Saturday, October 24, 2009

Portrait of a Fortnight: Rialto, San Marco and The Grand Canal




Saturday, October 10, 2009

Portrait of a Fortnight: Milan Encounter with Beckhams, Hemingway and Ole-Kristian (who?)

To the fashionistas, Milan is in the same league as Paris and New York. To the arty-farty and culture vulture crowd, Milan is the home of music and Leonardo’s The Last Supper. To the literati set, war-torn Milan is the city that inspired an anti-war novel, famous for its deeply moving opening paragraph. The vivid depiction of the WW1 landscape and the climate, where the ravages of war left everything “layu sebelum waktunya”, is quintessentially Hemingway:

In the late autumn of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

I was here on a different mission, not in search of glitter or to ogle at Caravaggio or Mantegna, or to soak in the emotional outpourings of Verdi or Puccini. Not even to trace the footsteps of Hemingway. Rather to learn and seek knowledge from management gurus who are at the cutting edge of business research. They came from top schools in New York, Toronto, London, etc, for a meeting of minds at SDA Bocconi.

We landed at the Malpensa airport just before 3 pm on September 8th. As the KLM plane began its smooth descent, we got a bird’s eye view of the Alps. Not quite sure whether we flew above Mont Blanc, as the mountains look more brown than white.

From the airport, we made a mistake (with the benefit of hindsight) of taking the Malpensa Express, instead of the Malpensa Shuttle, to get to Mussolini’s Milan Central Station (Stazione Centrale). We decided to make Stazione Centrale our base since we were informed a few days earlier by MATRADE Milan through email that the halal restaurants are located in the vicinity of Stazione Centrale. The shuttle bus goes direct to Stazione Centrale, whereas by taking the express train, as we did, we had to change at Cadorna Stazione, and from there catch the metro to get to our intended destination. A real hassle it turned out to be. All the left luggage lockers at Cadorna Stazione were out of order, so lugging our bags from platform to platform until we found the elusive DEPOSITO/BAGAGLI was something we had to endure. A minor inconvenience to test our patience during Ramadhan.

Once we got off the metro at Stazione Centrale, we trained our eyes to look for signpost pointing the exact location of left luggage locker/office. We found none. Unlike Amsterdam, the poor signpost gives the impression that visitors are not courted here and left to their own devices. Instead, swamped before our eyes are the billboards of the insanely hot couple, Becks and Posh, stripped to almost practically nothing. They pout, they sizzle and they pose intimately to seduce scores of the innocent bystanders and onlookers to “tiru macam saya”. Everyone can be insanely hot when clad in dreamy Armani undie or lingerie, they make us believe. And not a few were misled.

After the heavy suitcases were safely tucked away in the portabagagli, we were footloose and fancy free to roam Via Vitruvio and Via Napo Torriani in search of an agreeable hotel. As we stepped out of the main railway station, the striking Pirelli Building beckons from a distance. After a few false starts, we eventually settled for Hotel Flora, which coincidentally is one of the hotels recommended by MATRADE Milan. Due to its convenient location, we stayed put here until we blew kisses Ciao Milan, four days later.

On our first day in Milan, we went to bed early, shortly after dinner at Caffe Panzera, to conserve our energy for tomorrow’s big walk, pregnant with anticipated visual delights. CaffĂ© Panzera is almost as old as the station, with black and white photos taken during the Fascist era crowding its wall.

The next morning we ventured into the heart of the city. The early morning light poured through the stained glass of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and illuminated its ravishing mosaic floor. Michael Palin, writer, actor, comedian and train aficionado, described it as the mother of all shopping malls. I couldn’t agree more. Prada, LV and other chicest boutiques are all here, and next to the Galleria are the intricately carved Duomo Cathederal and La Scala, the revered opera house.

Before starting the Milan stroll, we visited the Tourist Information Centre. It has copies of the monthly free guide hello milano, which is an extremely rare English publication about the local happenings. Haughty Milan, sans a TimeOut monthly, is strangely behind subzero Kuala Lumpur, in the art of pleasing the visitors. As Lonely Planet succintly puts it “Milanese don’t have time to play nice for visitors”.

To be continued