I’ve actually never been to an opera but as I was coming to Milan, home of Teatro della Scala – the spiritual centre of opera, at least Italian opera … I bought a cheap ticket. The opera I was seeing is new – CO2, and about environmental destruction. I went in thinking the show could be bad or good but at least the musicianship and performances would be top class simply because of the venue.

The venue is, of course, amazing. In the way that when one thinks “mountain” one often pictures something perfecting conical and snow capped like Mt Fuji, when one thinks “opera house” – La Scala is like that perfect imaging of such a place. Five tiered with red velvet and gold and chandeliers – spectacular. I had bought a good travelling dress with just such a night in mind and was glad I had. There were some tourists in the standing room areas who hadn’t packed appropriately and, really, if I can put a simple black dress in my panniers you – Mr & Mrs Wheelie Bag Tourists – can do better than jeans and tatty polo shirt. And if you can’t then don’t come to the opera. Just sayin’

The show … well… imagine an Al Gore lecture turned into an opera by a very earnest, creative, bright high school senior who has just wrapped their mind around what we are doing to our one and only home. It would have been a most impressive HSC project. The quality of the performers was higher than an HSC project, as expected – but, yeah, it was weird, lecture-like and, to-me, not saying anything new about the issue. Others seemingly felt different as I overheard two groups of Americans talking: “… and I learned something too”.

In the foyer of Teatro alla Scala

Out into the night I went to wander and wait to hear from my host, Daniella. She and her friend had been attending a talk by a gigolo who had written a book about his experiences. I was to meet them but awaited word of where they were. I went to an extraordinarily popular gelato place and listened to the three Americans – men here for work I’d say – in line in front of me. One was speaking of a visit to Houston where they had been taken by local to the best I-talian restaurant in Texas. “You know it won’t be good when they call it I-talian” says one. “True,” says another “the only places to get good Italian food are Italy and New York.” The others agree and I cringe.

After the opera – San Fedele

Taking the tram to Chinatown to meet Daniella and her friends I look out at the city and think of how Milan is sort of an ugly renunciation of all your expectations of Italy.And I mean that in the best way. Milan is, in many ways, like a city anywhere with these pockets of glorious Italy. I  like it, I really do.

I find Daniella and her friends at a Chinese restaurant drinking Sake (there were Thai options on the menu, too). Milan is a lot further from Asia than Sydney is.

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