"Les plus courtes folies sont les meilleures" Part 1
December 7, 2015
The shortest follies are the best, according to Pierre Charron. I would have to agree with him. Last year in December I took a short trip to Bologna with my son, and I am still reveling in the delightful memories of that adventure.
So when the opportunity came up again one late fall day this year, I jumped impetuously at the chance to once more engage in the "acte de folie"! Bags packed, a stand-by ticket, and two friends in tow, I boarded a plane for a three and half day flurry to Milano and Torino.
Sometimes a trip meticulously planned and considered will not render the same satisfaction as the undevised and purposeless journey to an unknown place.
We arrived in Milan with a small overnight bag each and a large sense of euphoria that accompanied our new jaunt. We told ourselves it was more than folly to travel so far for such little time; it was an act of idle vagabondage which some would say is a privilege of only the young! But we discovered that unhampered by set itineraries, big suitcases, and a sense of guilt, we could in fact turn back the clock and enjoy the kind of holiday that belongs only to lighthearted youth.
Perhaps the most liberating of feelings came with the knowledge that with only three and a half days' time and no luggage, we simply could not do any shopping. We would have to be satisfied with just strolling on the Via Montenapoleone and sighing wistfully in front of the opulent and elegant store windows.
Our hotel was ideally situated around the corner from Milan's Duomo. We arrived by taxi, awkwardly dragging behind us our small cases, and exhausted from having flown
on a standby ticket which saw us getting bumped from one flight after another until the young man at the "lista d'attesa" desk in Rome took pity on the three disheveled middle aged women who looked like perhaps they were regretting this adventure. The hotel, Una Maison Milano, was a pleasant surprise with its spacious rooms and courteous staff, but nothing could have prepared us for the absolute awe which overtook us when later in the evening we rounded the corner from the hotel and found ourselves overcome by the grandeur of Piazza Duomo. Taking centre stage, this Gothic church with its dazzling white front façade and multitude of statues and spires is a force of human accomplishment. We stood transfixed by the splendour, knowing that this little trip of ours had been worth it just for this one moment.
On foot, tired as hell, but wired from the excitement of being here, we made our way through the still bustling streets of a now darkened city. "Milan le sempre una gran Milan." I remembered Claudio Bisio saying this before he was shipped off to the south in Benvenuti al Sud. He was right. Here was a city, that behind a somewhat austere semblance, vibrated with nervous energy.
10 Corso Como was where we must go, I had been told. The brainchild of publisher Carla Sozzani (editor of Italia Vogue), 10 Corso Como is a shopping and dining complex in Milano that combines outlets that show and sell works of art, fashion, music, design, cuisine and culture. The complex, designed by Kris Ruhs, began with only an art gallery and a bookshop. Today it comprises a 3-room hotel and a fabulous restaurant. 1.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10_Corso_Como
A small entranceway greeted us with the number "10" discreetly identifying it on the side wall. Inside an open courtyard with trees festooned with micro lights was the atrium to this most delightful of mews. We wandered through to the part of the restaurant which under a glass canopy, and surrounded by brightly lit tropical trees, feels a bit like a conservatory. Through a doorway, was a much more formal dining area. But here, in this enclosed garden, we would dine “alla grande”. The place felt magical, and the food was heavenly. It was exactly where we needed to be for our first night in Milan.
The area along the Corso Como is restricted to pedestrian traffic and dotted with shops bearing recognizable designer names. The evening brought with it a blanket of fog through which the shapes of buildings and tall spires became distorted and lent the atmosphere an aura of mystery. Chilled by the night air, but happy to be somewhere we had never thought we’d be on a late November evening, we strolled back to our hotel, tired and eager for the coming day.
The next morning the fog had washed Milano with a grey hue. Undaunted, we made the requisite pilgrimage to pray at the altar of haute couture: Via Montenapoleone. Smaller than what one might expect, the fashion centre of the world nevertheless radiates pristine elegance and refinement. The store windows display restraint and good taste: the mannequins dressed with the finest artistry and craftsmanship represent the best of the Italian fashion industry. We walked among the beau monde here, just happy to gape unabashedly at the displays. Happy with our purchase of chic sunglasses that added a lilt to our step, we hailed a cab and went to pasta heaven for lunch.
Pastamadre is a small, out of the way trattoria that specializes in homemade pasta dishes. Our surprise at the simply decorated and small eatery was soon surpassed by our amazement at the divine pasta dish we consumed: homemade chitarrine, (pasta similar to bucatini), cooked in a mild anchovy sauce with broccoli florets and topped with bitter almonds and pistachios—an intermingling of dissimilar flavours that bite the palate but leave behind an unforgettable taste.
Our stomachs placated, a shared dessert and aromatic espresso to wash it down, and we set off across town to the Fondazione Prada. We were surprised to find ourselves in a faded, characterless part of town. The drizzle that began to dampen the air did nothing to elevate this featureless and common district of Milano. Even the complex of buildings themselves that Prada has transformed from a former distillery dating back to the 1910s to a space for art exhibitions, on first sight, seemed sober and stark much like this fashion label’s own aesthetic. Upon entering the compound we were struck by the quiet elegance that serves as a backdrop to this unique art space. A 4-story building, clad in 24-carat gold foil, where pieces from the Fondazione’s permanent collection of art are on display, is the one bright hit of colour in an otherwise Prada-style grey. A walk through the various buildings reveals a series of varied and meticulously presented exhibits of contemporary art and culture.
The highlight of this visit for us was the bar where director Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel Oscar for best direction), has recreated the typical mood of old Milan cafés with retro mid century furniture and colours. Another espresso and irresistible dessert (would they let us back on the plane for the excess weight?), and off we went looking for a cab to lavish some necessary relief on our aching feet.
Toward the close of the day, as the light began to fade, we sat atop the Piazza del Duomo on the terrazza of the Aperol Bar,
having a drink and gazing out onto a misty grey Milano. A pall had now descended and wrapped the city in silence .The light drizzle that suffused the air that evening was the empathy of a city mourning the tragedy of Paris.