Tag Archives: Milan

Threading the Needle – Book 3 of the Roma Underground Series

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51LbKc8yJjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]This 3rd book in the Roma Underground series finds the characters all back in Italy – this time in Milan.  While there, they investigate the murder of a young American student, Charlie Brooks.  He is murdered right after he meets Bianca at a restaurant and hands her some secret files regarding details of a tank being built by Adastra, a USA defense contractor.  What about this tank makes it so secret that Charlie and his assassins are killed?  That is the answer that Bianca wants to find out, and this involves delving into government secrets and conspiracies.  Loki, Bianca’s online “friend” tells her to stay away from this case, but Bianca doesn’t heed her warnings! Meanwhile this is happening, an aspiring Italian political figure is found dead.  The two cases seem so different, but clues surface which make it seem like the two may be related.

I enjoyed this book more than the other books in the series, and I think it’s because I am now familiar with the characters and know each of their personalities.  This story moved quickly and I liked the descriptions of the locations in Milan…I also liked the history lesson about the terrorism that plagued Italy from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.

 

My Dad – The Soccer Player

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Growing up in Italy, playing soccer is every boy’s greatest dream, much like baseball, basketball, and football are the dreams of many American boys!  Few get to really pursue this dream, but my dad was one of the lucky ones.  Throughout his life, he lived and breathed soccer!  He truly loved the game and didn’t have any trouble memorizing all the stats of all the soccer games played by all the Italian teams.  His favorites were Juventus and Milan, but he paid close attention to all of them.  In fact, when the World Cup games were on, he was always at the Italian club in San Francisco watching the games on a giant screen TV!  Growing up, I never quite understood his fascination with the game, but I later came to understand why he had such a passion for it.  You see, my dad played professional soccer in Italy for probably about 8 years in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  His team was Gallarate (a town near Milan in Northern Italy).  He played in Serie B and was a mid-fielder.

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During his career, he was a top goal-scorer and earned quite a following in his home town.  Many in the town followed his games and were excited whenever he’d score a goal – even to the point of getting free dental work from his dentist!  He was a home-town celebrity but you’d never know it by his demeanor.  He took the accolades quietly, even though he enjoyed the little perks!

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During a recent trip to Italy, a few years after my dad had passed away, I got to meet up with one of his many fans who had followed his career closely.  He asked me if I knew what a great soccer player my dad had been, and sadly, I had to confess that I had only heard about the perks he received(and those stories weren’t even from him!)  He told me that my dad had great talent, but my dad was too conservative and humble to allow himself to venture into Serie A.  He said that Como, a Serie A team at the time, had courted my dad to play for them.  But my dad had declined because he felt that his knees weren’t good enough!  He had had meniscus surgery, which in those days was a major operation, and he was unsure that he could keep up in Serie A.  According to this fan, my dad had incredible skills – he could use both feet to shoot into the goal or to pass, and he had great aim with his head shots! I only wished that I could have seen him play this game that he loved so much.  The only memory I have of his skills was when he used to play “keep away” with me…I remember chasing the ball but never being able to get it because he’d whisk it away with his feet so much faster than I could ever go!

There is so much more I’d love to ask him about his soccer days but sadly he’s no longer with me.  And when he was here, I never thought about asking…why is it that we never take those special opportunities when we have them?

Il Domm de Milan (The Duomo of Milan)

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Another of Milan’s treasures which we will be visiting on our upcoming Italy…Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour  will be it’s most massive Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo. I have visited this stunning architectural wonder several times, and once in the winter when it’s spires were covered in snow making it look like a decorated cake!

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The Duomo is the center of Milan, with the streets radiating out from it’s piazza. Begun in 1386, it took over 6 centuries to complete! Most of it was completed during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte when he crowned himself King of Italy. It’s official finish date, though, wasn’t until 1965 when its last gate was inaugurated! Throughout all of it’s construction phases and many architects, it took on various architectural styles. Some Gothic purists complain that it “steals from every style in the world; and every style spoiled.” This may be true from an architectural standpoint, but to the lay person’s eye, it is magnificent. It’s many spires and statues are awe-inspiring and create a façade of intricacy that looks like lace. Henry James described it as “a structure not supremely interesting, not logical not…commandingly beautiful, but grandly curious and superbly rich…”
The Duomo is constructed of marble quarried from the shores of Lago Maggiore and brought to Milan via canals that were built especially for the purpose of covering the Duomo’s façade. Leonardo Da Vinci engineered these canals under the direction of Ludovico Sforza. They were called the Navigli, and most of them have been boarded over except for the Naviglio Grande which today houses restaurants and art galleries.

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The inside of the Duomo has some very interesting elements, one of which is an astrological map. The zodiac signs are arranged in a long line on the floor of the Cathedral and span its width. There is a tiny hole on the ceiling which is open to the sky. When the sun is exactly overhead at noon, the shadow cast from the sun’s ray will fall on the current astrological sign. I was fascinated by its precision! It is like an ancient calendar!
Sitting on top of the Duomo, is a beautifully golden statue of “La Madonnina”.

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She has become the symbol of Milan. During WWII, she was taken off the church and put into storage to keep her safe. To this day, no building can be higher than “La Madonnina”. Here is a very famous song which has become a sort of anthem for Milan.

Il Cenacolo – Da Vinci’s Last Supper

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As I get ready to launch details for Treasures of Piedmont and Italy’s Northern Lakes, the tour I will be hosting to Italy next September, I thought some in-depth posts about some of the “treasures” we will be seeing would be appropriate.

The first day of the tour will feature the highlights of Milan, one of which is Leonardo Da Vinci’s great masterpiece, The Last Supper.

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The fresco is painted on the wall of the refectory (or monk’s dining hall) in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

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At the time that Leonardo painted it, it was not a dining hall but a mausoleum for the Sforza family. Eventually, it became a refectory and when that happened, the monks cut a doorway into the wall on which this fresco was painted (probably as a short cut to the kitchen!) By doing this, they wiped out the feet of Christ! Over the years, the doorway has been closed up, but the permanent damage has been done to this great work.

See the plastered up door way frame under the "table"

See the plastered up door way frame under the “table”

The fresco has had its problems since the beginning, when in 1495, Leonardo Da Vinci was commissioned by his patron, Ludovico Sforza, to paint a wall in what was to be the family mausoleum. It took Leonardo several years to complete this project (as he was known to walk away from his works for long periods) and it was not painted as a proper fresco. Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster. Because a fresco cannot be modified as the artist works, Leonardo instead chose to seal the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, then paint onto the sealing layer with tempera. Because of the method used, the piece began to deteriorate a few years after he finished it. Restorations began in the 1700’s and continued for several centuries, much to no avail. Further damage was done to the fresco due to improper restoration attempts. By the late 1970’s, the painting’s appearance had become so badly deteriorated that it was feared the masterpiece would be lost forever. Fortunately, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the conservation of Renaissance frescoes, Pinin Brambilla Barcion, initiated a major 20 year restoration on the fresco in 1978.

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The project consisted of permanently stabilizing the painting, and reversing the damage caused by dirt, pollution, and the misguided 18th- and 19th-century restoration attempts. Since it was determined to be impractical to move the painting to a more controlled environment, the refectory was instead converted to a sealed, climate controlled environment. Since 1999, a very elaborate system has been put into effect to preserve the fresco. Only a small group of people are allowed to visit the refectory at a time – and then only for 15 minutes. Before entering the room, you are guided through a series of glass doors (much like entering a bank in Europe). From the outside, the doors open and you are filed into a sealed glassed- in room. After the outside doors close, the inside doors open allowing you to enter the refectory. It is actually really nice to be inside the room with only a few people. It allows you the opportunity to really study the fresco without throngs of people standing in front of it. Everyone gets a great view and you are allowed enough time to appreciate its glory.

The subject of the fresco, a portrayal of the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus tells them that one of them would betray him, has spurred theories and speculations as to what Leonardo Da Vinci was trying to say through his symbolism. One of the major ones deals with the number 3 – the apostles are in groups of 3, there are 3 windows above the table, and the geometric shape of Christ is a triangle. This is believed to be symbolic of the Holy Trinity.

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Studying the twelve apostles, we note that they all have different reactions to the news of betrayal and it’s interesting to read into the body language and actions portrayed by each one. It’s fun to pick out all the small details of what the character’s are doing. For instance, Judas is tipping over a salt shaker which may have to do with the Eastern tradition of “betraying the salt” or betraying one’s master.

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There are numerous other small gestures throughout the painting that I think make it one of the most interesting pieces of art to study.

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The masterpiece has also been the subject of novels and movies.  Most recently, Dan Brown’s famous Da Vinci Code has put forward some more theories (far fetched though they might be) of what Leonardo was trying to say and which make for some interesting further studies of the piece.

McDonald’s Leaving Milan’s Vittorio Emanuele Gallery Location!

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After 20 years in their prime location inside the swanky Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, McDonald’s will be closing its door…just to be replaced with a Prada store!  One will no longer be able to get their favorite McItaly and Fries fix so close to the Duomo and Via Montenapoleone.

Frankly, I’ve always thought it was an odd location for a fast food restaurant, and would have much preferred to see an Italian cafe in its place.  But, evidently it was hugely successful for the mega-giant McDonald’s (to the tune of 60 million Euros per year!!) and they are putting up a giant stink by slapping the city of Milan with a whopping 24 million Euro lawsuit of “unfairness”!

Despite their fight with the city, McDonald’s did not want to leave their customers with a bitter taste in their mouth so they treated everyone to free burgers, fries and drinks on their last day.  According to Paolo Mereghetti, head of communication at McDonald’s in Italy, they wanted to “say goodbye to the Galleria with a smile.”

What do you think about the loss of McDonald’s at this popular tourist and shopping destination?

Snow….Snow…and More Snow!

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Italy, and a lot of Europe, has been covered in record snowfall this year.  Pictures and pictures of famous sites covered in snow have been appearing all over the media.  Rome received a record amount of snow – the most they’ve gotten in over 26 years!  The Cinque Terre has been a winter wonderland – the beauty of the white snow surrounded by the warm sepia toned houses perched on the hills has been better than a postcard!  But, as I recall, the January I spent in Italy in 2009 brought with it more snow than they had had in over 20 years.  I think that was the beginning of the new winter trend – snow, snow…and more snow.

Scenes along the Shores of Lago Maggiore

The Duomo with its “Snow” Frosting 

….and the Castello Sforzesco

Snow covered Santa Maria delle Grazie 

My Style Watch!

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Whenever I go to Italy, I try to look at the store window displays to figure out what the upcoming fashion trend is.  As usual, the styles in Italy happen first and then they trickle to the USA (even though I’ve noticed that these trends do travel faster than they used to!).  During my last trip to Italy, I visited Milan where FASHION IS KING!  To my surprise, I noticed that the clothing styles were very similar between Italy and the U.S.  Belted tunics with leggings; skinny jeans; long cardigan sweaters – they were all in the windows.  But the two things that did stand out to me were the flat shoes and the large purses!  The trend seems to be getting away from high heels and into ballerina flats.  This does make for walking the cobblestoned streets a little easier.  But, frankly, I was a bit disappointed.  I always like a heel – I think it allows for elegance and grace – and plus, personally, I have a hard time wearing flats.  I don’t get enough arch support and really flat shoes tend to hurt my back.  Being, also, that I don’t have teeny tiny little skinny legs, heels tend to elongate my legs and make them look a little better.  But in Italy, a lot of the women are very tiny and so therefore flats look wonderful on them.  Anyway, the shoes were all adorable in every color and style.

As far as the purses were concerned, BIG purses are definitely in.  I ended up getting one in Milan which is gorgeous.  The leather and color are so beautiful that it is a real pleasure carrying it around.  It is a Carlo Pazolini – and I think it was reasonably priced for the high quality!

Window shopping in Milan is very educational…and very enjoyable.  I could definitely make a habit of it!

An Unexpected Detour

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On my last morning in Milan, as I was heading down the elevator to grab a bite to eat, I noticed a poster inside the elevator talking about terrace dining at the hotel. Curious, I went in search of this peaceful paradise in this busy city. The terrace was on the rooftop and truly an oasis of tranquility. I grabbed a table and ordered my usual capuccino and marmalade filled croissant and sat peacefully taking in the fresh crisp air of the morning.


Refreshed and ready to tackle the city bustle, I headed out to catch the Metro! Feeling like a pro navigating the city, I found myself in Piazza Duomo once more determined to come away with some fashion purchases. This time I headed in the opposite direction from Via Montenapoleone to the “lower rent” district ( if there is such a thing in Milan), and, to my surprise, I found several “normal” stores! I must have been in a shopping mood, so I was VERY successful! In one of the shops, I even met an Italian pianist who will be performing at The Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco later this month – and she invited me to her performance! What a small world we truly live in!

Loaded with packages, I had to quit my shopping expedition to head back to the hotel for my ride back to Ispra. My cousin surprised me with the notice that he had taken the afternoon off from work so that we could do something together. What to do? We had about four hours to explore…so we decided to take a detour to Lake Como! The only other time I had visited Lake Como was in winter – it was beautiful, but not exactly tourist weather. We parked a bit out of the center of Como and began our trek towards the lakefront promenade. We passed my favorite little alleyways that I’m always so attracted to when I visit Italy. Tiny little winding alleys, with cobblestones underfoot and gorgeous old buildings with flowers hanging off the balconies, make me think of all the millions of people over the centuries that have walked these same steps! Explaining this fascination to my cousin, he said that, unfortunately for them, who have always lived surrounded by these ancient environs, they don’t even think twice about the historical beauty that surrounds them. I think I may have opened his eyes!


After passing gorgeous piazzas filled with outdoor eating, we arrived at the lake’s edge.


We found a beautiful little restaurant and enjoyed some wonderful pasta and a cool glass of wine. I couldn’t have been happier – al fresco dining in a gorgeous setting with a spectacular view, great food, and good company! Now this is my idea of La Bella Vita! Even though I didn’t get any George Clooney sitings, it was the perfect day!


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Milan, Como

Incredible Milano

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Yesterday, I headed out to Milan in order to attend the Macef convention today at FieraMilano. I used every method of transportation to arrive (except I guess, boat)! I got a ride from Ispra to a train station that had a direct connection to Milan. Once arrived in Milan, I bought a 2 day Metro pass so that I could navigate the city with ease. Milan’s metro system is extremely easy to understand and also very accessible from many parts of the city. After checking in to my favorite hotel, the Westin Palace on Piazza della Repubblica, I headed out for some adventures!

Hopping on the Metro in front of my hotel, I headed to the heart of this vibrant city – Piazza Duomo! Upon exiting the Metro station, I was faced with the incredible facade of the majestic Gothic duomo.

I sat for awhile at it’s door, enjoying a prosciutto panino and doing some people watching! The piazza was hopping! There were throngs of tourists, and also throngs of street merchants trying to sell you junky little souvenirs. Holding on tight to my purse, I sat and admired this architectural wonder. Once I got my fill, I headed out in search of the famed Naviglio Grande. At one time, Milan was compared to Amsterdam in that canals traversed the city. In fact, there was a canal right near the Duomo from which the marble from Lago Maggiore came to build the massive structure. Over time, the canals were filled in and the city was built over them. The Navigli district is the only area in Milan where the canals are still present. At one time, this part of the city was extremely seedy and dangerous…but it has been rejuvenated into a trendy area filled with boutiques and restaurants. I have to say that the shopping kind of disappointed me, but the restaurants looked wonderful.

After exploring this area, I headed back to the Duomo area to do some window shopping. Milan is the city of fashion, so every designer is represented here. The prices are exhorbitant, but if you are looking for designer labels, this is the place for you!

Heading back to the hotel, I decided to spend the evening at the hotel’s bar, enjoying an aperitivo. Aperitivos are always served with food…it helps with the tolerance of the alcohol!

I sat with my IPad and wrote and wrote! Sitting in the corner, I wasn’t disturbed by anyone! Just how I like it! For dinner, since I still haven’t mastered the art of eating alone in public, I played it safe by ordering room service. Lasagne with a glass of white wine….not too shabby!

Today, I attended the giant Macef convention. This event is dedicated to Italian design and gifts. I came for for the sole purpose of looking at bomboniere (favors), but ended up finding so much more. I am inspired to open a gift shop in order to showcase all the gorgeous Italian designs I witnessed today! There is something about the absolute simplicity of Italian design that captivates me! And the ideas I came away with are an inspiration for some future endeavors. I will have to do some legwork in order to introduce the bomboniere concept in the USA! And who knows, maybe some other items will sneak their way in!

After wandering the convention today in my “gladiator” shoes, I had to call it quits! I dressed for success today, but fashion comes with a price!!!! But I came away with such a sense of Italian design, and also a dream of sharing it back home!

And tonight’s “loner” dinner was bruschetta! Yummy!


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Milan

It’s Great to be Back!

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Yesterday, my mom and I left SFO for a two week trip back to my mom’s hometown of Ispra, along the beautiful shores of Lago Maggiore. The purpose for this trip was to bring my mom back so that she can celebrate a giant birthday party for all the 80 year olds in her home town! She is the Class of 1931…not high school class of 1931….but birth-year class of 1931. In Italy, that is how you identify yourself….sono della classe del … (I am from the class of….) Many of her coscritti (fellow 1931-ers) will be here; many of whom she hasn’t seen in more than 50 years!

We had a non-stop flight to Zurich on Swiss Air, a quick one hour layover, and then a hop-skip-and a jump over the Alps into Milan! The flight was incredibly timely and perfect…thanks to the Swiss for their precision!!!


Upon arrival in Milan, beautiful familiar faces greated us as we walked out of the “holding cell”. Of course, we walked through the “nothing to declare” line…they are really trustworthy here in Italy. They leave it totally up to you whether you want to declare your goods or not…gee, I wonder how many customers they actually get in the “something to declare” line!!! Guess they save on customs personnel that way! Ha!ha!

Being with my Italian family immediately brings me back to my childhood…I relinquish all responsibility and fall into their supportive arms! It’s wonderful! My cousin and his wife brought us to their home for some homemade tortellini in broth…a light dinner because they knew that after a long flight, we needed to have a light meal. It was perfect, and delicious! The tortellini were gorgeous, with a filling of sausage, meat, and prosciutto. The broth was made with the highest quality beef bones, and extremely light! Sorry, I didn’t take the time to take any pictures before I gobbled it down!

After dinner and some catch-up chatting, we came to our home away from home…The B & B al Lago near Ispra’s historic center. We wanted a place in town, as we are not renting a car and needed to be within an 80 year old’s walking distance range! This is a tiny place with only 3 rooms…but the rooms are spacious, clean, and modern! We even have air-conditioning! The only funky thing, and hopefully not too big of a drawback, is the crazy shower! It is in the corner of the bathroom, with a very modern shower head….BUT NO DOORS OR CURTAINS! There is a drain on the floor, a little tle lip encompassing the “shower area” , but without any doors or curtains, I’m not exactly sure how the rest of the bathroom won’t get wet when the water splashes off your body! I haven’t tried it out yet…perhaps there is some miracle of Italian engineering that will lay all my fears to rest!


I am writing this blog post at 3 am…darn time change! Can’t wait to see what tomorrow (or today, actually…I am so confused!) brings! I am so excited to experience everyday life in “my” hometown.