I took the metro last night. Got on at my local station, used up another journey from my “carnet”, travelled a few stops on the red line, changed onto the green line at Cadorna, knowing instinctively which direction to take, and got off at Moscova to go to the cinema.
Somewhere along the line, I realised that getting the metro was no longer exciting for me and perfect, elegiac, Chekhovian notes sounded in my ears. Metaphorically, at least.
(For those of you who didn't devote a portion of your youth to studying Russian literature, I should explain that the beauty of Chekhov's plays lies in the way he so perfectly expresses languid regret for the passage of time and the feeling that nothing ever happens, even when people are going around shooting each other.)
So why was this happening to me, at the age of 26, somewhere under the busy, buzzing metropolis of Milan?
Because for me, sad as it may seem, underground trains should mean excitement. They belong to the great cities of the world. For me, the smell of Paris is not Chanel No 5, it's the scent of the stale air that wafts into your nostrils as you descend into the Metro. When I first went to France in 2002, I took the Eurostar and heaved my suitcases on to the Underground to be whirled across London, passing under boroughs and districts whose names I only normally encountered in the Times. Mastery of the French language was signalled by my ability to pronounce Barbès-Rochechouart without hesitating and experience of France's capital by knowing instinctively that Ligne 4 goes from the Porte de Clignancourt to the Porte d'Orleans. Being a jaded Metro traveller was symbolic of becoming too used to being abroad.
And to some extent, this is true. My first experiences of Italy, although coloured by breathtaking scenery, wonderful, kindly nuns, exquisite cuisine and crazy drivers, were somehow not as novel my first experiences of France. I supposed by then I'd already learned how to be a foreigner. Most of the people I went out last night with were students who were having, had just had or were about to have that “first time abroad” experience and I was a tiny bit jealous. Moving to Milan has been a lot like moving to a new city in the UK, apart from the fact that if I make a special effort, I can go out and speak Italian to some people. Aside from the fact that I now gesture manically when I speak, I don't think this year will change me the way my first year in France will. It's a little bit sad that that rite of passage is, well, past.
Anyway, before I start sounding like a dead, melancholy Russian playwright, I should say that the film (Burn After Reading) was excellent and so was the live comedy duo that took the place of the trailers(!). They were two guys from London taking the piss out of Italians and Brits travelling in Italy. The only joke I can remember that makes sense out of context was “the traffic lights in Milan are only there for decoration” but if I go and see the full live show I'll tell you some more!