The Misunderstood Italian

milan phone cover

After taste traveling in Italy for over 15+years and 15,000+miles sourcing products for CosituttiMarketPlace I’m asked a fair number of questions about Italy and Italians. Most of my answers are received with surprise and disbelief making me think that Americans in general don’t understand Italians. The mythology about the people and places of Italy is filled with misconceptions and most of it centers on food but there places that most tourists just don’t get and one of those is the city of Milan.

It may be that most foreign tourists to Milan come from other European countries (56%) with only 17% traveling from the US and it’s true that at first glance Milan can be a little intimidating. It doesn’t have the historical familiarity of Rome or the landscape setting of the Tuscan hill towns and for this reason many tourists tend to avoid spending time there. But that would be a pity because Milan has a style all its own, a style worth taking the time to see and get to know. Although Florence may be the beautiful and famous daughter of Rome with one of the largest collections of art and architecture on the planet*, Milan has a unique style that leads Italy into the 21st century. From Roman, medieval and Renaissance periods through Baroque, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau/Liberty and the nationalistic Novecento style architecture of the first half of the 20th century, the food, wine, art and design of Milan and environs could fill a taste traveler’s notebook many times over. With a series of subways (the Metro) and trams, getting around Milan is efficient, easy and inexpensive .

Here are a few sites that make Milan one of my favorite Italian cities.

Milan Duomo
Castello Sforzesco
La Scala                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   San Babila                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Ambrosiana
La Rinascente and Milan’s fashion District
Navigli
Brera                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       A stroll under the luminous crystal roof to the cafe’s and shops in the Galleria
San’AmbrogioAbbey                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The Last Supper

*60% of the world’s most important works of art are in Italy and almost half of those are in Florence

The Caravaggio in the Kitchen

I once thought to build a new house. Plans were drawn up and submitted by the designer with details of a kitchen with windows that overlooked a ravine.  The designer self-assuredly waited for my approval of the plans and was taken aback when I wanted to replace a set of windows in the kitchen with a blank wall.  “Why would you want to do this? You’re blocking most of the view”.  I looked at her with an insight that would make little sense to one who has yet to experience the evocative pairing of food and art in Italy. Without hesitation, I said “But I need a blank wall in the kitchen to hang the Caravaggio”.

The Caravaggio I was referring to was Still Life with a Basket of Fruit (circa 1559), a painting by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It hangs in Milan’s Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library) and also in my kitchen. Not the original of course but a copy that was given to me many years ago by my aunt.  She was at one time what would have been referred to as a “career woman”.  She began working during the Great Depression and continued to work until she was in her late 70’s. She had no children, became a widow early in her life and developed a love of world travel, traveling to Japan, China, Russia, Australia and throughout Europe before globetrotting was du jour. She liked art and Italy and what follows is the Caravaggio. It is a fairly nice copy, well framed and shows a wicker basket filled with peaches, pears, apples, grapes and figs perched on the edge of a ledge. Painted on already used canvas the muted colors, less than perfect condition of the fruit and somewhat shriveled leaves are typical Caravaggio. The brooding, naturalistic character of his paintings mimics the life of Caravaggio (1571-1660) who lived hard and died young.

On my last trip to Italy I was able to see Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit at the Ambrosiana. I stared at it for what must have been a half hour. It was another one of those “memories that last a lifetime” moments I’ve had traveling in Italy. Little did I know that my aunt’s Caravaggio hanging on the wall of my kitchen would become a reality for me in the gallery of Milan’s Biblioteca.

You ask about the house? Did I ever build it? It’s still on the drawing board. Like designing a house around a Kohler facet, I’ve yet to find the perfect architect for a Caravaggio.

Here is a picture of the Caravaggio in my kitchen.