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Saturday 28 December: Milan

Still in bed, 0925 after a semi-uncomfortable night — small bed — while Stefano's in the shower. We just woke up, after a false wakeup with the alarm set at 8, and so he's in a rush to get to the shop which he opens at 10. I'll probably stay here awhile and write.

The descent over Milano wasn't properly over Milano but 45 km away, so no aerial views of the Duomo: but the Alps in a straight line, clearly marking the confines of Italy. Beauti­ful of course.

Malpensa International is quite small, maybe 8 or 10 gates; passengers disembark down the stairs to the tarmac to buses for a 200 m ride to the terminal. I was prepared to declare on the way in — my 6 bottles of wine​a are over the limit of 2L of still wine per person — but the customs agents insistently waved me thru. Since my suitcase for some reason wound up near to last, I had a bad moment wondering if it had been lost, and ended up being almost the last passenger out; recognising Stefano without too much hesitation —

He'd parked immediately out the door and of course found a fine on his windshield, 57 ML, of which I paid half; the drive into Milan was exactly like any other drive into a big city these days, although the buildings are better than most in Europe; Stefano had arranged to open the store at noon rather than his usual ten o'clock, and we swung by his apartment to drop off my stuff, then on to [his shop] which turns out to be in [a building] "Renaissance-appearing but not" was what I guessed out loud to Stefano, which my Blue Guide and a plaque on the building both confirmed [. . .] .

We opened the store, a sparse designer-modern space with fairly simple dresses and coats, most of them mildly ugly because not quite simple enough, hanging no more than four deep fa­cing the customer rather than in the usual rack arrangement: women's clothes exclusively, and all of it daywear and officewear for the well-to‑do, with price tags in the $400‑700 range. A not unpleasant space, but I'd be bored out of my skull working there.

Stefano's normal break is from 1:30 to 3 so I had basically an hour to potter around before coming back to the store. So I pottered around, going no further than maybe 300 m in various directions, taking pictures of the Archi di Porta Nuova [. . .] nearby [. . .], also of some courtyards — beauti­ful if nothing at all really (remember this is Italy?) — and stopping in a couple of bookstores: I did get a large book on Roman and medieval Milan.

[image ALT: missingALT]
The Archi di Porta Nuova, a much-restored 12c gate
with Roman and medieval stones.

Lunch was at il Bar "Four Stars" [. . .], in a crowded basement room with a few friends of Stefano's that dribbled into the store as he closed, much like I did: a woman named Eliana quite pretty and her next-door neighbor who suddenly left before ordering, she'd forgot she'd made an appointment for lunch with a cousin at 2:30 — a tall engaging blonde [. . .], Giuseppe; a rather sharp intense punk-haircutted dark young woman named Monica that I started warming to as we talked over lunch; and a couple of vaguer acquaintances, a man my age but overweight and roundfaced & liking his food, with glasses, who introduced himself as Claudio "or Klaus" — and his friend Luca a rather strikingly attractive younger man [. . .] — Conversation ran along the lines of what friends talk about, if Claudio had a marked tendency to [. . .] a discussion everyone diving in — in mixed company, in a crowded public eatery, and at not exactly loud but, well, Italian, volume levels — about the merits of [. . .] —

Lunch itself was negligible, we had panini alla bresaola e alla rugola; coffee. At 3 I left quickly suddenly realising that it would be a perfect time for the roof of the Duomo: although cold (quite cold for the season for Milan: 35‑38°) the sun had come out, and indeed by the sheerest of good fortunes it was the ideal lighting conditions and weather for it. The Duomo is a few hundred meters off and easy to find, cutting thru the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele — which upon entering I remembered having done that once so many, many years ago when I changed trains and with a couple of hours to kill remembering seeing the Duomo only — altho' for some reason I read my Blue Guide map to require me to turn on one of the short arms of the Galleria and therefore approached the Duomo from the side: exactly in front of the pedestrian, as opposed to elevator, climb to the roof for 6000₤.

The staircase itself is of completely null interest, apparently of modern cinderblocks; not wide enough for two so that people climbing up and down would have to do squeezes to get thru; but the roofs are quite something else. If you like views these must be quite good, I now realize I didn't even look! but the building fabric itself is of the greatest interest.

Of course it's all 18c and 19c, but in the true Gothic continuation of the lower parts, much in the spirit James would like to see cathedrals lovingly finished and restored. He's right, too. The French propaganda, which I had believed with no reason other than inertia, viz. that the building is nasty because of cold marble, is utter nonsense presumably born of jealousy: as a whole, the building is magnificent and not cold at all. Very formal and apparently homogeneous, yes; but even the homogeneity is only merely apparent, since the sculptural detail is quite varied and indeed a bit of a hodgepodge, from very medieval dragons and foliage to very Renaissance both in subject and in treatment, to classical and here and there 19c pious art or secular commemorative portraiture.

From the stairs you come out onto a walkway around the upper part of the nave, with a forest of spires and buttresses and gargoyles, the latter quite fully functional: I saw one with the lower jaw encased in hard black plastic to protect it, and it jutted out over a large functional open inclined channel carrying the water off elsewhere 15 or 20 m below —

Very ornamented and sculpted everywhere, with plaques of biblical scenes or antique fantasies — harpies, satyrs — over the archways of the walk for example formed by the buttresses. Very difficult to take pictures of withal since the spires are very vertical but group esthetically into squarish ensembles: the eye takes it all in, but fixed camera shots don't, and furthermore misrepresent the quality of the space up there. I took nearly 2 rolls of film and may go back again — we'll see what I got.

[image ALT: Three very thin lacy Gothic towers. They are part of the spires of the cathedral of Milan (Italy).]

Then up a further staircase, about 6 or 7 meters, and actually on the roof, slightly pitched, over the nave: a curious airportlike space with a lacelike façade at one end and a block of towers — one very tall spire in the center crowned by a golden statue, flanked by two slightly different polygonal towers basically staircases reminding me of Blois. Isolated spires off in the blue sky at varying distances somewhat like an odd natural landscape of a central butte and scattered needle outcrops: with, atop, human figures, either dressed and medieval-looking or nude and neoclassical; each with its own lightning rod — and the gargoyles have embedded metal spikelets I think for bird control.

A whole polyglot gathering up there, sort of reverse speleologists — the spatial effects are really most peculiar — among whom a small Japanese group: I took an irresistible shot of a Japanese man concentratedly photographing his family against the towers — he saw me, we all laughed — later he got one of me shooting a detail of one of the spires — we laughed even more! I gave them my address, and his is

[. . .]
Aizawa Seya Ward
Kanagawa prf. Yokohama

to whom I fully intend to send my picture of him — maybe multiple copies would be nice since he doesn't have the negative, so he can give one to the friends or family he was with — when I get back.

[image ALT: missingALT]

Fellow photographer.

I spent about an hour up there total, and only at the very end did I realize there was an outdoors skating rink à la Skate on State​b set up free entry for the season sandwiched between the Palazzo Reale and the Duomo: inevitably on coming down I went over there and took a couple of pictures of the skating exhibition — a warmup seemed to be in progress, a couple skaters had double jumps, and I saw one nice low sitspin (and another girl with a much less low one and less nice) — against the floodlit Duomo or a part of it: problems of scale again; and inquired about public skating: from 1000 to 2400 except for the exhibition roughly 1600‑1800.

[image ALT: A large rectangular flat space edged by tall thin Gothic spires. It is the roof of the cathedral of Milan (Italy).]

It was also getting late:
sunset comes early in midwinter in Milan.

Writing this, as often on trips, may prove difficult: it's now 2100h and another day has gone by; I dropped the entry at about 1115 when I realized I couldn't get my skate at the Duomo in before lunch with Stefano at 1:30; but as it turned out, the skating isn't open to adults; by the time I'd figured out what station I was at near Stefano's house (Amendola) and exactly how many tickets to buy and where, caught the train — almost no wait, fast, clean, as elsewhere in Europe — got to the Duomo and inquired, it was 1:10 anyway, so I just walked back to the store; Stefano and I ate at Brek just outside the Archi, a very good little meal for a chain self-service and a pleasant atmosphere, for 30ML; he had a breast of chicken in some unidentifiable sauce said to be rugola, with identifiable invece white wine in it, made fresh in a skillet right in front of us, with boiled potatoes; in addition, I had a primo [piatto] of carpaccio, plus a contorno of what seemed to be chard, plus two desserts: a grape pie — identifiable, altho' the grapes had liquefied, by the seeds! — mostly custard, clafoutis-style, and a chocolate cake. All of it quite good.

From there back to [. . .] and I took off immediately, waited in line about twenty minutes until 3:10, then skated thru 4:45 by 0°C and in the shade altho' sheltered from the wind, on a small rink ripply and with very hard ice, and seams in the ice where refrigeration panels joined — plus lots of the usual recreational skaters; after about half an hour I got used to the cold (a digital clock on the p.zza del Duomo showed 0°C thruout) and removed my sweater, nor was I too cold: cool at worst, in my red and black stripeys and a black Raymond Dragon short-sleeve shirt. I did mostly spins; jumps would have been impossible, and were both unreasonable and forbidden anyway. Surprisingly I managed a couple of very nice centered spins on each foot under these very bad conditions, at which I was delighted; and even one OKish backspin and a bit of footwork, having a good time generally, despite being aware before and after that it marked the exact anniversary down to the hour GMT of what's-his‑name's assault of me in my house: but while I was on the ice, it was wonder­ful, I thought of nothing else; and occasionally, including a few times I did backbends — rather tentative due to the conditions again — I became aware of doing all this skating right near the Duomo. Normally all I see during a backbend is the ceiling of a rink: today it was glorious, marvelous to suddenly see the Gothic traceries of the cathedral against a very blue sky. As I told people, tecnicamente, la pista non è niente, ma l'ho fatto per l'esperienza. And as an esperienza, it was imparagonabile.

Back to the store at 5, where visiting Stefano was a young tall blonde named [. . .], at first very pretty but in a couple of minutes closer inspection showed a rather coarse-looking guy with a double chin under a mop of possibly dyed hair. After three more minutes, listening to him talk, I didn't like him at all: various drugs he liked, and how his mind didn't succumb to drugs because he liked fighting them, and Stefano should try this latest one; Stefano is so anti-drug that he blocked that suggestion out and never heard it, but I did, nor was it any poor understanding of Italian on my part — really not a good sort, the [. . .] .

Anyway he left in a few minutes, and I sat there sort of tucked away at the foot of a staircase, talking with Stefano and reading the Corriere and a guide to Milan in bits. In two hours only two people entered the store: quick inquiries and no sales. Yesterday there were quite a few sales, today one Roumanian woman who paid in dollars, but not really anything much.

Later Notes:

a Bringing wine to Italy seems incredible, but I had brought some good bottles of American wine, mostly Californian, as a gift. Might as well be proud of your country; and the stuff compares favorably, if not price-to‑price. Italian wine is cheaper.

b A temporary outdoors rink that for several years used to be set up in the wintertime on State Street in downtown Chicago.

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Page updated: 22 Apr 02