A Day in Milan
Sunday, January 13 2008
At our final hotel breakfast our tall Tuscan host, who’d loaned us the umbrella last night gave us a special plate of biscotti for dipping into our cappuccini, then he told us how to get to the Dominican convent of Santa Maria della Grazie.
We hurry off down still unfamiliar streets to our appointment with Leonardo. After scores of last suppers had been painted on the short end of European monastic dining halls, Lodovico il Moro commissioned Leonardo in 1494 to paint the last word in last suppers (called a cenacolo) for the nuns at Santa Maria. The finished product, four years later, was considered a more faithful capture of the disciples’ expressions following Christ’s announcement that one of them would betray him than any cenacolo that had been painted before. This, it was said, is what it really looked like. Unfortunately, Leonardo considered it somewhat like an ice sculpture to be appreciated immediately for its beauty and interesting reactions and interactions among the four groups of three disciples – but not to last 500 years. Even before the fresco was finished, flakes of color were fluttering to the floor of the convent dining room. By 1517 Vasari described the characters as vague and the details hard to make out. The last attempt at cleaning and restoration, stretching from 1977 to 1999 eliminated the thick coatings added by previous restorers, electronically addressed the humidity issues that caused the problems in the first place, and touched up some of the missing details. Critics said it didn’t look like it did before, but wasn’t that the point?
Anne last saw the fresco in 1989 with our daughter, Sunshine. At the time the figures were so faint as to be indistinguishable from each other; and some of the fresco was covered with scaffolding. Now, there are still gaps in some of the figure’s robes, but the colors are dreamy and peaceful and because the faces express surprise, pride, superiority, or even certainty, or guilt and defiance, it’s not difficult to imagine being there at the moment Leonardo depicted. I didn’t realize that John was leaning away from Jesus because Peter, with a knife in his right hand, was pulling John by the shoulder toward him with his left hand to whisper something in his ear (don't worry, we didn't sneak a photo of this treasure - just bought the postcard!).
On the opposite wall of the refectory (dining room), getting little comparative attention, is a crucifixion scene by Giovanni Donato de Mantorfano. It was painted at the same time as the Last Supper but since Donato followed the established method for the fresco craft, his work is much more vividly hued with intricate details visible, including letters, horses bits and manes, and angels surrounding the dying Christ.
We visited the church connected to the convent. It’s Sunday morning and the place is packed for mass. In a side chapel under the jewel-toned frescoed arches Anne noticed a lovely bas relief of angels. I looked around for the highly touted tribune (pulpit) but because there was a mass going on, I couldn’t get close enough to see it. Both frescos and the church interior can be found at http://milan.arounder.com/
The sun, which we haven’t seen for a week, surprises us when we come out of the church and walk up Corso Magenta and Via Meravigli to the center of Milan. We spy a Santa Maria Novella perfumery, a branch of the body lotions store in Florence, across the street from the Archeological Museum. We were surprised to find any stores open on Sunday because we’d read in a guidebook that there’s a city restriction from opening on Sunday. We found a men’s shop named Adler that had an overcoat just my size…we’ve been wanting to take advantage of these great sales that only occur in January and July – this is our chance!
Our preferences for lunch – following the snail logo of the Hosteria de Italia (Slow Food) guide to restaurants – were closed for the holidays so we had to grab some sustenance at a downtown tourist only bar, sparkling with chandeliers. The menu had some of the same words as other northern Italian restaurants but when they brought the food to the table, it didn’t taste the same. The difference is in quality ingredients, and the chef’s love of food and flavor. This place couldn’t survive on repeat business; and it doesn’t have to, there will always be enough foot traffic to keep it in business whether the food tastes great – or not.
By the time we got ready to go up on the roof of the Duomo, the sun had gone and it was raining. Well, there’s always next visit, besides, by now we’ve discovered that because of the winter sales, nearly all the shops are open after all, so we go gallery hopping and window shopping. The elegant Galleria is a don’t miss stop in Milan, with its glass dome high above the intricate mosaic
floor, and just to make sure we all behave, a couple of extravagantly uniformed handsome policemen who look like they could have just come from a dress rehearsal at La Scala, next door.
We admire the statue of Leonardo da Vinci in the Piazza della Scala then cross the street to the renowned opera house. All the doors are closed, as we thought, but we went next door to the Museo Teatrale alla Scala to check out the tour times.
The artifacts related to Giuseppe Verdi and other old set designs, costumes, and sheet music will make this museum an interesting part of our tour’s day trip to Milan in September.
The Castello Sforzesco was only a few blocks away so we wandered through the huge enclosed courtyard, and through the towering gates.
We had read that, like Torino, the bars in Milan put out a spread of finger food for their customers to snack on while they’re standing at the bar having an early evening drink. We like to experience that so after enjoying the view of the Duomo at night – almost glittering in the frosty air - we looked around the center of town for a bar with lots of food on the counter. The only one we found after walking around the blocks near the Duomo was one with a very long line. So we caught the #27 tram back toward our hotel and got off the tram at the beginning of Corso Sempione hoping we’d do better a little outside the crowded center of town. Heading west we spotted a bar (the tres hip Desea) and through the front window we could see they had ton of food on the counter. When we went in we were surprised that they showed us to a table. We could see that patrons were going up to the bar and filling their plates like at a pot luck dinner. So after we ordered drinks we went to check out the bar food. There were crudites, sliced meats, salads, grilled vegetables, focaccia, and cheese. Enough for a meal if one wanted to go back for seconds. Our son, Josh would have loved this place. Most of the patrons were his age. But he’d probably be banned for life for making all the free food disappear.
Tomorrow’s our flight home after almost 3 weeks away; and we’re both ready to get back in the saddle doing the things that need to be done. So goodbye to Italy, hope to see you again soon.