On a rainy Thursday morning, Jeremy and I left for the Orvieto station to catch the train to Milan. We had originally thought about going to France, but fall break’s time seemed to be running out, and I had heard that the duomo up there is not to be missed. Luckily, we also have some friends up north from the dig, so we were able to see them, too. More on that later. After a two-hour ride to Florence, we transferred to a Eurostar that was almost direct to Milan, and finally arrived around 3:30pm in Milan. The sky was gray, as we had left it in Orvieto. Apparently the entire country was having brutto tempo (bad weather), as we discovered. It had only just stopped raining before we arrived in Milan, and the newspaper said that Venice had, of course, started to flood, and even down in Naples they were having issues. So, we were pleased that the rain at least had stopped. Our friend Leo met us at the station and generously took our luggage from us so we could take a little jaunt to see the duomo and stroll around for a bit before dinner.
The Milan metro is super easy to use, and it made the city feel small enough to navigate easily. Milan’s duomo is one of the biggest in Europe (third biggest, perhaps?) and is a huge towering mass of spires and points. Very Gothic. Guards from the army were checking bags for security; somehow, Jeremy hadn’t realized he had brought a pocketknife with him and they turned him away. I was already past the door, but I saw him standing there. After a few moments of mouthing back and forth, “Just leave it somewhere!” (me) and “Where should I put it?!” (him), I turned to one of the young guards next to me.
“He didn’t realize he brought his knife with him. Can he leave it with you?” I asked. He looked at me for a moment, and said quietly, “You can’t leave it with me, but if you just put it somewhere around the corner, you can pick it up later.” As I had thought, but at least the esercito had confirmed that it would be safe. Safely propped up in a street-level grate, the knife found a temporary home and Jeremy was allowed into the building. It would have been ridiculous for him to have come all the way to Milan and then wait outside, all because of a silly pocketknife.
The inside is ornate, tons of stained glass, really too much to absorb in a short walk around. There were many side chapels with shrines and offertory candles, some people kneeling in prayer. I liked that the church made very clear where it was not okay for tourists to go—in the area where all the confessionals stood, a printed sign hung that forbade anyone not going to confession to enter. I was impressed with the cathedral’s size, but really the size of its organ. I tried to imagine Palestrina or Mozart being sung, and it made me miss choir.
One of my favorite sculptures of the church was one of St. Bartholomew. I’m sure I’ve seen him depicted before, but I had forgotten his fate: he was flayed alive. In this sculptural depiction, he stands boldly looking out at the viewer, his own skin draped across him like some sort of shawl of carnage. You can’t tell right away that that’s what it is, his skin. But then you notice that there’s a third leg in the scene, that his wrapping has toes and a face. It’s eerie and moving at the same time.
In the crypt (?), the remains of a saint lie, or so they say. Just like with the St. Catherine relic in Siena, I have a hard time buying it, but at least they had this guy’s whole body. His face had a gold mask covering it, and it looked like the rest of the exposed parts of his body did, too, so it was hard to tell how genuine it was. I’ll just have to take their word for it.
After the duomo, we decided to explore a bit more. Next to the Gothic is a lot of modern: Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton. Just looking in the store windows was enough to make me feel like I needed to take out a loan to go clothes shopping. Short dresses for almost 4,000 euro, sunglasses for 350. I break, lose or otherwise mistreat my sunglasses. I can’t imagine having paid that much for them. This area where all the shops are is called the Galeria, and along with designer clothes, it also has cafes facing the walkway where you can people watch (you can also pay 9 effing euro for a BOTTLE OF WATER at these places. I think not.) Jeremy and I had to drool over the window for an old pasticceria, and the photo should explain why. Cakes four inches in diameter, however, could cost 50 euro. We wondered what a 50 euro cake might taste like, but were absolutely not willing to indulge the curiosity.
We found La Scala, the opera house. The outside is nothing to speak of, but it was closed, so I didn’t find out on that trip what one of the world’s most famous theatres looks like inside. Next time. The Lonely Planet we had mentioned a place called Peck, a grocer, so to speak, that had been in operation since the late 19th century. Modernized, and with two of its own restaurants around the corner, it was the nicest grocer I’d ever seen. Although small, it would have put AJ’s to shame. They have 3000 types of cheese, and every meat or fish you can imagine. They even had pig feet AND pig snout. And pig ears. There were still little hairs on the pig snout. It was gross. There was also a bakery with chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and you can order food to take away (pastas, etc). Knowing we were having dinner soon, we restrained ourselves. Next time I’m there, though, I want to buy a lunch.
Eventually we made our way to the metro and Leo picked us up from the stop. We are very lucky to have so many friends who, like Leo, are truly salt of the earth people: generous, kind, good company, the works. He took us to his home, which reminded me of somewhere my aunt, Helen, would have loved. Throughout the place were books about art and history, as well as interesting art and bits and pieces of things that could be found art. In the guest bathroom was one of the plastic bodies from the torso up that has the color coded organs and half a brain, that sort of thing. I guess it sounds weird, but it felt homey to me to be in a place like that. We were treated to an absolutely lovely evening, a home-made meal courtesy of his partner, and lots of interesting discussion that inevitably ended up at politics. By that time, though, it was getting late and our brains (especially Jeremy’s) were hurting from all the Italian. The next morning was the beginning of Fall Break, Part 4: Party in Pavia!