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!