Love and Lesiure in Giardini di Via Stendhal

Although writing has become a routine part of my day, like Stendhal I find time spent in Milan to be entirely devoted to leisure and love.

Milan and its metropolitan commune are home to a branch of our Italian cousins and flying into Malpensa has always been a starting point for my taste travels in Italy. Before leaving on an Italian version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria visiting regional producers (many now friends) that I source for my business, I spend time in Milan with la famiglia. Time spent with generational layers of the past wrapped around new memories of the present with a loving Italian family I am so happy to know. Wonderful times eating, cooking, shopping and seeing Milano through their eyes and getting to know Italy in a unique and personal way. Stendhal obsessed unhappily for years about the unrequited love of a woman he had met in Milan. He even wrote a book about it which, despite his unhappy resolution, does contain some very profound thoughts on love including this one which you might have heard “In love, unlike most other passions, the recollection of what you have had and lost is always better than what you can hope for in the future.”

Despite this Stendhal tells us that his time spent in Milan was the happiest period in all his eventful life. I can understand this. There is much to do and see in Milan and it is a pity that it is often overlooked by most Italian travelers.

On my last trip to Milan we spent the day with our cousins in Porto Genova, a neighborhood of Milan named after the city gate of the old Spanish Walls of Milan. The Navigli district is located in this quartiere, an artsy part of the city with trendy nightclubs, shops and restaurants and a series of artificial canals designed by Leonardo da’ Vinci. Da’Vinci wanted to design a navigable waterway to connect Milan to other parts of Italy. The marble used to build Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo, was transported on the waterways of Navigli from Lake Maggiore near the Alps to the center of Milan.Cousins in Milan 2012 -Stendahl park I found myself at a ristorante near Giardini di Via Stendhal, a local park and a perfect place to enjoy a leisurely afternoon thinking that unlike Stendhal my recollection of  love in past times only gets better on each trip to Milan to see our family.


Wedding Planners of the Renaissance Create Una Stravaganza

It’s June, the traditional month for weddings. Historically, June has always been the most popular month for tying the knot. Nice summer weather, in-season flowers and the higher number of outdoor venues make it an attractive month for a party.  Wedding planners are busy with the details, dates and unexpected family drama that need to be handled to make sure the day of your dreams is a Romeo an Juliet event.

Planning a wedding for the royal courts of the Renaissance was a daunting task.  Bridzillas like Lucrezia Borgia, Caterina d’ Medici and the d’Este daugthers from the court of Ferrara demanded only the very best. These divas of the Renaissance and their families were the Kardashians of the day. In this case a Pope, a duke and lavish courts staged spectacular choreographed events to celebrate the occasion. Music, dance, masques, plays with elaborate sets were the stage for the wedding festa which could last for days.

Lucrezia Borgia (daughter of Pope Alexander VI)  had several weddings. Political alliances and strategic arrangements for power and money were often the reason for marriages in the Renaissance and Lucrezia was the poster child for matrimonial manipulations. Her first wedding was an opulent affair that took place in the Vatican with 500 ladies as her bridesmaids. Another more private, and yet another to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, was a event that resulted in the creation of Italy’s iconic pasta tagliatelle to celebrate the long, golden ribbon-like tresses of the bride’s hair.

Caterina d’Medici’s marriage to the future King Henry II of France was officiated by the Pope and commemorated by a wedding portrait   painted by Renaissance master Giorgio Vasari  who incorporated it into the décor of Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. The wedding was documented as being a grand affair with the bridegroom participating in a joust.  As Queen of France Caterina was known for lavish and spectacular entertainments at court, called “magnificences” where  leading artists and architects of the day created  dramas, dances, music and elaborate special effects. Banquets were held in meadows, entertainments lasted for several days and food influenced by the sauces and seasonings of Florentine Italy (the use of giblets, truffles, olive oil, artichokes, pasta, parsley, spinach, crepes, custards, ices, sweetbreads, truffles and zabaglione) became part of French cuisine due to the influence of Caterina.

Not to be outdone by their sister-in-law (Lucrezia Borgia), Beatrice and Isabella d’ Este had weddings worthy of a Renaissance InStyle feature article. Prior to a magnificent banquet which followed her wedding ceremony, Isabella rode through the streets of Ferrara on a horse draped in gems and gold and Beatrice received a painting of herself as a wedding gift from Leonardo da Vinci.

medici and flooding of pitti by orazio scarabelli ,ock sea battle naumachiaBut if you thought that elaborate Renaissance nuptuals only focused on the bride, think again. When former cardinal and Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando de’ Medici married the French princess Christine of Lorraine ten months of preparations culminated in an event that lasted for a month. The Medici wedding of 1589 included the flooding of the courtyard  of the Palazzo Pitti for mock naval battles against the Turks, a soccer match and comedies in the Medici Theater with splendid costumes and stage designs. Said to be  one of the greatest court weddings in all of history it was a landmark in Renaissance art and architecture, theatre, music and political ceremonies.

da Vinci – Master of Revels

If you think that Leonardo only had his mind on engineering, anatomy, perfecting the art of light and color  and Mona Lisa’s smile you would be wrong. The archetypal Renaissance man, known for his painting, sculpture, architecture and inventive genuis was also in charge of  orchestrating ducal banquets for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.  Although I wouldn’t equate his interest in event planning to that of Colin Cowie (Cowie orchestrated Oprah’s famous Farewell Party at Chicago’s Four Seasons Hotel) Leonardo did enjoy the diversion of party planning designing dramatic installations for the Milanese court. Leonardo once used fireworks to create a great lion that was designed to walk a few steps, roar and then burst its chest in a display of flowers and birds.

As Master of Revels, Leonardo was responsible for the production and supervision of elaborate court entertainments, often serving as a theatrical designer, creator of stage sets and mechanical musical instruments. In January of 1490 Leonardo arranged a dramatic production of Il Paradiso, for of the Duchess of Milan. He designed the sets and costumes, including a sound and light show devised with “the great genius and skill of Maestro Leonardo Vinci the Florentine, a Paradise with all the seven planets orbiting round”.

*chiaroscuro, a style of shading  introduced by Leonardo da Vinci using light and dark paints to define three-dimensional shapes and expand the range of luminance, creating a greater sense of depth.