We were to begin with fresh hearts and a new attitude. Things in this city couldn’t the THAT bad, could they? We woke early and went to the local supermarket to buy not only breakfast but lunch and dinner too. We were not going to be caught out again. We also went around to the local café to ask if they had wifi. The response was initially ‘non ho capito’, and then, after some persistence from us, ‘no’. Hmmm. With food, and the provisions from the vending machine (I’m not sure if this is specific to this very strange Bed and Breakfast, or if this is true of Italian Bed and Breakfasts, but here, the breakfast part of the Bed and Breakfast is a vending machine with packaged croissants – yum … - and vending coffee. And a curt note in English on the machine saying that the laws in Italy prevent the owners from serving proper breakfast and may we remind you that if you had rented an apartment, you would have received nothing. Well, some might prefer nothing to paying more for a B and B with a vending machine. But I digress.), we were ready for the day. But we still really, really needed wifi access. Why? Because we have no phone and it is our only way of connecting with the world. Most of my information is stored in my email, and I not only needed to confirm the booking with the people in Venice via email, I needed to email my cousins in Venice to tell them when I was arriving. It was all getting messy. Paris also had a friend in Milan on exchange and he wanted to meet with her; again organisation that had to occur over the internet. We are so hostage now to this device.
In the end, we decided to take a laptop with us and hope for a wifi connection somewhere in the city. We caught the train into Cardorna, and then the Metro to Centrale. Here we wanted to get information from a tourist office about a few things including The Last Supper (‘impossible’ I was told), find wifi and buy train tickets to Venice. Trains stations; is there nothing they can’t do? Turns out, yes. The wifi was out across the whole station. The Last Supper was booked out weeks in advance (and I thought that there were only twelve invited anyway), and the line to buy the cheapest tickets possible to Venice was five deep and a mile long. Perhaps everyone was desperate to leave Milan.
We waited. When we got to the window, I was pleasantly surprised that I could actually buy tickets to Venice in Italian. Perhaps things were looking up. So we had tickets. Now we needed internet and someone to cancel their booking to see The Last Supper. Too much to hope for?
In the end, we found an internet café and tried our best to make the connections we needed to. Of course, we couldn’t then check …
Paris was the most affected and the crossest. He was very much looking forward to seeing and talking to someone other than his family. And it looked like this might not happen.
Off we went to Cenacola Vinciano with pinkies crossed to see if we could get a last minute invite to the Last Supper. But there was a big sign, in black letters, saying ‘NO CANCELLATIONS’. The Gods were not with us. The weather Gods were still smiling though, so through the streets we went, with some sun slanting in to us. Not much though. The streets here don’t welcome the light too much. We went back to the Duomo to see inside.
It is a majestic place, all tall and gothic, with stain glass and statues and dead saints in glass coffins around the walls. Most pleasant. But I couldn’t help but compare to the Sagrada Familia. Now perhaps I’m going overboard here, but the light and the optimism that the Gaudi cathedral has, is missing here. This is all dark and gloomy, and while there is a soaring ceiling, it feels forbidding. The Sagrada Familia, with its kooky plant and fruits and animals, and a feeling that all things are blessed, is a place where I could almost be convinced of God. Here, I couldn’t. I loved the building, but the sentiments within was not something I could really embrace. Myles, on the other hand, rather likes the prohibition of the gothic giants. The kids were a bit yawn about the whole thing and were really disappointed that there was no donkey in the Nativity scene. We watched the confession line for a while. Paris liked the idea that you could do active evil and be absolved. He also liked the idea you could be a recidivist and be absolved. Perhaps, he said, this religion thing had something to it.
Zelda and I decided we would like to go to the roof. The boys, in highly predictable ways, all opted out. And Myles convinced Zelda that she should walk to the roof because it was cheaper. You can catch an elevator too if you choose. The man in front of us did just that at the ticket booth – ordered a ticket to the roof via the elevator. He did this in Italian so I can’t imagine that he had a problem understanding, but perhaps he was just inattentive. But he was told by the tickets seller that to take the elevator, he had to go out the door and around the building. The man just ignored this piece of information and began to walk up the stairs. You would have thought that he had urinated on a sacred object the way in which the ticket seller dealt with this. It took him quite a while to come down from his rage against the inattentive man to sell Zelda and me our tickets. We were careful to follow all instructions.
There is, apparently, ticket control and we had to hold onto our tickets. But the men in the booths that were scattered about in various locations on and about the roof were mostly asleep so the tickets got nothing like a work out.
But the roof is wonderful and the sun shone on us, and we hung high in the sky; the cold marble against our backsides, and the colours of the Duomo moving as the sun did. We studied as many statues as possible, and decided on mood and behaviour for each. Some were a little sacrilegious. But we were careful to speak in lowered voices.
Then we descended through the dark tract of the Duomo staircase. I clutched the tickets in case we met with the original ticket seller. But when we finally emerged from the darkness, he was gone. Lunch break? Anger management course?
Zelda and I loitered, waiting for Myles, Paris and Niccolo to arrive. Which they did. And then, the miracle. Paris’ friend, on exchange to Milan, also suddenly appeared. What were the chances that in the city of 1.3 million, we would see her? But there she was, in real life. Paris couldn’t have been happier. He plucked a fifty euro note from Myles’ wallet, agreed to meet us in a couple of hours and disappeared.
We went shopping. How this makes sense, I’m not sure. But Zelda needed a skirt to wear to a family lunch on Sunday and this might be our one opportunity. It was hell, at least as bad as our shopping experience in Paris, but this time I was a little more bolshie and I had a bit more language to use. We were successful, which was a relief, and then walked through the city, looking about. Now, I might be surly and have seen too many beautiful things in two months, but Milan is singularly unlovely. And (and I believe that I’m not alone in this belief) home to the rudest people in the world.
Ice cream was the one thing that made the kids happy and as they ate, we watched dogs and people. Another surprise for me. Milan is, is it not, the fashion capital of Italy. But after the studied formalism of Parisians and the casual cool of the Barcelona residents, this was serious boganville. Never have I seen so little taste crammed into one space. And if not terrible bogan clothing, then the most extravagant fur coats ever seen. The ghosts of a thousand bludgeoned furry animals must haunt this city. On one woman alone I saw a coat that might have represented one hundred poor little creatures. I had a bad taste in my mouth.
The light on the Duomo calmed me. There are a thousand shades of pinks and yellow and greys to stare at, and they change second by second.
Paris was late. The Metro was crowded. We fell into our weird B and B, and Myles cooked up a storm. I was feeling incredibly sick – not sure why – and ended up being sick later on. Must have a bug.
Should we resent this bad experience? We have had very few, it must be said, but Milan has been a real low light, and we are wishing we had just bypassed it, and gone straight to the incontestable beauty of Venice. But the bad experience can be kind of good in a way; an important contrast for one thing, but also a valid experience in and of itself. Ruth Reichl, a food writer who wrote a great memoir called 'Tender at the Bone', wrote about her mother’s cooking and how she was the ‘worst’ cook in the world. Actively – a poisoner. But then she provides recipes to some of her mother’s dishes. What are we supposed to make of this? We wouldn’t cook them (of course, I want to add here), but there is validity in ‘badness’, in eye rolling disappointment. And this is Milan – well, for Myles and I. And it might have been bad planning too. We hadn’t had a great experience in the place we had booked to stay in, and we had done little or no research about the city. Having said, that, we knew nothing about Antibes either, and had loved that. I don’t really know that answer. I’m aggrieved by the experience, but, as I have written about it, sort of think that it is all part of the tour. And, as I say, it is really only Myles and I who have hated it here. Paris liked it because he got to hang out with a friend for a whole afternoon, and Niccolo liked it because he thought the vending machine was a tip top idea (oh, to be eight). Zelda was unmoved on all accounts. But she liked the walk up the Duomo.
Oh, and the camera died too. So only a couple of photos of our first night of this most horrible time in this most horrible city.