"Maids?" the man said. He had heard the story before.
"Ah, maids," said Agostini. "And they would go out in the morning and work in the homes of the very rich, and they would come back in the evening and come to my room and visit me." He smiled again.
Now it was time to practice. Outside the restaurant a small band of people had formed a friendly gantlet between him and his car. The car was dirty. Someone had written with a finger, "Viva Agostini!" on the windshield.
The car is a little Porsche 912, one of the few in the so-called "Golden Triangle," Italy's industrial area of Milano-Varese-Bergamo, where most of the people who can afford such expensive toys prefer Italian ones. Agostini drives the Porsche with careless skill, slumped at the wheel while he talks, one hand free for gesturing, weaving the car easily around trucks and tired old men carrying bundles of firewood on bicycles.
"I like to have the fast car," he said. "It is nice. Racing gets you the money, and with money you can buy the nice things. You like this color? It is jellow."
Actually, it is not jellow. It is more burnt gold, or the color of a rejected banana, but it looks just right and it purrs. Inside, Giacomo has a religious medal pasted to the dashboard with "Buon Viaggo" printed on it, and a stereo tape deck that plays 20 minutes of something gentle called The Pretty Things. But there is no such medal pasted to his motorcycle.
"You cannot be superstitious in this thing," he says. "Otherwise I would never start a race, you see? If you have some lucky object, then you would not have it one day and you would have to start to race without it and you would get killed, right?" He also has obviously seen an old Mickey Rooney movie or two.
Along one leg of the golden triangle, on the outskirts of Gallarate, Count Giovanni Agusta maintains a sprawling factory that builds helicopters and, in one special building, assembles the most fearful motorcycles in the world. Agusta over the years has won 49 world championship motorcycle racing trophies; the last one, for 1966, was won by Agostini.
Franco Chiesa, who sells helicopters, is lean and plays basketball for an Italian industrial league, is the only man in town this day who can speak English, so he talks.
"We have special permission to show you the track," he says. "So we will go out there and Agostini will show you how he rides the machine. I myself have ridden one once. I would not ride one of them again if you paid me a million of your American dollars. You will see."