Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Milan, the Cinderella of Italy

Yesterday, AGAIN, I had to stick up for Milan, even while talking with Milanese...and their oh too impressionable guests.

Milan isn't like Rome.

Milan isn't like Venice.

Milan isn't like Florence.

Milan isn't even like Naples, or Palermo.

Milan isn't like any of the other marvelous towns in Italy deserving of visits (Mantova, Como, Turin and Verona come immediately to mind, not to mention--and I won't, so as not to embarrass myself--the important cities I still haven't visited, either).

No other city in the world is like these cities, so why should Milan have to be like them, in order to be found attractive and interesting?

I think not.

Milan is Milan.

Not liking Milan because it's not like Rome is like not liking bananas because they aren't like apples.

They're both fruit, but.... I think you get the point....More...

Milan has its own marvelous good points (I talk about my favorites in this blog) and difficult bad points (enough people complain about the city, I don't need to do that...usually), just like any metropolis.

You just try enjoying Florence from, say, March til December, and you'll know what I mean.

Furthermore, it's not just my opinion.

Milan is on the NY Times list of the 41 most interesting places to go in 2011:

I am openly partial. If you come to Milan, I highly recommend a visit to the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum at Via Gesù 5 in the centrally located fashionable shopping district of Montenapoleone (

First off, I work there, so now you know.

Secondly, it's one of Europe's most important and best preserved historic house museums. That's the fancy way of saying it's like an authentic time machine jumping you back into the late 19th century to snoop around the private home, packed with Italian Renaissance art and furniture, of a wealthy Milanese aristocrat...fascinating for scholars looking for particular pieces to study, but, because of the home environment, also lots of relaxing nosy fun even for those not usually attracted to the idea of going to a museum.

Thirdly, there are information cards in all the major European languages and Japanese in all of the rooms and--by golly, folks, it's true--audio guides available freely as part of the ticket price in Italian, English, French and Japanese. (Hey, practicing your skills in any of these languages? Come test yourself, and have fun at the same time!) The audioguides are fun AND informative, too (the fact that I helped write them doesn't influence that comment one little bit!). There are even activity cards (only in Italian, though) for parents to help them explore the museum with their small children.

Need more convincing about coming to Milan for at least a few days?

Here's my article dispelling some popular, but erroneous, myths about Milan:

Here are a couple of links to my past "Understanding Milan" posts:

Milan has lots to offer visitors, from those interested in history, art and architecture from antiquity to the present to those fascinated by urban development and modern "stuff" of all kinds from design and fashion to rock and roll...though for the modern stuff you'll have to hunt up the info using some of the links in the left hand column of my blog, because it's not high on my personal scale of interests (to say the least).

And now, our random thought from Marcus Aurelius for the day:

"I do my own duty; other things do not distract me." (Book VI, verse 22...though it really fits today's post, I swear it was randomly chosen!)

I snapped this shot of a detail of the Villa Romeo-Faccanoni with you in mind on the 19th of February, 2011, around 12:30 P.M. If you want to know more about the villa, see my recent post:


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Let's start with my self-sacrifice on your behalf, shall we?

O.K., so the day was lovely for the first time in what seems eons. O.K., so I already had planned to take a long walk bringing along my camera to take pictures for you. What I hadn't planned was sacrificing myself on your behalf by eating a gelato...More......

...but sacrifice myself I RIGOLETTO.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Just you think about that yummy Italian gelato, while I back up (that's a bit mean, isn't it?! Naughty me!).

As I said, the weather was fine...finely. And short-lived. Clouds are supposed to roll back in, tonight, with rain scheduled (again) for tomorrow afternoon. It seems a very rainy winter, to me, though the weatherman has said that we're behind in rain fall.

So, instead of facing this (and, believe me, it's already getting better...notice the cabinet...there is stuff properly put this house, by now)...

or this (just one small sample of all that stuff to be carted downstairs, literally, to my teentsy storage box, and me with my bad back)...

I decided to get out, get some fresh air, walk, walk, walk, and nothing gets me outside faster than nice weather and my camera.

I might have shared this building with you before, already, but the light was so good.... It's one of the few buildings of the "vecchia Fiera" (old convention center) still standing.

Right across the street, in Piazza 6 Febbraio, is a gigantic aspirin. That's what it looks like to me. Bayer should sponsor keeping it clean. Instead, it's "Cerchi in movimento" ("Circles in Movement"...not only have I never seen it move, but it also always has been in the same position and angle...I'm pretty sure, anyway) by Carmelo Cappello (1987). Now you know.

Most of the old convention center buildings already have come down, and are being replaced by a gigantic urban development project called "City Life," which will have a couple of screwy twisting skyscrapers (hmmmm, have a view from umpteen stories up, and seemingly nothing below my feet, a line from Monty Python jumps to mind: "Now, where's the pleasure in that?!") and smaller buildings for (expensive) housing, offices, shops and a lot of green park areas, which probably are planned to hook up, eventually, with the delightful view opening this post...a reflecting pool with a little fountain in one of the corners of oddly shaped Piazza Giulio Cesare. "The Four Seasons" was created by the architect Renzo Gerla in 1927 (the same architect responsible for the City Hall in Via Larga), and used to precede the principal entryway to the then-functioning convention center.

It's not so far from a delightful Milanese "Liberty" (Art Nouveau) villa by the famous architect Giuseppe Sommaruga. The Romeo-Faccanoni villa (1912-13) is probably more famous today for two reasons, one visible from the street, and one not. It now houses one of Milan's renowned private clinics, the "Columbus," that's visible from the street, but what intrigues more is what can't be seen from the street...purposefully so.

From 1900-1904, Sommaruga had done another, much more visible building, on Corso Venezia just a hop, skip and jump from Piazza San Babila for the Castiglioni family. The building, with its fascinating contrasts of vegetal "Liberty" motifs and its stark blocky core (I find this latter aspect typical of a lot of Milanese architecture of the late 19th-early 20th century, whatever the style), quickly became a predominant stylistic influence. But that's not what interests us, here. Ernesto Bazzaro the sculptor did two female figures to decorate the portal of the front door. Decorate they did, for the blink of an eye.

Because of the bare naked and ample "seating attributes"--turned to the public--of the two "ladies," the house quickly got the nickname "Ca' dei Ciapp" ("House of the Butt Cheeks" in Milanese dialect, direct and expressive), which probably didn't tickle up and coming Mr. Castiglione's wit. The statues came down, and went up--now on the back porch--of this other Sommaruga building. Since my husband once was in that hospital years ago, I think I snapped a shot of the "ladies" and their attributes. I don't recall finding them particularly "Ciapp-y," but if I can find the picture, I'll share it with you, and you can decide for yourself.

Just around the corner is the Old Musicians' Home founded and funded by Verdi, rappresented by this charming sculpture with an ironical smile and jaunty stance (even if you aren't so fond of such realistic art) by Enrico Butti (1913). The building was designed by the highly influential architect Camillo Boito, and was constructed in 1899; the structure not only provides for decent housing for destitute elderly professional musicians (there's even a decently-sized concert hall for their entertainment), but also houses in the courtyard the monument by Luigi Secchi to Camillo's younger brother and text writer for many of Verdi's opera, Arrigo, while in the crypt decorated with mosaics designed by the then-renowned artist, Ludovico Pogliaghi, is the burial place of Giuseppe Verdi and Giuseppina Strepponi.

There I was, minding my own business, lapping up the fresh sun and air, oh so good for the soul, and heartily enjoying the OBSERVING that happens when a camera is in my hands, when I turned a corner, and there it was.

The word "GELATERIA."

No, too many calories.... My feet hesitated. But the light is so good...I could get a good picture of it for the blog..., and so my fate was sealed. And it's your fault.

So, how was the gelato?

Very good, not the best--I like my gelato creamier, and I had expected the pear with chocolate bits to be creamy (maybe they were false expectations)--but very good. In all fairness, I have to say that the pistachio was excellent...hearty and creamy. (Never liked pistachio in the States, had only had awful industrially produced pistachio...tasteless evocation of "Green eggs and ham" by Seuss, but the Italian gelato "artigianale"--the shop version of "home-made"--is entirely different...a revelation...a sense experience...a...oh Star, get back on track!)

How was it priced?

Average price.

Would I go back?


Licking your chops, yet?

RIGOLETTO, via R. Sanzio, 1, tel. 02.4981820, ENTRANCE AROUND THE CORNER ON VIA SAN SIRO! (P.S., just a reminder that I get no kick-backs of any sort for these helpful hints)

(I snapped these shots for you in the late morning of Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011, except for the Palazzo Castiglioni, which I snapped August 25, 2004, around 10:30 A.M.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Marcus Aurelius and Milan

"Marcus Aurelius slept here."

Oddly enough, I'm wondering for the first time if my favorite philosopher and teacher of how to live a worthy life (and, coincidentally, the ancient Roman emperor from 161 to 180 A.D.), ever came through this marvelous Milanese metropolis.

I'm gonna bet he did, on the way to battling the Marcomanni and the Quadi on the...More......

...upper Danube, since Milan was one of the most important towns in the area, in the middle of the plain criss-crossed by those ancient highways, rivers (though the city would have to wait another hundred plus years before becoming the ipso facto capital of the ancient Roman empire, a state of being it enjoyed...all those soldiers and courtiers needing to buy housing and goods...until party poopers from the north threatened to gate crash...literally...sending the emperor Honorius scurrying for Ravenna, 'honor' my eye...).

But back to Marcus.

While in limbo regarding any possible proof of his actual presence in Milan, here's today's random, but helpful, quote from his Meditations, thoughts he jotted down for himself to clear his head, to keep himself focused, to remind himself of his goals:

"This is the mark of a perfect character: to pass through each day, as if it were the last, without agitation, without torpor, without pretence."
(Book VII, verse 69)

Food for Milanese thought.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A gorgeous corbel on Corso XXII Marzo

Everything is still topsy turvy after the move, but one way of feeling the return to a (semi-)normal rhythm of life is spending time with you, so...More......'s a simple, but gorgeous, corbel I snapped at about 3:15 P.M. on New Year's Day 2011 on Corso XXII Marzo (or its continuation named Via Corsico) with you in mind.

If you'd like it for a needlepoint project, see my blog Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art:


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Out with the old and in with the new

Last snap from the windows of the old home...the weather had been so foggy for the last few days of the move that it was literally impossible to see more than a few inches away, but it cleared up enough to get a misty shot of the sliver of moon (or were those tears in my eyes...?)...More......

I hate change.

I'd might as well confess that right up front.

Some people love it, find it exhilarating.

I must be a retrogressive form of mammal, or at least a very territorially based one, because I find it very unsettling.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don't goes the old Irish saying (or so I'm told).

Things are settling down in the new place, boxes being unpacked, corners clearing, decisions and adjustments being made.

It might not be so bad, after all.

And I'm glad to be back with you, too. I hope this message finds you all well and happy, or, like me, at least making progress on being serene.
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