From Alti to Milano

By: Xhabir Tabaku

Translated by: Halit Methasani

I was on vacation in Italy all by myself. Two-three books in my backpack, reading glasses, personal hygiene items, a some pocket money and my passport. That’s how I like to travel.

I had been to Italy four times before. For me, Italy is like a nice book that you can't wait to go home and resume reading right where you left off. I can't have enough of Italy. I had seen all of Southern Italy, leaving almost no town or city out of my tour. Rome included, of course. I had visited with my wife and our first daughter. The one month-long travel has stuck in our memory. We took thousands of photos. There was a plethora of museums and architectural masterpieces. Anyway, last time I decided to go by myself. My wife had hurt her arm and my little daughter didn’t feel like traveling only with me. She’s so attached to her mother, none alike. I decided to go North. Milan was the city that came to my mind. Bought the plane ticked and phew. It didn’t take more than two hours to get from Heathrow to Malpensa. It wasn’t until I landed that I thought of how little we travel. Cheap - 140 euros! I hailed a taxi cab and shortly, there I was in front of the hotel I had already booked from London. It wasn’t of any high quality, but hey, I would only be there for one night. Even if it were worse, the world wasn’t coming to its end.  At least it was clean and had a in-room bath. Oh how I hate the hotels with no in-room bath. Are there even any of those left? The last time was in Prague - a hotel on the city outskirts. But what more could I’ve expected. I got that for $3 a night. Even in Cambodia it wouldn’t be as cheap.

Milano Train Station.

Milano Train Station.

Nonetheless, I took a hot shower, rested a while and then out, onto the street with a sweater thrown over my shoulders. I exhaust when I travel. If I could, I would explore every inch of wherever I go. And that’s what I did. Now, to be honest to you, I did not like Milan that much. It certainly has its touristic sites, but for some reason it didn't stick out to me. The next day I had planned to visit a town not far from Milan. It was called Alti. It was a small town but rather extraordinary beautiful. It was known for producing these two wines. Alti was surrounded by some vineyards and the downtown was gathered like a hood at one of them. I hovered about and around the town for a whole day and we were going to dine at one of its wineries. We were a tour group spending the night at Alti that was going to take the train to Milan the next day. We got up early in the morning and had breakfast at the winery’s restaurant. Plenty of cheese. I tried about ten different kinds of them. Luigi was the tour guide escorting us and when he noticed I drank no wine gave me a ruth look. I grinned but gave no explanation why. We strode towards the train station. It was an ordinary station, without any impressive buildings. It reminded me of a typical London Tube train station. We had not previously booked tickets, so we sat anywhere available. I happened to be next to a lady. I was still munching on a piece of cheese from the winery and she threw a look to my left. I turned my head towards her and noticed no disdain or anything alike on her face. I actually noticed a light smile on her face. She could have been towards the end of her thirties and good looking at that. Her cheeks rounded up a bit and her eyes a brownish green, giving her the look of a Balkan woman rather than an Italian one. I did not make much of it. I turned my head to the window and waited for the trained to take off for Milan. There were twenty minutes left before it departed. Some time passed and it I heard what sounded like a sobbing noise. I looked towards the lady and noticed her watery eyes. Heh, she sighed, and shook her head as if she were caught doing something wrong. She looked at me and grinned. She was holding a letter. It was a slightly creased and handwritten. La mia figlia(1) she said and handed me the letter. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t familiar with certain manners in Italy. Obviously she took me for an Italian. I grinned and took the letter she extended to me. I gave it a glance and looked at the lady, who had a broad smile on her face. Her eyes were beaming and I said to myself I have to read it. I explained to her of my limited Italian, so she began reading it herself. Her daughter, as I gathered, was in her last last year of elementary school and was headed to high school. The letter was addressed to her friends. Through it she’d tried to convey to them her love and a sense of emptiness caused by their speedy separation. "But we’re going to remain sisters forever, aren’t we? We’ll maintain lasting contacts, wherever life throws us. What do you say?"

Her daughter’s letter was touching but the sense it had left with her mother was powerful. There was pride in her eyes for her daughter. She opened her purse and showed me her daughter’s picture. Very beautiful. Her hazel eyes drawn slightly sideways and straight long hair. I smiled and thanked the lady for making me feel close, a complete stranger to her. I asked myself: Would you have shown your daughter’s picture to a stranger? I longed for my daughter, took my phone out and wrote to her: “Shpirti babës.."(2)


Meanwhile, the ride to Milan had come to its end. I looked back twice and said bye to the strange woman.

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1. Italian= My daughter

2. Albanian = Your daddy’s darling