I can already tell this 12 Steps gimmick is starting to wear thin. Here’s Part 2 anyway.
Step 5: Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Check, check, and check, assuming God and at least one other person reads my Tumblr.
Step 6: Be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Milan. This great cathedral overwhelms the shopping district, like a testament to the power of religion over a culture obsessed with material possessions.
Duomo di Milano
The two opposing forces of Catholicism and consumerism converge at little stands that sell postcards and magnets with pictures of the duomo on them.
At night it glows brilliantly white against the dark sky, like a TV.
Down on the street everyone’s all leather and lipstick and heels. The girls are Jane Birkin and the guys are James Dean. Aesthetically-pleasing details: Velma Dinkley glasses, bicycles with baskets, the checkerboard Prada heels, swaths of neon fabric, GQ motherfucker Versace suits, Guy Rover patterned button-ups, girls in knee socks, loafers without socks, porno staches.
Everyone looked like a model or a member of some rock band, like the pristine, well-bred children of the fucking wealthy.
In Milan we stayed with Militza’s childhood friend from Bulgaria, a fashion student named Beata. In Bulgaria, Beata said, if you wanted anything special, you had to make it yourself. Her designs all have something special or unique about them—a lavendar mac with intricate shoulder detail, a gray skirt with geometric patterns carved out in bright yellow thread. Her apartment is artful and lovely—sunny rooms with white walls, contrasting black shelves, orange vases, laundry hanging in the bathroom, a dress form in the corner, boxes of thread and scissors and sketch books.
She has a balcony with a view of the city, but she’s homesick.
Step 7: Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.
Next to the Duomo Piazza, there’s a shopping mall full of Neoclassical architecture, with a glass roof. On the tile floor there’s this mosaic of a bull.
You’re supposed to put your heel on the bull’s testicles, spin around and make a wish. It’s impossible to do without falling over. I didn’t ask God to remove all of my faults, but I made a wish that would require the surmounting of some deep personal flaws. I can’t tell you what it was, obviously, or it won’t come true.
Anyway it’s humbling to make a wish. It’s humbling to fall over in front of a bunch of sweatpants-clad tourists outside of a baroque McDonald’s.
Steps 8 & 9: Make a list of all the persons we have harmed, and make amends to them all.
Sorry random French guy, I was so mean to you.
Poor Marco. He just wanted to party.
Sorry panhandler, I know you just wanted money for Africa. I didn’t give you any.
Sorry other panhandler, we weren’t laughing at you. We were just really high. If it makes you feel any better, we bought a few dozen of your roses. We didn’t get any passport photos taken, but I’ve never seen anyone with a passport photo that was taken outside in some alleyway, so you should probably stop offering that service anyway.
Sorry to everyone I bumped into with the bumper car at the gypsy carnival behind the Castello Sforzesco.
Sorry Milan Public Transit, for all those times I didn’t validate my ticket.
Sorry to all the baby squid I ate in that inky-black risotto. You tasted like a newspaper in food form.
Step 10: Continue to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admit it.
Italy offers much in the way of vice and pleasure; just ask Berlusconi. The prime minister’s ongoing legal issues have included a litany of bribery, corruption, and mafia collusion charges, but we when we were there, he was on trial for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute. We passed through anti-Berlusconi/Lega Nord demonstrations in public squares. On the red metro wall, white spray paint screamed, “Bunga Bunga + Cocaina/Berlusconi ti rapina.” This couplet refers to Berlusconi’s infamous Bunga Bunga parties, which took place in his villa near Milan. At these sexy sex parties, allegedly, Berlusconi would blow coke off big-titted teenagers and supply them with drugs and stuff. Italy: a country where the head of government behaves like Justin Timberlake’s character in the Facebook movie.
Anyhow, like Berlusconi, I am a hedonist. But instead of cocaine or orgies, Milan fed my appetite for amazing gelato and wine and coffee.
An unholy convergence of guilty pleasures occurred at aperitivo at a bar called Exploit. Aperitivo is essentially a buffet that you get for free with a drink, which is something of a wet dream of mine. I had white wine; 9 fucking Euro, baby, but I made the most of it by making like four trips to the buffet. Foccacia, cheesy bread squares, mini pizzas, fruit, salmon, fried potato balls, cheese balls—I was told this was a subpar aperitivo, but like, whatever. At Exploit we met up with Mili’s friend Vlado, who brought with him his Polish friend Jan and a Georgian guy I knew only as Prince Caspian. Prince Caspian was dressed in head-to-toe black, including a black turtleneck and jaunty black scarf. The Eastern Europeanness was, frankly, overwhelming.
So I was up at the bar making a necklace of fried potato balls with my skewer, when suddenly the bartender gifted me with a CD. It was the Exploit soundtrack! Nonetheless I pretended it was a mixtape he had prepared personally for me, imagining that he admired my dedication to starches, knowing that we would bond over our mutual love of alcohol and working in the food service industry.
Anyway, then Prince Caspian and Jan and Beata and I went to go smoke pot. We stood outside for a while by the park that stretches between the basilica San Lorenzo and the basilica Sant Eustorgio, where public hangings of condemned commoners used to take place.
Eastern Europeans may be immune to alcohol, but they get high like total squares. It made me really happy. P.C. just wouldn’t stop giggling. It was a real contrast to his existentialist wardrobe. We sat on the leather couch inside the bar for a while, drinking €9 cocktails and acting all stoned.
There was a glassless window that displayed chefs in white hats preparing food in the kitchen, and it glowed white against the darkness of the restaurant. Beata kept remarking that it looked like a TV, like the chefs were on TV.
We got lost getting back, then I curled up on Beata’s burnt-orange pullout couch, with her strawberry-patterned sheets, in her awesome little flat.
Step 11: Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
The morning I left Milan, at a local place, under a larger-than-life, Renaissance-style painting of Jesus, I ate a breakfast of pizza, cannoli, and cappuccino, just to round out my moral inventory (and my ass). It was time to go home.
Docked on the runway in the EasyJet plane, I reviewed the notes I had taken throughout my journey. They were mostly vague (“tunnel,” “dome place”) and some were inexplicable “leather hat guy—giant beers”). I’ve tried to piece together these moments, to make a narrative out of the absurd. To make sense of things.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in our affairs.
It’s too late, I’m off the wagon. Fortunately for you, dear reader.