Saturday, August 15, 2009
I think Imm would agree with me when I say our best host would be the one in Milan. Ironically he's not even a Milanese (if there is such a word!), but hails from the south of Italy. Fabio worked as a mechanic in the suburbs of Milan (his workplace reminded me of the Proton service centres at Glenmarie), looked very cool in his goattee and sunnies on his CS profile and sounded quite busy in our correspondences.
He was the first to respond to my request for a host, so even though many people discouraged us from going to Milan, I didn't want to change my mind after thanking him for his offer. Almost all the Italians we spoke to advised us to head to Venice instead, but since our schedule was quite tight, we had to skip Venice and Pisa because they were not on the way.
Our first impressions changed when we met him in person. Turned out, he's actually what you would call a "gentle giant". He came all the way to pick us up at the station even though it was out of the way.
When we offered to cook Malaysian dishes for him, he paid for all the ingredients even though we insisted it was our treat. Plus the little bottle of aloe oil that I bought because I didn't bring enough supply of lotion and hair conditioner :D
He had a housemate whom he very nicely called "the b*st*rd", because he would always leave the dishes on the sink for Fabio to wash up. Whenever Fabio cooked something, he would offer some to the housemate even though he didn't eat them.
Our dinners together were really something. He would lay the table nicely, placemats, dimmed lights and all. In the background would be some Italian aria of some sort playing. Later only did we find out that it was an online radio. Nevertheless, we loved the songs on that selection, and they complemented the evenings very well.
If I hadn't known Fabio personally, he could have passed off as a burly but friendly Italian. We were pleasantly surprised to find that he had good taste not only in music but in life in general. He was also very soft-spoken and hospitable. He even left the house keys with us because he had to leave early for work.
When we gave him some gifts from Japan and Malaysia, he seemed so touched as if his previous guests had never done such a thing before. On the last day when I went to say goodbye to him, I passed him a Japanese postcard as a final thank you note. In return, he actually bought some company t-shirts for us. I just hope it was not because we told him how "obliging" Japanese as a society could be (gifts are always reciprocated).
In the end, we had a really good impression of Milan despite what we were told. All thanks to our host.
We were Fabio's last guests in Milan, for he is know in Australia on a working holiday visa. Fabio was our last host in Italy, and we left the country with very warm memories, enough to last a lifetime.