Nice breakfast of a cream-filled croissant at the cafe at Hotel Rosy got me going. By 10 a.m. I was finally on the road and headed south out of Milan, making my way to Genova.
Weather is perfect, sunny and hot. Milan south to Vigevano to Mortara to Casale. My goal is Alessandria but I’m running out of daylight and while stopping for a quick refuel in Mortara a bunch of rummies outside the local pub take a fancy to my bike.
About five miles down the road I see a huge stone fence. I’ve visited a couple cemeteries already and decided to swing up the gravel drive to check it out. Gorgeous headstones with black-and-white photos about as large as a silver dollar; ornate mausoleums.
I eat a slab of greasy salami from the deli in the last town as I make the rounds. As I exit, so does a young woman and her 80-something grandmother. We chat a bit and I roll out my note from the plane where, written in Italian, I have the request to sleep on the floor.
The women mull it over. There’s a lot of fast Italian talk and then the younger one, Silvia, 35, says,”My aunt knows of an abandoned home up the road. We could check and see if you can stay there.”
I look down the dirt road they point to – it goes back into the woods and I think to myself “this is seriously awesome.”
The house is about 500 meters down a soft sand road. We get to the gate and it’s locked. There’s a big red and white sign written in Italian. Even I know it says “no trespassing.”
The older lady, Erminia, gives it a good shake. She’s rather mighty for someone small and frail. Silvia and I chat. Her English is good and then we hear a metal clink; grandma’s got the gate open and she’s 10 steps up the pebble driveway.
Silvia explains how she knew the property owner. We let her go, thinking she’ll be back shortly.
That Erminia is a bulldog. We hear her shout, and by the time we get up the walk she’s befriended the caretaker and his wife and secured me a spot in their yard.
Mary and Louie seem a little wary of fast-talking grandma but there’s a lot of laughing and cooing to their baby Isabelle and it feels like we’re making headway.
Silvia explains I can make my nest in their yard and take a shower when I’m ready. They’ve graciously offered me dinner so i don’t have to search out a market.
Mary is originally from Romania. “I haven’t spoken English for 10 years,” she said. Louie doesn’t speak English at all; when I try to include him in the conversation he just points to his wife.
The couple is in their 30s. Mary works and Louie stays home with the baby. They take care of the home, which belongs to an artist in Milan and her musician husband.
Mary whips up spaghetti with a sauce of olives and fish, and cuts some thick slices of red tomato layered with a meaty hunk of fresh mozzarella on top finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of rosemary.
We eat in shifts as there’s only room for two at the table; it’s me and Louie first. Mary leaves to throw my clothes in the laundry. You can tell Louie is nervous; he focuses on his food.
Louie eagerly takes the baby upon Mary’s return. She talks about her family, how her parents moved to Italy and how they’d like to have another child.
-I learn later the reason it wasn’t safe to stay in the cemetery overnight was because of the growing heroin problem in Italy.