Day 35: Friday
Good morning Zak,
So there was once this gran maestro in Milan named Giuseppe Verdi—maybe you’ve heard of him. Verdi spent most of his time writing operas and growing magnificent facial hair. If you’ve ever been to a Verdi opera, you have a deep appreciation for the meaning of the phrase “it ain’t over ‘till the fat lady sings…” Verdi’s operas tend to last on the order of 3 to 4 hours.
But don’t worry if you sleep through part of that. Before the fat lady sings, Verdi will write into the music one elusive little something that miraculously summarizes the entire work. He calls this magical something the tinta. A tinta can sometimes be as short as two notes, but in those mere two notes, Verdi embodies the underlying spirit that unifies hours upon hours of music.
The first time I came here to Milan, I had to go through a bit of cultural sensitivity training. Just as you would expect, cultural sensitivity training consists primarily in listing off a detailed catalog of facts: Italians tend to be less punctual than Americans. Italians tend to talk with their hands more than Americans. Italians tend to…
Zak, this letter comes to you from an airport. I am about to spend twelve hours in a giant metal tube shooting through the air above the Atlantic ocean at unfathomable speeds. All this so that I can be home for Christmas.
Reading the Odyssey has taught me not to expect too much whenever I come home from a long trip. I’ll really just be glad if I don’t find my house invaded by a ruthless band of hostile men I have to slaughter single-handedly. That would be super awkward.
Italians tend to speak at a louder volume than Americans.
I wish I could bring you back something that would summarize what Milano means to me. Some kind of tinta that could explain everything. I guess a lot of travelers probably feel this way. That’s why there are so many souvenir shops. I love useless junk as much as the next guy, but somehow I’m not sure if I feel that a “kiss me I’m Italian” tee-shirt really summarizes the spirit of this place. There’s just something in the air here that I wish I could share with you. Cigarette smoke, smog, and then something else…
Yesterday I had a conversation with an Iranian composer who is setting a poem written in Persian to music. He translated the poem into Italian for me. It’s this brilliant little double entendre: at first it seems like a tragic piece about unrequited love, but only at the very end you realize that the whole thing has just been about a school boy trying to copy answers on an exam.
Italians tend to like pasta more than Americans. Don’t let any of these things freak you out.
Shame the poet’s work is only available in Persian. Then again, translating poetry is extremely difficult and impractical. Communication is hard enough when it’s confined to one culture. People often have trouble interpreting each other’s business emails. That fact should put things into perspective whenever an artist tries to share the human experience on a deeper level. Being human, after all, is about more than just information in a business email. It’s about cheating on exams in school.
See you soon,