Get Your Laugh­ing Tackle Around this

The Victoria Standard - - Food - GE­ORGE SMITH

The year I turned 40, I kept re­fer­ring to the up­com­ing mile­stone with in­creas­ing fre­quency as the weeks passed. A friend, for his 40th, hired a ho­tel and a band and had a vast buf­fet sculpted into a roulette ta­ble com­plete with chips and dice all made out of food. But I didn’t ex­pect such ex­trav­a­gance. Per­haps a few friends could be rounded up to mark the pass­ing of the day with a cou­ple of beers.

The week of my birth­day ar­rived and so did a trickle of cards. As the day drew nearer I openly asked if any­thing was planned. “No!” said my wife. “I thought you didn’t want any fuss made.” So, the night be­fore, a friend and I went to a lo­cal pub called The Bird in Hand. We talked and drank, and as the night drew on I went home, feel­ing no pain with the pass­ing of an­other year.

The next morn­ing, feel­ing a lit­tle worse for wear, I took a shower and then sat in the kitchen drink­ing cof­fee. “Happy birth­day,” my wife said. “Drink your cof­fee; we have to leave.” Un­sure as to where it was we were sup­posed to be go­ing, I asked af­ter the where­abouts of our daugh­ters, Hollie and Robyn. “They are at my parents’,” I was told.

I slid down in the pas­sen­ger seat as we drove onto the high­way. Per­haps we were off to my in-laws’. I would have rather been in my bed for a lit­tle longer. About two hours later we pulled into a park­ing lot, and I imag­ined this was a break­fast stop. A set of re­volv­ing doors and mul­ti­tudes of peo­ple - I tried to com­pre­hend where we were. I was di­rected to a ta­ble, told to get my­self a beer and wait. As I sipped my beer I re­al­ized I was in an air­port. Soon my wife was at the ta­ble hold­ing two tick­ets and telling me to hurry up, our flight was about to leave.

Once we were on the plane I asked, “Where ex­actly are we go­ing?”

“We’re go­ing out for pizza,” was the re­ply. Ap­par­ently, we were headed for Mi­lan and would be there in time for lunch.

Upon ar­rival, we headed for The Pi­azza del Duomo, the main square. It was packed with peo­ple and all around were stalls sell­ing drinks and food. A few hours ear­lier I had been in the shower at home and think­ing no fur­ther than the next cup of cof­fee, and now I was stand­ing in the sun in Mi­lan.

At one end of the square was a stage where a boy band was be­gin­ning to play. Tele­vi­sion cam­eras filmed as a small group of girls were en­cour­aged to scream and act like ador­ing fans. I knew some­one back at her grand­par­ents’ in Eng­land who would not have taken any en­cour­age­ment to scream and even swoon at the sight of this par­tic­u­lar group of guys. Hollie went weak at the knees when­ever they sang on the ra­dio or ap­peared on TV. Her bed­room wall was cov­ered in photos and she had a t-shirt with their picture on it. The band was Boy­zone. I found a pub­lic tele­phone and phoned Hollie, hold­ing my phone in the di­rec­tion of the stage. “Oh, Dad! I wish I was there!” came the re­ply down the line.

We strolled through the streets of Mi­lan, wan­dered through a beau­ti­ful gar­den, and came across a restau­rant. We sat un­der a white and blue canopy, sur­rounded by large Ital­ian fam­i­lies talk­ing loudly and laugh­ing. Ev­ery ta­ble was groan­ing un­der plat­ters of food and bot­tles of wine. There were pas­tas and risot­tos, veg­etable dishes and braised meats, cakes flavoured with al­manac and cof­fee, and gelatos, baked fruit and cheeses.

”You’ll have to go to Naples if you want pizza,” the waiter in­formed us. So, I or­dered Manzo Brasato alla Lom­barda, Braised Beef in Red Wine, in­stead.

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