Thursday, April 28, 2011

Have a special interest? Don't be afraid to venture to nearby small towns

Especially fascinated by a particular topic? Don't be afraid to venture to small nearby towns.

It took the promise of coming rainy days and a special exhibit--due to close within that very handful of days--to prod me into finally and immediately going to nearby Busto Arsizio, about a half an hour by local trains outside of Milan. Easy and cheap to get to, the city's train station is in the center of the small town, so it's very walkable, as well.

Enjoyed the exhibit, though I was disappointed in the lack of more detailed and/or new information, but once there, I had a very pleasant surprise, no, two surprises...More......

The first surprise--please excuse the hubris born of ignorance--was this little city on the outskirts of the metropolis was a lovely little place giving the impression that it would be delightful to live in. The city was an interesting mix of the relatively old and the definitely new. (When I say relatively old, you have to keep in mind the Italian sense of time gauged on thousands, not decades, or even hundreds, of years so that without evident ancient Roman, medieval, or Renaissance traces--they might be there, around town, or hidden in a museum, but I didn't see them during my brief afternoon walk and visit--the city seems to burst on the scene "only" in the Mannerist and Baroque periods making the city a young adolescent from "only" the late 16th, early 17th centuries.) And being on the doorstep of Milan, it could be a great place to have the family home, raise the kids in a less pressurized environment, while having a fairly easy commute to work...when there aren't train strikes, which is a whole other can o' worms. Let's not go there....

The second surprise is that I went to see a special temporary exhibit, but also discovered once there that there is a permanent museum dedicated to the production of thread and textiles.

"Ho hum," you say?

Silly you.

Had it not been for the burst of the mass production, trade and sale first of thread and textiles, later of ready-made clothes, bringing work, profits and affordable products to an ever larger group of people, who knows where the world would be, today. For the better and worse, surely, industrialization has good and bad sides, but our world would be decidedly different. (This "one step necessary for the next step" line of thought--not to be confused with an idea of "inevitability" and "progress"--reminds me to tell you about a fascinating author, if you haven't read his book, or seen his made-for-UK television films on which it was based: James Burke, "The Day the Universe Changed"'s FANTASTIC on many levels and for many aspects and professions of our lives, today. Try this link:

Busto Arsizio is one of the proofs.

On the outskirts of Milan, with lots of open land dedicated to agriculture, there was space in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to put up factories for the production of thread and textiles in this area already dedicated to home and craftsman workshop production.

This brought wealth to an increasing middle class, as can be seen in the burst of late 19th-early 20th century delightful Eclectic and Historicism style buildings.

But back to the thread and textile museum.

Poor dear, it's still set up in a very (literally dusty) old-fashioned way, with glass case exhibits and real equipment plunked down in a roughly chronological way, as space in the ex-fabric factory allows. True, at least this way the objects and memories--with local, national and international repercussions--are being preserved. Furthermore, there are clear signs that the museum becomes a happy living place when animated by guided school groups, and there is a section fascinating even when not being demonstrated that--thanks to the Zucchi collection--shows and explains the use of fabric printing blocks. There also are labels and some very good--and mercifully brief--explanatory didactic panels, but the didactics are all in Italian, and the lack of anything that moves, or helps the less aware visitor put especially the older exhibits into the context of their own lives will keep it undeservedly a niche product.

Think this kind of thing would make you cry with boredom?

Go to the Science and Technology Museum in Manchester (UK), follow the demonstrated and commented path of a hunk of raw cotton through the mechanized processes to become first thread, then cloth, and listen to and empathize with the stories of the extremely difficult, even brutal, lives of the even very young workers, and you'll never take for granted anything you wear, ever again.

So, do go to the Textile Museum in Busto Arsizio, provide your own internal fire (what are we adults for, anyway, if we can't even get ourselves to focus on and really think about something that doesn't move?!), think about your blessings, small or large, when compared with the lives of the factory workers of the day and of your blessings for living today in an industrialized society that at least has the idealized goals of providing a safe and reasonably comfortable daily existence for all. (Then maybe do your bit--donating time, goods, or money--within your means to help today's less advantaged enjoy some of the basics you take for granted, starting with abundant and clean drinking water, or learning their ABC's. Heck, I'll even throw in a disinterested plea for Busto Arsizio's textile museum. Are you a wealthy thread and textile industrialist, especially if a local? Fork over the big bucks to redo the museum, and get your name splashed all over the place in the process. It's great PR, too.)

How to find these little museums?

Check out the web sites of the towns, usually following this formula, substituting the name of the city for that of Milan: Check out the web site of the province (Lombardy's link is in my column of links).

Check out published museum guides, sometimes generic, sometimes even focused on particular thematic, or quirky, museums.

Check out the "find" function of the internet domain dedicated only to official museums: Here, you'll be able to find the participating museums dedicated to your particular special interest even before you leave home. (Hello! Is anyone listening to me? Apparently not. I've written to them for years to change the technically correct words "second level domain" into something normal people can understand: "categories" hasn't been done, and I give up, so, forewarned is forearmed; clicking on the second level domain link will let you find the category of museum of interest, and clicking on that will give you the list of all participating museums in that category in the whole wide world! Pretty nifty!) Plan ahead. A short and brief detour just might turn your trip into something not just momentarily relaxing, but also intriguing and enriching for the rest of your life.

Be open to these little adventures. You might even find new career inspiration, too. Since you're in Italy, at least you'll be able to find a refreshing city park, or a picturesque piazza for a good gelato.

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