In the connecting study area of Lodi’s library, there is almost calm, a few Paris Hilton sunglasses, the odd I-pod, but mostly this is serious nose-down time, dress code: studious. Shoes: vaguely glamourous. Large oils hang on two walls, on the third the remains of a fresco. The poster outside, Shakespeare with a construction helmet, tells that works are going on here; inside all is work also.
I imagine this is in preparation for the school exams, though the kids look older; there’s a middle-aged pony-tail with laptop: he’s probably writing about me. I assumed I’d be able to ask about life in Lodi here, but it would be like disturbing someone in Humanities One at the British Library and saying: “So: London?”
I haven’t known such calm since the BL, thinking about it; the BL and a few churches and cathedrals along the way without either tourists, or congregations. Milan was a heavy metal town, in every sense, even the massive cathedral. The only difference from the BL here is that people sip from bottles of water, and there is only one blonde, that’s me.
I guess it will have to be the smokers outside, narrowing the demographic, but not so much: despite the ban on smoking inside, everyone puffs away, either standing in the street or sitting at the terrace.
“We live out our lives,” Alastair MacIntyre writes in “After Virtue”, “both individually and in our relationships to each other, in the light of certain conceptions of a possible shared future, a future in which certain possibilities beckon us forward and others repel us, some seem already foreclosed and others perhaps inevitable.”
In the time of Thomas Coryate that ultimate future – the telos – was death and some kind of deal with God; for many now there is just death, and thus the journey, and the consumption of these futures, has taken on a more pressing urgency. As MacIntyre writes: “like characters in a fictional narrative we do not know what will happen next…the narratives which we live out have both an unpredictable and a partially teleological character…it is always the case that there are constraints on how the story can continue and that within those constraints there are indefinitely many ways that it can continue.”
As I look around this room I wonder about these students’ lives: how “betwixt” will they become? Do they study in order to travel, to get away from little Lodi, or for the pleasures of scholarship? Do they believe God, the Catholic church, the muslim faith? Or something in between?
A Tourist Observes: the only things that the Italians do un-stylishly are ring-tones and tattoos. They are world leaders in: jailbait, testosterone, arguing publicly and giving very bad directions; pushing the Hungarians on smoking I couldn’t say where they stand on infidelity – traditionally the Magyar Gold Medal Event.
MacIntyre continues: “…man is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal. He is not essentially, but becomes through his history, a teller of stories that aspire to truth. But the key question for men is not about their own authorship; I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”
Lorenzo is a lawyer in Lodi, but he dreams of being a professional photographer. He and some more experienced friends are having an exhibition next week, this morning is was going to begin tonight: he’s handing out promotional cards, the second of the day. He’s not interested in photographic work about here: the show is about Paris, “pictures of Parissians and tourists,” he says. “Next September, we’re going to Belfast. This is a farming town, there’s not enough here for photography.”
Carla and Livi are missing their mother; there has been a divorce. They are staying with their father in Lodi for a while: they use video chat via the internet to keep up with life in Turin. Their older sister links them to a “Picassa” file of family photographs, a new set of the babies in the swimming pool. Livi is animated, catching up with the news; Carla is upset. When it is her turn for the headphones and microphone she cries, she’s missing her home. Angry with her mother for letting her be here, “what happened?” she says, “what happened?”. Livi plays patience online whilst she waits her second turn. The Dutch family on the other terminal are on holiday, also no dad, he’s working back in Rotterdam. The kids talk to him live from his office; mum doesn’t need much of a chat.
Antonio studies in Pavia, but lives in Lodi. He’s home revising for his university exams. “There’s not much to do in Lodi, it’s a ghost town. There is a faculty for vets, and for agriculture, of course, because this is farming country.” When he graduates he wants to work as a psychologist in Milan. “They need it more there,” he says. Sometimes he goes over the bridge and has some beers in the pub, otherwise he’s revising. “When we want to go out, we go somewhere else. In Pavia, where I study it’s good. From Lodi we have to go…somewhere.”
Olivia and Francesca work in an employment agency, for fun they get to Crema and Cremona as often as they can. “The people here are too old,” they laugh. The jobs they have on offer aren’t based around here often, unless it is shop work. Mostly it is in Milan or Cremona. “You have to drive, or take a chance for the trains or buses. Never take the buses,” they say.
My Italian is getting better, this from the Roxy café, by the bleak bus station. Fat man with Hungarian Hussar moustache as non-descript middle-aged woman leaves the café [it is hot and Hussar and Elderly Friend are knocking back a bottle of chilled white wine.]. “She’s a lovely woman.”
Elderly man: “No! Sophia Loren is beautiful, she is a lovely woman, This…?”
Hussar: “She is a lovely, lucky woman.”
Elderly man: “Why?”
Hussar: “She has a magical cunt.”
Elderly man: “Oh, god, god god! It’s too much. [Exit to take a leak]
Returns, engages a woman who is now sitting outside with an espresso.
Elderly man: “What is the capital of Italy?”
New woman, wearily: “Rome?”
Elderly man holds up hands, makes elderly squealing noises. “Rome? No!”
New woman: “Yes it is, it is Rome.”
Elderly man squeals again. “Palermo, madam, Palermo, the Mafia. Boom, boom! Capitale…”
New woman leaves.
Elderly man shouting: “You are beautiful.”
New woman: “Yes, I am from Rome.”
Elderly man: “See you tomorrow then?”
New woman, winking at me, “Sure. What time?”
Exit New woman.
Exit old man on bike with three plastic shopping bags.
Everyone is complaining about the heat and I’m thinking how did Tom move in this kind of weather? On foot or by horse it is punishing: 33 at midday. The workers, in natty Kate Moss shorts, take long beer and limoncella lunchbreaks and watch the world: “Nice arse.”
“There is home…”
In London this non-working lunch would be three business meetings. But in London it cannot be so hot. [By Cremona it is all-day siesta time, the heat “closes” the internet points, and the town is ghostly between one and six.]
“Johnny” is a Moldavian. He’s travelled all over Eastern Europe, lived in Romania and Ukraine as well as Moldavia. He’s seen Frankfurt, and Dusseldorf and much of Italy. What is he doing? “I am a ‘tourist’” he says with a grin. He has two mobiles and, like me, he’s been waiting three hours for a bus. “And afterwards I have to walk eight kilometres to my village.” What do you do there? “I see my friends, find out about things I can do. Moldovia is beautiful, but the life here is better…more money.” He offers me a cigarette lighter holder made of metal. “From Naples, genuine: 30 Euros…Naples is a bad place, too many with money, too many without. They steal from your pocket, for drugs. I didn’t like it, too big. I like the north of Italy, quiet. You can be quiet here.” Johnny holds up a packet of Marlboro. “Here they are four euros, in London I hear they are seven or eight. In Moldavia, four packs for a Euro. It’s a great place, Moldavia.” Do you miss it? “Every day.” One of the two mobiles rings, Johnny walks away in a flurry of Italian.
He’s come from Milan, where there was business to do; last night he slept by the railway station; this morning there’s some kind of rail strike. So it must be the bus. Which is three hours late. He is wiry thin with a light stubble of hair; frequently angered by the wait, he fiddles with his phones and smokes.
Paul works in one of the main cafes in Lodi, he likes sparkly tops, and has a small tattoo on the inside of his arm; larger men with forests of arm-ink make fun of it, but it seems good-natured. “It’s a common story, Lodi. Small town breeds small minds, it gets bigger but the minds stay the same. This is no place for young people, they stay they get married to the first person they have sex with. So we escape, go to Crema or Cremona. I live outside, a small village about eight kilometres away, so that’s why I stay late here: there there is nothing. In the other places there is life at night, pubs, clubs, a scene.”
But there is a of culture here? “But it isn’t very, you know, interesting. Farmers fighting in costumes. Discos in the square with a “Queen” theme.” Perhaps it is a measure of age that it all seems quite lovely, and lively to me. And hidden in Lodi’s nooks and crannies are internet cafes run by Africans and Romanians, where the phones are more used than the web. All is neither as small minded, nor as obvious as it seems
It is all about scale and finding a personal balance, I suppose: nobody has much good to say of Milan, but perhaps (as for me) it seems too big to the inhabitants of Lodi, industrially and financially atomised. But they rave about Cremona and Crema, to the disparagement of Lodi. It wouldn’t take much to make Lodi another perfect destination. It seems “mindset” isn’t ready for that.
“I love my job, I get to tell people the stories of Lodi: the cathedral, the civic temple, the castle,” says Maria, who works in the tourist office. She lives in the centre of town and seems an archetypical Lodi-ite, born and bred. “I came from Sicily, four years ago, I was looking for work – there isn’t much in Sicily – so I came here. I love it. I swim, I bike, I like nature. This is a great town.”
Michael was born in Benin, but has worked in Libya and Nigeria as well as Italy, “Italy is my first European country,” he says. He is helping to build a new high-speed rail network across Northern Italy for a British construction firm: he wears the logo’d shirt and bag proudly. “They pay me 1200 Euros a month, but I live in Milan, and after rent and bills and getting to Lodi, not Lodi, but outside, that’s where our workshop is, I have 300 Euros left to save so I can move on.” He’s off to visit his girlfriend in Piacenza for a few hours; the train strike and the bad bus timings, means he’ll only have a short time. “In Milan I have no friends, friends are dangerous. I watch wrestling and car racing, and I talk to my girlfriend on the phone.” He buys a beer at the Roxy, but doesn’t want to sit with the workers and me. He moves to the curb and drinks quietly; later a fellow African, from Nigeria, comes past. They stop and speak for a while in French, explaining their stories. They exchange emails; the Nigerian is going on to Verona, where he has classes.
Michael likes moving on; he’s the only one in his family not in Benin. His brother has gone home after running travel businesses in Germany; his grandfather runs safaris in Benin. “We have many tourists in August, Christians coming to see the leg of Mary Magdalene,” Michael says. “It’s good, moving. If you don’t move you mind goes soft. You get complacent: don’t think properly. I study computer sciences, I can build satellite networks, rework the computers. I couldn’t afford last term so I just read, read, read. It’s easy to learn if you want to. You shouldn’t write about Europe, that’s easy. You should write about Benin. It’s like a ‘warehouse’ for slavery. You would get better stories there.”
Michael’s girlfriend rings, and he explains the delay. “I know, I know, I have a fish brain,” he says [in English]. “So where from the station, which way?” A pause.
“Run? What run like Ben Jonson?”
Ben Jonson, Tommy’s friend. Even if it is a reference to the disgraced Canadian sprinter it feels like an omen.