The Lombard fog covered the world beyond the first block of flats. Somewhere to the right—to the north—you should see the Alps: the Grigna and Monte Resegone sit up there behind Lecco, somewhere beyond the fog. I found something else to look at while I drank coffee and crunched through a handful of biscuits. A hooded jacket walked a dog in the wet square below our flat. In the flat upstairs, a baby wailed.
G. came through from the bedroom and clicked at the stove that wouldn’t ignite. My phone sounded with an emailed request, and I sat down to comply.
Mum called later on from the UK. “How are things there?” I asked.
“It’s raining,” she said. She wanted to visit, but right now wasn’t a great time. “I’m not making any plans until it’s over”.
More sounds, more emails. My phone rang and a different voice spoke from it. G., at a desk in the corner of the bedroom, attended to her own distant voices: a polite laugh, a promise, an “of course”. Upstairs, a dog barked and a child barked back. An adult, a parent I guess, told them to be quiet.
We met in the kitchen to cook lunch, or, first, to wrestle with the clicking stove. I pressed the ignition and twisted the knob. When nothing happened, G. pressed the ignition and twisted the knob. The promise of eventual success is enough, usually, to inspire patience. This time, nothing. We agreed, not for the first time, that we should get it fixed. We ate cheese and bread.
It was raining through the fog when I headed out to run at four or so. Somehow, I guess no more than metres above my head, raindrops formed, all by themselves, out of nothing but fog.
I didn’t yet know the neighbourhood well. It could have been anywhere. A satellite town some ten or so miles to the east of Milan, it has the familiar feel of the English periphery. There’s a main road that you’d be a fool to cross on foot. A drive-through pizza place. The Big Supermarket. Following a canal, alongside a train track, a warehouse, a rugby field, a reservoir, a garden centre, an abandoned farmhouse, an empty field—a procession of beautifully unremarkable things unfolding in the fog.
I reached an arbitrary spot, stopped, and retraced my steps back to Via Correggio, one street in a geometrically precise grid of streets. Around the corner, Via Tiziano sits parallel to Via Giorgione, followed by Veronese, Tintoretto, Paolo Uccello. ‘Giorgio’ Bizet, an unexplained interloper, has a street here too. Via Mantegna connects them with the wet square below our flat—a friend’s flat really, ours just until we found a place of our own.
I returned inside wet with rain and sweat. I could hear G. on her phone, sounding less business-like this time. I poked my head around her door and she was smiling.
The square outside grew dark. How nice this place would be in spring, when the fog would lift, when the Grigna would reveal its peak above the pizza drive-through. A free community calendar we’d received through our door promised big skies, golden sunsets. We’d probably be gone by then.
That evening, the hob clicked into life and we forgot it needed fixing. The room filled with warmth and the fragrances of cooking: the deep sweetness of garlic, the mustiness of mushrooms. G. chopped some parsley and I poured some wine, while a pot of water, gently coming to the boil, fogged up the insides of the windows.
On the radio, they discussed the political crisis and the chances of early elections. We ate, and drank a glass of wine or two, and listened.