When dad and I were here two years ago, the beautiful pedestrianized, buzzing little centre of Monza came alive, with cafes selling birra on the pavements, rock concerts in tiny piazza, where the crowd spilled out into the surrounding alleyways and side streets, and popup Nastro bars, tratorria packed to the rafters and a general lively atmosphere. Unlike some races, the buzz was less about beers and banter, and more about food and making the most of the location. It was wonderful, and one of my favourite photos of my dad was taken in Piazza Roma, with a Nastro in his hand, a tad worse for wear but beaming from ear to ear.
When I was in Budapest last month, I met up with one of my F1 mates who hasn’t missed a Budapest GP weekend for the past 8 years. So when he suggested he wasn’t coming this year, I purposely started teasing him via Facebook, saying how great the atmosphere was, how hot the weather was, how cold the beer was, how good the race would be… etc. This continued until finally, at around 11am Saturday morning, he cracked. The response simply read “Done. I land at 4:30 this afternoon.” And I thought I was spontaneous – this guy is good! That said, he didn’t buy a ticket for the race – he considered it, but ended up choosing to watch it in a bar in the city, where the buzz was buzzing just as loud but the coverage was unquestionably better. I then met up with him after the race, when I got back into the city.
So when planning Monza this year, I thought I’d try the ticketless approach here. I’ve done the circuit, I’ve experienced Parabolica, I’ve even sat in pole position on the grid. So given the Italian passion for all things Ferrari and F1, and my past experience with dad, there must be a few bars showing the race; I’ll go and watch there with the locals.
Unfortunately, this year is a bit different, and I’m not sure why? I’ve wandered down to the pedestrianized centre of the city, but you’d hardly know there was a Grand Prix going on? There are a few gazebos and bits and pieces mainly aimed at children, but no pop up Nastro bar, no rock concert, and no bars showing the race? I could handle not watching the race live, if there were people around who could join in the anticipation via Twitter, radio coverage or whatever other means. Similarly, I could handle the lack of buzz, if there was a bar with a tv showing the race. But so far, I see neither. This could be disastrous. So I’ve stopped for a coffee and conflab – I’ll ask a waiter where to go to watch it. There must be somewhere…
I’ve deposited myself outside Il cafe della piazza in Monza’s main square. To begin with, I order a coffee – a lame attempt to vet the waiter’s ability to help (and because I’ve yet to have a coffee since arriving four days ago!) Un latte per favore? This may not sound significant, but having ordered a macchiato before, expecting a tall variety but getting a shot, I’m not always convinced that what I ask for is what I’ll end up with! But my latte arrives, is suitable frothy, and far nicer than you get in London. So far so good.
I’ve been subtly watching Luigi the waiter, and he seems friendly enough to ask (and young enough to be likely to speak some English when my pigeon Italian runs out) about the race. Snag – how do I say “do you know where I could watch the Grand Prix? A bar with a TV perhaps?” it Italian? I get as far as excuse me before running out of ideas. So I cheat (why have an iPhone and not use it!) I type into my translation app and am presented with my answer: dove posso guardare il Gran Premio? Un bar con una tv…? I slip in the courtesy scuzi signor at the start and finish with a per favore and I’m away… until he replies, in Italian, at which point I have no idea what he’s saying. Rubbish! The downside of sounding like you know what you’re talking about, is that people think you know what you’re talking about! I respond apologetically with scuzi, mi no parlo italiano! Parla inglese? He shouts across to Claudio behind the bar, who responds with exactly the same as Luigi did to start with. Luckily, another chap at the bar says you can watch it here, on the TV and points to a plasma on the wall, currently showing a Gangnam Style video. Ah, I hadn’t spotted that.
Now I’m not sure what to think at this point. I’ve had a coffee and asked for their help, expecting them to point me in the direction of a lively atmospheric bar. But instead they’ve suggested I can watch here, in the café. I’m the only person sitting inside and the atmosphere is somewhat lacking. But I now feel obliged to watch it here, and you can guarantee that if I wander off to see what other options I can find, I’ll find nothing, get myself lost and miss the race. So I play safe, order a Panini and tuck in for the duration.
OK so not the most exciting race ever. I’m glad I opted not to fork out for a ticket, even if the atmosphere here wasn’t as lively as the the parc. I settle my bill and head out into the piazza. I’ll give the masses an hour or so to descend on the piazza and hopefully it’ll liven up a bit.
Or maybe it won’t? I’m sadly disappointed to report that, unlike two years ago, there are no pop-up bars, no lively cafes spilling out onto the streets, even the gelato kiosk in the centre is closed. What’s going on? Is the calm before the tifosi descend, or has the credit crunch really taken its toll on Monza?
OK I’ve now walked around the centre of the centre twice. If I do another lap, the locals will think I’ve lost radio communication and they’ll hold out a pit board. I have to pick a bar and have a birra, I’m parched. I select a place with a few inhabitants, take a seat outside, order a birra, open Vesper and within minutes the heavens open. For this, I take full responsibility – it’s like having a bbq in the uk – as soon as you light the thing, it’ll rain! We all rush inside and I grab a small table.
The boss here seems to be an Italian version of Basil Fawlty. When I order my birra, his response is “just that, that’s all you want?” I look around, and no-one else is eating… what’s the problem? So I reply “Si” … similarly, once I’m inside, and have my second birra, I look around me to note that, because there are just two people left inside, he’s clearing things away. It’s 6.30? He can’t be closing, is he? I get the feeling I’m being ushered out, so I finish my birra and make my way out. I think everyone else had the same idea; as I walk up the road, the next bar is full of all the same customers who’d been sitting outside my previous haunt with me. I see… I join them and after a further couple of birrrrra, it’s time I found somewhere to buy a bus ticket home. Mission: look for a black T in a white circle…
Ciao Ciao xx