CHIAVARI, Italy – Just so you don’t think I’ve completely abandoned Milan for a posher life on the Italian Riviera, here is my Ode to Milan and some random photos that brought back some nice memories of summer in that city.
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THE VERY FABRIC of Milan is Valentino red, Armani black and Versace gold. As a city it’s slick and it’s snazzy. It’s not anything like all those other Italian cities that are so absorbed with their past. No no, not Milan. This northern Italian city is about art, it’s about design, it’s about fashion, oh yes, above all it is about fashion.
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Board one of the clunky orange trams going up Via Manzoni, and chances are you’ll find yourself sitting next to the editor of an international fashion magazine, or maybe the marketing director for Prada or Dolce and Gabbana. Morning traffic is intense, Vespas zoom in and out, taxis honk and drivers stick their heads out the windows. What’s the hold up, they shout, move it buddy! Everyone is in a hurry. No strolling allowed.
Milan is not an easy city to visit. But you must admit the massive Duomo is breathtaking. Topped with a crown of two thousand and two marble statues and a brilliant gilded statue of the Madonna, few visitors realize it is Italy’s second largest cathedral, only the Vatican is bigger.
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And yes the Sforza castle is amazing. Imagine a castle with a thousand years of history, surrounded by a moat and drawbridges right in the center of town. Yes the Galleria’s soaring iron and glass arches were soaring years before Mr. Eiffel built his tower in Paris. Milan’s Galleria was the first shopping center and in its time it was a wonder of the world. And every great Italian composer, from the 18th century on, has composed for the world famous La Scala opera house.
In the spring and fall, when the city is gearing up for the all-important twice-a-year fashion shows, the trams and subways are crowded with tall, leggy models, male and female, carrying large black portfolios. They make the rounds of the booking offices, anxious to see if they are good enough to walk the runway for Cavalli and Armani, or if they’re to be delegated to working the show rooms.
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When the models have half an hour free, you will find them standing in awe in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, which hangs in the Refectory of the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. Or perhaps they wander into the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the world’s first public library to see the fragments of the gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke.
There is more to track down at the Pinacoteca di Brera, a world class art museum in a 16th century palazzo. And if they want more da Vinci there’s also the Museo della Scienze e della Tecnica Leonardo da Vinci where you’ll find models based on sketches of Leonardo’s designs for submarines and helicopters. Who would have thought?
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So do come for a visit, even in the summer, but don’t look at Milan like you look at Florence or Rome. Stop in and marvel at the grandeur of the Duomo and the Galleria. Do visit the museum at La Scala. Stroll the streets of the Golden Triangle and come right up close and personal with some of the world’s top designers. But do try not to look aghast when the price tag on the lacy peach colored bra in the window, the one with the ostrich feather trim, turns out to cost more than $1,800 at today’s exchange rate. Celebrate your good sense not to buy it with a glass of bubbly Prosseco at one of the sleek bars in the neighborhood, in short, enjoy a different style of Italian life, Milanese style.