Politics and Art in Milano

A street protest in Milano, Feb. 21, 2009

Today we reached Milano, and had a full day. We went to our hotel, a nice place called Hotel Serena. It’s sort of a let down after the cozy Abaco in Florence where we had the whole place to ourselves and could congregate in the breakfast area. Here we’re divided here between four floors and it’s more institutional feeling than the 500 year old building kept up so beautifully in Florence. Still, not bad and not too far from the station. We arrived, had lunch, and then headed first to the Duomo. My lunch was great — Foccacia della casa. Pizza crust baked thin, olive oil, covered with ham (proscutto cotto), rucola salad, fresh mozzarella cheese and yummy tomatoes. Oh, so good!

En route we encountered a massive protest which ran the length of the Corso Venezia.   I’m not sure what it was about, but it included communists, labor unions, and groups against racism.  What I liked about it was it was a typical Italian political demonstration.  Everyone was having fun, no violence, the police and the protesters worked together, and it seemed more like a festival than a political protest.    I suspect it was primarily an anti-racism pro-integration rally, though the Left in Europe has been growing stronger because of the financial crisis.  Many believe that capitalism has been shown to be fatally flawed (the most pro-market anti-regulatory countries, Ireland and Iceland, have gone from being models to in or near bankruptcy) and Europe has to veer left.    So far it seems the more radical left has benefited more than the moderate left, but we’ll  see what coming years bring.

Then we got to the Duomo — the third largest church in the world.  Wow!  Such a different style than Florence, very impressive.  The inside was so massive it seemed unreal, I can hardly imagine how it was with just natural light and candles.   They didn’t allow photos inside (even without flash; people were violating that rule and even using flash, but I try to respect the rules in a church), but the outside is impressive:

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This photo doesn’t do it justice, from other angles it looks like it’s “drip art” the columns are every where.   Then when we were done walking through the huge gothic church we came out and found that the protest had made it to the Piazza Duomo, and speakers were firing up the crowd.  Kids were having fun, throwing confetti around, and it was a carnival like atmosphere.   Some photos:

Protest on the Duomo Pizza in Milano

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Here are a couple of night images of the Duomo:

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The night images are from after we visited Maria delle Grazie, where Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” can be viewed.   We thought we had reserved 17 tickets, but they only had 15.   Neither Sarah, who is an Art Historian, nor I had seen the famous painting.  But we have 15 students, so they got the tickets and they were wowed by it (and felt sorry for us for missing it).   I had to be happy looking at the jigsaw puzzle on the wall of the caffe across from the church where we had espresso while the students viewed the huge mural.   We told them to describe it well in their journals, and we will live vicariously through them.

The walk back was grand.  Milano has wide pedestrian zones surrounded with grand old buildings, with large numbers of people roaming the streets, window shopping, having fun, while various street musicians perform.   This is something we lack in the US, the Italians have a flair for enjoying life and taking things  in stride, we have a fast paced high demand culture.   I think a walk out in a place like Milano, in the shadow of the Duomo and other magnificent buildings, is very uplifting and energizing.

So we had some Art History and Political Science today here in Milano.  Protests, Da Vinci, and one of the world’s most impessive Cathedrals.  In the evening I got train tickets for tomorrow’s day trip to Venice.  It’s the last day of the trip, and we’re going to end it in style.   It’s Carnival in Venice, however, so things will be packed.  Also, because the Sunday trains are full, we only got a standing room ticket for the two and a half (if we’re lucky) hour ride back.  But it’ll give the students a glimpse of Venice at Carnival.  I love Venice, but have never been there during Carnival (usually we do Venice on this trip, but it was too expensive this time because of the celebration — Carnival is essentially the same thing as Mardi Gras, though celebrated differently here).

As always as the trip winds down I realize I’ll miss the energy and excitement of Italy, as well as being part of the experience of students learning about a new culture.  At the same time, I miss my family and can’t wait to be back home.  I’ll try to get a blog entry in on Venice tomorrow!

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  1. #1 by henitsirk on February 24, 2009 - 21:29

    It would have been wonderful to see the Last Supper, especially after the wonderful restoration years ago that revealed so many previously hidden details.

    I’ve always admired the Italian culture for things like the evening passeggiata — things that allow social interaction on a more intimate scale and slower pace. Of course it helps that so many places there are still suited for pedestrians, unlike modern US cities.

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