«There is no finer scene in Milan than to watch people skating at the Arena.» The “Società del pattinaggio” deserves the gratitude of the people of Milan, the few foreigners who visit the city in the winter, and above all of the mothers of maidens in search of a good match.
The Arena is an ellipse, 240 meters long and 120 wide, built decades ago by now, using the stones of the demolished castle. Below the podium there is a sort of mill pond to fill the arena with water for nautical events in the summer and for ice skating in the winter. The Skating Society, though composed without exception of very proper gentlemen, has however unwittingly become the pronuba and go-between of certain rash gallantries. The daughters of upright families have discovered, in skating, the most effective authorized and honest way of flaunting before all what even free women would be forbidden by religion to do in the bedroom. They don their skates and ipso facto become gliding, free swallows, crazed bacchantes with windblown tresses, hearty laughter, provocative quips and close embraces. The mothers or tutors or zealous and reliable girlfriends remain on the dais gazing down at the rink and trying to catch a glimpse of their charges in the crowd. The chaste old maid together with the first who came along, introduced right there by a friend two minutes prior – or so the mother believes – sets forth from the knot of spectators out of which the matron peers. The two hold one arm tucked behind the back, the other resting on their counterpart’s shoulder, like the coryphaei at balls, and glide off smiling broadly. But in no time at all from the shoulders the hands have intertwined, and with the pretext of material balance she [the chaste maiden] finds herself embracing her companion, who has perhaps set his sights on making her lose her moral balance instead.
At this point a reader might ask: «What has all this to do with the belly?» Plenty, indeed! Might it be that all those gentlemen do not go skating just to work up the oft-invoked appetite so often lacking in the pleasure seekers of this earth? While those cheerful, well clothed, plump and fur-clad burghers skate, embracing honest maidens, the teeth of the poor chatter for the cold, as they suffer from the hunger those others try to sharpen and augment on the ice, since theirs is far weaker than true want.