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. 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.
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.