italy · travel

Around the North of Italy: Milan

Following Bergamo, we arrived in Milan around 2pm for an orientation tour and then…well, not much else. “You can either wander around for a few hours or you can get  back on the bus and go to the hotel.”

“What’s happening at the hotel?” someone asked from the back.

“Whatever magic you cook up,” the guide replied. It had a bit of a dust-off feeling to it. Like, alright, you lot- we’ve had our fun but this is the last day and I’ll never see you again so I’ve planned nothing, really, because *shrug*.


We gathered under a statue of Leonardo da Vinci across from La Scala Opera House. A local teenage couple nearby glanced over at us from their park bench and resumed ferociously groping each other. My elderly companions looked wistfully on. One prodded her husband with hopeful eyes and mumbled, “Remember when that was us, Terry?”

“What??” he half-shouted back to her. She pursed her lips and looked to heaven. I laughed to myself thinking of my own relationship nearly seven years on with its Germanic Midwestern Protestant reserved, private roots and how it was nearly three years in before he dared put a hand on my knee in front of immediate family. “My god,” I thought, “What if someday I’ll be asking if he remembers when he used to touch my knee in public.” Followed by: “What am I supposed to do, make a mental note for more public fondling? Christ, Liz.”


For the tour, we were led through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a turn of the century glass-covered fancy-pants arcade. Amid the throng of extremely loud crowds and echoes, I replaced what I couldn’t hear with, “And down this hall is Prada, Gucci, Chanel. And down this hall is some more stuff you can’t afford. Same as that hall. You can’t afford any of this. Don’t pretend.”


A parade of people ground the terrazzo bull’s testicles for good luck. Or perhaps not- most didn’t make a full 3 turns so, therefore, invalid wishes. I popped into a men’s shop for silk accessories and picked up a green and pink number for a particularly well-dressed friend.



“Over here is the Duomo,” she pointed. “Over there, a very good department store (read: cannot afford). Over that way, gelato. Ok. That is our tour.” A little girl stood crying by the steps. A few people came by to console her. The grandmothers in the group cast a wary eye on her would-be helpers. Cynical, maybe, but an easy opportunity for a grab. She wailed. A policewoman sauntered over and knelt down beside her to no avail. After a few more minutes of inconsolable tears, her mother burst through a crowd at a jog, shouting Italian to her with the same pattern, speed, and ferocity of a defensive mama bird. As if in a soap opera, the little girl- no more than four or five- stretched her open hand out and sobbed the universally translatable heart-wrencher, “WHY HAVE YOU LEFT ME?!”  Mama bird, unswayed, maintains that it was not she who left her but in fact,the other way around.

Equally universally translatable: I told you to stay with me and not wander off. You stopped to look at sweets. Tearful hugs and a mild admonishment.”Gosh, it would be so easy to lose a child in this crowd. Can’t even imagine,” one of the ladies said to herself. A woman nearby nodded and they tittered to themselves.

Not only was it extra to go to the Opera House but it was closed for a children’s choir performance. It had been replaced with Renaissance paintings. “No,” my mother said flatly, providing no explanation. I shrugged, being more of a Northern Renaissance fan anyhow.

The Duomo di Milano had lines snaking before and around the building. Guards in black-ops gear stood with rifles. The building and area were under special surveillance for reasons no one would discuss. The short line was to go in for a quick prayer; the long line for those who wanted photographs. “Maybe I can sneak a photograph while praying,” my mom said.

I sat in the pavilion making mental notes and absorbing the warm sunshine. People splayed out everywhere along the steps. We all looked like lizards in the sun. A few moments later, my mom returned. “Well, I got a prayer in I guess but no picture. Really, I had to pray- this big security guard saw me get my camera out and started coming over with this big gun to shoo me out and I thought, man, I better start praying now!”

We wandered through La Rinascente – a ritzy department store. I tried on a large pair of green Marc Jacobs sunglasses- it seemed the more eccentric the glasses, the more likely they were to be worn in Milan. But I couldn’t bring myself to part with the money. Upstairs, we investigated stemware and glitzy woodland themed Christmas decorations before stumbling across the real gem: table linens. I had made it my mission of the trip after seeing the gorgeously simple linens in Bellagio and, having found linen napkins in Lugano, I still needed a table cloth. Nevermind that I currently don’t own a table. I ended up with a whimsical Le Telerie Toscane number: koi fish at the bottom, rabbits with carrots in the middle, ducks flying overhead with an array of herbs decorating the edge. Beatrix Potter characters gone on holiday. “They’ll go perfectly with your china collection,” my mom coerced. My china collection had been started years ago after a privately catered party. The hostess had inherited a beautiful and unusual set of china called Ma-Lin and I had scoured EBay, Etsy, and china collection sites ever since to create a set of twelve. The pattern featured a gold edge with sprigs of yellow, blue, and red carnations. “And you’ve got the gold flatware. Perfect.” As frugal as my family is, my mother is not the one to tell me to hold back and therefore, the credit card floodgates were opened. Fantasy Pinterest springtime dinner party was ready to go.

“God, they even have bedding. UGH. NO,” I shouted at myself, dragging myself away.


Back at the hotel, we packed and repacked, packed and repacked and shuffled down for dinner. Our guide, a bit tipsy from his afternoon jaunt without us, was explaining in semi-PC terms the differences between travelers based on point of origin. “The Americans!” he slurred jubilantly. “I love the Americans! You’ve no cultural at all so you want to see and know about everything. The Brits? PFFT. You show them a 500 year old building and they go, ‘Yeah, so’s my house’ but the Americans! They’ll practically tip the bus over just trying to get a look at it!”

At dinner our companions from Texas asked us polite questions and received polite answers. It was delightfully superficial the way conversations can be when you know you’ll never see that person again. All air and fluff. Well, all air and fluff until they start complaining about the food not being like it is at home or not traveling anywhere where Caucasians are the minority or are “under attack” (“Those places just aren’t safe! We’ve got a trip through Germany coming up soon and I’m just about convinced we’ll have to cancel what with all the migrants and whatnot!”). That’s usually when, depending on the glasses of wine I’ve had, I’ll either say something utterly pointless but correct (also possibly enraging said acquaintance) or I’ll make my exit. As the little puddings had just been finished, I opted for option two. After all, we had far too many tiny liquor bottles for our carry-ons and limited time to drink them…





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