Sunday, March 11, 2012

Yes, I honestly do love Milan...

Was talking with another ex-pat the other day. Her jaw dropped, and her voice raised in stupefied wonder..."You really do like Milan?! What can you possibly like about it?!"...More......

It's beautiful, folks!

Stop seeing the city through the gray-colored lenses of prejudice.

The city is lovely...snippets of ancient, medieval and Renaissance lives peek out from around the corners of the more present Baroque, Neo-Classical, Belle Epoque, Liberty (that's Milanese Art Nouveau, in case you haven't been following my blog, yet), Novecento and modern (and some of the post-war stuff is even decent, too). (Yes, yes, yes, there are some pretty dull and, I hear, dangerous rabbit warrens in the suburbs, but there are enough people complaining about Milan, you don't need me to do that.)

The city is also fascinating and lively (though I'm [repeatedly] told it was even more wonderful and lively in the 1960s, but we don't choose when and where we're born, do we?!). There's so much to do, and for so many different interests, that I don't even scratch the surface.

It's pretty easy to get around...I love not having to drive a car. Thank you ATM! (Could you please stop striking so often, though? Get your act together, and TALK sufficiently before deadlines, please. I know striking is a legal right in Italy, but it should be a last option, not an omnipresent club hovering over the heads of the poor and middle class, who can't afford private drivers and taxis up the wazoo. Thank you for listening, I'll get off my soapbox, now....)

The people used to be polite...ahhhh, that sounds too much like an incipient complaint, so let's move on.

The city even can be picturesque! Ain't that picture urban-cute? (I snapped it with you in mind a few Saturdays ago, around 9 A.M. for your personal, non-commercial fun.)

I could go on and on and on, but then what would be the point of any future posts?

So, why do so many people--Milanese, imported Italians and ex-pats alike--goggle, when I say that I love Milan?

Here's the historian in me coming out.

Personally, I think that Italians haven't had their "Mount Ventoux."


Petrarch is often cited as one of the turning points in modern occidental thought. Why?

Because he literally had his Mount Ventoux.

He climbed to the top of the mountain to see the view (already cited as something "new"...who ever heard of going to all that trouble and fatigue just to look out over the surrounding area? "You mean, he's not even going to gather mushrooms? The man's nuts!"), and for the first recorded/significant time realized that there was an immense gap between him and antiquity.

He felt the gap.

He felt a longing for what was no longer his: classical culture.

He felt nostalgia.

At least until recently, for the period prior to Petrarch scholars talk about a continuity of mentality, rather than a rift.

The Early Christians--aside from their new religion, and there were other "mystery" religions proliferating, too--felt fully Roman, fully Greek, fully whatever they were. Changing religion didn't change the fact that you and your family had been born, lived and died in Ephesus, Rome, Milan, Jerusalem, or even the tiniest waterhole on the way to Timbuktuu.

The Carolingian renascence refreshed, rather than revived, ancient culture, where it already had existed, and spread it (also for socio-political reasons) where it hadn't.

Medieval images of ancient and biblical people were cast in then modern clothes. "They are just like us; we're just like them."

Then in a literal (or was it a topos?) flash, Petrarch saw.

He saw that he was separate from the classicism he so dearly loved.

He saw that he was different.

He appreciated the classicism, and mourned the gap.

And so today's Italians have not yet had their Mount Ventoux.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries--so evident in Milan because they were a fervent period of economic booms and busts...ring any bells?...--is still seen as a part of them (and the good things about the Novecento period are still swept under the rug along with the bad).

"What's so special about this? It looks just like my grandma's house," I hear while I'm at work at the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum (via Gesù 5), a marvelous authentic magic window onto our recent and traditional aristocratic past.


So, give yourselves a shake.... No, not that kind of chocolate, or vanilla, shake.

A wiggling from side-to-side, clear your head of cobwebs.

And see beautiful Milan for what it is.

It helps if you raise your eyes from the sidewalk....


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