Pizza and an opera you couldn’t top

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - VIVI­ENNE PEAR­SON

We were back­pack­ers, not opera buffs, but when in Mi­lan …

On our first day in Italy, we heard that cheap stand­in­groom tick­ets were avail­able at La Scala, the fa­mous opera house. As it was al­ready early evening and we didn’t want our growl­ing stom­achs to con­trib­ute to the or­ches­tra­tion, my part­ner headed off to find food we could eat while in the long queue. An hour passed be­fore I reached the top of the line, yet he had not re­turned. As tick­ets were sold only to peo­ple present, I re­luc­tantly bought just one. This was in the days be­fore mo­bile phones, so I had no way of mak­ing con­tact. If I’d been able to call, I would have had trou­ble con­tain­ing my fury. How long could it take to find pizza in the mid­dle of an Ital­ian city?

Hear­ing of my plight, a trav­eller of­fered me a spare Are­serve seat for the same price as a stand­ing-room ticket. Ex­cite­ment now min­gled with anx­i­ety. I had two tick­ets but, as­sum­ing dis­as­ter had be­fallen the love of my life, I couldn’t aban­don my post and go to en­joy the opera … or could I? For­tu­nately I didn’t have to de­cide as my part­ner ar­rived min­utes be­fore the doors closed. His cheery com­ment (“You wouldn’t be­lieve what hap­pened!”) was met by me throw­ing him the stand­ing-room ticket and stalk­ing into A-re­serve.

La Scala didn’t dis­ap­point and I im­mersed my­self in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia, a rau­cous com­edy about (as most op­eras seem to be) a love tri­an­gle, spiced by a lit­tle cross-dress­ing. In the foyer af­ter­wards, my part­ner told his tale, one well wor­thy of an opera script. Hav­ing come face to face with the tragic re­al­ity of pizza in Italy (hor­ren­dously ex­pen­sive with one piece of top­ping per quar­ter), he vis­ited a well-known multi­na­tional burger chain. But the wait was too long so he rushed out, swing­ing the huge glass door too strongly. It must not have smashed into pieces un­til he was half­way down the street, un­know­ingly pur­sued by a mob of staff and lo­cals. Once caught (lit­er­ally), his lack of Ital­ian did not as­sist his de­fence. Opera saved the day; af­ter re­peat­ing “La Scala! La Scala!” and point­ing to his watch, the po­lice al­lowed him to leave.

Once we had fully re­counted both sides of the evening’s adventure, we were as rec­on­ciled as the main char­ac­ters were in the dy­ing mo­ments of Il Turco. We were also ex­tremely hun­gry. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com. au. Columnists re­ceive a set of four Lonely Planet Make My Day guide­books for Lon­don, New York, Paris and Tokyo, of­fer­ing mix-and-match itin­er­ar­ies for morn­ing, af­ter­noon and evening. $99.96 ($24.99 each). More: lone­ly­planet.com.

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