Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Milan - The Ouija Board System of Navigation. Santa Maria presso San Satiro, Duomo and Risotto Milanese


First, find your way in.
Second, enjoy the rewards:

Architecture, history, risotto, and a great Piazza

The goal:  Central Milan.  How to get there?

The first - driving in - is not as easy as it sounds.

1.  Maneuvering. The Ouija Board System of Navigation.

There is no way in to Milan. There is no way out of Milan.  Remember that, Grasshopper, and you will be wise.  "The urban layout of Milan is curious." That from ://www.initalytoday.com/lombardy/milan/index.htm

The rings of autostrasse routes end without a clear through-way to the old town center. They show on a map, but, once there, look like any other street. Look out the window and see nothing but squares and roads,
hubbing off, all ending in other squares, or circles.  We asked for a driving directions map on our way out, and were handed 19 turns through and around impossible squares with sillyzillions of streets coming and going.

 We shelved the driving directions;  that was only page one,. the nineteen.   More followed.
Solutions when maps fail:   
  • The Ouija board.  Lay lay fingers gently on the steering wheel, tap this pedal or that, scan horizons, and go. Eventually, you will see something that makes sense. 
  • The Steeple chase.  Look for steeples. Look for the sun. Go in those directions - basics of north, south, east, west, aim for the belltowers.
When you are there, remember this is a huge financial hub. Money before tourists. Few low-budget hotels in the center. Just take the big hotel, let them cope with the car (guidebooks warn of break-ins and theft consistently) and belt-tighten elsewhere.

Exit strategy. 

When you leave, go ahead and ask for a Driving Directions internet printout, but prepare to skip it.

You will get at least a dozen directions, all useless because they direct you to .2 to this square, then take the third right at rotary and go .3 to that square, etc.

This is where you need faith.

Use the Ouija board and follow the sun. Find any big steeple and aim for it, on the theory that it may lead you to a better life. Finally there will be a ring. Rings upon rings with transverse connectors, so you are not out of trouble yet. Signs are for immediate towns, not ultimate big ones, so learn the route first, then get on one.

2.  The Sights

Milan Cathedral, a Rayonnant style of architecture - more French than Italian, highly decorated, see ://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/492572/Rayonnant-style - is overwhelming. Where to begin to look.
Expect disbelief, that this arises from a gritty city so suddenly.

Then see detail, those individual features on the figures, the pinnacles and flying buttresses, over and over, and still each of the figures unique in expression, clothing, attitude.

Side view, figures, Duomo, Cathedral, Milan, Italy

Figures everywhere.

Milan Cathedral, figure detail
The Milan Cathedral, the Duomo, was begun in 1380 and is white marble over a core of brick. The color changes with the time of day, and quality of light. Parts were not completed until the 19th Century. See ://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/milancath/duomo.html/

The Cathedral and Risotto Milanese: Pass the saffron-laced Italian rice, that slow-simmered absorbing stock, warmly coaxed vegetables - a soffrito - ladle by ladle, gentle stir but don't startle it. Inhale.Tender but separate. A little like porridge-making, but rescued in time. Italian rices: arborio, vialone, carnaroli.  Large grains, lots of starch. Add butter and parmesan. A tiny bit pasty. Perfecto.

Rice arrived probably in the 15th Century, and from Spain, see Risotto History at ://www.annamariavolpi.com/page52.html/.  Arabs would have brought it to Sicily, and to Spain earlier. The Arabs may have grabbed it in India before that.

Meet Valerius, an apprentice working on the Cathedral in 1574, says the tale, teased for using a shortcut and using saffron to up the ante on color for the stained glass. So he got back at his teasers and added saffron to the rice at his Master's wedding - and delicious it was. Saga of the rice. See the Anna Maria Volpi site; and meet the mondine - young girls and women who came from home in the villages and from distant towns to clean and pick the rice, until about the 1960's, for the 40-day season, knee-deep in the water, bent over, hot sun. And they sang. See ://www.vercellink.com/riso/mondine.php/.  Search for mondine and find that site, and click on translate. Youtube has the songs. Economy dependent on women. What were they paid?

Milan, Duomo Piazza, Italy. Cathedral Square.

The Duomo Piazza is huge - the Cathedral dominates one end.

Piazza del Duomo, Milan, shopping arcade, galleria

This leads to the opera house, La Scala.
Piazza del Duomo (Piazza, Milan Cathedral), central statue, Victor Emanuel II (Vittorio Emanuele II) plus pigeons
Here is Vittorio Emanuele, 1820-1878; unifier of Italy, and its first king, 1861-1878.  His statue in the center of the Piazza del Duomo in Milan is the place to meet and greet, and view all.  Note the pigeons. Tuppence.
Go ahead. Feed the birds.

With a hotel just a few blocks away, enjoy an evening. And a view of Old Milan from the window.

The ouija board exit strategy took us past fine old palaces. This is symmetrical, with an identical left and right side. Camera lens too small.
Milan, Italy. Outer rings; palaces.

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