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Wednesday 25th April 2007

To Milano this morning, which got me vaguely wondering why foreigners tend to change the names of towns that have already been given a perfectly good name by the locals. English speakers must have arrived in this town and been greeted by the townsfolk, who said, “Hello, welcome to Milano.”
But the English speakers must have looked at them askance and said, “Milano? What a rubbish name for a town. That won’t do at all. We’re going to call it Milan.”
“But it’s called Milano.”
“We don’t like that name, it’s childish. We prefer Milan and so that’s what we are going to call it.”
“How terribly rude of you. Where do you come from?”
“London.”
“OK, well we’re going to call that Londra, then. How do you like that?”
“I don’t like it at all. It’s ridiculous and needlessly offensive to change the name of the place I live in such a small and petty way.”
“So now you know how we felt, huh?”
“No, this is different, because Milano is a stupid name, but London was a great one. I hate foreigners.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“At least we agree on something. What’s your name, friend?”
“Luigi”
“I am going to call you Luigooo.”
And so on.

Italy is my favourite country, I think, though I had never been to Milan before. I had a cappuccino outside a café and ate a pizza and then went for a walk and had an ice cream and ogled the beautiful and stylish women who passed me. It’s like this place has been built for me, with everything I love laid on for me. I walked up to the castle and sat in the park behind it drinking a diet coke (how did they know?), watching the young Italians playing games and juggling and playing guitar and singing and kissing in the sunshine. It made me happy, but also gave me my usual sense of nameless dread in my stomach, as I considered the passage of time, how I didn’t appreciate my own youth and how ultimately everything is pointless. But mainly it was good.
The Italians do seem less enamoured with Pace from Hale and Pace than last time I was here, but I did see one young girl in the park carrying a massive rainbow flag with his name on it, so all is not lost. Since writing that previous entry, due to our shared love of poker and being the less good one in a double act, I have become good friends with Pace from Hale and Pace, which makes me slightly embarrassed at my rudeness. But I will get over it!
Then I headed down to the Cathedral, which I was told is the third largest religious structure in the world. I don’t know it that is true. But it is certainly an impressive size. Guards with metal detectors stood at the entrance, going through people’s bags, but the only person they refused entry to was a woman who was showing a small part of her midriff. God does not like bare stomachs in his house. Even though he invented stomachs and decided that they should be bare, I think He is slightly ashamed of that decision now and if he could have another crack at it he would coat all sexually alluring parts of the body in a chunky, woolly cardigan that would grow out of our backs.
I passed a poor box and remembering the story of the old woman who gave one pence old money to the church, impressing Jesus, I stopped to put one cent in the box. Of course this is an amount of money that is worth approximately no pence in English money, but I knew Jesus would be pleased with me. “Who is the best Christian,” he was probably saying to his dad, “the wealthy British comedian who owns a large house in West London who gives slightly more than nothing to the poor and who doesn’t believe in Me or You, or the poor Italian Catholic old woman who has come in to church to pray but gives no money at all.”
And God would think about it for a second and then pronounce, “Well son, judged on the proportion of their savings that they have given to the poor, I am forced, despite Myself, to conclude it is the comedian. He gave 0.00000000000000001% of his money to the poor, whilst the old woman gave 0% and then just gabbled on to Me about all her problems, which aren’t really anything to do with Me.”
“That’s right Dad, he has made a mockery of the system, but nonetheless he must come to Heaven and be seated at Your right side, whilst the pious woman shall burn in Hell. Sometimes I wish we could change the rules a bit, but that would make a mockery of the whole thing.”
After a short sleep, the promoter and me jumped into a cab and headed down to the Canal to the venue. Before the show he took me to a little café where we had a drink. Unbelievably the place laid on a free buffet for all its customers at this time, so for the price of a slightly inflated bottle of Becks I was able to eat a couple of bowls of pasta and some little sandwiches and some fancy salami. I don’t know how they make this system work, though the place was packed, so presumably it works as a policy. It’s a Milanese custom apparently, but I can’t imagine it working in Londra. I don’t think my townsfolk would respect the system and would just drink as little as possible and eat as much as they could before pissing off home to watch TV and vomit. The café would go bust in days and the Londraners would not feel guilty that their greed had destroyed something beautiful, which they could have enjoyed forever if only they had been more moderate. No, they would have laughed at the stupidity of the café owner and been glad that they had had two days of more free food than they could comfortably eat. Idiots.
I was in a much better mood tonight and more playful and so even though the front table was again occupied by a slightly raucous birthday group – this time mostly Americans, which was something of a gift – I managed to roll with the numerous interruptions and make enjoyable entertainment out of them (sometimes I forget that that is my job). A couple of young Italian boys, who I believe were the sons of someone at the venue came down to the front at one point. I commented on their resemblance to hobbits and though they didn’t understand anything that was going on managed to heckle me more successfully than any adult has done for some time, by making signs indicating that I was crazy and turning their rear ends towards me and then picking up a toy gun from the table of the American party and shooting me with it. This lead quite neatly into me being able to discuss American gun policy, which went down very well, even though one of the Yanks looked offended, giving me the opportunity to discuss whether it was better to get annoyed with a comedian pointing this stuff out or a country that allows these things to go on. Best to blame the comedian I guess.
I had been worried about the presence of the kids as I was about to do the bit about the Hand Job Centre and they were only about seven or eight. But then it struck me that they were of course Italian and wouldn’t know what I was talking about. I tested my theory by calling them “a pair of fucking cunts”, much to the opprobrium of the crowd. But the children were none the wiser.
Unlike last weekend in Twickenham or last night in Paris I was able to dig myself into a hole and then get out of it successfully and it felt good to be ad-libbing successfully and starting on topics that I had no idea where I was going. I discussed the Milano/Milan question at the top of the second half and then explained how I loved the city because of it having all my favourite things – pasta, pizza, coffee, ice cream and beautiful women. I lamented that tomorrow I would be back in the UK where I would be eating pasta, pizza and ice cream and drinking coffee, but where all the women are dogs. As there was quite a high proportion of British people in the crowd this got a slight reaction and I had no plan to extricate myself from the situation. But then I said, “But don’t worry British women, just go to America where you’ll be treated like a supermodel.”
Oh it’s good to have Americans in the audience. And though this table of them were a little boisterous (who’d have guessed?) they were quite charming and invited me to have dinner with them after the show. So it was an all together more enjoyable gig. Touring is tiring and relentless and some days are harder to get through than others and alas occasionally circumstances collide to make one gig less good than others. But I will do my best to keep the off days to a minimum. So I am off home tomorrow and then my next location is Keswick – which I am sorry to inform any Cumbrians reading has now sold out (How different from my experiences in Carlisle). And thus shall the most surreal leg of my octopus-like (in that it has many legs and is a sea-creature and thus by definition surreal) tour come to an end.

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