I like to brag that I was the one who chose to live in Monza. Me, the American, rather than my Italian husband who grew up in the area.
I chose Monza mainly because it was the only city I was familiar with, but also because it was a nice compromise of all our wants. It wasn’t in high-priced, smoggy Milan yet not as out-of-the-way as Sovico, Marco’s hometown, either. Not too big and not too small – juuuust right!
Now it’s been eight months since I’ve lived here and I’ve gotten to know the city much better. I know which newstand has the best magazines, what panificio has the best foccacia, the times of mass in the Duomo and which days of the week the street-cleaning cars will likely wake me up.
I’ve also gotten to know the people of the city much better.
Monza is big, yet I seem to encounter the same people again and again. More than once I’ve told Marco something about my day starting with “you know the homeless group that hangs out by the water fountains in the piazza outside of OVS?” He usually says no.
Another thing I’ve noticed, however, is that the people I repeatedly see are, ahem, a little bit weird. Maybe because people who are, like me, out and about in the middle of the day and not at a normal desk job are usually a little weird….but that’s another story. They are noticeable again and again because they’re weird. They’re my neighbors and by now every time I go for a run in my neighborhood and pass one smoking a cigarette or walk to work through the center of town and see them I think: “He look it’s walkman guy!” or “Hey look it’s Bosom and her husband!”
*The Weird People in My Neighborhood:
Walkman guy walks, with a walkman. But he doesn’t just walk, he powers down the street, violently swinging his arms side to side. His pants are cinched tight across his waist – attention, not his hips, but his waist, as in the slimmer part of his midsection that girls often try to flatter with belts or tight dresses. He’s very serious, going nowhere with a lot of purpose. I can’t help but wonder what he’s listening to…
Bosom and old McDonald – The Couple
There’s a group of old homeless people (or seemingly homeless) who have staked their territory near the water fountains in the heart of Monza’s center. Two, in particular, are sure to be found. Bosom, aptly named for her enormous bosom that sits atop her sturdy frame and her husband, old McDonald, called that for I don’t know what reason. Old McDonald is in a wheelchair. He sits all day and sometimes plays his guitar. Bosom splashes water on herself from the fountains to cool down in the summer and Old McDonald smokes and plays and complains.The other day I watched as Bosom screamed “Leave me alone to work!” stomped away from Old McDonald to the other side of the street. She sat down, held out her cup and said Ciaaaao to all the children passing by with their moms. Old McDonald spat on the ground as I locked my bike up and dipped away.
Arabic Grandpa came in to the grocery store I was at with his young grandson (or, I’m assuming he was a grandson). They got in line behind me with two bananas, but A.G. decided to move one line over, where the wait was shorter. The boy disagreed and in an adorable mix of Italian and Arabic the man teased his grandson as they argued over which line to stay in until the Grandpa’s line freed and the boy moved over. They took the bananas to a larger group underneath the tree outside of Rinascente to eat. Later while driving with Marco to the park I saw Arabic Grandpa on another side of town. Marco didn’t feel the connection I felt to Arabic Grandpa.
I met Albino Napoleon on accident, at the hipster bar by my house. This particular bar gives you free drinks if you collect 20 plastic cups (nice way to keep the place clean) so of course my friend and I were going around asking for people’s finished cups (nice conversation starter also!). That’s how we met Albino Napoleon. We must have asked for his friend’s drinks or something and he offered his once he finished. While we waited this tiny, fair-skinned man aggressively talked to us about how he was a sailor. He was small and tense and sought to prove his masculinity at any chance he could get. We listened, oohed and ahhed, got our cup and dipped. I later saw tiny Albino driving through the parking lot of the nearby supermarket, I think he recognized me.
Indian Skeletor looks like an old Native American hippie. His long, silky black hair blows behind him as he rides his bike down the road near my house. I’ve passed him often while in transit myself, noting his denim jacket and music festival vibe. I later saw Indian Skeletor at the previously mentioned hipster bar. He was collecting plastic cups – tough competition after 10:30 pm.
*The names I’ve given them
are were private names I’ve given them in my head, and are not meant to offend anybody.
Maybe it’s because I still have small-town roots in me. I want to know everyone and I’m thrilled when I recognize people more than once. I can only imagine what my neighbors would think about Marco and I if they actually noticed us. The young boy booking it to the train station with sneakers and a briefcase? The red-faced girl with workout clothes running in the strangest parts of town? Oh wait…that’s me.
I can’t say, but I do know that “knowing” the people in my neighborhood makes me feel like more a part of the town. I’m not just the straniera – I know things! And if those things are only details that start with: “you know the homeless group that hangs out by the water fountains in the piazza outside of OVS?” I guess I’m fine with that as well!