As we walk through the city at dawn, the trees are alive and swarming. Thousands of starlings, their sound almost as if it has been electronically amplified. They flow through the branches of these tame urban trees in the piazza, as they wait for the moment to launch. If you clap your hands there’s a flash of silence as they link their hivemind to ascertain there’s no danger before going back to their squabbling. Soon, when the sun rises behind the station, they will all simultaneously launch and circle above the square, weaving and spiralling in their impossible vast cooperative murmurations. My grandparents always thought of these flocks as significant. “Someone is thinking of you.” I find them fascinating. Do we have the capacity to move so gracefully together, united with no leader? Under what set of circumstances can we move like that, connect like that, fly like that?
It’s lovely to be away from home again. Lombardy is still pretty warm, and the work is far from punishing. This morning was just a short high energy shift in the morning, and nothing until evening. I took the time to pound the streets, as is my wont, and try and connect with the flock of people here. The apartment blocks are often beautiful, with marble colonnades and modest sculptures. Old men sit outside coffee shops smoking. The streets are nonsensical, winding round arbitrarily hither and yon. Roots push up through the tar. The basilicas are open and virtually unstaffed. Huge low dark buildings with painted ceilings and shrines. “Don’t come in unless you’re here to pray.” I lit a candle for my Catholic mother. I’m slowly candling my way through the Catholic world, speeding mum through purgatory as best I can. Another city in Italy, another incompetent but earnest prayer, another few hundred years off the ticket.
I’m a fan of mixing my metaphors, so the afternoon took me to the Buddhist Centre. I went with Max and Chanie. Max is a fashion photographer and he’s just had a baby with Chanie, an ex model from London. I hadn’t met either of them before but they’re friends with a friend, good people, and despite neither of them being Buddhists they wanted to go to the new Milan Buddhist Centre and had a car so that was a shoe-in. We spent a sunny day getting to know each other which has now ejected me onto the steps of the Duomo as the sun sets. I can see no starlings, but there is a huge murmuration of tourists in the piazza, chittering, weaving and squabbling as they go about their business. If I were to make a loud enough noise, they would all simultaneously stop and assess the danger, then continue where they left off. There’s so much colour here. So much variation. So many different humans milling around doing their own thing but not bumping into one another. I could sit here and observe them for hours, only I’m supposed to be doing some sort of award ceremony later this evening. As far as I understand I’m the guy that says “And the winner is…” Simon Cowell wasn’t available.
I’m still in my costume. The advantages are that I don’t lose my sunglasses and hat, and that I can people watch without making people self-conscious. The disadvantages are that I stick out like a sore thumb in this city of fashion, and that there’s an ever present danger of falling into a manhole or walking into a lamppost with these glasses on I can safely sit and watch the people for a while, even if I can barely see them. I can try to find a way to link minds with everyone in the square and get them to fly with me, even if just for a moment. It’s got to be worth a try. Then I’ll go to work. Or fall into a manhole.