Monday, March 28, 2011

A lovely bit of floral architectural decoration to brighten your Monday

Here's a lovely little snippet of architectural decoration to brighten your Monday. I saw and snapped it on via Bertani on Friday, March 25, 2011, around noon, right after having examined a local open air market with mixed success, but the day was lovely...memories that will have to serve well during the next few days of predicted clouds and rain, ahhhh Spring....

I turned the design into a needlepoint/cross-stitch diagram, if you're interested, see my web site dedicated to needlpoint, Ars acupicturae Stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art:


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Claussen dill pickles, the eternal quest

People often ask me what I miss most about "home" (though Italy is now "home," too). There are things I expected to miss, so they don't bother me as much, but the ones that didn't even cross the farthest dustiest corners of my mind are the ones hardest to endure...More......

I should have seen it coming.

It's something 'just in the air.'

Everyone somehow knows that it's favorite foods, the comfort foods, the ones that make you all warm and fuzzy inside (even without alcohol), that are missed the most, that make being far away from "home" so hard.

I can only say that it's true, and that it only gets worse, not better.

Some foods, like Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Oreo cookies, have finally made it over here (WRITER'S NOTE: I get no kickbacks of any kind from mentioning any of these brands!). In this particular case, too bad for me because I can hear a package of siren-like Oreo cookies calling my name...repeatedly...from over 5000 feet away. Much better than the look-alikes, Ringo cookies, because the bitter chocolate cookie part of the Oreo balances the super sweet sugary filling better. And Phillie is always protein, right?!

For some foods, hold onto your hats, I actually have turned to making it from scratch...and it's SOOOOOOO much better (and really not all that hard): pumpkin pack (though it can be found now and then, there's such an abyss between freshly prepared pumpkin mash and the canned that, well, even when I have the cans of it under my nose, I keep on pushing the cart down the aisle, and am not tempted in the least).

Some foods are available, but because they are "exotic" (such as plain white burrito tortillas!!!, as someone regardless of race coming from Southern California, who considers Mexican-American her native food, calling white flour tortillas, or any of these foods, "exotic" makes me laugh, but I am in another country, after all) cost an arm and a leg (and besides, my favorite sauce, Herdez, isn't available, either: despite the fact that it's an industrially made product, it tastes so very fresh). I'm tempted to try making my own white flour tortillas, though I'm told it's a lot harder than it looks. No way to know til I try. That's on the unwritten "Remember To Do That" list, which is why it never gets done.

For others, such as Laura Scudder's no sugar crunchy peanut butter, I have found acceptable substitutes (also in this case too bad for my waistline): the brand Calvè, is, like Laura Scudder's, just peanuts and salt. I'd make peanut butter cookies for potlucks, but the Italians are a funny sort: they eat salted peanuts as snacks, but don't like peanut butter. Go figure.

For others, like corned beef and pastrami, I have resignedly learned to live without. Especially after having tried--fully successfully--to make my own corned beef. It takes FOREVER. Ya' gotta emerge the hunk of raw beef in a heavy brine (that's why it's called "corned"...not because of corn, the vegetable, but because the large grains of rough salt were called "corns" now you know), keep it in the fridge (hogging up an entire shelf because making a small single serving isn't worth all the bother), take it out once a day, flip the meat over, make sure it's completely covered by the brine, seal it back up, and put it back in the fridge, for some infernally long time period like two weeks (I'm going by memory here, folks, maybe it's less), then when this brining period is over, ya' gotta take the hunk of beef out of the fridge, dump out the brine, rinse the beef, and REPEAT THE WHOLE EQUALLY LENGTHY PROCESS REFRESHING THE CLEAN, SALT-FREE WATER EVERY DAY. Not having my own personal large garden shed, I wasn't able to do the smoking of the corned beef to make pastrami. I make due with memories of succulent Reuben's, and have given up.

Bagels, aahhh bagels. There WAS an industrially produced product that was not really up to snuff, and I would have turned my nose up at it had I found it at "home," but now that I can't find it in Italy any more I miss it because it was the only closest thing to that wonderfully chewy, slightly salty bread. There is a pretzel bread, which is saltier, but kinda close, but it costs an arm and a leg, too, and is too skinny to spread Phillie on it, and then there's a local bakery chain, which shall remain nameless, that CLAIMS to make bagels, but they're nasty things, and I even wrote to tell them so (wasn't that nice of me?), and, as a (self-appointed, but experienced) bagel expert, gave them indications for how to make their product better, more authentic. (Did they listen? No, of course not.) (I have tried to make these...twice...and keep promising myself to try,'s a LOT harder than you think it is, and I've even made yeast breads in the past, but ended up with flat hard things that I determinedly ate because I had dedicated so much time and effort and desire to the process, but they did sit like rocks in my stomach, if I have to be honest.)

Another thing that haunts me...graham crackers. "Ah, you're just a weakling yearning for comfort food," I can hear you say. Hey, I admit it, that's perfectly true. When down in the dumps, a (big) handful of graham crackers and a big glass of milk makes a great dinner. But without Honey Maid graham crackers, there's something else tasty that can't be made right: cheesecake. And now that Phillie finally is available here, the urge is upon me, and I can't do anything about it...until I try making my own graham crackers, that is, if I can get the graham flour! (There is another graham cracker brand available, but it's nasty, tasteless...once burned, twice shy.)

Jello. Let's talk about Jello. There are other brands of sugared gelatin available, and they come out perfectly as one expects. The problem is, I can't find one single box of sugarless gelatin. "Who ever would want sugarless gelatin?," you ask? Me! Sugarless lime gelatin is a perfect base for a summery savory salad. And the sugarless version in all sorts of flavors can be fancied up with fruit and fruit juices, so diabetics can eat it, too.

But dill pickles...ah, dill pickles. In Italy and Switzerland, I only have been able to find sweet pickles, you know, the kind with all sorts of spices and sugar. Blech.

I once did find dill pickles in a can (so they also tasted a bit like a can, but I was/am desperate), and would keep buying them, if I could find them, again.

But the eternal quest is for not just any dill pickle, but Claussen dill pickles...ahhhhhhh, those I really do miss. I tried to make dill pickles, once...the "easy eat'em quick without all the boiling and muss and fuss similar to jam-making" kind. They were O.K., and maybe I should try, again, but they just weren't Claussens (I once was pinpointed as an ex-inhabitant of Southern California because of my faithful attachment to Claussen pickles; could it possibly be that such a fresh and crisp wonder of the table is not a favorite elsewhere?????).

"Exotic" food stores come and go in Milan. I always keep my eyes peeled. I've even started a list of them for my ESL students, but most of them (the stores, not my students) are Chinese, and so the products tend to be Asian with a few English-English things tossed in. One of them is pretty good though, and there are two Italian stores I've found in town that each have one, or two, of the things that I like, want, need, but have to stock up on when in that part of town, or spend the whole day going from place to place. No one-stop shopping.

I have tried giving my (how many pages long?) list of foods I miss terribly (a list, mind you, complete with addresses and web site addresses...I know my lazy busy Italians) to the owners of these local stores. Zippo.

There are online stores for English-English food products, but I can only imagine the costs, and so haven't even bothered to look.

When friends come to Milan, they kindly (and innocently) ask, "Can I bring you something?" Their eyes glaze over a bit at the thought of the weight in their luggage when I say, "Well, so kind of you to offer, yes you can: a jar of Claussen dill pickles!"

I do have a conscience.

I have taken to saying, "just a small jar would be perfectly fine."

I'm just going to have to keep on looking.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Photoless Friday (09): FAI (26-27 March 2011), Stramilano (27 March 2011) and springing forward

Plans for the weekend, yet? No? Here are a couple of suggestions: FAI and Stramilano (and don't forget to set your clocks ahead one hour Saturday night!)...More......

FAI, short for Fondo Ambiente Italiano (Fund for the Italian Environment), takes care of monuments, structures, collections and zones that either have been donated to it, or it has purchased with donated funds (key word: "donate"; web site only in Italian). Each year in spring, the foundation holds special openings of a selected few of its possessions in each region of Italy, as well as arranging for access to places not usually open to the public. Junior High and High School kids learn to give a spiel about the place, so it's a win-win situation: the kids have a chance to learn and practice public-speaking, and even non-FAI members get to tour the chosen places with someone, who'll spoon feed them the basic necessary info in order to enjoy the place thoroughtly. HINT: FAI members get to go to the front of the line, and, heck, folks, it really costs so little, and helps so much, you might as well sign up for a membership, if you haven't already.

Stramilano is a running event...that should have been planned better not to coincide with the FAI weekend, not just because people may have a hard time choosing between the two, but also because the run--going through the center of town--will be disrupting surface public transportation from 9 A.M. until at least 2 P.M. Oh, nuts. (The web site is also in English, though, at least there's that.)

And don't forget to set your clock ahead an hour before you fall asleep tonight. Italy goes on Daylight Savings time on Saturday night (or rather Sunday morning), this weekend.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Via Piero della Francesca and a lovely architectural border

A lovely snippet of an architectural border in swirling acanthus leaves to lift your spirits, as you return to work. The building is on Via Piero della Francesca, near the far end of Corso Sempione.

If you're interested in using this border in needlepoint, or cross-stitch, see my: Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art.

I snapped this photo during an hour and a half walk right after a late-ish lunch, yesterday, March 20, 2011, with you in mind.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A lovely lovely walk after days of rain (and the flu)...Here my are!

Warmish temps (for the first time in months, I walked around with my coat unbuttoned), blue blue skies with a few puffy white clouds, new buds on trees and shrubs, clean fresh air (well, it seemed fresh and clean). It was a close call. I was very tempted to stay indoors, rest, read and do a little needlepoint, but all that can be done in the evening. Instead, right after lunch, I booted myself out of the door, grumbling to myself, but already knowing that it was the right choice. Once again, the camera was the deciding factor, so here is proof that I actually stuck my nose out of the door, walked, walked, walked for an hour and a half, and snapped away with you in mind...More......

The city has lots of little and medium sized parks scattered all over, and many have fenced areas dedicated to letting people's dogs run free...which doesn't stop Italians from ignoring the law to keep dogs on leashes anywhere else. (Thank the Cosmos, cleaning up in public places after one's dog is finally starting to penetrate into the Italians' skulls, but there still are too many egoists, who don't remember that "no man is an island." You wanted the dog? There are responsibilities that go hand in hand with the delights. O.K., I'll get off my soap box, now,...if people have picked up their dogs' business in the vicinity.)

A snippet of park along side the dog area. This snap is for Chris, whose blog, Serendipitous, about the nature she sees and enjoys around her house lifts my spirits.

Here my are!, shadowed against one of Milan's too few bike paths. IMHO, however, that isn't an excuse for the arrogant behavior of the cyclists. Folks, it's called a "sidewalk" because it's on the side of the street, and one walks, not bikes, on it.

Don't drive, it's late and dark, and don't want to risk the bus (limited info in English), but can't afford a taxi, especially repeatedly? There's an excellent compromise available: RadioBus. Like any compromise, there's good and bad. The good part is that at the appointed time a small van passes at a pre-appointed point near where you are, and--for just twice the price of a bus trip--will take you to a pre-appointed place very close to home. The bad part is that the service isn't available during the day time (so as not to compete too much with taxis), and can be reserved only up to three days in advance, so--with that time limit--there isn't always a seat available (especially if you're more than one person). But it's still a great deal.

Surprise! Exposed train tracks right around a couple of corners, and I didn't even know it. Must be part of what is known in Milan as the "passante," a light rail system, sometimes underground, sometimes overground, as there's a stop of one of the lines nearby (info in Italian). In town, the system works just like part of the subway, and the same tickets are used. Once outside a certain circumference, for example, a nearby town (such as Saronno, where there is a museum dedicated to maiolica, which I've been promising myself for years I'd go see), the tickets cost more.

Oh yeah, if you drive, in the last couple of years a pass to enter the within the area once circumferenced by the Spanish Walls has been instituted: the "Ecopass" (info in Italian; only parts of the web site are in English: go to the home page, and select one of the handful of languages available in the pulldown menu on the upper right). You even can pay online, after having entered, but don't forget to do it, quickly, or you'll get a fine ("multa"). There's also a "ZTL" (Limited Traffic Zone) in which only residents are allowed, usually from 10 P.M. to 8 A.M. I'm sure the bar, restaurant and nightclub owners are happy about that, but--with all the noise they create--you can't blame the residents for wanting the restriction, either. Those zones are marked with large brown signs.

Click. Nothing happens. Click. Nothing, again. Click, click, click, click, click. Still nothing. Has your car's remote locking device stop working all of a sudden? You may be near to a TV and radio antenna. Here's a snap of the antenna of the national service today called RAI, whose (gorgeously rationalist with a bit of flair) original 1929 building was constructed on Corso Sempione by Gio Ponti. (Can't find my picture of it; this snap was taken down a side street...will hunt, and try to remember to post it, later.)

After the walk, the happy snapping (despite the suspicious glances...the Milanese are so funny, they can't imagine anyone loving their own city), I feel so refreshed.

A perfect Milanese day.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Five Days of Milan (Cinque Giornate di Milano, 18-22 March 1848) and Grandi's monument

Teaching people to read and write, to do a bit of basic math, to keep orderly ledgers, to give them a fighting chance during the competition for various public office jobs (a secure paycheck...sounds pretty good to me), that should be a good thing, right? Employing and promoting locals raises moral, should improve efficiency, and keeps the money circulating locally, hopefully reducing whining for money from the central government. Still good, right?

It sounded like a good idea to the Austrian empress, Maria Theresa of Hapsburg, and her son, Giuseppe, then in control of enormous swathes of northern Italy, including the duchy of Milan, in the second half of the 18th century, but it backfired.

You start teaching people to think for themselves, and they kinda want to do it, you know?...More......

Meanwhile north of the Alps, the French Revolution had toppled a divinely appointed monarchy, and put The People in charge. Never mind the internal squabbling and horrors. It still sent that party pooper Napoleon, young, brash, in favor of establishing the independent Cisalpine Republic in northern Italy (until he decided to be emperor, himself, instead), blowing through Milan. He ruffled Austrian feathers from the end of the 18th into the beginning of the 19th centuries, and helped toss them out, but toss 'em out, they just kept coming back.

It didn't hurt that, over the centuries, the Milanese often welcomed anyone helping them break a heavy yoke, only to welcome back the former to help break the new and equally heavy yoke of the latter.

That first time the Austrians were still nice about it, though.

Skipping lightly over continued turbulence, on the 18th of March, 1848, the Milanese once again had had enough of what, from the Milanese point-of-view, was Austrian domination (can't really say the uprising caught the Austrians completely by surprise, but the fact that the Milanese duchy had been part of the Austrian Empire since the early 16th century did kind of lull them into a false sense of security).

Barricades were thrown up out of whatever could be dragged out of nearby buildings, and piled up to block streets.

A completely crazy idea.

Fight imperial troops from behind piled up mattresses and chairs.

But it began to work.

And five days later on the 22nd, the Milanese were so close, so close to kicking the Austrians out that someone began hammering like a madman on the giant bronze bell--cast in 1352!--in the city hall tower to rouse the Milanese to one final effort.

It worked--the imperial Austrian troops really were kicked out that day--but the bell got the worst of cracked.

The original is on display in room VI of Milan's Museo del Risorgimento.

It also is remembered in this monument with one female personification for each of the five days and a bell. Designed by Giuseppe Grandi, the monument was raised in 1895 in Piazza Cinque Giornate (Piazza of the Five Days), site of one of the fierce battles during that week. The late 19th century monument also serves as a patriotic burial place for the Milanese, who died during those days, and whose bones in the meantime had rested under the Column of Christ in Largo Augusto, which deserves a (later) message all of its own.

More simple math. I can hear the wheels turning in your head. "If that was March 1848, and this is March 2011, why is Italy now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its birth as a nation?"

You're right, the math doesn't work.

You're forgetting about Carlo Alberto, a duke from the ancient House of Savoy in Piedmont, chosen to lead the gathering forces against the Austrians.

Way outside Milan, his troops started loosing battles and ground, and things began to look pretty grim.

Cutting his losses, he accepted defeat a few months after those glorious Five Days of Milan in March, and, almost as if it were a hindsight, came out onto the balcony of his headquarters in the then brand new Brentani-Greppi mansion (1829-31) on what today is called "Via Manzoni" to spill the beans, then make a run for it.

The clueless Milanese still thought that they were free and independent. Silly fools.

When they heard what Carlo Alberto had done, giving them back into the hands of the Austrians, they went bonkers with rage, and would have pulled him literally to teentsy pieces, if his guards hadn't spirited him away with great difficulty (it wasn't the first, or the last, time that a Savoy betrayed'd think once burned, twice shy...).

This time, the returning Austrians were not happy campers.

Very severe restrictions, retribution, for about ten years pushed the Milanese again to desperation.

Once again, they were in the forefront of the agitation and battles to push the Austrians out. That time it worked, though, and little by little more bits were added to the growing Italian nation formally united under a Savoy monarch on the 17th of March, 1861, though more bits and pieces continued to be added for years to come:

Happy 150th Birthday, Italy!

With you in mind, I snapped the photo of the Cinque Giornate monument on January 01, 2011, at about 3:30 P.M., while I snapped the Brentani-Greppi mansion on the 13th of April, 2009, around 2:45 P.M. as part of my general photographic campaign of Milan to document it and express my love for it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Illuminated 1920s tram (for hire, I think) (and Happy 150th Birthday, Italy!)

One of the 1920s trams is covered completely with small white lights, each clearly visible individually, and is fun to see. I think it's available directly from ATM (the civic public transportation department) for hire for parties, maybe even dinners. Should be loads of fun. Too bad the foto--snapped with my cell phone--doesn't even begin to capture what can be seen, but it's better than nothing. The chance that I'll be wandering around town after dark with my camera is next to nill.

Happy 150th Birthday, Italy! On March 17, 1861, after a few years of renewed fighting, some areas of northern Italy banded together against the Austrian Hapsburg emperor, then in charge, and proclaimed their king Vittorio Emmanuele II of the ancient house of Savoy from the area of Piedmont. Milan, as it had been ten years earlier, was in the forefront (see my next post on the Five Days of Milan).

I snapped the shot Tuesday evening, the 16th of March, 2011, around 10 P.M., with you in mind.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teentsy delicate periwinkle blue flowers

Up against the low walls protecting the basin of the reflecting pool and fountain in Piazzale Giulio Cesare creep these little ever-so-delicate periwinkle blue flowers, an insistence of nature in a metropolitan world....More......

For more on the reflecting pool in Piazzale Giulio Cesare, see my pages "Let's Start with my Self-Sacrifice" and "Getting Settled in the New Neighborhood.

I snapped this photo for you all, but above all for Chris of "Serendipitous" (, on the 19th of February, 2011, at noon. Her delightful blog dedicated to her love of the nature she sees and experiences around her home warms my heart.

P.S., does anyone know what this plant is? Have I already asked this question, gotten an answer, and just can't remember anything from one day to the next?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A delightful "Liberty" building in Piazza Wagner

A beautiful balcony on a delightful building of what we'd now call "condos," but which...More......

...Italians simply call "house."

The building, itself, is a simple rectangular cube on which has been applied sculpture, painted tiles and architectural decoration in the new "Liberty" (Italian Art Nouveau) style, like that characterizing the balconies, the sculpted frieze and the view of fruit trees on painted tiles that breathe the occidentalized air blown in from Japan.

Who was the architect? What was the exact date of the building?

The surroundings help little. The area--way outside the erstwhile circle of Spanish, let alone medieval, walls--in front of it has a covered civic-run market founded in the 1920s, while the adjacent area was occupied by a chapel already at least by the early 11th century, and the church--San Pietro in Sala--was raised to a kind of "head parrish" status by San Carlo Borromeo (one of Milan's most famous sons, having been active in the Council of Trent, then in implementing its rigorously, that male adherents [I desist from saying "members"] of the Humiliati religious group, deserving of a message of its own another day, tried to assassinate him). The local population continued to 'increase and multiply,' and so a new church was begun in the early 19th century, though only finished and dedicated in the 1920s. Too long a time span to be of help.

"Aaaah," I said smugly to myself, "surely my book on Liberty architecture in Milan will have all the info I need to look like a smartie pants."

Think again.

It tells me nothing, except the address number in Piazza Wagner (4/6), which I hadn't observed, already.

"Oh, O.K, then there's always my OTHER book on Liberty in Milan...."

...which I apparently don't own, but was sure I did (oh man, another excuse to buy a's a conspiracy!).

So, at least for the moment, no info on the architect, and nothing but stylistic observations to date the building to the very end of the 19th-early 20th centuries, which is pretty subjective.

I snapped these shots with you in mind on the 19th of February, 2011, around 1 P.M.

If you'd like to use the balcony design as a repeating motif in a needlepoint, or cross-stitch, project, see Monday's post on my blog on needlepoint: Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art,

Have fun!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday eye candy: some lovely mosaics

Let this be a lesson to me...I was so sure that I would remember just where I had shot this the street, and even the general lost in the fog that was my memory, though I have a sneaking suspicion that....More......'s in the Porta Vercellina area, outside the trace of the Spanish Walls, where there once were huge open stretches of land that had been confiscated from monasteries by the powers-that-be (whether Imperial Hapsburg, or Napoleon, first as youthful liberator, then as self-appointed emperor...makes me think of one of my favorite quotes: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," Lord Acton, 1887, cited in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 1980, p. 1).

If I'm not so familiar with the area that forgetting it would be like forgetting my own name, I now "waste" a few bytes in the camera's memory to snap the street sign. I may be hard-headed, but old dogs can learn new tricks.

Even if traditional architecture isn't your cup of tea, I hope you'll agree that the building is very pretty, though, so here's some eye candy for Sunday: lovely mosaics on the façade of a little, unpretentious independent town villa, in and of itself not common for Milan. It probably dates from the very late 19th century to the early 20th century, in any case prior to the revolution in style around the late 1920s.

The patterns make me think of the gorgeous designs on part of the ceiling of the so-called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia: (Why do I say "so-called"? Because I proved, at least to my own satisfaction, based on architectural and iconographical grounds that the building was never originally intended as a mausoleum, but as a sacristy, while the first appearance of the sarcophagi was noted--pointedly--only during the Carolingian period. Want to know more? I developed this proposal in my Master of Arts thesis, "The So-Called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia," University of California at Riverside, 1983, but whoever listens to me? Caveat lector: I haven't done any research on this since then, so if you're really interested, you'll have to do it, let me know the results! I should have published my findings, at least in the form of an article, but it seemed too daunting to such a young scholar, now it would have come in handy...oh, 20/20 hindsight....)

As pretty as they are, the mosaics also have a practical purpose: though decorative, the flat surface is easier to keep clean than carved reliefs. No small matter in a city then increasingly dedicated to industrial production, which, prior to ecological concerns, resulted in belching black smoke and sticky black dust infiltrating every crevice.

I snapped this photo on the 21st of May, 2005, at about 11:30, long before the thought of doing a blog even brushed through my mind. Instead, it is part of my documentation of and love for Milan.

P.S., If you know where it is, would you please tell me? Thanks!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You'll never work in this town again, or my thoughts on the new museum dedicated to 20th century art in Milan

It sounded like such an exciting prospect…a new museum in Milan dedicated to modern Italian art of the first half of the 20th century, during which Italian artists contributed not just locally, but also internationally to the art scene. In truth, there is great merit in the project. Finally gathering together and displaying the important bits and pieces previously scattered around town and in storerooms is of undeniable value. Further, if memory serves, during the first couple of months every day at least four thousand people waited in long lines to visit the museum—while entrance was free—under the cold winter sun, or drenching freezing rain, and, believe me, there has been a lot of rain.

I got lucky on the way home from work, one day…absolutely no line!...and so I uncharacteristically did something spontaneous (it wasn’t easy), and went right in, more to see the new museum, itself, than to look at the individual pieces....More......

...I’ll never work in this town, again, after this post, but…where to begin with all the aspects of my deep disappointment at such a missed golden opportunity?

I’ll admit first off that, in addition to welcoming the gathering together and displaying of these works, I’m in total agreement with the museum planners regarding the conception of the display of the objects: chronological order and thematic.

Why is this a big deal, you ask?

It is more of a big deal than non-art historians and non-museologists might think.

The way something is presented to you gives you a lot of subconscious information, and presenting something in chronological order leads the uninformed public into thinking that the changes were “natural” and “unavoidable progress.” These notions have been debunked, so let’s toss them out right away, too.

If, then, the chronological approach is so risky, why am I so in favor of it? Because, aided by this eye-opening information and other aspects, such as thematic groupings, it can help us put things into context.

Here stops the agreement, and starts the J’accuse.

The inner space has been horribly planned.

Fair is fair. I’ll admit right away that I don’t know what the spaces were like before they gutted the “Arengario” (a public hall/loggia for proclamations and debates) for the museum, and the interior already wasn’t as it had been originally, anyway.

The structure, itself, has a complex history, which—for our purposes, here—can be summarized briefly.

Next to the Duomo, the Arengario on the left is part of the ex-Royal Palace (with ancient Visconti and Sforza roots). In the second half of the 1930s during the years that Italians euphemistically call “of the Consensus” (that is, the general and widespread support for the policies of Mussolini and Fascism…before your hackles rise, you should know more about both, both good and bad, than there is space, here, to detail), it pointedly took the place of a mid 19th century wing and loggia—themselves replacing more ancient structures—that had been planned for appearances of the representatives of the new Savoy monarchy in those years shortly after the Unification of Italy. Shortly after WWII, this pair of mirror-image structures opening the street between the Piazza del Duomo and the adjacent Piazza Diaz were gutted, reconstructed internally and finished. The structure on the right is still occupied by city offices. The structure on the left, now dedicated to the new museum, was occupied by the conveniently and visibly located provincial tourism office once called APT, now called IAT and moved into the poorly marked underground refurbished bowels of the ex-Cobianchi Day Hotel (1924) on the other side of the piazza, accessible via curving staircases, or a glass elevator in November of 2010 to the Piazza Castello, 1 (MM1/red stop "Cairoli").

So, what’s so awful about the use of space in the new museum?

Almost the entire area (it seems so, anyway) of the cube full of windows giving onto Piazza Duomo has been gobbled up by a poor and perfectly useless—artistically speaking—spiral staircase. The Guggenheim—without the paintings!—comes immediately to mind, though the architects, Italo Rotta and Fabio Fornarsari say they were inspired by the spiral staircase in the Vatican.


It is a horrible waste of space and natural light, and it makes the new museum jut out into the space of the original portico…‘making it interactive with the surrounding space,’ you say? I say ‘a faddish and useless violation of the original structure,’ but that’s my personal opinion.

What else is so wrong about the new museum?

The display already is covered with inches of virtual dust and mold.

Painting. Painting. Painting. Sculpture. Painting. White walls. White light. Silence. Nothing interactive. No videos (at least not yet). No integration of contemporary music (particularly music inspired by the art periods in questions, such as Futurism), let alone other aspects of daily life (cooking…Futurism, again). Old. Old. Old.

I really didn’t expect this for a museum dedicated to such dynamic art from the early 20th century up to the end of the 1960s (the rest up to and including contemporary art is planned for yet another new museum…where? …when? One imagines in time for the 2015 Expo).

What else?

Like the apple of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the fascination with “genius” is just too hard to resist, apparently. Furthermore, in the initial hall it’s apparent from the awkward placement of the closing wall with regard to the columns and ceiling that the gracious original space of the hall has been violated. But those are arguments for specialists.

What will bug even non-specialists, especially if they’re tall, with bad backs and have less than perfect sight like me, is the faddish choice of creating the art work labels in print soooooo small that even a micron microscope probably wouldn’t help, and, what’s more, placing them really really low, so that one has to bow before the art work like a humbled devotee, while risking having to be carried out on a stretcher because it’s impossible to straighten back up.

What was the one positive really heart-opening surprise?

Taking the escalator up to the top floor, and realizing as I inched my way up, that that wasn’t just any ol’ ceiling. Whatever one thinks of the works of Fontana (and I’m no great fan of modern art after the Fauves), it was a delightful surprise to find myself ascending towards and almost up into his delicate “Spatial Ceiling,” which he had created in 1956 for a hotel on the Isle of Elba.

Another pleasant surprise? The winsome Marini sculpture visible from outside (here framed by my shadow).

So, now that the very reasonable ticket prices have been installed (and visitors have dropped to the very respectable 1000 a day), is it still worth going?

Yes, for the fantastic views of the Piazza and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (there’s also an expensive caffé-restaurant).

Yes, to see the collections, with these caveats in mind.

Yes, to support the arts in Milan.

Culture is us. To understand who we are now, how we want to be, and where we want to go—in other words, to form good citizens—studying history in all its forms is fundamental.

And it helps the economy grind around, which doesn’t hurt, either.

I snapped the photos with you in mind on the 12th of December at about 5:15 P.M.


Migliavacca, Carlo, “Milano Museo del Novecento Un secolo da collezione”, Bell’Italia, n. 298 (Feb 2011), pp. 36-44

“Albergo diurno Cobianchi”,

TOURING, Milano, Milano: Touring Club Italiano, ristampa aggiornata 2000

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy International Women's Day from Milan, Italy

Experiences--painful, dispiriting, enriching, joyous--lived and to be lived. The request? It's not so hard to understand, and shouldn't be so hard to do: equality respecting differences.

I shot this snap with you in mind at the corner of Via Santa Margherita and Piazza della Scala the 29th of December, 2010, at about 4:15 P.M.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lovely acanthus leaves and grill work at the Villa Romeo-Faccanoni

More lovely Milanese metalwork, this time a detail of the fence in front of the Villa Romeo-Faccanoni...More......

...about which I spoke in a previous blog post (

A lovely example of the contrast between naturalistic and geometric, which I find characteristic of the Milanese "Liberty" ("Art Nouveau") style. Don't miss the "form follows function" aspect, either. Note how the bolts holding the grill together are a graceful part of the design effect.

Thinking Bauhaus?

Think again!

I personally believe it's the Viennese influence at work...ever heard of Otto Wagner, the Viennese architect so influential for the birth of the Bauhaus movement?

Just one of the gazillion things I'd like to research, but, for now, there's my bold thesis statement without a single fact to back it up, except my own observations, which you can make for yourself visiting his works in Vienna (stupendous example: his post office building!), or doing your own research. (Don't forget to quote me, when YOU write it up!)

Here, the reproduction of the natural is complemented with the truly natural background of the leaves, which I painstakingly whited out to create today's needlepoint diagram:


Friday, March 4, 2011

Getting settled in the new neighborhood

Getting settled in the new neighborhood is taking longer than I expected it would...More......

There are handy shops of necessary ends and odd bits, that's good, a pharmacy, too, but no likely looking osterie or pizzerie, though. Also will miss the Thai restaurant in front of our old place and the Indian take-away just around the corner.

A monster case of flu, high temps and bronchitis isn't helping (I'd like to congratulate the kind person, who left that particular flu virus out of the vaccine I got in the fall), but that excuse is winding to its own natural end. It does give me a chance to fall figuratively on my woozy knees to thank the kind owner of the nearby mom-and-pop store, my dear friend and neighbor and my public health doctor.

This flowery branch from the wall surrounding the nearby construction area of City Life lifts my spirits. Reminds me of the designs and colors of my childhood clothes. Hints at the parks promised for that new development in the area of the old Fiera. Sounds like good photo ops,...

...just like this lovely lady perched on the end of the reflecting pool in Piazzale Giulio Cesare discussed in a previous message (

She's not alone, more to come! (Once the knees stop wobbling and more of the boxes are emptied!)
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