I’ve traveled to Milan for the last 15 years on both business and pleasure. My Italian cousins live in Milan (Porto Genova) and in Sesto San Giovanni, a suburb of Milan about 6 miles from the city. I usually stay in Sesto and take the tube to Milan Centro but this year I stayed in an apartment in Milan. Down the street from the Duomo, near Zara and Geoxx, around the corner from the Galleria and Pecks I was right in the heart of the city and if the number of people pulsating through Milan’s main arteries was any indication of the health of the city, I would say it was in danger of a cardiac arrest. The frenetic pace was a little overwhelming and decidedly different from my past times in the city.
When I first traveled to Milan in the late ‘90’s, the city was vibrant and bustling with an Italian urban vibe that reflected its role as the 5th largest city in the EU, the largest city in Italy and according to my Milanese cousins the most important. Milan is Italy’s center of commerce and industry, fashion and finance and even with a population well over one million, the refined Milanese seemed to be able to balance it all. The trams, traffic and people all moved with the determined synchronicity of a large metropolitan city and although the “juxtaposition of different centuries and styles” (ancient , Gothic Renaissance, Romanesque, neo-classic, art deco, post-modern) can be mezmerizing, Milan seemed to take it all in stride. In Milan you can attend performances at the venerable La Scala or at the modern Teatro degli Arcimboldi. You can shop couture on Via MonteNapoleone or the quaint shops of Leonardo’s boho Navigli canal district. You can visit a Visconti palace (Castello Sforzesco) and then take a stroll through Parco Sempione.
In Milan you can eat in some of the most exquisite restaurants in the world or grab a panzerotti , a pocket of soft billowy dough that tastes like a closed pizza, from a street side shop down from the Duomo. I had mine standing in line with my Italian cousins on a rainy October afternoon with about 30 other munching Milanese savoring every bite at Luini’s panificio on Via S.Radegonda 16. City dwellers and in-the-know tourists line-up by the dozens for Luini’s famous doughnut-like pizza. A gastronomic specialty from Puglia, panzerotti were brought to the Milan in 1949 by Giuseppina Luini seeking her fortune in the post-war Lombardian capital of the north.
Panzerotti may be a metaphor for my magnified view of Milan 2012. Over-stuffed yet filled with a flavorful mix of people and cultures with dreams of success and the will to make those dreams come true. Sounds to me like another larger-than-life city in the US where our Nonna traveled to in 1920 along with thousands of other immigrants. Except instead of a lady in the harbor with a torch to light the way, Milan has a great cathedral with Gothic spires that rise out of the concrete earth of the main piazza like it had materialized from thin air. In the fairyland of statues on the rooftops of the Duomo cathedral is another lady of meaninful beauty. Perched on the top of the highest cathedral spire (the guglia del tiburio “lantern spire”) is a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary or Madonnina, (little Madonna), Milan’s shinning beacon to the rest of the world that leads their way into another city with a big heart. I hope the Milanese can manage to keep it heart healthy.