Last Tango in Milano

Milano had raised her foggy frock, for a change the city was clear and hot and lovely. Locals and tourist mingled. Sipping drinks and sucking gelato from cones. I stopped at the little winery nearby the Navigali and bought a bottle of white wine. Two girls passed by carrying plastic skateboards and I decided to follow them. They walked to where the road crosses over the canal. On the other side, it was much wider, and people sat along the bank feeding ducks. The skater girls stopped in a large piazza to listen to a drummer. He was pounding away to Sunday Bloody Sunday, and the girls sat down on their boards to listen.

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I sat on my haunches and removed the bottle of wine from my bag. The barman at the winery had opened it. I pulled out the cork and filled a plastic cup with wine; happy to watch the drummer for a while. When he finished, he stood up and thanked the crowd and reminded us his that he too needed a drink. The next performer was a magician, and I was in no mood for cheap tricks. I dropped a couple of Euros in the drummer's case and looked around. The girls were gone.

I carried on walking along the canal to where some couples were dancing the tango on a stretch of wooden decking. Maniacs on skateboards zipped up and down the decking, taunting the tangoing couples. One of the scallywags skimmed past a pair of dancers, barely missing them. He was jeered by the crowd watching the dancers but turned to make another pass. Faster this time, he whizzed past the dancers. At the edge of the crowd, he lost control. The board popped up in the air and landed amongst a group of people.

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A stocky fellow, built like Mighty Mouse, recovered the missile. He stood holding it for a moment as if trying to make up his mind. The crowd fell silent, the dancers stopped, and the scallywag stared at him. Then the man twisted his body and hurled the board into the canal. The crowd erupted, cheering and applauding the Mouse. The scallywag's mouth dropped to the floor.

Ye gods! I thought. Things are about to turn ugly here. The skater picked his jaw up from the decking and lunged at the man. Out of nowhere another stocky fellow appeared, weighed down by his wife and another man. He strained against their grasp, intent on clobbering the skating swine; who himself had backed off, content to hurl blasphemous insults from a distance.

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Satisfied he had suitably offended the Madonna, the skater stripped. Off came his shirt, then his shoes, then his mismatched luminous socks, and then his purple tracksuit pants. He stood on the bank, naked, apart from a pair of checkered white and blue briefs. Sweet Jesus, I thought, the crazy bastard is going to dive into this cesspool they call a canal. If nothing else he'll almost certainly discover the joys of dysentery. He sat on the bank and dipped his toes into the water. A sympathetic bystander pointed to a spot about twenty feet from the bank. The skater slipped into the water and splashed toward his sunken board. He looked back at the spotter, seeking confirmation that he was in the right place. Then he disappeared below the surface.

When he emerged, he held his precious possession above his head and hurled it toward the bank. It fell short; smacked the concrete embankment and dropped back into the water. He retrieved it for the second time, placed it on the bank and hauled himself out of the water. 'Is it cold?' asked the stocky fellow who had flung the skateboard into the canal. 'Vaffanculo!' said the skater. There was a brief exchange of profanity; then Mouse landed the first blow. The skater was no match for him, and the Mouse delivered a second slap in the kisser before Mrs Mouse pulled her husband away.

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They trade a few more insults, but the skater boy had learnt his lesson. Never tussle with a mouse who likes to tango.