Thursday, September 30, 2010

How much is that coffee in the window?

How much did you say that would be?

For a small (i.e., kitchen mug-sized) cup of normal American-style coffee in a cheapie disposable paper cup, no sugar, no milk, no squirts of who knows what, no nuthin', just coffee?

E. 2.10?! (that's $2.84 at today's exchange rate of almost $1.35 to one Euro!)...More......

O.K., O.K., O.K., Arnold's American's new, here, it's trendy, and, better--if memory serves--than much too bitter Starbucks (did I tell you I wrote them a few years back, telling them their coffee, in my opinion, is awful, and to forget their rumored introduction into the Italian market?), it's finally a decent cup of American coffee in Italy (though, I admit, a few months back I had a pretty good cup...the barman made an espresso, and just added extra water...not the same thing, though, folks...the roasting is different), just the right amount of bitterness with a bit of interesting smokiness, too.

O.K., O.K., O.K., there are chairs and tables and stools and, oh what the heck are they called, you know, a narrow high coffee bar kind of fixed nook table-like thing, and WiFi is free.

And they don't charge extra for sitting down.

At those prices, though, maybe I should say, they don't discount for standing, or using take away.


Just to check to see if I'm way out of touch (apparently I am) with U.S. prices, I looked online.

According to, the price for a similar cuppa in a similar café would be around $2.50 (


And I was complaining to myself about the rise of the price of an espresso, after the arrival of the Euro! It's half the cost of the American java.

And it's served in a nice porcelain cup and saucer, pre-warmed.

And, these days, the cafés often (though not always...don't try it at the "SKY" café at the Milanese Stazione Centrale...what a bad habit, charging customers just to sit for a few minutes, wake up, Italy!...and...the nice, folks...drink your cuppa leisurely, but move along, move along, don't spend so little, then plant yourselves like a 1000-yr old Sequoia!) allow customers without charging extra to take their espresso to a table, and drink their cuppa calmly, though nicely bringing the cup and saucer back to the bar (you haven't paid for bussing service, after all).

Can someone please explain to me what the deal is with the, to me, exorbitant expense of a take away paper cup of coffee?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A "rare" French-influenced Art Nouveau grill

Via Boscovich, not far from the Central Station, has a few delights, and this "rare" French-influenced Art Nouveau grill is one of them....More......

Why "rare"?

Because Milanese Art Nouveau -- called "Liberty" after the popular store, font of textiles helping to spread the design -- more typically is influenced, as one might expect, by the Viennese tradition. It tends to be more geometric in conception, while this design fully expresses its natural origins, even if delightfully simplified.

If you look closely, you can see that the artisan has tipped the edges of the leaves behind and in front of the bars of the grill. Extra work, but it adds a three-dimensional and natural touch to the otherwise stylized design.

I snapped this shot for you on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, at about 4:30 P.M. (somewhat cloudy day, as you can see from the lighting)

To see the needlepoint gridded design I created out of this image, please go to my blog on needlepoint, Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art:


Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Big Milanese Gelato Showdown (02)

I sacrificed myself for you, again, just the other day, and, for the second time in years (calories, calories, calories), stopped in the Venchi chocolate and ice cream shop a stone's throw from the Duomo (via Mengoni). The 75% chocolate was super super creamy, a good compromise for milk and dark chocolate lovers, it tasted like fudge without being bitter. The blueberry sorbet was creamy, too, not because of milk, but because it had been churned into perfection (though the taste, I admit, was not as flavorful as I had expected).

Would I go there, again, calories permitting?...More......

...A resounding yes!

I purposefully went there, and not to the Grom's shop only a bit farther on, because I hate fads.

Grom's is good, very good, but--call it cheering for the underdog--it maddens me to see sheep-like crowds amassed on the sidewalk (not so politely blocking foot traffic) around the Grom's entrance, while, just a few steps away, only a few (discerning) customers are at Venchi's.

Friends brought us their "no sugar" chocolates as a house gift. So heavenly that--seriously--there's no telling. The web site says they also have chocolates for those not able to eat grains (a genetic disorder fairly common in mediterranean countries). I'm sure those, and the regular chocolates, are marvelous, too.

(No, I get no kickbacks...just as well for the waistline.)


P.S., they now also have a shop contiguous with the Cadorna train station on the corner with via Boccaccio (in which there is also another good ice cream place) AND one on via Mercanti, part of the handy pedestrian zone straight shot from the Duomo to the castle.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reminder: What lovely days in Milan look like

Did I say sunshine, blueberry soda skies and whipped cream puff clouds?

It's raining...again.

Of course it is.

It's Milan's womens' ready-to-wear fashion week.

Just to remind us what good weather looks like in Milan, here's a photo I snapped on the 31st of August, 2006, at 8:45 A.M.

(The photo looks in the southerly direction, and was shot from the Torre Velasca. Somewhat to the right in the middle ground can be seen the green dome of Sant'Alessandro.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Big Milanese Gelato Showdown (01)

I promised a few posts back that I'd sacrifice myself for you, and sample gelatos (the plural really is "gelati" in Italian, pronounced "jeh-LAH-tee") in Milan. Well, it took me awhile to work up the courage, but I finally did....More......

So here is the first of the reviews.

Which gelato shops ("gelaterie") you ask? Some come from my own personal wanderings, but most come from the list (in Italian) on the web site for the Corriere della Sera, a newspaper printed in Milan, and one of Italy's most important papers. They ought to be with serious articles, like this one on the best gelaterie in town:
(just kidding, Corriere folks!, ya' never know when they'll call me up to write for their ever so prestigious, ever so important paper)

We'll start with "Nuova Brianza," the old "Rossi" gelateria at Via Le Brianza, 14.

It was a hot day.

I was primed for a refreshing ice cream.

Not being a professional critic, I even wanted it to be good.

How was it?

It was O.K., just O.K.

The cream-based flavors were not terribly icey, but they weren't terribly creamy, or flavorful, either.

The price was more or less average: for what is called a medium-sized cup with three flavors (probably a small-medium size to American eyes, at least), the cost was about E. 2.75, around $3.60 at the current exchange rate (about $1.30 per E. 1).

Would I go there, again?

Errrrr, arrrrrr, aaaahhhhhh, are you really going to make me say it?

Ahhhh, errrrr, oh all right, probably not.

Why not?

Because there's a place just down the street (future post!) that has MUCH better gelato, though if "Nuova Brianza" (vecchio "Rossi") had been the only gelato place in the area, I wouldn't have shunned it as awful.

And that could happen.

I've learned to be pickey.

Don't want to waste calorie consumption, which has to be worked off so painfully, on something not 100% worth it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

When walking around town, I always keep my peepers open for beautiful, or fun, antique doors and doorknockers. No tigers and bears, at least yet, but this lovely lion-headed doorknocker is on...More......

quiet via Rovello, a stone's throw from the crowded lively via Dante, the now pedestrian-only walkway between the Sforza castle and the Duomo. (I remember when cars, trams, busses and taxies were allowed to transit via was a scary nightmare. When the proposal was advanced to turn it into a pedestrian walkway, the merchants complained that no one would come. The reverse, I'm sure, has turned out to be's clogged every weekend.)

I snapped this shot for you, yesterday, September 19, 2010, at 2:30 P.M.

To see the entry created out of this doorknocker on my blog dedicated to needlepoint, just go to:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is it raining? It must be Women's Fashion Week

Is it raining? It must be Women's Fashion Week in Milan...More......

It's as if the city really was a conscious being, and obstinately wanted to tweak the noses of those coming, not to see it, but just to scratch its surface uncomfortably, racing back and forth bumping into people on foot and bouncing in taxis over the "St. Peter's stones" of the cobbled streets.

Every darn time Women's Fashion Week happens, it rains.

At least it seems this way, for the last 15-odd years that I've been in Milan.

Usually it rains the whole week. This time, they've gotten lucky.

It POURED all of a sudden yesterday afternoon, then fizzled out. Today, the clouds are blowing south, and, while the horizons still look grimly gray, overhead it's like big fluffy blobs of whipped cream floating in blueberry soda.

Is there such a thing as blueberry soda? Sounds good to me!

I snapped this shot the last time it rained, on the 14th of August, at 11:40 A.M.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wreath and bow: Corriere della Sera, via Solferino 28

Architectural decorative details are pretty interesting to trace in Milan. Some, about which I will be talking in future posts, seem to grow out of, or at least into, the building (you’ve heard the catch phrase before, “form follows function”). Some, such as this eclectic style wreath and bow design with the intertwined initials, do not pretend to do this, but at least they collaborate with, and do not overwhelm, our sense of the underlying structure (that would be too scary…unless some pretentious architect wanted to scare us…).More......

This wreath and bow come from the side of a 1903-1904 eclectic building by Luca Beltrami, one of Milan's most important architects of the day (he restored the city's castle, and was officially in charge of the architecture of the city), and L. Repossi in via Solferino, 28, for the headquarters of the city's nationally important newspaper, Corriere della Sera.

As usual, you can see the gridded design on my needlepoint blog:

I snapped this photo on the 27th of August in 2004 at 4:30 P.M.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Re-evaluating the 19th and early 20th centuries: the church of Corpus Domini in via Pagano

Re-evaluating the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was bound to happen, sooner or later, in my posts, so we might as well start with this one: the church of Corpus Domini in via Pagano, since I'm going to be a hop, skip and jump away from it for lunch, today, with a dear friend...More......

Why "bound to happen, sooner or later?" Because you need to know that Italians look at the things around them in a way that is very different from many of the travelers visiting the country. Though the Italian government is officially young, only about 150 years old, and local perception perhaps still too attached to local realities to the detriment of a sense of national identity, at the same time, local perception lives, breathes and eats consciously permeated by thousands of years of history. To be considered "old" in Italy, something has to be at least from the 18th century, that is, the 1700s, if not earlier. Anything from the 19th century, that is, the 1800s, or later, is yesterday.

For this reason, in my opinion, Italians have a great difficulty in accepting and appreciating anything from the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly if it is traditional in style. "Oh what kitsch!," is the negative reaction (the light-hearted side of kitsch only fairly recently seems to be blooming, here). Not enough time has passed, yet, for many Italians to accept as legitimate of study, or aesthetic appreciation, the styles imbued with traditional historicism, with perhaps the exception of the simple Neo-classical of Napoleon's day (there's another can-o'-historic-Milanese-worms that I probably will explore in a future post). In brief, Italians have yet to experience their own version of Petrarch's Mount Ventoux.

I might have mentioned in an earlier post that I work at the (marvelous) Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in via Gesù (, bi-lingual site). So what does it have to do with the Corpus Domini church, begun in 1899 for the Carmelites following a project of Ippolito Marchetti?

Both are examples of the various kinds of 19th century and early 20th century taste gathered under the umbrella term, "historicism," that is, a taste that relishes and expresses past styles.

In the case of the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, of which I surely will speak in a future post, their taste for the Renaissance led the late 19th century Bagatti Valsecchi brothers to collect authentic Italian Renaissance paintings and furniture, repairing and adapting them, when necessary, to furnish their downtown Milan mansion in the Renaissance style.

In the case of Corpus Domini, the eclectic style of the interior mixes and matches elements from the Early Christian, Romanesque and Late Renaissance (itself sometimes expressing a fascination for the Early Christian period of period of terrestrial power and glory after Constantine's and Licinius' legalization of Christianity, 313 A.D., in Milan) to create an ambiance imbued with the terrestrial and spiritual power of the early church. The façade is of plain brick, and seems unfinished, which may have been a purposeful part of Marchetti's design, as Italian church façades often were left unfinished, as the money ran out for the church's construction and decoration. Furthermore, exposed red brick also is typical of Lombard architecture.

Expressing the glory of the early Constantinian church on the inside and leaving the red brick exposed on the outside are two ways that Marchetti may have been referring consciously to Lombardy and, in particular, to the pivotal role of Milan, ipso facto capital of the ancient Roman empire from around the 3rd quarter of the 3rd century A.D. to about 402 A.D., in Christian and Italian history.

I snapped this shot of the central nave without flash on the 21st of May, 2005, at noon, just before the services began. (Those are hints, folks. Be respectful. Look for, and observe, signs about whether or not photography, and whether with or without flash, is allowed inside the church, then circulate and snap photos--if allowed--only when services are not in session. That schedule, too, is posted just inside the church, and tends to follow a more or less regular rhythm from church to church, so you'll be able to organize your day. Don't embarrass me, by being an obnoxious tourist. Worse, yet, don't try to pull a fast one, thereby putting *my* ability to snap pictures inside Italian churches at risk.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why not? A full view of Piacentini's INPS building

As long as I am mentioning Marcello Piacentini's 1929-31 building located in Piazza Missori for the (then new) Italian national pension fund, INPS, I thought I'd might as well share a shot of the whole building. It's one of my absolute favorites in Milan. A good balance--in my opinion--between stern rationalism and heart-warming tradition.

I shot this image on August 27, 2004, at 11:45 A.M.

For more on the building and its decoration, go to my recent post:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

AMOR - M. Piacentini, INPS, Piazza Missori

This photo of "AMOR" ("love" in Latin) on Marcello Piacentini's INPS (national Italian pension fund) 1929-1931 building in Piazza Missori was snapped in honor of a very special person, in order to be posted for you on Monday, September 6, 2010, but that day will be quite busy, so I'm posting it one day in advance.

Piacentini, one of the dominant architects and urban planners of the 1930s and 1940s in Italy, often balances the severe undecorated rationalism of the day with stream-lined decorations and a nod and a wink towards traditional architecture, thereby adding--in my opinion--heart. For this, I think his works would be interesting to post-modern architects, too.

If you know who did this sculpture--I'm guessing following a design, generic or specific, by Piacentini--please add the information (with a brief bibliography) in this post's comment box. Thanks!

[On Monday, September 6, the softer light of the overcast day allowed me to see the artist's signature in a stick-like version of Roman capitals sculpted in the empty space at the lower left of the design: Antonio Maraini. The epigraphy is similar to that of the Piacentini's "signature" similarly semi-hidden on a plain panel flanking the main entrance. Both examples of epigraphy deserve closer study.]

To see the needlepoint diagram created out of this photo, see:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The "Little Widows" of Milan

If the day is a scorcher, you'll be mighty glad to see a "Little Widow" ("vedovella") in Milan.

Their nickname comes from the continuous little stream of "tears" that run from their dragon-headed faucet, generally with a hole in the dragon's head.

The dragon has a hole in its head, not due to forgetfulness, but--by blocking the flow out of its mouth--to spurt up a delicious, refreshing and clean sample of Milan's very tasty public water.

If you can read Italian, here's a quick article about the "Little Widows" in one of Italy's most important newspapers, Corriere della Sera:

(I snapped this photo for you on Saturday, August 21, 2010, around 6:30 P.M.)
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