines of intensity, balance, power and elegance. A pioneer in making table wine in the Douro Valley – an area famous for its Port production – Dirk is a deeply passionate wine maker and an equally passionate wine drinker.

He was born in 1964 to a Dutch family of Port ship­pers, Niepoort Vinhos and studied economics in Switzerland before he started making wine in 1987, the first in his family to do so. He now must be one of the world’s most well-known wine makers and continues to experiment making wines in different vineyards, collaborating with other winemakers, al­ways looking to push the envelope and carry on making what he calls “wines with extremes”.

The first conversation I had with Dirk was in his car on a drive from Porto to the Douro. I was struck by how intently he listened to me, a wine amateur by all accounts, and though he probably has forgotten more about wine than I’ll ever learn, he asked questions and spoke to me as an equal. What also stood out for me in that car ride was the conviction with which he spoke about wine. Wheth­er it was about picking earlier, using less new oak, or the temperature at which you should serve Port, I always found it almost impossible to disagree.

We arrived at Quinta de Nápoles winery on the Rio Tedo in the Douro Valley where Dirk makes his table wines; it is here that you can see a physi­cal manifestation of Dirk’s character and thought.

Completed in 2007, it was built according to three rules: firstly it had to fit in with the environment, secondly the temperature had to be low, consistent and controlled as naturally as possible, and thirdly you had to be able to drive a forklift anywhere. He achieved all three beautifully.

The curved lines of the exterior mirror the terraces of the Douro, and the building – despite its impressive size – seems to merge into its surroundings: the schist of the building blending into the schist of the soil. It is also environmentally efficient. For example, in the two rooms that are air-conditioned (the rest are naturally cool) instead of drawing in the hot, dry air of the Douro Valley and having that be cooled by the conditioners, the air first enters a cavernous room which has been built around a massive piece of rock. Water con­tinually dribbles down the rock face cooling the surrounding air dramatically, and this cooled air is then drawn into and further cooled by the air conditioners, vastly lowering the energy costs. This attention to the environment is also apparent in his wine making philosophy which, he said, is non-in­terventionist. He uses no enzymes, cultured yeasts or added acid, only sulphur, resulting in wines of freshness, character and wonderful drinkability.

The winery seems like an extension of Dirk. I was there during the middle of harvest and despite the tons of grapes continually arriving and the mas­sive amount of work that had to be done there was always an air of calm about the place. This for me is just like Dirk; he exists with a purposeful qui­etude despite his manically busy schedule. So busy that when trying to plan a trip with his friend and fellow winemaker Telmo Rodriguez, he could only find time about six months down the line.

At the meals he hosts he doesn’t hold forth from the head of the table dominating conversation, but quietly chats to those around him shifting eas­ily from one language to another. He jokes often. I remember during one meal Dirk announcing, “I like Merlot”. Eyebrows rose and heads turned to look quizzically at him, “it’s good for my health,” he continued, pausing for effect, “I don’t drink it.”

Behind this affability, charm and gentleness there is a ruthless belief in what wine should be like. Dirk has no time for over-extracted, over-oaked, spoofy wines which he believes most wines today are, and dismisses them outright as “shit”. He wants to make wines that are elegant but with forcefulness, wines that are like elephants doing ballet; rich, bold and tannic wines that are in bal­ance. He is currently achieving just that with the 2008 Redoma (the first commercially released Niepoort table wine was the Redoma 1991), a large wild wine which at the same time is tight and struc­tured. It’s full of fruit without a hint of jaminess and majestically balanced; a brilliant wine that will age excellently.

Dirk continually looks for new places to make wines, seeking out areas that will produce the wines he envisions. Apart from his core range of wines there are so many side projects going on I lost count: there is Riesling and Pinot Noir from the Douro, a wine he made with Telmo, another one for a high profile Spanish magazine, another from Ri­beira Sacra, and while I was there he was planning even more. There will always be another bottle to drink, just as there are always different vineyards able to produce new and exciting wines, and Dirk works tirelessly finding both.

In an interview he was asked how he would describe himself. His response was, “stubborn and naive,” which might be perhaps as good a descrip­tion of the man as you will find. Belligerently sure of himself and his wines, but open enough to know that there is always more to learn.

This article was first written for G&W Magazine

Exploring

Time for a tale from Italy

I feel a little guilty for having hardly blogged about my trip to Italy. So I wish to present to you a little story of me cooking in Napoli. It is one of my favourite anecdotes from the trip.

I left Rome  on an overnight train to the city of Napoli. It was the city that ended up being cast in the leading role for my memories of the trip. Why? Maybe because I felt most at home there, maybe because of the people I shared the experience with, or perhaps because I had Florence and the Machine in my earballs for the entire time; it could of been Pompeii that had me gawking like a 12 year old at his first naked woman; the reckless drivers; pizza as, I guess, it should be; the day trip to hot springs on an island once used by the Romans; the poverty, the rubbish, the spliff; drinking cheap wine with the locals on a piazza after nearly everything else had closed; Luca with his belief that shorts and socks can’t mix; Carla who the phrase ‘mischievous glint in her eye’ was written for, or Harriet who cut through the crowds of locals to get us into restaurants I wouldn’t even have bothered with;  maybe it was the dancing chef with a thong on his head, or sharing in the journey of a well travelled teddy bear; or simply making it a mission to see all the Caravaggio’s in the city. It was all of this of course,  but what I want to tell you about is the day I did South Africa proud in the kitchen.

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It was my third day, I had eaten at a mediocre restaurant or two, found some excellent pizzas in the old town, but it was time for a trip to the market. It was time for a home-cooked, well no, obviously not home cooked, let us call it the home-away-from-home-cooked meal.

I was staying in an incredible hostel, Hostel of the Sun, I have no higher praise for it than being able to say that if I walked back in there tomorrow I know it would feel like home.

After deciding I wanted to cook I approached Carla to ask where I should go to buy fresh produce. I don’t think anyone who visits Hostel of the Sun fails to love Carla, with her mouth that produces a smile as often as a quip, and sounds a hearty laugh after both; she makes everyone feel at home not just by be being welcoming, but also by giving you shit.

“Carla”

“Si, Aari”

“Where is the best place to buy fresh fish and vegetables?”

“Why you wanna buy this?”

“Well, because I’ve had enough of eating out and thought it would be nice to cook a meal with some people tomorrow night.”

“Aari, that is-a Bullashit Aari!”l

“O_o”

“Why you wanna cook? You canno cook Aari, it is-a bullashit”

*Hearty maniacal laughter*

“I didn’t say I could cook, I just said I was going to cook.”

“But you a from South Africa. You canno cook. Maybe you can play rugby, but you canno cook.”

With steely resolve I told her whether I could or not was not the issue. I would be cooking and I needed the directions to the market. Giggling, Carla drew the route to the market area in my already much crumpled and drawn upon map of Napoli.  While showing me the way Carla kept announcing to all in the hostel that the South African would be cooking; her tone suggested that it would be a somewhat ridiculous endeavour.

That was the afternoon before the night of the dinner. We went out on the town that evening. By we I mean the groups that form in backpackers. Young travellers banding together for a few nights of revelry, interspersed with visits to well known landmarks, cheap wine and endless picnics. There was a thoughtful Irishman, John; a delightfully excitable Japanese fellow, Tatsuya; a sweetly naive American couple; a pom, Katie; an environmentally conscious weed-growing Austrian, Andy; and the straggle of American one nighters to whom everything was authentic Italian, even the overpriced restaurants flogging the almost turned fish and left over pasta to tourists that are too dumbstruck at being outside their own borders to complain.

We headed out to one of the piazzas where the local youths congregate buying cheap wine and strong beer from hole in the wall operations, and sit idly chatting on benches and fountains smoking hash joints until the bars closed, and the bottles emptied.

street

A night out on the streets of Napoli

Our crowd from the hostel had joined in the fun with robust enthusiasm as usual. Luca, the owner of the hostel, joined us for this night out. When he heard that I was planning on cooking the next day he thought it wonderful, though reacted in a similar way to Carla; that no one from outside Napoli could  really cook, and someone from outside Italy, well that was just a joke.

But being a sport, he fully endorsed the dinner and went about inviting the whole group. In the end I had 10 confirmed bookings, including Luca who said he would be the judge. If I could cook, he said, he would be able to tell.

I had planned on a trip to the Amalfi Coast the next day, but cancelled it as I saw that I needed to give an entire day to this dinner, after all it was not just my reputation that was at stake, but that of South Africa; I would not let my country be thought of as a bunch of beer swilling rugby louts.

So map in hand I set off the next morning. I left early so it gave me time to finish a little side quest that I had taken up in Napoli. Namely, to visit all three of the Caravaggio’s located in Napoli. My trip to the market would take me past the Galleria di Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano where the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula was held. As usual when seeing a Caravaggio I marvelled at the denseness of his paintings, the anguish and the unknown, coupled with the softness of light. So much suggestion.

683px-CaravaggioUrsula

I left the gallery with a sense of purpose, there was one Caravaggio left to complete the quest, the The Seven Works of Mercy housed at the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia , it was my favourite of the three but would have to wait as I had shopping to do.

For the meal I decided on seafood. The starter would be an attempt to recreate a dish I had on the Cinque Terre; a peasants dish, layers of baked anchovies, potatoes and tomatoes with generous dollops of olive oil, garlic and herbs. For the main course a pasta with shrimp, mussels, calamari, baby squid and cherry tomatoes. Simple, clean, fresh.

In my eagerness to go shopping I had not found out the Italian words for all the ingredients, and my Italian was only at the level of generous greetings and farewells, confident orders of coffee, beer and wine, but little else.  So I bumbled around the market pointing at vegetables, prodding and smelling them with purpose to let the shopkeepers know I was serious, if mute. I found anchovies easily enough, and bought a few kilos of mussels, calamari, whole baby squids and shrimp. All was well. The vegetables were fine when I could see them, the potatoes however were out of sight. And though the words are quite similar, di patate and potato, it took me nearly 20mins and three vegetable sellers before I secure some of those earthy little balls, that Irish gold.

I sought out top quality pasta, fresh bread, good olive oil, spices and herbs, and a bit of pecorino. Laden with the fruits of my mornings shopping I made my way through the thick crowds on Via Toledo humming to Florence and the Machine, quite proud of myself on completing what really is an everyday chore. That, I think, is one of the joys of travelling. Simple tasks performed in foreign lands seem to transform themselves into mysterious rituals. “Look at me,” says the traveller, “I am becoming like them, I am assimilating, I’m just like a local.”

Of course this is ridiculous, I stood out more on that shopping day than at any other time. You are far more conspicuous when you try to blend in (and don’t), than if you simply act like a tourist.

But I was chuffed with myself and I arrived at the hostel with piles of shopping and started to cook. I had not thought through the amount of preparation time a meal like this would entail. I had to take the heads off the anchovies, running my finger down the middle, splaying the little fish open with my thumb and plucking out the tiny string of bones. Those bastards are tiny, and I needed enough to cover the top a a casserole dish for ten. The mussels had to be cleaned, the shrimps shelled,  and obviously wine had to be drunk. I take a very Floydian approach to cooking: to cook without wine in glass is akin to dancing to music with earplugs in.

Thankfully Carla was at hand and she joined in to help; I think though, it was more to be on hand to witness the ‘inevitable’ disaster. But my thorough planning and prep work mollified her somewhat and I think she began to look forward to the dinner.

The guests started arriving back to the hostel from their various sightseeing trips, some back from the Amalfi coast, others Pompeii. More wine was opened and they all crowded around the kitchen to ‘help’ in the final stretch of the meal’s creation.

Capture2

Luca on hand to mop my brow.

Capture4Everything ready, I layered the par-boiled potato slices into the casserole dish, drizzled olive oil over them and liberally sprinkled chopped garlic, salt and pepper; over this went the tomatoes, big juicy ripe ones (although I would recommend sun-dried instead), more oil and seasoning, and then the anchovies laid on top, skin up. This was popped in the oven.

Next was the calamari, fried up with some garlic and chilli and set aside; then the shrimp and the little squids met the same fate. The mussels I had steamed earlier and set aside keeping the left over water. All ready to go.

The group now hungry and excitable helped set the table. I sliced thick pieces of bread and laid them out. Water boiling the pasta went on; I had to be careful , overcooked pasta could of been my downfall.

The baked dish was ready and it was set down to appreciative oohs and awws. It was dished up and they all tucked in. I disappeared back into the kitchen to attend to the second course. The pasta was taken off just before it was al dente the seafood was added to it along with the roasted cherry tomatoes. This mixture was then transferred onto a big piece of tinfoil along with some of the saved mussel ‘stock’ and a splash of wine, then put in the oven for 5-10 minutes. dinner

I came back to the table. Luca shook my hand. So far, so good. The rugby label was starting to disappear, the South African, it seemed could cook after all.

A quick gulp of wine and a mouthful or two of the anchovy bake. It was good, but the tomatoes should of been sun-dried, better concentration of flavour I thought. But it was honest, hearty fare, with fish, tomato, oil and potato happily working together.

 

The tin-foil parcel was carefully retrieved from the oven, and made its way to the table. The stock had done its job infusing all the flavours, getting the dish to stand to attention. It was served and was eaten with gusto, every plate cleaned. There were some curious guests at the hostel who had not secured a seat, and once everyone had had their full they joined in, hoovering up the remains of the pasta.

A second hand shake from Luca, two for two, the South African had managed to impress the Napolitans. Luca said, “OK Aari, you can cook, but you still shouldn’t wear socks with shorts.”

I sat back with a post dinner glass of wine and cigarette. I had missed the Amalfi Coast, but it was worth it. I had held a dinner party 1000’s of miles away from home, with guests from four different continents, and the conversation at the table taking place in a variety of languages. The actual success of a dinner is not really the food, or the wine – although the increased quality of them will make your end goal far easier – it is the amount of joeie de vivre inspired in your guests. And the Hostel of the Sun on that balmy Napolitan evening was full of it.   

carla

That’s Carla on the right, and Harriet on the left. I live on in the hostel as the reception computer’s wallpaper.

Drunk, Exploring, Opinion, Rants, and Stories

@realtimewine

I feel like a bit of a sellout. I start blogging again and all I have posted is competition stuff. What a loser. Sure the competitions are about wine, but the posts were not, and what kind of bloody wine blog do I think I am running if that is going to be the case?

So I am taking a step closer to wine now. From giving the stuff away to writing about it. What? I am writing about writing about wine? How thoroughly post-modern of me. Don’t worry, I am not going to let words drift off the screen like smoke from a locomotive. Or like spilt wine off a scotch-guarded table cloth.

I would like to introduce you all to Real Time Wine, micro-reviews of wine in a straightforward ponce-less fashion.I will let the words of its founder the esteemed Mr. Andy Hadfield describe its origins.

South Africa, and the world, needed a better review system.One that spoke to the people. The winos who just
knew they liked wine, and didn’t feel like decoding a freakin’ puzzle each time they desired an outside opinion.

And thus, 140 character wine reviews were born in mid 2009. Reviews for the digital generation (who’s
attention span declines with each bottle they drink). Reviews for the common man. Reviews for us.

The aim of each review is to offer a single element (at least) of the wine to consumers that is easily identifiable and simply communicated. It is an effort to circumvent all the typical wine excess of phrase that I hold dear, and turn many people off.

real time wine

And as we catalogue all the wines we drink, the site will grow in value. A quick search of the site will give a quick and simple guide when browsing the supermarket or wine store shelves.

At first I baulked at having to give up so many words I use to describe wine, but then it became an interesting sort of challenge.

OK, I can’t use the word ‘elegant’ or ‘tannin’, so I how do I communicate the experience I have through a wine that leads me think of it as elegant in different words? It is tough. And I don’t think I am always going to get it right, but it is a thoroughly refreshing exercise, and one that can prove very useful to people in the future as the site grows.

I know that a certain common language is needed to discuss wines as we all have different palates. It’s like when I say to you, “the cat sat on the mat.” Now you all have different cats, on different mats, in front of different houses (or flats, bungalows, factories, farm houses) in different places and perhaps even planets. That is the beauty of imagination and the limitation of language.

With wine you might smell your standard 2 PE shorts, but describing it as such is not very useful. So we get caught up in the (kind of) Lingua-Franca of wine. The ‘elegant’, the ‘herbaciousness’, ‘mineral’, ‘taught’, ‘lean’, ‘cool-climate’, ‘intergration’ and so on. Now there is nothing wrong with these words, they are just not being used for these reviews.

This is a healthy option, for me at least, to stretch the way I describe wine, to make it more inclusive and, probably, less sensible. It is fun, it may at times seem silly, but at its heart it will be honest.

If you don’t like it, it is probably not aimed at you. And that’s fine too.

So check it out, have a browse and let me know what you think.

Drunk, Exploring, Opinion, Rants, and Stories, Visited

Vive La Revolution

Swartland Revolution_PosterFA

I have packed my bags and am counting the hours till I shove off from work early to take a leisurely drive to Riebeek Kasteel. Mischief may be had, wines will be drunk, and I am not sure were I’ll end up sleeping.

The Swartland Revolution is going to be a cracker of a weekend because there is a wonderful aura of cheerfulness that comes from everyone involved. The guys/girls from the Swartland smile, they joke, they make silly posters, they love wine and make it brilliantly. They don’t just make wine, they make it with style. Which reminded me of this quote from Tom Robbins:

It is content, or rather the consciousness of content, that fills the void. But the mere presence of content is not enough. It is style that gives content the capacity to absorb us, to move us; it is style that makes us care.

So while the verbose bilious bow tie wearing critics argue about the quality of the wine, who discovered them, and who has got what interest and does it conflict; while they moan and groan, bitch and snipe, I’ll be having a party. And by god I’ll be having it in style.

Over the next two days I will be finding out with video, stills, voice recordings and the written word why this lot are revolting. I shall drink, eat, and smoke my to an answer which shall be dutifully reported to you next week.

As I sit here wistfully waiting for the time for me to leave, my imagination cranks into third gear and I wonder whether we’ll end up with one of these for people who 429px-Cruikshank_-_The_Radical's_Armscontinue to make sweet, over the top oak monsters?  If we will end up storming the offices of Distell and stringing up those bribing restaurants to have boring wine lists. I doubt it, but it would be fun.

So if you want to find me this weekend head for Riebeek Kasteel and look for the thick of it.

If you don’t have the time or the money to come for the whole event, I seriously recommend the Real Men Ferment Wild tasting on Saturday. It’s only 50 bucks.

LibertyEqualityorDeath

Exploring

Aaannnd we’re back; at the beginning

I’m back all.  Terribly sorry for the long absence and lack of updates. Please accept my apologies for all the heartache I have caused.

My last post was a hastily penned/typed missive from my a plane/hostel in Milan with promises to try and keep the blog up to date. Well, that didn’t quite work out. So for the next couple weeks I will be posting once or twice a week about the trip, and adding a few handy travel tips and thoughts on travelling along the way.

First Stop Milano

My first few days were spent in Milano. I was a little dumbstruck by the simple idea of ‘holidaying’ at this point. The notion that I could simply get up, take in a museum or two, a walk in the park perhaps, and then open a bottle of wine having achieved all I had to for the day was almost too much. I am sure you can guess that I was not struck dumb for long.

I was fortunate enough to have landed in Milan at the very beginning of their Film Festival. I was not just lucky to be able to attend the festival, but also because it seems to bring Milan to life. After attending a film I was sitting at the festival’s bar and struck up a conversation with a local. I asked him whether he was from Milan, and when he replied in the affirmative I said what a fine city it was. I was rather surprised when his response was a snort of derision*. He reckoned that Milan is a bit of a shit hole, good for business but that is about it; and that the town only comes alive twice a year: during Fashion Week, and during the film festival.

Before I made it to the festival I spent a lot of time getting completely lost. After an especially long day of side streets, dead ends, parks that I could have sworn were not on the map, right turns, wrong turns, left turns and u-turns  I came across this ad for Nike. I understood.

run milan

As I was wearing Converse, I feel the change is justified.

But it was on my second day after another mammoth wander  that I bought two quarts of Heineken and headed for the park. I loved the Parco Sempione with the Castello Sforzesco on one side and the Arch of Peace on the other. The arch was originally commissioned by Napoleon, but  after his defeat at Waterloo it was dedicated to European Peace reached in 1815. I found a girl sketching it

girl arch

The  Castello Sforzesco is chock full of museums and galleries. After thinking I had visited them all (about 3 1/2 hours of museuming) I checked the map and realised I had only done one wing; that’s when I opted for the beers.  One of the more famous works housed here is the Rondanini Pietà, Michelangelo‘s last sculpture.

I have a pic of it to prove that I was there.

last work

But far more awesome was this wonderful piece :

devil

Again, sorry for the poor quality pic. But how awesome is this guy? He was positioned toward the back of a church to scare the churchgoers into a state of repentance. It took all of my willpower to not turn the handle.

Right. So after finishing Travels with Herodotus by the Polish Journalist Ryszard Kapuściński – a great book for travellers and historians alike – along with my two quarts in the park, and not being able to face another gallery. Bought some more beer, sunbathed, and then bought some tickets for the film festival. 

On my way back to the hostel to freshen up I again noticed how people in Milan stop when the little red man says so. On my first day walking I was strolling up to a pedestrian crossing with a group of people when the traffic light changed to red. Seeing that there were no cars in sight I stepped into the road and found myself alone, cut off from the herd. As I was walking I noticed the disappearance of my foot powered peers and turned to see where they had gone. What I saw was a set of disapproving faces intimating that I had made some sort of pedestrian faux pas. It turns out this is a Northern thing and down south the Italians have the same healthy disregard for traffic laws as us saffas.

stopped

I went to see two films. Well I tried to see two. The first was The Secret of Kells, which was crack for the eyeballs. A beautiful animated film telling a story of how a boy helped to write the Famous Book of Kells. Next up was Dead Man as part of a Jim Jarmusch retrospective. I had befriended one of the organisers and we were sitting in great seats waiting for the film to start. After a quick pre-recorded  hello from Jim, the film began.

I then faced a slight problem. During the previous film I had worked my way through the majority of a bottle of wine. That, and the effects of all my strolling were waging war against the muscles keeping up my eyelids. The muscles lost. I woke with a start to thunderous applause. The film was over. I joined in the clapping. My organiser friend was obviously not impressed as he left without saying a word. I wonder if I snored?

dead man

The film I missed

Film festival

 

The next day or two was taken up by more walking and exploring, and sipping cold beer al the while.  Italians love to drink in the street. Coming out of a church I saw a beautiful blonde in high heels sauntering down the street as if on a runway with shopping bags in one hand (they love to shop in Milan) and a beer in the other.

lady cropped

So that was Milan. I used this part of the trip to come to terms with doing very little whilst scoffing buffalo mozzarella. Reading and sampling various wines from the supermarket, picked pretty much at random, were my evening pursuits. This was done from the comfort of our hostel’s little balcony.

balcony

There was also the Duomo:

duomo

A Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator:

sparrow

And lots of these:

christ

So that was Milan – for now anyway. I found a city that bustles with clean clothes, long legs and designer sunglasses. It seemed modern and business like. Wealthy and attractive.  My holiday had begun. My next stop was Portugal, where I would spend a week with Dirk Niepoort in the Douro.

 

 

*“snort of derision” is a rather hackneyed phrase that I tend to avoid. But this man’s snort could only described as such. And from now on I will measure all others’ snorts by this man’s most typical, perfect derisive one.