This is now my fourth trip to Milano but each time there are three things that are always guaranteed to take my breath away:
The sight of La Scala across the Piazza della Scala
The Duomo as you enter the Piazza from any direction.
- This time of year Milano is a city of roses. I was amazed by the varieties available in neighborhood plant stores and more by the beds of them that served as medians on the city streets.
The second of the many courtyards of the Castello - its an incredible complex.
A stunning example of woodworking - a left click will give you a close up of the incredible detailing.
- I had never been to the Castello Sforzesco though how I could miss the enormous fortress and its great park in the middle of the city I'm not sure. There are seven museums plus the fortress to explore - for only E3.00 ($4.50) - and it was crowded last Saturday. I managed three of the museums - Ancient Art, the Pinacoteca and the Furnishings - before I got museum fatigue. Maybe I'll get a chance to see more the next trip back.
- It may be its fashion centre but Milano also has to be the botox capital of Italy, if not Europe. I have never seen so many bloated lips and stretched brows in my life. Sadly one is reminded of an exchange from Sheridan’s The School for Scandal:
Lady Sneerwell: ... and surely that’s better than the careless manner in which the Widow Ochre caulks her wrinkles.
Sir Benjamin Backbite: Nay, now, Lady Sneerwell, you are severe upon the widow. Come, come, ’tis not that she paints so ill — but, when she has finished her face, she joins it on so badly to her neck, that she looks like a mended statute, in which the connoisseur may see at once that the head is modern, though the trunk’s antique.
- The boxes (palchi) at La Scala were never meant for comfort; small, narrow and cramped they are an effort to extract the highest price from the maximum number of people under the guise of old-world romance. And though I still get a certain thrill as the crow-black garbed, gold chained usher unlocks the door to give me access to my place, after sitting for 90 minutes in a slightly contorted position to get a full view of the stage I greatly envy those in the orchestra who have paid the same price or even the gallery who have paid considerably less. I felt particularly sorry for the gentleman behind me who spent most of the performance on his feet craning to get a view of the stage. And though I recall doing exactly the same thing one evening at the Palais Garnier in Paris I don’t recall paying E120.00 ($180.00) for the privilege.
The one pleasure a palco can give you is good company. And I had good company on Friday evening: a charming - and I might add for the lady, beautiful older woman - couple from Cannes and a gentleman from Aix-en-Provence. We spent the evening sharing memories and opinions of singers, festivals and music in fractured French, Italian and English - it was polyglot but we all spoke the language of opera and it added great social pleasure to a musically pleasurable evening.
- It is incredible that the washrooms at the elegant Savini in the Galleria, which charges E19 for a Chicken Caesar, were a disgusting mess - to the point where I would not use them; while those at MacDonald's across the way, which charges considerably less for the same thing, are spotless. There is something to be said for corporate standards.
- As I was walking towards Piazza San Marco a little girl - maybe 8 years old - in a blue church scout uniform came running up to me. Proffering a small bag of homemade cookies she rather rapidly and breathlessly tried to explain that she was selling them for her scout group. When I told her I spoke French or English but not much Italian it didn't stop her for a mintue. She just slowed down a bit and tried to remember how to count in French. They cost "une ... deux ... (her friend nudged her and whispered "trois") trois!" I only had a five euro note and I gave it to her. Again she struggled to tell me she owed me deux euros. As she ran to get change I called over to the leader that it was okay, I didn’t want the change. That little girl’s efforts to communicate were worth much more than two euros. A lesson I should learn.