Sunday, July 7, 2013


I'd only been to Milan once before. I liked it then, and this time I liked it even more. We flew down on AirBerlin the morning after the Britten War Requiem, from another one of Berlin's fabulous museums - the Tegel Airport Museum, a real live interactive museum where you can go and walk around, have you luggage checked, and actually get on a plane that takes off. Which is disappointing really, for you get the feeling after being there for an hour that it'll be an airship you'll be walking to once you clear the gate *.

On the evening we arrived, Derek suggested we meet at the canal district for pizza and we clackety-clacked down on the tram. The canals, of which only a few remain, go back all but a thousand years, once connecting the rivers and lakes of Lombardy, and were far more useful for transport than perilous roads. They shipped the great marble blocks for the Duomo down by canal.

Now lively and touristy, the Navigli has been awakened by restaurants and bars ...

... and we wandered along, over a bridge, veering away into the back streets, the sun now low, till we reached Deb's favorite - a large outdoor mozzarella pizza restaurant, with the soccer playing on a huge screen at one end.

That first night air was deceptive. Milan was hot and getting hotter, stone and concrete and treeless stone roads absorbing the beating sun, radiating it back into the creeping afternoon shade.

Bitumen footpaths, in Via Montenapoleone and other posh Vias, like Via Manzoni, were softening, dented by high heels and with little black ripples of summers past. But inside, things were uber cool.

It was the death of Alessandro Manzoni, writer, poet and unification patriot, that so aggrieved Verdi that in memoriam he wrote his Requiem which premiered (May 22 1874) one year after Manzoni's death in the Church of St Marco. Three days later the second performance was at La Scala.

                                                                  (Allessandro Manzoni portrait from Wikipedia)

Via Manzoni runs north from Piazza della Scala. Once known as the 'Road of the Gardens', which the rich and noble would favour for its closeness to the newly prestigious theatre and there live with magnificent internal gardens, it's a narrow road of closely opposed Neoclassical facades.

In search of the gardens, head for Museo Poldi Pezzoli, where, after never enough time with the collection, you may glimpse through a closed scrim a shady green sanctuary still in private hands.

Or in the Brera district, behind Scala, whose little streets are becoming pedestrianised and flush with cafes and restaurants, there's a hint of green in the Piazzeta di Brera ...

... and a glimpse of Napoleon in the Palazzo Brera where students at the Pinacoteca huddle in the shade.

Pressed against the wall of Santa Maria della Grazie, people wait for their time slot for entry to see The Last Supper.

Old, really old, trams creep past, windows down and you wonder if time has stood still.

35 degrees was 35 felt like 45. If I'd been in Tokyo I'd have run up the umbrella, but this was fashion capital of the world, with fashion week about to begin, where the immaculately groomed men in suits and white shirts were lean, tanned, Italian man tanned (it's a colour all of its own) and completely at ease, and smoking. Gelataria couldn't scoop it up fast enough, coconut pieces were kept moist under chilled water on stands in the Piazza del Duomo,

 and the Galleria was a refuge for tourists to gawk at each other.

We had no sooner taken a table inside, with just a hint of air movement, planning water and coffee and rested feet, when J spotted us. We'd been drinking late at her hotel the night before, so lunch was on us. The porcini were fresh and divine. The risotto from god's kitchen. The bill from hell.

If we were getting weary, the Europeans were taking it in their stride. The spring had been cool and damp, and fashion week was fashion week and the sun was a blessing, as models and camera crews soaked it up in Piazza dell Scala (yes, there's trees there).

And several underground train stops away was 'Casa Verdi', the house that Verdi built (and where he is buried, with Guiseppina Strepponi; he died in the Grand Hotel di Milan in Via Manzoni) for retired singers and musicians who "had not been favoured by fortune, or who when they were young did not have the virtue of saving their money. Poor and dear companions of my life."

It is beautifully and lovingly portrayed in Il Bacio di Tosca.

But, but , but the real reason we were in Milan, was La Scala

whose spooky night doors would open four times for us.

* The new Brandenburg airport, years behind schedule and massively over budget, is slated to open this year. Rush to Tegel while you can. Along with Milanese trams, these wonderful working relics of times long gone won't last.


Susan Scheid said...

What with David's Palermo posts and this beauty of yours, it's apparent I've spent far too little time in Italy. (I've only been to Florence, twice--the first time I'd intended to travel further, but as a young woman alone, traveling in Italy quickly became uncomfortable, and I fled back north.) Your comment on food from the gods and a bill from hell had me laughing, and of course I look forward to your reports on La Scala.

David said...

I've always found Milan hard to love, though I've always had a good time there. But then I've not been to the Poldo Pezzoli, the Casablanca Verdi or the canal district. And it sounds like the streets are smartening up. Vile in February mist and drizzle, mind you, though anywhere would be.

So next we get you Ring report?

wanderer said...

David, it seems so direct and business like after the other biggies (Rome, Florence, Venice) and I like that, and the central core of narrow streets and rattly trams, and fashionista. The local Milanese we did meet we generous and wonderfully friendly. But I can't imagine going there if it wasn't to go to La Scala and that's more than enough reason, ghosts and all, albeit one strike and you're out.

I must spend some time reading about the incredibly significant Alessandro Manzoni, about whom I've added a tidbit above, and I hope to make a note of my visit to the Ambrosiana. Then the Ring, yes, promise.

Don't you love/hate preemptive spelling!

wanderer said...

Oh, what happened to your funny Casablanca Verdi preemptive spelling comment? I've lost it. Sorry. Another gremlin at work.

David said...

Tell us about the ghosts of La Scala. And never mind about the Casablanca comment - I can't think that there was anything witty in it.

Susan said...

I had entirely overlooked the Manzoni reference. Hard to believe the requiem was written for him (I say this only because he was, well, a mere fiction writer). Clearly there is a need to find out more. I looked him up and found The Betrothed online (about which of course I know nothing). Here is a passage from the introduction: 'Alessandro Manzoni is not only a skilful painter of individual portraits, he excels also in grand historical representations. In that of the plague at Milan, and the famine preceding it, his manner becomes bolder, his touch more free and majestic, without, however, losing any of its exquisite delicacy. When he represents an entire people rebelling against hunger, or vanquished by disease and death, we deeply feel the horror of the picture, at the same time that an occasional smile is elicited by the comic genius of the artist, which exercises itself even amidst the agonies of famine and pestilence, so that, through the grand design of the exhibition, the delicate touches of the pencil are still visible, and individual character perceptible through the very depths of bold and general description; it is Van Dyck painting on the reverse of one of Michael Angelo's pictures." Intriguing, wouldn't you say?

Susan Scheid said...

"At the period of our story, this village was also fortified, and consequently had the honour to furnish quarters to a governor, and the advantage of possessing a permanent garrison of Spanish soldiers, who gave lessons in modesty to the wives and daughters of the neighbourhood, and toward the close of summer never failed to scatter themselves through the vineyards, in order to thin the grapes, and lighten for the rustics the labours of the vintage." (From the first chapter of The Betrothed. Anyone else curious about those "lessons in modesty"?)

wanderer said...

I nominate you, Susan of The Perseverance, my research assistant, an honorarium I'm afraid, but imagine the satisfaction! We clearly need to pursue this man, his writing and the Resorgimento, he whose death was so profoundly felt by Verdi, his fellow patriot.

Now Spanish soldiers and 'lessons in modesty' does has a whiff of oxymoron about it, don't you think, with apologies to modest Spaniards who will never read this. They are, along with the Italians, and the French not far behind, the most sensual of people, whose love of life and flesh attracts me enormously, and one of many remembered nights (in the Gardens of Spain - that just flowed on, sorry) was high in Toledo one summer, listening all night to the bands and dancing and carousing in the nearby hills, fires alight glowing orange in the black of night. I lay awake listening, wanting to be there, embracing lessons in immodesty.