Friday, June 17, 2005

Milan: Postcards and notes

We arrive in the airport finally, and – O, happy Carry-on bag! – go straight to the taxi stand and get in for the ride to the hotel. The Hotel San Francisco, which I only half chose for the name, is a warm little family place with most importantly, air-conditioned rooms, and second-importantly, a lovely garden out back. It also has a small but very nice shower, which I need after accumulating a thick palpable layer of grossness for hours on the flight.

Our first target, which we hope we can achieve before the jet-lag really sets in, is the Duomo. We take a Metro down to the piazza and come out of the subway station right beside the cathedral. No amount of photos or description really prepares you for the sort of overwhelming eye-overload of all that Gothic-ness in such large proportion. The façade is still being restored, and the rest of the cathedral will follow. Looking at it, I figure by the time they finish, it will be time to start again. Still, the pink marble in the places they’ve cleaned is spectacular and looking up the sides, you can see the sheer amount of devotion to sculpting, if not God, that went into this edifice.

I’m unfortunately not allowed into the Duomo as my skirt is deemed too short. The guard looks in my bag and then peers around it to look at my legs. “That’s quite bold,” I think to myself. But then he waves me back. Oddly enough, the skirt, which is perhaps only three inches above the knee, is too short for him, but we would later see mini-skirted visitors roaming about the cathedral in garb far shorter than mine. I guess it’s all a matter of opinion.

Thwarted, but undaunted, we head into the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II, which is also very impressively high. With a glass arched ceiling and a floor sporting illuminated tiles scattered throughout, the place reeks of Belle Epoque. Fancy shops and expensive cafes abound and we can’t resist buying some overpriced lattes and watching the show go by. Businessmen in impeccable shirts (how can they wear pink and tan and look so masculine?), tourists in Tevos (why does pink look so bad on Americans?), grandmas on their way through with shopping bags, kids spinning away on the mosaic testicles of the Bull of Turin on the floor under the dome. I could almost – but not quite—forget the jet lag.

La Scala

Behind the Galleria is the Teatro alla Scala (although I don’t see any scalas or stairs around, so I wonder how it got its name.) I tried months ago, unsuccessfully, to secure tickets to the “La Boheme.” Hah. If a computer could have laughed at me, it would have done so. The whole place only reopened in December of 2004 after two years of renovation. Two years of slogging out to the boonies to the less desirable digs in the Teatro Arcimboldi has apparently made the Milanese hungry for Old World glamour and just about every ticket possible was snapped up before you could even say boo.

We can go into the museum, however, which has an oddball assortment of objects – Toscanini’s baton, Puccini’s pince-nez -- I half expect them to be set up like saintly reliquaries, with the sacred object mounted in a jewel-encrusted gold case. The most interesting thing, I thought, was the cast of Chopin’s hands. It was fascinating to see those long elegant fingers that George Sand must have fallen in love with.

The real fun though, was that you are permitted to lurk in the boxes of the house and peek at the newly restored glory. While we stood there, they were putting together the sets of “La Boheme,” with the same barked orders, hammer knocks and crashes that can be heard in houses the world around. The fabrics, the finishings on all of the boxes was lovely and the house so romantically and wildly elegant that you know you need to wear jewels and silk just to walk in the space.

That was about as far as we could push ourselves though, and reluctantly we went back to the hotel for a much needed siesta.

In the later evening we went out to a trattoria near the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, where I had a truly scrumptious risotto Milanese and my Dad had a Costoletto alla Milanese. The wine – a local one recommended by the waiter – turned out to be quite an assertive one called Sforzato. But one glass of wine and I was pretty much ready for bed again, so we headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

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