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Milan

Lynn was scheduled for an early morning meeting in Milan on a Thursday. She was to catch a 7 a.m. flight and then return about 11 p.m. Three days prior to the meeting they asked if she could stay over for another discussion on Friday morning and then leave Friday afternoon. This meant she could return home Friday night. Or Sunday night Ė whatís the difference? The difference was a weekend in Milan. How do you spell "Iím there"?

She left as scheduled at 7 a.m. and I booked a flight leaving at noon. Upon arrival in Milan, it wasnít just a nice day; it was screaminí blue sunshine with bright, clear skies. This looked like at place where the sun always shines, 24/7. Well, 16/7 at the summer solstice, 8/7 at the winter solstice, and something in between in between. Have I ever mentioned what a stupid expression I think "24/7" is? Click here for a brief exchange that I had about that subject with one of my favorite contemporary authors of fiction, David Baldacci.

For the geographically challenged, Milan is in the northwestern part of Italy about where the Italian "boot" would hit the knee of the boot wearer. Itís about 25 miles south of the Swiss border, about 150 miles northeast of Monaco and Nice, France, and about 300 miles northwest of Rome.

Milan is the place where the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. After the Renaissance came 400 years of foreign occupation by Spain, Austria, France, and Austria again. When the revolution came in the middle of the 19th century, Milan was a center of the activity that finally lead to unification.

Milan isnít Rome and we learned that the Milanese know it. Rome is the center of government and Milan is the center for business, banking, TV, and fashion. This kind of leads to a Washington/New York thing because the Milanese think Romans are lazy bureaucrats and, conversely, Romans think the Milanese live for nothing other than work. But what do I know? I just read that in a book. My own observation is that Milan is less spectacular than Rome, smaller, less ancient ruins, but also gives you much better odds to still be alive after crossing a street. Milan is small enough to see in a single sun-up to sun-down day and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

At the center of Milan is Il Duomo, the Cathedral (also here - while there, also click on the caption "Galleria Vittorio Emanuele") This immense church is the fourth largest in Europe. Construction began in 1386 and was not completed until the beginning of the 19th century while that French guy, Napoleon, was king of Italy during one of the occupations. Local dukes wanted to get some respect from other dukes and kings in France and Germany, and this church was the way to do that. Even though domes, like in the Vatican, were becoming the vogue, the Milanese dukes chose to stay with the more conservative Gothic style. The outside of the cathedral is decorated with hundreds of statues by sculptors from the 14th through 20th centuries. High above the altar near the ceiling is a small red light. At that point is where they keep a nail from the cross of Jesus which was brought to Milan by the mother of Emperor Constantine, St. Helen, in the 4th century. I donít know where she got it from but Iím happy to believe itís the real deal; it makes the story so much better. This nail is on exhibition for three days a year in September.

Then thereís the roof. One can walk the stairs (about ten stories) or take an elevator to the lowest part of the roof. If you look at the pictures, you can see that the apex of the roof is about another three or four stories higher and for this itís all foot power. The roof itself is filled with more statues and sculptures and when itís very clear, one gets a great view of the Alps to the north.

Milan is the home of La Scala, built in 1778, supposedly the most prestigious opera house in the world.  The theater area is reminiscent of the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. On the second floor there is a lobby containing some paintings and statues of people who have performed there. Here is list of some of those people, past and present. These names are beautifully melodious and just roll off your tongue. Say them out loud (quietly if there are people around you; Iíd hate to have anyone think youíre talking to yourself). But donít say them like an American; say them like an Italian: Arturo Toscanini, Giacomo Puccini, Enrico Caruso, Giuseppe Verdi, Luciano Pavarotti, Riccardo Muti, Giovanni Sollima, Gaetano Siragusa, Gianni Dallaturca, Maurizio Orsini, Ernesto Chieffo, Massimo Pacchione, Hector Caroselli. Just beautiful. I owe the last three an apology. They are my friends who have never performed at La Scala and one of whom has never been to Italy, but I love their names, too.

Between La Scala and Il Duomo, is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a shopping mall built in 1870 and was the first structure in Milan to have electric lighting. Itís four stories high with a glass roof, and lots of art in the form of mosaics and paintings on the walls and floors depicting Italian history. The shops are mostly high end. Mostly. Thereís a McDonaldís in there.

About a block away is another small church, Santa Maria presso San Satiro. It seems that in 1242, some gambler lost the grocery money and couldnít face his wife so he went into this church and did what came naturally. No, he didnít pray for forgiveness or guidance; he went berserk and attacked a statue of the baby Jesus. According to the story, the statue started to bleed and this church has drawn people to it for that reason ever since. I saw no blood but there is an optical illusion of sorts. Look at this picture. Youíll see six candlesticks on the altar and behind it is the apse leading back to the painting on the wall. Notice the depth from the candlesticks in front to the painting in back. In actuality, itís only about a foot deep as seen in this picture taken from the left side of the altar.

A trip to Milan would be incomplete without seeing the Last Supper by DaVinci, painted between 1495 and 1498. Our trip was, therefore, incomplete. One has to reserve a time slot about a month in advance and because we only knew of our trip a few days in advance, we couldnít do that. But youíve all seen the picture so itís almost like being there. Someone I used to know actually said that once. But check this out.  Do you see that arch in front of the table covering the area where Jesusí feet would be? Thatís not part of the painting. In 1652, someone decided that would be a swell place for a door.

Because we saw all that in a day, we spent the next day in Como, a small town along the lake of the same name. Como isnít a place to go to do anything. Itís a place to not do anything, to just wander around and see whatís there. We walked along the area by the lake which is ringed with mountains on all sides. On one hillside just east of town we could see a funicular going to the top. There is an old-town here, pedestrian only, that we walked through. It was after lunch on a Saturday afternoon, which we thought would be prime shopping time, but most of the stores were closed. I looked on a door and saw that stores were opened from 9 a.m. until noon, and then again from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. We had lunch and there was hardly anyone around. Como reopened after a bit and became swarmed with people. We walked by a church that was doing a fund raiser of some sort. They collared us and we didnít know what they were saying. After some serious gesturing, we realized they were taking pictures with silly costumes, gratis they said, but there was a box to make a donation. Hereís the picture they took of us. The cap is mine. The hair is borrowed. Does it look like anyone else I might be related to?

See all my pictures of Milan.

See all my pictures of Como.

See all my pictures of the Alps from the air.

See a video from Como.

 

© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008