Mist in the city. Thick, coming in off the mountains that provide homes to fleet footed goats and the wreckage of airliners. Catholic bells chime.
I lean on an uneven stone wall, not quite yet back in the old city but now high above the new-sprawl with its grid-straight streets and bustling market. The path up the Alpine foothill coils like an encircling wyrm. Most of the tourists take the funicular. Long queues, shouting children, functioning but inadequate wheelchair access.
I am, without doubt, in Europe. The Italians I see are neatly turned out. The style, it’s not ostentatious, hard to pin down, but real nonetheless.
I am poorly dressed. I can feel shards of stubble pricking up from my skin. I forgot to pack the Gillette. Today I am lumpen and English.
Tourists and students take photos, fingers formed in v for victory signs, exaggerated postures of enjoyment. The dramatic plunge down to the city below the set on which to stage their moments. It is, I admit, a good view. But the light is poor today. I shiver slightly, resentful that I am away from home yet still cold.
Down in the new city, below the circling wyrm, I walk the straight streets. On the lookout for statues, monuments and oddities, I find them.
I stop to observe a stylised Alpine mountaineer, caught between a carved crevasse that rises from the public square, a monument to those (I presume) have perished in the mountains. A feather sticks out at an angle from his hat, like some mountaineering Robin Hood. Migrants sell their wares on mats by the monument, ready to dash when the police appear.
Christmas is approaching. I pass billboards advertising some sort of fitness programme, a stern Santa and two busty young women in Christmas-elf hats and cheerful grins crouched down in position, ready to race at the bang of a gun.
At the end of a market stands a twisted metal figure, caught mid-writhe, stylised star of the Comedia del Arte, the harlequin. A manic jester’s grin, metallic multicolours. Nearby, an Iberian Celt in mustard yellow and green exhales hard into bagpipes.
In the bookstore in the old town I look at Italian translations of English novels I hate. I buy a magnet of harlequin, grinning and rendered in a sketchy version of the city. I will use it to pin down important documents on my magnet board back home.
At night I dine alone in the hotel’s restaurant, graciously paid for by the university. Good red wine and piled plates of pasta. I am an outsider here, no language skills, a clown.
The room is too hot, poor ventilation. No shower curtain and I slip on a floor slickened with my inefficiency.
Each day I walk this wintry city. I drink coffee in the wide spaces. I stare up at the mountains, people its slopes with intrepid climbers and mythic figures.
Down winding alleys I photograph anti-fascist graffiti and crumbling architecture. In the mists are dancing figures, hellish, mischievous, enticing. I have forgotten why I am here and am waiting for harlequin to reveal himself.