With just under sixteen thousand footsteps we saw a lot of Milan. I took many photographs but only a few passed the final cut. But these few describe my day beautifully, I think.
I took some of Il Duomo which sits in the very centre of Milan but I was unsuccessful, the area was surrounded in construction paraphenalia and shivering tourists. Today I will launch forth to have another go at it, it is not hard to find – like many roads, the road I am staying on leads directly to the piazza that the enormous cathedral looks upon.
Milan, Italy is a beautiful city, a city of contrasts, a contradiction of periods, conquests, revolution and irrespressible determination, both commercially and artistically. It was heavily bombed in the Second World War which has resulted in an eclectic collection of structures and neighbourhoods. Il Duomo is one of the biggest cathedrals in the world it took four hundred years to finish. In fact much work was done in the nineteenth century and the last of the bronze door in the front facade was completed in the 1960’s and sits literally at the center of the city. So it is a cathedral of the ages.
There is term with-in modern architecture called brutalism which if I remember rightly is a description for using vast amounts of concrete blocks and brick to create city buildings, usually government buildings, schools universities, etc. Raw is another description of this. Much of the new building in Milan I would describe as Modernism. (Not to be confused with postmodernism which came later and seemed more in touch with the culture of the peoples). But I also see some later brutalism. Much of the post war building in Milan from the sixties and seventies is very serious, solemn almost, it seems to follow the modern formula, clean, straight, no nonsense, unadorned – I am sure much of that had to do with the finances available at the time after the bombs demolished, the tiredness of the mind after such a war. The need to work fast. Modernism is criticised for its uniformity, its darkness, and its habit of ignoring the history and culture of the cities where it appeared. Many architects (Fede being one of them) do not like the term brutalism. But I thinks raw is a perfect description of many of the facades of the early postwar buildings in Milan.
I only say all this because I found myself endlessly framing OUT the post war buildings. Instead I kept seeking the old Milan, the buildings that have withstood the sieges and wars and still remain, proud and strong. They appeal to my romantic notion of a strong old European city.
I wonder whether much of this is from my school-girl notion of Italy and its food and people and the prettiness of it all. The fashions of Milan – its car races and beautiful clothes. Our envy of it. We tend to try not to look at the struggle and deprivation and sheer pain that many of these European countries experienced during the war years. All the orphaned children who were flown out as refugees. All the loss in the Jewish quarters. Hit by the sheer nuclear force of greed.
The juxtaposition of the buildings, the unhappy marriage of old and new is a direct reflection of this. And I need to embrace this instead of dishonestly framing it all out. I am going to work on this today.
The celebration of fashion and cars and money and stark hard faced buildings is in defiance of this hardship. I know some of my readers will think I have no right to speak of such things growing up on a beach in New Zealand as I did, knowing nothing of these struggles other than what I read in text books at school. And I was sheltered this is true. I was born too late to know anything personally of this time.
But there is something about Milan, something that simmers under these paved streets. A toughness. A manicured nail tapping on a tiny heavy coffee cup. The coffee taken in one shot. The direct gaze. When there is work being done on the streets (and there is a LOT of construction here as well) the workmen pick up each block and write a number in bright green on it as they pile all the paving stones carefully to the side, so the jigsaw of cobble stones that form the history of the actual road goes back down in exactly the same way, covering the new work with the old road. A powerful metaphor I think.
Yet there is a playfulness about Milan that I think is probably her essence. The moving sand between the cobblestones. The immense history feeds a great love of art and music and a love of other peoples together with a fierce pride of their own cosmopolitan histories. The people will smile and are friendly, they will lift their umbrellas so as not to jab you in the eye but the walk ways are very narrow and unlike starlings if you are in the way of a group of Milanese they will gently jostle you out of their way with an imperceptible very polite dip of the shoulder. Before you know it you are softly dropped into a puddle so they can breeze past with the gentlest of ‘scusi’s’ their perfectly beautiful winter boots safe and dry.
Small chuckle from me. That’s fine I come from the beach. I paddle happily.
ON to other things I have always thought that when an artist is contracted to create a sculpture for a space she or he should ensure that they get the contract for the rubbish bin as well. So often the bins sit so close to the art that I cannot crop them out. It is going to be in the picture anyway best if it is designed that way don’t you think?
Today I will commence more wandering and I will try not to frame out the post war buildings so you see the real Milan. I will not see a Milanese sun today though, and I leave tomorrow, but I could not have asked for better light. This dense bright overcast is wonderful for images of Milan. And it is not cold which is wonderful.
I hope you have a lovely day.