Thursday, October 14, 2010

Duomo di Milano, Galleria and La Scala

Because I was at the ISAM conference the days we were in Milan, Laura was exploring the area near our hotel enjoying the fine shopping in that area. The area around Ibis Hotel was uptown and most populated by locals, not really a tourist centre perse. The conference gave participants an afternoon off so Laura and I caught a taxi to visit the Duomo di Milano. It's listed as the only Gothic Cathedral in Italy, begun in 1300 and completed in 1800.
We were simply awestruck when the taxi came round a corner and we saw this glorious church in this huge piazza. I was reminded of the central square of Mexico City. The sizes boggle the mind. I think the taxi driver anticipated and enjoyed our reaction. It certainly influenced our tip. Humbled is a fine word for the experience.
We had lunch there. Hamburger Italian Style, fries with a burger paddy but no bun. Condiments on the side. A great way to stay slim. A magnificent view to enjoy a meal and gracious company. Fun watching the tourists, especially the young women, posing for each others pictures. People watching in Italy seems unsurpassed given the consciousness so many people have of their appearance. Milan, especially, as a fashion centre for the world.
The Galleria Vitorrio Emmanuelle II was juxataposed to the cathedral and lead to the Piazza della Scalla. The Galleria had been built in 1865 by Mengoni so that shoppers could avoid street vendors and beggars.
Laura was especially fascinated to learn this as she had a very unpleasant experience just outside the Gallery. While my back was turned talking to petitioners for a drug free Milan, Laura 20 feet away had been stopped by two men ostensibly offering to sell her 'woven' arm bracelets. However using the bracelets as a justification for taking her wrist the one wouldn't let her go while the other blocked her escape and demanded 20 Euros for the bracelet. Laura was frightened as she couldn't see me, the men blocking her view, and even though it was in plain daylight she was instantly afraid at being held against her will and quickly gave them 20 Euro. All the while the men smiled as if it was a huge joke.
When I caught up to Laura, she'd run a ways ahead looking for me, she told me this.
I, being macho, accosted the men selling bracelets who said that I should have given them 100 Euro. I told them I'd give them their lives this day, forgetting I was old, and that there were six of these fellows from Senegal who had probably served as mercenaries or served time in jails already for rape of women. Naturally I'd be hurt no matter how many I hurt, still it was good to stand inches from this man's face and say, "Don't touch my woman. Don't ever touch my woman." It probably helped that I was wearing my Harley hoodie and am on such occasions prone to insaniety. They backed down and I took pictures.
Laura being wiser didn't want the police involved and didn't want me to confront the men but I explained simply "All my life I've believed that evil will persist only if good men don't do anything." When I walked up to the men I'd already thought it was a good day to die, praying to God to protect me as I did. Laura spoke to the young people nearby and was told that they were upset at the men doing this. The police had been notified but the men just moved around. Later we actually read a description of this particular scam, men offering to sell bracelets to women, then holding them and extorting money to let them go free.
As the books told her Laura got angry with the street vendors the moment they approached her thereafter, anger being the only emotion these uncivilized brutes knew. Still it was frightening for her and I felt badly.
Later reading the history of the glass ceilinged Galleria being built in 1865 just to address this problem of shoppers being accosted by street predators we appreciated that this wasn't just a here and now phenomena. The same thing occurs to tourists in Vancouver and the world over. The difference here was that in Milan they'd actually built and architectural wonder to address the problem. All the merchants we met in Italy were terrific but the street peddlers were a decidedly questionable lot, but no different than others the world over. I certainly wouldn't judge Laura negatively for getting caught in a scam because later I'd read about a taxi scam which cost me 50 euros for a 2 block ride from the Rome station to our hotel, the taxi driver taking us on a most interesting circuitous journey, not having a meter and asking us repeatedly what the name of the major street we were looking for.
Past the Galleria was the Teatro all a Scala. The present La Scala had been built in 1778 after the old opera house had burnt down at that spot. This is the major opera house in Milan world famous for it's performances. To get tickets you have to book two months in advance on line. Laura and I settled for posing for pictures as singers outside the main entrance which looked onto the statue of Leonardo da Vinci.
In the Gallerina I bought Laura a pair of gloves which would have paid for a second Harley Davidson. She liked them. I wanted her to have a most positive memory of this incredible day and place.

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