Thursday, 11 March 2010

Life is a Spider Diagram

Lists. Everybody loves a good list. Apparently psychologists claim this is because it gives us "an illusion of control in [our] otherwise chaotic lives." Given that I do have the impulse to write lists a recent BBC article, was a bit of a wake-up call when it comes to categorization. Trying to categorise and pigeon hole our lives is a somewhat futile task, given that even Jeremy Clarkson realised (for a moment or two) that "now I know what I know is that I know nothing at all" after trying to form an opinion on Kosovo.

Stick with me.

This week I would dearly love to tell you all about life on the milanese metro system. I have been in Milan for two months now and have clocked up many hours. The time has come to convey some vaguely amusing and interesting tit-bits, but for the life of me I can't work out how to do it without resorting to the ever so gimmicky but oddly satisfying list. Why not go with the list option, you say. But people watching - if done properly - simply isn't like that.

For a start, people are remarkably similar. Everybody sits and stares at an undetermined point somewhere past the end of their nose and gets lost in their thoughts. If they are not they are on their phones (Milan has mobile signal in the metro). Many appear to be sleeping and many appear to be on the point of falling asleep. Babies and immigrant manual workers seem to be the worst culprits for this.

Also people tend to look awfully worried, sad, anxious or downright cruel as their default expression. A rather depressing screen saver that one. I'm not sure I would have noticed it if I hadn't read a quote that Carl Jung took from a Native American Indian in an interview. The chief said that white people to him had tense faces and staring eyes. "The whites are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something, they are uneasy and restless. We think they are mad."

Ah, good old Western civilization. But of course my next thought upon noticing this was indeed true was "Do I look like that too?" and on catching my reflection in the window one time I saw the answer is, yes. I do look a little sad on default settings. So recently I have tried to turn metro time - many hours of my week into useful time. And in trying not to let my thoughts sweep my life away, I have taken to people watching. And as most people are utterly oblivious to their surroundings it's pretty easy to do.

Milan is a great city for people watching. You have people from every walk of life. American youngsters drawling about drug-taking experiences, businessmen and lawyers, beggars with terrible limps or heavily pregnant, ladies of a certain age in fur coats, smelly men and crazy men, and unfortunately even the odd smelly crazy man. I even saw yesterday a young lady in Fendi wellingtons. Besides asking myself the somewhat obvious question of "why?!" (so I would notice them of course)I was struck by the idea of going to Fendi - maker of many a pair of beautiful heels and choosing black wellies.

Designer labels in Milan is nothing unusual and the capital of fashion naturally contains many models who of course use the metro occasionally. And they're not hard to spot. They walk on with a sort of otherworldly appearance caused by the fact that they are incredibly tall and thin and everybody is looking at them. That must really suck. They also look pretty normal (aside from the whole tall thin thing) and it testifies to the power of photo shop that I was even surprised they would look so tired.

Then, when I get bored of watching it is time to practice metro surfing - riding the jolts and bumps without using the hand grips! Actually getting pretty good now if I may say so, partly as I have no choice in the evening crush but also because I rarely step on peoples toes now.

Tomorrow I will not be surfing as there will be (another) public transport strike. I will also not be teaching, as I remember the three hour journey back in the snow only too well, and managed to get it fixed so that we could just cancel the whole damn thing. Whoop! A little break might do me good anyway. I have already written far too much for a blog post on the metro.

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