Monday, August 30, 2010

Between the Duomo and the episcopal palace: a beautiful surprise at your feet

We forget to look up when hurrying through our days, but we also forget to observe when we are looking down....More......

I can't count the number of times that I've passed down the street between the Duomo and the episcopal palace. Maybe it's because the Duomo always attracts my attention. It's fascinating the way that such an enormous and intricate building pops out at you when you approach it from the relatively narrow street between the royal palace and the episcopal palace. (I say "relatively" because, though it may seem narrow to us, being wide enough to fit two horse-drawn carts, it probably would have seemed a highway to any ancient, or medieval, Milanese.)

The raking light on Saturday the 21st of August, 2010, at almost 7 P.M. must have been just right to throw glints onto the cast bronze, and to force it into my consciousness.

At about 3' x 4' (that's about a meter by a bit over a meter, for you metric system folk), the grill, severe in its overall simple geometric pattern, but beautiful in its contrast of horizontals, verticals and diagonals, as well as harmonious positive (mass) and negative (empty) spaces, was so large that, even standing on tiptoe and holding the camera up as high as possible, I couldn't get it all in and, at the same time, perpendicular to the camera's plane. Hence, the tilt.

This posed a quandry because it caught my eye, not only for this blog, but also for "Milan Monday" for my needlepoint blog, Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art. I solved that problem by extracting a modular detail, and working that up into a gridded pattern. (

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Here my are!

Mom says that, when I was little, I would hide, then jump out saying, "Here my are!"

So, here I am reflected in a car window between the early 14th century bell tower of San Gottardo in Corte by Francesco Pecorari, a pupil of Giotto, and the back of City Hall, 1923, by Renzo Gerla.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Milan is not a trash can

Milan is not a trash can. There, I've said it.

Some actions, such as throwing stuff away in trash cans, take such little effort, and yet yield such an enormous benefit, that why more people aren't civic-minded on such a basic level simply boggles my brain. Do you know how long it takes for your wad of gum, the cellophane wrapping of your cigarette pack, or your cigarette butt to degrade...if ever...?...More......

Depending on the local conditions (exposed to the air and elements, or sealed away in a dry place?), your piece of gum may take around five years to degrade (all the while collecting filth, and turning a nasty ugly dirt black peppering sidewalks, walkways and pavements...and costing us all--that includes YOU--extra money just to clean it up that could have been spent better elsewhere), while the paper and tobacco of your cigarette butt may take up to about TEN YEARS to degrade--releasing their toxic chemicals into the environment all the while--while the filter and the cellophane wrapper, made up of a kind of plastic,...well, we all know how fast plastic degrades...maybe never, maybe in hundreds, or even thousands of years.

"It's only one piece of gum/cigarette butt," I hear you say. Maybe.

But how many times have you flicked a cigarette butt onto the street, or onto the railroad tracks, and how many smokers around you are doing the same thing?

This is not an anti-smoking campaign.

We're adults, and should be able to decide for ourselves in a way that doesn't impinge on others' health. (My non-smoking doesn't affect the smokers' air, but the smokers' smoke does affect my air. There's the rub, isn't it? If smokers had been politer, and had asked more often, I don't think the situation would have gotten as emotionally charged as it is, and, now that I live surrounded by more smokers than before, I've learned to "chill out" in the open air, but still would prefer to taste my food, not someone's smoke, in a restaurant. I think that's fair, though I'd like to add that I'm not happy that some of my health care-destined tax money is paying for consciously self-inflicted problems, such as smoking, exaggerated obesity, or high-risk sports, either...whew, now that's off my chest, too.)

It's not even a "Think Green" campaign. (Though there are some simple things we all can do to help, even if only a little.)

It's my anti-litter soap box. (No pun intended, but it's a good one.)

What to do if there's not a trash can around?

Keep the gum wrapper to wrap the gum in, and put in in a pocket, or purse, til you get to a trash can.

Put the cellophane wrap of your cigarette pack in your pocket, or purse. (It's SO HEAVY and SO AWKWARD a shape, I know, I know, but be a sport, and just do it.)

Put out the cigarette carefully, and put the butt in the cigarette tray of your car. In lieu of a nearby trash can, wrap it in a gum wrapper, or a "portable" ash tray (I swear, I just saw these on the internet, they're little foil-like pieces of paper). Put it in one of the chic little portable "old-fashioned" cigarette butt containers, no bigger than the palm of your hand.

Cityscapes that make us go "aaaaaahh," instead of "arrrrrgggh," are in our own hands.

Please be a good sport, and cooperate.

Want more info? Try these links for starters:

Monday, August 23, 2010

More Milanese grill work

You may recall that the first day of the work week is “Milan Monday” for my needlepoint blog, so I coordinate the two. Today? Another example of Milanese grill work....More......

Grill work, as an “industrial art,” often already has all the superfluous scraped away, and so it is much readier to be adapted easily as a needlepoint pattern.

Because it contrasts points, diagonals, curves and straight lines, this one could be a delightful example of some of the design rules formulated by the 19th century Owen Jones, many of whose principles still seem to me valid, today.

There is a very similar example covering some grates at the central train station (for example, platform 20), but the corners have "X's" instead of the spirals, and the centers have straight, not zig-zag, lines. Thus, the design is much less interesting.

More about the central train station in a future message, or messages.

I snapped this photo on Saturday, August 21, 2010, at 1 P.M. to share with you.

To see the related page on my needlepoint blog, go to:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Milan is closed in August

If you come to Italy to go to a popular beach town, say Rimini (where there also are some important ancient monuments, by the way, so no excuses!), August will be crowded for you, and probably HOT, but you’ll find it welcoming. Towns accustomed to year-round tourism, say Rome (hmmm, I wonder if there’s something to be seen there….. ;-> ),...More......

...will still be HOT, but they probably will be sufficiently open to be relatively welcoming. Cities, sigh Milan, that are not (yet) accustomed to tourism are closed for August. Yup, closed.

When I first moved here about 15 years ago, the whole town was evacuated during August, and if for some Act of God you had to stay in town, you had serious problems finding even milk and bread. In the last 5-7 years, the holidays have been scrunching at both ends, so that the ‘almost everyone but you and the unfortunate clerk at the supermarket’ period is confined to the central two weeks flanking the national holiday so important, it’s more like a New Year’s Day: Ferragosto (August 15).

More things are staying open as the economic crisis deepens Milanese get used to welcoming tourists. Supermarkets are open, so are some museums, and—while it’s a sacrifice, I’ve decided to take on the burden for your sakes to find and test them—some shops making their own Italian ice cream (aka “gelato”). The last couple of years, the city has organized a series of interesting activities for grown-ups and children, including games and open-air opera and jazz performances in the evening. The "urban desertification" of the city even has its positive side: those two central weeks of August are easy for driving and parking, and there's a refreshing sense of ample personal space.

I took this shot of a shop security screen with the “closed for the summer” sign at the corner of Pacini and Bazzini, today at 5 P.M. The painting on it and its neighbors is too tidy, too nicely within the boundaries of the door openings, to be random graffiti, otherwise, I would not have posted the image.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My dream house (sigh)

Palazzo Bolchini by P.G. Magistretti, 1927-30, Piazza Meda. My dream house. The "condo" with the (entire half of the floor) terrace on your upper left. The one soaking up the happy sun. Sigh...More...

I snapped this picture on the 17th of April 2009, at 5:30 P.M., before the years long renovation (recently completed) of the piazza, in order to install a much disputed underground parking lot, which destroyed ancient house foundations. Oh Milan, my Milan, so dead set on being modern that you constantly destroy your past.

Thankfully, the piazza is almost as before, including the sculpture by Pomodoro (see my, and the exit and entrance for the parking are surprisingly (and thankfully) non-invasive.

For info about the building, see

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Understanding Milan (02): Why HERE?

When it's torrid and horribly humid in the summer and freezing and horribly humid in the winter, I often ask myself, exasperated at the city's ancient founders, why HERE? According to legend, it's all the fault of a furry sow (more later), but, really folks, why HERE?...More...

The answer was less arcane than I feared: waterways, the ancient world's highways.

Within the embrace of a semi-circle of mountains, Milan is in the middle of an alluvial plain, the flat area scraped away thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago by the retreating glaciers. Alluvial because it's criss-crossed with overground rivers (good for moving people and goods around) and underground flows (good for agriculture) of water.

Much much later, these natural waterways were given a helping hand, and Milan became a watery city of canals, called Navigli. Really, it was. And they were crucial for the city's urban, economic, social and demographic growth. But that's fodder for future posts.

Keeping true to my desire to post only my own photos (and avoid copyright problems), here's a link to a panoramic view of Milan's erstwhile waterways:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Snippet of historic green

Milan is an important urban center. That means more cement than grass. It doesn't mean, however, grass-less. Bird's eye views of Milan show parks and pockets of green. Here's one of my favorites cut between the 15th century hospital, now seat of Milan's state university, on the left and on the right the Early Christian cemetery behind San Nazaro, one of Christendom's oldest churches, both subjects of future posts.

Coming from a part of the world where the weather was almost always a variant of "nice" as I did, watching the sneaking up, bursting out, glorying and withering away of each of the four seasons still enchants me.

This little walkway, which I have been taking at least once a week for about 5 years, gives me this wonderful opportunity.

I took this photo on the 8th of April, 2007, at 4 P.M.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Siren call in Sempione Park

Four sister sirens to guard the little bridge over the brook in Sempione Park behind the Sforza castle. Hiding in trees is their just deserve for having failed to protect the bridge in the first place....More......

Designed by F. Tettamanzi and cast by the firm Rubini, Scalini and Falck in 1842, they originally were positioned at the corner of what is now via Senato and via San Damiano over the medieval canal before it was covered, perhaps in the 1930s, in Milan's rush to hygiene (anti-mosquito, anti-malaria, anti-cholera, anti-etc.) and into the car (more paved streets = sale of more cars and tires).

What are they made out of? Cast iron. Big deal, you say.

BZZZZZZZ Wrong answer!

In that day, cast iron had been more common for industrial objects, such as bridge supports and warehouse elements. Little by little, it began creeping into the eye's way.

Similar to Realism in painting and sculpture, architectural forms began slowly to express their own reality: function (for that, see pre-Bauhaus Otto Wagner in Vienna and--if I remember!--a future post about Milan), rationality, the practical and the beauty of possibilities inherent in the material, increasingly considered legitimate for artistic projects. The reading room of the Bibliothèque Ste. Geneviève (1843-1850) in Paris by Henri Labrouste comes to mind in which the iron columns run down the center of the room flanked by traditional masonry arches (or, at least metal structure arches masked by traditional masonry...which is it?, anyway, you get the point) and the ceilings are supported with lacey cast iron arches decorated with (traditional) acanthus spirals (concessions, concessions, concessions). I'll pull two easily visible examples in Milan out of my image bank some other day.

I'm cast iron, and I'm proud!

I snapped this photo during an oppressively hot day (during which I hoped I learned my lesson from the near heat stroke), July 17, 2010, at about 3:30 P.M.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I love daisies

It's time for a break from art and architecture.

When about 8-10 years old, I hated daisies as cut flowers ("cheapskate!"),...More......and this active disinterest lasted until fairly recently. Nevertheless, I remember noting daisy differences in the lawns around our house, even then, and even have dreamed about the different natural colors of daisies (my childhood predates artificial colors for real flowers).

The daisies crept up on me, though. Especially these little lawn daisies that pop up for about a month in spring, and which I look forward to seeing each year.

I really love them. I love their delicacy, their bright and clean colors, their happy little faces, their promise of summer.

I snapped this shot on April 30, 2006, at 5 P.M.

Friday, August 13, 2010

All in a day’s work

Here's a bit of photo fun: an unusual angle for the 1916 equestrian sculpture by Riccardo Ripamonti of Giuseppe Missori, a Bolognese, who adopted Milan as his home town, before and after his active participation, alongside Garibaldi, in the wars resulting in the mid 19th century successful Unification of Italy...More......Missori, who died quite advanced in years in 1911, is commemorated in this sculpture that keeps piquing curiosity because of the strong contrast between his proud bearing and the exhausted state of his poor horse.

Cristina Beltrami, an art historian, notes in her blog "Due Secoli di Scultura" ( that the horse bears a strong resemblance to one produced by Ripamonti for a Waterloo monument in 1906, though that still begs the question of why such a model--even one easily at hand--was chosen for monument so important when it was produced with money publicly collected beginning in 1914.

I think the answer is to be found in Missori's own profound disappointment in the outcome of the wars for liberation from the Austrian empire, not because they succeeded, of course, but for the form the government of Italy took afterwards.

A proud freedom fighter, Missori, like Mazzini, wanted a republican government, and was quite unhappy that a monarchy was set up, instead.

I think the contrast of pride in contribution to a successful worthy cause and extreme disappointment in the later form of that cause is the reason for the great contrast between the fiercely proud rider and his worn out and depressed horse.

The sculpture depicting Giuseppe Missori is found in Piazza Missori. That sounds logical, but is more surprising than it sounds. Though the sculpture to Cavour is found in Piazza Cavour, and the sculpture of Beccaria is located in Piazza Beccaria, the sculpture to Garibaldi is in a piazza dedicated to General Luigi Cadorna, the sculpture of Abbot Parini is in Piazza Cordusio, the sculpture of Cattaneo is at the corner of the streets dedicated to Tommaso Grossi and St. Margaret....

I shot this photo on the 30th of April, 2009, at 3 P.M.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bike Me!

About a year ago, ATM (Milan's public transport system) finally introduced this system of rental bikes called "BikeMi." For those, who don't know Italian, the "Mi" is pronounced like "Me"--and so tickles the fancy of literate Italians knowing English--but is short for "Milano."

If you're interested, drop into one of the ATM information points scattered around town (there are two in the subway system under the Duomo) because the BikeMi handy dandy info kiosks work only for those already signed up to the program...pretty smart, huh?!

This shot was snapped in Piazza San Babila on Saturday, August 7, 2010, at about 2:40P.M.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Triumphal Arch of Peace, L. Cagnola, Piazza XXIV Maggio, early 19th century

Begun by Cagnola in Sempione Park in 1807-1808 for Napoleon, Emperor of France and the King of Italy, on the trajectory of his planned boulevard connecting Milan (from behind the symbolically important Sforza Castle) to Paris, it didn't get any farther than the cornices of the shorter side arches. Then the Austrians won Milan back from Napoleon. Then the French won Milan back. Then the Austrians won Milan back, and Napoleon met his Waterloo (1815), and in 1826 the work on the arch began, again, this time at the behest of Francesco I, the Austrian emperor, who dedicated it to the peace Napoleon's final fall brought to Europe. It was inaugurated on the 10th of September, 1838, by the emperor, himself, in honor of his coronation as King of the Lombardy-Veneto region (the customs buildings flanking the arch date to this same period). Then the Lombards, with French help (Napoleon III), finally wrested control of Milan (1859) from Austria once and for all. So began the Unification of Italy, and the arch's inscriptions and dedications of Francesco I and Ferdinando I were substituted with the current ones praising independence.

The campaign of restoration has been completed, recently (summer 2010). Here's a snap of the arch before the (*******!) graffitti-ists get to it, again.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Three birds with one stone: Milan, photography and needlepoint

Why not combine all three of my passions (Milan, photography, needlepoint) in one? And so I have: snapping shots of details of Milan to turn subsequently into needlepoint designs.

If you love needlepoint, I'd like to invite you to "follow" not just this, my blog on Milan, but also my blog on needlepoint in which I share my passion for this creative art -- Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art ( -- in which Mondays will be dedicated to Milan.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Understanding Milan (01)

Milan often is not on the list of first-time Italy visitors. If one has an exceptionally limited amount of time to dedicate to Italy, visits to Rome, Florence and Venice are more common. Milan's undeserved bad rap as a cement-filled rainy city does its part. (For my related "Slow Travel" article:

Milan's weather is characterized as "continental": often cold and rainy in the winter, usually hot in the summer. No surprise, there. The fall and spring seasons often are quite short, too, a couple of weeks, at best. Since the city is located in the middle of a fluvial plain humidity hovers, and I'm happy when it gets down to about 35%. What would surprise visitors is that Milan's weather is often gorgeous, the deep blue skies tipped with a few puffy clouds bleached white by magnifying glass sharp light...great for urban photography.

Cement does exist in Milan. It would be silly to deny it. Around 50% of the city was bombed to bits during WWII, so a desperate need for affordable housing and for a sharp break with the recent past resulted in less than edifying results (no pun intended). Bursts of economic prosperity throughout the ages also expressed themselves in building and artistic activity.

I'm not a fan of modern art and architecture, but not everything modern in Milan is hideous, and sometimes it just takes a bit of study and familiarity to generate fondess, if not like: my feelings toward this 1960s sculpture, "The Sun," by A. Pomodoro, recently reinstalled in the just renovated Piazza Meda.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dawn in Milan, 3 Jan 2005, 9:20 A.M.

The dawn of this blog is accompanied by my 3 Jan. 2005 photo of dawn in Milan. The lights stretch away towards the south down Corso di Porta Romana, which departs from Piazza Missori. The piazza is aligned on what once was the course of the city's ancient Roman walls, while the first part of the street runs where the ancient Roman porticoed road once protected entrances of shops, houses, and the courtyard of one of many churches founded by St. Ambrose, and which is now known as San Nazaro.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I love Milan, Italy.

In this blog, I will be sharing my Milan with you. My photos, my thoughts, my slice of the city: the beauty and complex history of the city (undeservedly overlooked by tourists), day-to-day experiences, and my opinions.

There won't be much about the town's very active night-life, I'm not a night owl, but there will be lots of wonderful things to see and do, and the site will soon be enriched by a list of links, a bibliography and so forth.

Unless otherwise noted, all the texts and photos are mine, and are my property. You may use them non-commercially. If you wish to use them commercially, please contact me to make suitable arrangements.

In the meantime, can someone please tell me how to substitute the blog's background photo for one of my own? I hunted about in the blogspot modules, but I can't find any "import your own photograph" option (for the general, text and post backgrounds). If this isn't readily possible in the blogspot blog creating modules...I highly suggest it!

In closing, if you also enjoy hand done needlepoint, I invite you to visit (and "follow"!) my other blog: Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art.

I hope you'll enjoy my blog, and come to visit Milan, Italy, one day.

Best regards,


(IMAGE: detail of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, 4 January 2009)
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