We have completely given over to living la vita turistica di Milano. Gone are my pretensions of traveling like an Italian. At least in Milano. Our apartment is in Brera, the West Village of Milan, and we are in the most kitschy part of the West Village. Every restaurant caters to English speaking tourists. There is pizza with hotdogs and French fries on it. I’m sure there is the British equivalent. I just don’t recognize it. When we were in Venice last year, we spent an afternoon sitting in Piazza San Marco, with ice cream (Julia) and gin and tonic (me), listening to two dance orchestras and watching other tourists pose with pigeons on their arms. In Milan, it seems comparable to sit in a cafe on the via Dante. Julia has been lusting for a slushie -that really tastes like watermelon although just as incredibly sweet an any American slushie. I have a gin and tonic (in these ridiculously expensive tourist cafes, a small glass of beer is the same price as a mixed drink and I enjoy gin and tonic in the summer. And so rarely order one.). We share a plate of cheese and meats. The servers bring potato chips and olives, just like Venice, an excellent way to encourage a second drink. There is music from whatever is the boom box equivalent. It plays pop, mostly American and mostly impossible to understand. It soon becomes white noise and not bothersome. The people watching is as good as last year. Lots of Asian travelers and women in head scarves, none speaking English. I’ve read that Americans have been scared out of European travel and tonight I wonder if that is the case.
In the morning, we went to the Pinacoteca di Brera which is right around the corner from our apartment (ok, so that’s very cool.). Heavy on Renaissance art, there is also some surprising modern pieces. The Pinacoteca owes some of the breath of its collection from a time when the government took pieces from churches. Not everything, of course, but that taking made for a very fine foundational collection. We used the audio tour which highlighted a work or two in each room–sometimes this was disappointing because the work highlighted was not always the one I wanted to know more about but recording commentary for the entire collection would be the work of a lifetime. Creating commentary for museums must be challenging-something for those who know nothing, something for those with just a little knowledge. Some history for context, something of the artist and why the piece was made. The Picacoteca does a pretty good job. The number are not always in order-something that didn’t bother me in the least. Julia, however, was bothered and sometimes insisted on looking for the next number no matter what. Perhaps this is not the perfect place for an artist on the spectrum. What was lovely was the space in the rooms and between works and the chairs in some of the rooms. The flow of the rooms was a bit mystifying at times but I think we saw almost everything.
After lunch and a rest, we went walking to the Castello Sforzesco and its backyard, the Parco Sempione. The castle was built as a fortress and intragral part of the city wall. It is an impressive structure and also home to the Sforza family whose crest includes a snake with a person coming out of its mouth (eating or giving birth? Not sure which.). We talked about how important such a fortress and its now-grassy mote was when it was built. For centuries even. But how utterly useless when defending cities involved dealing with tanks and planes. There have been a number of churches where WWII bombing destroyed walls or parts of buildings. I need to read something about Milan and my father’s war. When palaces like this were built, it must have been impossible to think of a time when it would be useless, but that time came. How many of our important structures and institutions will fall useless in time?
The museums were almost closed when we arrived and perhaps we will see some of them on Tuesday. Milan is closed on Mondays, so no museuming.
We did, however, walk the park in the backyard with hundreds of Milanese in the evening. There were bars and places to play volley ball, boci ball, frisbee and chess. There was a dance pavilion where a band played both classicfal dance music and some rock and roll. The dance floor was crowded and I wished for a partner. There are many walks, picnic areas and a pond and bridges and ducks. It reminded me of how much the town in which I spent my youngest years, Belleville, New Jersey, was an Italian town. There was a large Italian population of immigrants and the first generation born in the US. Our own park, Branchbook Park, echoed many of these activities and Sunday evening family strolls were part of life. And I wonder too why my paternal grandparents chose to leave the ukrainian communities in Newark and Passaic and buy houses in communities populated by Italian-Americans (the hyphenate that was so often used then), Nutley and then Belleville. My fascination with Italy might have family precedent.
The late afternoon and early evening were hot and sticky and after walking in the park, the fountain on the piazza in from of the castle was inviting. We were not the only ones with shoes off and feet in cool water. Julia followed the lead of a bunch of Italian kids and walked a little bit in the fountain. We did garner a few disapproving stares from disapproving tourists, but it felt great!