Turin and Milan (and Munich), 2004
Last year's Logic Colloquium was in Helsinki; we went there also.
At 5.30 (in the morning) on Sunday, July 25, 2004, we took a taxi from the rank on our street in Ankara. This gave us more than enough time to catch the 6.00 Havaş bus from near the train station to Esenboğa airport. Bus fare was 8 mTL each, not the 5 that Ayşe had been told on the telephone.
Meanwhile, we thought our taxi-driver might offer to take us all the way to the airport himself, at less than the meter rate. He didn't. We would have refused anyway, because he would have got us to the airport sooner than planned, and we didn't want to sit around there.
We changed planes in Munich. There we investigated whether, on our return flight, we would be able to go to the city center during the five-hour layover. It seemed possible.
Going to wait for the flight to Turin, we met Andrey, a young mathematician from St Petersburg (now working in Leeds) whom we had got to know previously at meetings in İstanbul and Helsinki. It is perhaps surprising that we didn't find more people bound for our conference (as we had on last-year's flight from Munich to Helsinki). After the conference, Andrey let us know that, on the web, we could find a picture of ourselves at the conference banquet, taken by one of his friends.
The Turin airport didn't make it that obvious how to catch the bus into town. We thought we might take a train; but a woman behind a counter told us there was no train, at least not on Sunday, all the way into town. She gave us a city map, and showed us where the bus would take us. When we found the bus outside the terminal, the driver told us to go buy tickets from the machine inside; meanwhile he left, so we waited the 45 minutes for the next bus.
We were carrying the Lonely Planet guide to Italy because it was the only relevant reference that we could find in Ankara. We should have planned ahead and learned that there was a smaller Lonely Planet guide just to Milan, Turin and Genoa. Then we could have ordered this—or ordered a guide from another publisher, as I don't particularly enjoy the cutesy style of Lonely Planet.
In a shop in the Munich airport, we had found a guide to Turin alone in the Footprints series, but by then we didn't feel the need to carry another book.
Our hotel in Turin—not listed in the LP—was the one-star Albergo Antico Distretto, not too far from the Stazione Porta Susa where the bus left us. The conference rate was € 56 a night for the two of us; but we had had to ask the conference organizers specifically for a cheap hotel. A number of other conference-goers were staying there too; they mainly were students or were from poorer European countries like Poland.
Let me say what a great convenience it is that the euro exists and that we can use the same currency from Finland to Italy.
The Distretto seemed to be run by several generations of a family. Sometimes an old woman gave us our key; other times, it was a younger woman with a baby on her lap. They spoke little English, (and we, little Italian,) but it didn't matter. Not wanting to carry a lot of cash around all week, we paid on arrival for our eight days in the room. (The hotel wouldn't take plastic.) The middle-aged man with a balding pate and a large belly who took our money had a bit of trouble doing the required multiplication and finding the receipt-book; he tried to get us to come back later, but we stayed put at reception, and eventually he worked things out and gave us a proper receipt. He wasn't unpleasant, just confused.
Later in the week, sometime after midnight on Friday, we came back to the hotel after the conference banquet with another guest, who happened to be from Serbia and Montenegro. At the desk was the man with long grey hair and walrus mustache who had been serving us breakfast all week. Our companion was leaving early the next morning, and he asked in English for a wake-up call. “No English!” said the man at reception, and walked off. He did come back, and sign-language seemed to convey our companion's request. (Whether the request was satisfied, we don't know; but we didn't see the man from Novi Sad again.)
Our room was on the second floor—second, that is, in the sensible method of counting: we were two flights up from the entrance floor. The room faced east over a courtyard. “It's like a movie!” I said. Our hotel took up only one side of the courtyard. On the other sides, the regular apartments seemed to be occupied by people of various national origins. We sat on the balcony one evening, in the shade of our building, with a couple of Birre Moretti (at € 1 the 66 cl bottle), and we watched our neighbors come and go.
Unfortunately the courtyard was paved over for the parking of cars. How much nicer it would be with grass and trees, as in a proper car-free city! (It wasn't obvious from what we saw that Turin was where Fiat cars came from.)
The balconies around the courtyard were solid slabs of stone. So were practically all of the sidewalks we walked on in Turin, and we walked on a lot. It's an attractive material, stone. In Ankara, the sidewalks on side streets are made of large square red tiles set on sand; soon after their laying, the tiles start to tip; a car parks on the sidewalk and cracks the tiles; tiles wobble and splash rainwater on you. A few years later, the sidewalk-laying crews are back. Stone would stay put. And there's plenty of stone in Turkey too, so I don't know what the problem is here—or in Milan for that matter, where sidewalks were macadam like the streets.
Turin provides a good example for the designer of cities, I think. Now, we only spent time in the old city center, where many of the sidewalks are arcades and therefore are shielded from the elements; it was an eminently sensible arrangement. Whether buildings continued to cover their sidewalks as the city grew from the old center, I do not know.
The streets we walked on in Turin formed a rectangular grid. The buildings might be ornate, but they formed a harmonious whole. Milan would turn out to provide a sharp contrast.
Unlike Washington, our part of Turin had no diagonal streets across the grid; the Via Po down to the river was a great exception. Instead of traffic circles (or roundabouts), Turin has piazze. They are a place to sit and watch people, at least in the cool of the evening, though none of the piazze that we saw was so architecturally spectacular as the Place des Vosges in Paris or the Grand’Place in Brussels.
The layout of Turin certainly was not entirely regular. Not all blocks were the same size, and some streets stopped abruptly. But it was easy to get your bearings and go where you wanted to go without too many consultations of the map. Streets were not numbered; but it was more interesting to walk on streets with names like Garibaldi and Avogadro.
How did Turin come to be as it is? I glean a bit from pamphlets obtained in the city, from Palmer and Colton's History of the Modern World, and from the web. I knew little of this before visiting (and while visiting) the city:
The Savoy dynasts were first (from 1003) lords (signoria), then (from 1103) counts (contea). In 1416, Sigismund, Roman King (Holy Roman Emperor after 1433) upgraded Amadeo VIII of Savoy to a duke (duca). In 1563, Emanuele Filiberto moved the capital of Savoy to Turin. The city then was about ten of today's city blocks square, but it started expanding. In particular, the two churches at the south end of the Piazza San Carlo, the Chiese di San Carlo e di Santa Cristina, seem to have been built in the middle of the seventeenth century, outside the 1565 city bounds.
They say the Baroque style dominated the seventeenth century. Ornateness, including lines not curving uniformly, did seen to characterise most of the old building in Turin; Milan's Gothic cathedral turned out to be quite a contrast.
On some buildings in Turin—as around the Piazza Castello—the tympana over the windows alternated between having curved and angular upper boundaries. The White House in Washington has the same feature. What is the origin of this style?
In the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13), the Duchy of Savoy took the Austrian side. Savoy was given Sicily in the Peace of Utrecht (1713), with Austria taking Sardinia. Seven years later, Savoy and Austria traded islands, and the duchy became the Kingdom of Sardinia, its first king being Vittorio Amadeo II (1720–30).
Savoy was occupied by France under the National Convention (from 1792); later Napoleon drove the Austrians from all of northern Italy, making Milan the capital of a Cisalpine Republic. Somehow a king regained power in Turin, though not before the city walls were demolished. (Today's two train stations, Porta Nuova and Porta Susa, seem to be named for old gates in the walls.) In 1848 March, King Carlo Alberto (1831–1849) allowed a constitution. His successor, Vittorio Emanuele II (1849–1878) became king of a united Italy in 1861, in the culmination of the Risorgimento.
More can be known and can be found on the web, especially if one reads Italian—which I can't, except insofar as it resembles French. So enough of the history here.
Ayşe and I are not foodies; we are veggies. Had we had a kitchenette in our room, we would have prepared some meals there. Since breakfast at the hotel consisted of an espresso (or a bottle of juice) and a croissant, we did supplement this with fruit from the daily bazaar at the Piazza della Repubblica. (The LP had informed us of the bazaar.) Turin did supposedly have a vegetarian restaurant, but it was said to be expensive, and we never bothered to visit it. Between conference talks, we ate our lunches at Brek, a cafeteria in the American sense, but on a higher level than most (though not than Le Commensal in Canada). At Brek, Ayşe and I filled our bowls of antipasti and grabbed a hunk of cheese and small pitcher of wine for about € 10 (total). Many other conference-goers lunched there regularly too; we had all found something good and stayed with it.
Turin streets were quiet by day. Not many foreign tourists seemed to be afoot, and locals were either on holiday or staying out of the heat. It was the latter in many cases: in the evening, pizzeria tables on the sidewalks would fill up quickly, seemingly with local residents; we might have to settle for a table indoors.
Indeed, on our day of arrival, when we ventured forth to explore, the city seemed lifeless in the burning summer sun. Appropriately, we visited the famous Shroud, said to show the imprint, not made by humans, of a beaten, crucified and stabbed dead man.
You don't actually see the Shroud. At the west end of the northern aisle of the Duomo di San Giovanni Battisti, you see a copy. Walk down the aisle, and at the other end, under the elevated Savoy family box, through glass, you see the casket that is supposed to contain the shroud. There you may also see women kneeling before the glass, with scarves on their heads, singing to the casket in Latin; or a man looking serious in a black robe and a big black beard. A similar sight can be had in İstanbul, up the Golden Horn at Eyüp: this is the burial site of its eponym, the standard-bearer of the Prophet Muhammad: the devout pray towards his coffin, then back away.
After our visit to the Shroud of Turin, it was late enough in the afternoon for us to check in for the conference at Piazza Solferino. We met friends and acquaintances, had a beer at a table on the pea-gravel under the trees, and watched as more and more logicians arrived. Eventually a group of ten of us decided to go find an evening meal. One of us (Matthias) with a backpack first wanted to visit his hotel, so we arranged to meet nearby at the Piazza San Carlo. I mentioned this piazza above; I mention it again because our standing around waiting there forced us (some of us!) to pay it some attention. Our friends Oleg and Olga came along with an elaborately illustrated guide. (They are from Russia, but live now in İstanbul.) Oleg challenged me to guess the age of the two churches at the southern end of the piazza. “Nineteenth-century” I proposed, as the seamless surfaces of their baroque façades suggested plaster to me. Oleg disagreed on both counts, and was right. We investigated and found the façades to be composed of vast sheets and columns of granite.
We headed off rather blindly to find an eatery. Luckily we soon found one, at Piazza Carignano I think, where we could sit outside. But we were under umbrellas. These would have been indispensible under the hot sun of daytime; in the evening they blocked our views of the surrounding façades and kept the warm humid air that surrounded us from wafting away. But the umbrellas couldn't have been lowered while people sat under them. We had a good time anyway.
At the conference, fortunately not every talk looked interesting, and we felt free to skip a number of them. Otherwise we might have spent as many as ten hours a day indoors listening to mathematics. One speaker from Chicago whom I admire observed that there was a unity to the conference, despite the seeming diversity of topics covered, so it is perhaps a failing on my part that I elected not to listen to everything. But there is only so much that one can listen to with any comprehension, and speakers tend to overestimate the abilities of their audience.
We attended the morning talks on Monday, skipping the afternoon. Most museums are closed on Monday, but the LP said the Palazzo Bricherasio was an exception. It wasn't.
I see now that this palace is where Fiat was founded. Now it is supposed to hold exhibits of modern art. When we were in town, it had an exhibit of Tibetan Buddhist art. Golden Buddhas were on posters all over town. We finally got to visit the palace on Saturday afternoon. Commentary in the exhibit was mainly in Italian only. There may have been an English audio-guide, but we didn't inquire, opting just to look at the golden seated figures and the painted blue copulating deities. It seemed to me that styles did not change for hundreds of years, though my eye may not have been sufficiently trained:
There I was, an American living in Turkey viewing artefacts from Tibet in Italy. Could a Tibetan visiting Washington view Madonnas by Giotto and Raphael and think that Italian painting hadn't changed in 200 years?
On Monday, we did by chance visit the Chiesa di San Filippo Neri. A video presentation just inside the door, in English and other languages, described the church and its purpose as a part of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri. The 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Oratory does not spell things out as the video did: that the Oratory love pageantry and spectacle. They are proud of their collection of ecclesiastical vestments, and they decorate the church elaborately according to the season.
We proceeded east to the River Po, then south to the large Parco Valentino, where we watched men playing bocce, and where we found that the Borgo Medievale was open (though the castle inside was not): this was a mock-up, built in 1884, of an older village. A small courtyard there (with a well in the middle) seemed like something a modern dwelling might desirably feature.
In the evening we returned to the conference site for a reception, where we filled up on cheese, grissini, and wine, and chatted mainly with our friends—for example, the aforementioned person from Chicago, John, who had recently been on a boat tour of the Turkish coast; or the fellow from Ohio, Philip, whom we had met on the plane to Helsinki last year, and whose luggage had not yet arrived in Turin this year. Ayşe's advisor for her master's thesis worried that he was one of the most “senior” model-theorists present; when had he stopped being young and “promising”?
On Tuesday we attended all but one of the talks, from 9.00 until 19.40. Then we declined to attend the panel discussion on “Kant's legacy for the philosophy of logic”, although its time-slot was just that of a seminar at St John's College. Instead, we wandered around with friends from Belgium, France, and Germany, and ended up in Kirkuk Caffè eating hummus and yoghurt. Some of us ate this; others just drank beer, having eaten enough at the aperitif before the Kant discussion. Since our friends were making rather a lot of noise, I hoped the staff understood that English was being spoken only because it was the only language everybody had in common.
If I was moody, it was because I was concerned about getting back to the hotel and getting some sleep. The next day, Wednesday, I was to give my own contributed twenty-minute talk—along with almost eighty other people, in five different rooms.
On Wednesday night, we wandered about for a while in another group of about ten, looking for a place to eat. We had to settle for a table indoors. But the restaurant filled up with locals having a good time, and I enjoyed watching them. Being on the Piazza Emanuele Filiberto, we were on the opposite side of the old city from the conference site. Nonetheless, another group from the conference wandered in. They (or some of them) ordered the menu di degustazione, and chose wine from the carte des vins; our group mostly had pizzas, and house wine in pitchers.
On Thursday, Ayşe and I skipped the morning talks—and therefore all talks, since the afternoon was reserved by the conference organizers for an excursion. Meanwhile, across the street from the conference site, we visited the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAM). Somebody had told me that it wasn't worth a visit, since there was little from the well-known European artists, and the Italian works were imitative and not very good. But the museum was worth a visit. It is always worthwhile to see the works of the local artists. In the GAM, two works stood out: a female nude stretched out on a polar-bear rug with her head near the bear's, and a strong-colored sunset landscape next to it.
In the afternoon, our chosen excursion (for which we had paid € 30 each) was by bus into the Valle di Susa west of Turin for a visit to L'Abbazia di Sant'Antonio di Ranverso and the Sacra di San Michele. The first was a complex on the valley floor not far from the road; though it is called an abbey, our guide emphasized that it did not have an abbot. Regarding the wall-paintings inside, the guide noted the distinct facial features of the various persons depicted, telling us for example that we could feel the distress in the people witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus.
The problem with a guided tour, of course, is that it doesn't let you wander freely and think your own thoughts. We chose the valley excursion because we had no other way to visit the monasteries. The alternative excursion was a guided walking tour of Turin itself. A friend who took that tour praised it for showing her things she would not have noticed or understood on her own. But I would rather see the city freely on my own, and then decide whether it is worth researching.
The Sacra di San Michele is a spectacular mountaintop fortified monastery. The bus wound up and up the narrow road as I looked a bit nervously down the slope. People wondered if the edifice was used in filming The Name of the Rose, and they were said to be correct. We walked up many stairs to reach its church. Beneath one of the pillars there, our guide pointed out a bit of the original mountain. The church wasn't very tall, and had low uncolored windows: there was no need to draw the gaze upward, as one had already ascended to heaven. Many sarcophagi (some holding several noble infants each) were scattered around the church.
Ayşe came to the conference as an “accompanying person,” for a lower fee than I. Accompanying persons were given a “Torino Card”, providing, among other things, free entrance to the city's museums for three days. The conference ended on Saturday, but we were staying in Turin till Monday. On Friday morning, we went to Turismo Torino to buy me a card (for € 17; actually € 16 with another Turin discount card we had). According to the Lonely Planet, we would find the tourism office at Piazza Castello. That didn't work; somebody there in uniform told us we had to go to Piazza Solferino. We hastened there before the one morning talk we would be attending.
That talk was the last in Thomas Scanlon's three-part tutorial on geometric stability theory. Here “stability” is a technical term, well-established, but perhaps not well-chosen. The theme of the tutorial and its subject, in a sentence, is that geometry-like ideas that arise in pure logic actually have a connexion with geometry as usually understood. The subject seems to me like the place to be in mathematics. (And it seems that I do have a small place there.) Another tutorial, on “universal” algebra, was evidently carefully planned to be accessible to everybody at the conference; it aimed to show that deep theorems were proved in the subject; but it didn't seem to be about connecting the subject to anything else in mathematics. In the triage of conference-going, we attended only the first talk in that tutorial.
Our first use of the Torino cards was to visit the Egyptian Museum, said to have the best collection outside Cairo (and London, according to the LP). Such museums raise questions of imperialism. The core collection in Turin was bought fair and square…from a Frenchman. One of our friends (Matthias) thought the dead should have been left to lie as they wished. Not even considering that many graves opened by archeologists had already been plundered, I don't automatically agree. If there is no tradition left to defend the graves, why not find out what is under the lid of a coffin? In the Egyptian case, there are painted scenes under the lid, which nobody else was going to see, despite what the mummified person may have thought. I don't know why one would think that the disposition of one's body mattered after one's death; if some people do think it matters, then I'm curious to see the manifestations. I don't in principle have a problem with a display showing, with the original articles, how a mummy could be placed inside a coffin, inside another coffin, inside a sarcophagus. Anyway, that's the kind of display we saw in the museum.
In the same building as the Egyptian Museum was the Galleria Sabauda, displaying the Savoy family collections. The paintings were ordered mainly according to which king had collected them; perhaps students of royalty appreciate this. Also, some of the paintings were not in good shape. I recalled that the Metropolitan Museum in New York displayed damaged paintings in a special hall, if they displayed them at all. The founding policy of the National Gallery in Washington was to accept only outstanding paintings. America took the best and left the rest? The one Rembrandt in the Savoy collection was not one of the more impressive Rembrandts; even the Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, has a better one.
We saw only part of the Galleria Sabauda on Friday before lunch. We attended all afternoon talks, then got on the bus for the banquet about an hour's drive away, at the Ristorante al Castello di Santa Vittoria d'Alba. (As I noted above, there is photographic evidence of our presence there.)
At the banquet, the three bus drivers were given seats along with everybody else. That was good. It did give me pause to see them drinking wine. At least I didn't see them refill their glasses.
The seats that the drivers found were at a table with several men from Iran, who weren't drinking. (The rumor is that one Iranian man abroad will drink…but I know of a counter-example.) I spoke to a couple of these men. They had asked for vegetarian food, presumably to avoid pork, but they didn't like what they got. (I didn't complain, myself; we had some kind of quiche instead of a piece of meat. But the appetizer that people praised had been egg-based as well.)
On the way back to Turin, I talked to a fellow from Barbados, who, if I understood him correctly, thought he had done something remarkable, but was having trouble persuading other conference-goers of this. (He didn't try to persuade me. I hadn't attended his contributed talk.)
Above I talked about our return to the hotel that night. On Saturday we completed our tour of the Galleria Sabauda. After the last conference talk (which was much too technical for a plenary talk), we went to the Palazzo Bricherasio, which I also discussed above. We had made plans with some folks to meet later at the Piazza Castello for dinner. We did this, but the only place we could find to eat was the place we had eaten on Wednesday. Now we were early enough to sit outside. The problem with this, at least on a Saturday night, was the musicians who would come to the restaurants, play a song or two, then visit the tables for money. Several groups of players were making the rounds of the Piazza Emanuele Filiberto in this way.
Sunday was Museum Day. We saw:
- An exhibit on Jews in Eritrea at the Museo Diffuso della Resistenza, della Deportazione, della Guerra, dei Diritti e della Libertà. The building was a grand but weathered brick edifice surrounded by pigeon shit and seemingly mostly abandoned. It was near our hotel, and we had walked by it every day on the way to the conference. We had seen a small sign saying Ebrei in Eritrea, but hadn't understood that this was an exhibit that our Torino Cards would get us into. In fact anybody could go in; there was no admission charge. Neither were there any English captions to the photos on display, though there were some explanations in French. Basically, Jews had migrated to Eritrea/Ethiopia at one stage; then they tended to migrate from there, and now there aren't many left.
- The Museo Nazionale del Cinema. The Cinema Museum had a great collection of pre-cinematic devices like zoetropes that suggested motion in pictures. Otherwise, there were movie posters, and film-clips shown in interesting settings. The whole thing is in one fascinating setting: it sits inside…
- The Mole Antonelliana. This spectacular nineteenth-century tower was intended as a synagogue, the tallest in the world—indeed, in the universe, as somebody pointed out. Then, unaccountably, the Jewish community gave or sold the building to the city. Had they run out of money? Did the city leaders not want its tallest building to belong to a minority religion? There is an impressive synagogue in Turin now, guarded by police when we passed by, and surrounded by a fence with locked gate. The LP had told us where to find it. I might mention here one of the discouraging sights we saw when first wandering around Turin: two spray-painted Nazi swastikas, one subtitled with “Juden”, the other with “Arabi Bastardi”. Around town, anti-immigration and anti-Islam stickers could be seen. But most of the spray-painting seemed to be Anarchist. ¶ To describe the tower geometrically: horizontal sections are square. A vertical section looks like a rectangle, topped by a Gothic arch, topped by a smaller rectangle, topped by a trumpet (straight, mouth down, mouthpiece up). The outline was on the cover of the book of abstracts of talks at the conference. A photo of the tower itself was on the conference poster. ¶ The interior of the tower is mostly void. Some movie posters were displayed along a walkway that took several turns around the interior walls, as if in a square Guggenheim Museum. Periodically a light show was played on the dome of the ceiling. The peak of the dome—hence the observation deck—is reached by an elevator suspended by a few thin cables. Looking at the car going up gave me the willies; being in the car was easier. The view of the city from the top is of course spectacular. Architectural planning apparently helps make the view spectacular; Milan from the cathedral roof was not so grand.
- The Museo di Antichità. Bronze spear-points and their mold; Roman statuary; lots of stuff. Most of the display rooms had been purpose-built in a garden. One large room with glass roof was entered from above; you were supposed to take a winding ramp (as in the Cinema Museum) down to the bottom, going back in time from the medieval to the stone age. We just went down on the first stairs we saw; but the arrangement was a nice idea. Captions were in Italian only. We stayed for an hour, but nobody else visited.
- The Palazzo Reale. Entrance by guided tour, in Italian. The rooms also had explanatory placards in English. A king has to look royal, I guess. Who would want to be one? In one room, Savoy conquests were listed at the top of the walls; these were mainly (or exclusively) towns of the surrounding Piedmont. Other monarchs could have made more impressive lists. As I recall, the room also had a life-sized equestrian portrait of one of the Savoy conquerors. It occurred to me that his family name and fortune must have had more influence over his victories than his personal characteristics.
- The Museo di Arte Decorative. Again, entrance by guided tour in Italian, but an English booklet is provided in lieu of placards in the rooms. The place is a palace filled with the belongings of an antique dealer. The furniture took a lot of work to make; most of it is hideous to me. Why? The natural wood-grain is hidden under paint, and there is no need for a cabinet to bulge. Also, I think so much labor is invested in such objects, not to make them more beautiful, but to make them look invested in. The objects seem to speak for their owners: “I can afford to pay artisans to spend their time satisfying my idle fancies.” Or perhaps the artisan (or his immediate employer) tells an insecure nobleman: “The Duke of So-and-so has a snuff-box like this!” But it's good to have these things on display, as it's good to have the mummies on display. The few Italians on the tour with us were women.
On Sunday morning we had checked out the Stazione Porta Susa to confirm that there were frequent trains to Milan. But when we went to the station not long after 10.00 on Monday, we found that no train was going to Milan until noon. That's the train we took—for about € 13, I think. Two seats on a later Eurostar would have been about € 30 as I recall; we would then have had reserved seats and presumably air conditioning. As it was, we sat together, though we sat backwards half the way. Open windows kept the air reasonably fresh in the car.
In case I needed anything to read, the book I had brought along on our trip was the second of the three volumes of the Penguin edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I had read the first volume sporadically over the last three years, in both Rome and (the former) Constantinople. Now I was taking Gibbon to another Imperial city of residence. Waiting for the train to Milan, and then on the train, I read about Ambrose, who in 374 was elected Bishop of that city without having had the benefit of baptism. Emperor Theodosius tended to do what Ambrose said. This could be good or bad:
- Ambrose induced Theodosius to publicly repent and debase himself for having ordered the slaughter of thousands of residents of Salonica as punishment for the riots in which they had killed Botheric, the Barbarian general of the local Roman garrison. (Botheric had been killed in revenge for his imprisonment of a star charioteer of the circus, who had had his way with one of Botheric's young slaves.)
- But “Ambrose considers the toleration of the Jewish, as the persecution of the Christian, religion.” When the monks and people of Callinicum on the Persian border destroyed a synagogue, Ambrose would not permit Theodosius to punish them.
In Turin, our room had an air-conditioner, but we didn't use it. In Milan, we had no air-conditioner, but we might have used one. One could drip sweat while sitting still. That's probably why the room was cheap. There was a fan, which we aimed at night on our uncovered bodies.
It was otherwise a nice room, though the metal leg of the bedframe was in an unexpected position, and I stubbed my toe on it, drawing blood. That and our having been on foot all the previous day induced to take the subway to the Duomo, rather than walk.
An amazing building, that Gothic cathedral. What was it doing in Italy, with its pointed arches and stained glass windows? We looked around inside, then took the stairs to the roof. No flying buttress was allowed to have a smooth upper surface, but all must be covered by little thingumabobs (to use the precise architectural term). The oddest thing: the spires, hundreds of them, each surmounted by a different human figure, with several more figures below him. Who are these people? Does anybody know? And why should they stand up there, looking out over the city? At least one of them is a woman: the gilded Madonnina on the central spire. Is she the only one?
We visited the American Bookstore near the Castello Sforzesco, where (unlike at some shops in Turkey) the imported books were marked way up over the cover price. I rather wanted a book on Gothic art, but thought I might find it later in Ankara. (I haven't found it here yet.)
We proceeded to the Church of St Ambrose. We popped in to look around; but then a service started, so we popped back out. Two nuns were chatting just outside the door as we left, so we figured we hadn't been too irreverent. The building itself is a hodgepodge. The square brick towers are studded with marble stones from an earlier construction.
At Pizza Naturale, we might have sat outside, but the traffic noise made that seem unpleasant. Milan was a busier city than Turin had seemed. We thought the crusts at Pizza Naturale were supposed to be made with whole-wheat flour, but they were pretty white. The beer came in 33 cl bottles. Foolish us: since the menu said that one of the other beers, “organic,” came in a 50 cl bottle, we thought this was a warning that it was smaller than the others. We were thinking of the 66 cl bottles we had bought in Turin. A trivial incident; I'll just take it as symbolic of the meanness of a big city, such as Milan is, but Turin did not seem to be.
In the nearby subway station, the ticket-vending machine took only one-euro coins, not two-euro coins or notes of any size. Nor was a human around to sell the one-euro tickets. Fortunately we found a grocery store nearby where we could get change as well as some fruit for the next day's breakfast.
We could have entered the subway without a ticket. Perhaps the Milanese do this, at least in the evening.
On Tuesday morning, we set out on foot. First stop: the Galleria d'Arte Moderna. It was closed for renovation, so we entered the adjacent Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea. This was devoted almost entirely to the work of Kimsooja, a Korean woman now living in New York. It was all fascinating. Most remarkable was A Needle Woman, a so-called “video installation”. We saw Kimsooja from the back, standing “straight as a needle” in the middle of busy pedestrian streets around the world. Lagos, Cairo, Mexico City and London are mentioned in the leaflet; I remember also New York and cities in China and India. Kimsooja didn't make way for people; they had to make way for her—or stop and stare. What expression did her face give to them? We don't see; we can only imagine it was placid.
As an artist will, Kimsooja pursued her idea in other videos: She sat begging, or she stretched out on the ground, as her camera recorded people's reactions. She didn't appear at all in her scenes of İstiklal Caddesi in İstanbul, though we might have heard her voice from off-camera.
In the PAC we picked up a flyer about other Milanese museums. This said that tours of parts of the adjacent Modern Art Gallery were being given at 9.00 and 11.00. It was just 11.00, so we (and several local women) got a tour!
In some of the rooms, the air was visible with dust from the renovation work. I wondered if European Union workplace regulations were being enforced. Our guide was very cheerful, and tried to be helpful, though she knew little English; she would look at a painting's title, then try needlessly to explain to us what it meant.
The gallery had several rooms devoted to Marino Marini. “Hmm” I thought: “this horse and rider looks like something I've seen in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.” In the next room I found a bust of Mr Hirshhorn.
Marino Marini's wife's name was Marina. I don't know if they gave names to any children.
We ate lunch at a Brek on Piazza Cavour. Evidently it's a chain like McDonald's, but with better food. Three men in suits sitting nearby had selected half-liter bottles of water to drink, but left them nearly undrunk. (We drank tap-water throughout our stay; it tasted fine. If not from the hotel-room, or the tap at Brek, one could get water from the public fountains here and there. We did allow restaurants to sell us bottles of water.)
We continued south along Via Manzoni to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which I could describe dismissively as a street of shops, roofed over by glass in case it rained. But it's the apotheosis of shopping centers. All the tourists seemed to be there. We looked around in Rizzoli, coming out with only a little guide to the cathedral.
But we also ran into Ayşe's supervisor (mentioned above) and his wife; they too were seeing more of Italy before heading home (to New Jersey, in their case, though he's Welsh and she's Turkish). They were hungry, and were pleased to know that Brek was an alternative to the touristy restaurants in the Galleria. (They had been eating at Brek in Turin like us and many others.)
Milan's Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is perhaps more impressive than Turin's Galleria Sabauda. Its having been founded (in 1618) by a Cardinal, Federico Borromeo, may be why its paintings are almost exclusively religious. An exception is the Caravaggio still-life of which they are proud. I wondered about the empty but light background.
The pinacoteca is adjacent to, or a part of, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, which holds the manuscripts that are some of our only sources for ancient pagan texts. We didn't try to enter, but I appreciated just knowing that our ability to read, say, Aristotle is owing to institutions like this.
Thanks to Ayşe's consultation of Happy Cow, We had an address for a Hare Krishna restaurant (Govinda's) not far from the Ambrosiana. Having dinner in mind for later, we verified the address before heading elsewhere for the rest of the afternoon. The restaurant did still exist, but was closed at that hour; nonetheless, a man in a white robe saw us peering in, opened the door, and said tentatively, “Hare Krishna?”
“Hare Krishna” responded Ayşe politely, before explaining our purpose.
The Museo Studio Francesco Messina displayed works of the sculptor whom I had known of since 1985, when the Hirshhorn Museum held a show called Representation Abroad. That show had opened my eyes to the possibilities of representational art. In Milan I was able to become reacquainted with some bronze figures I had met almost twenty years before in Washington: boys in loincloths; nude girls and women, and torsos of women; horses. One of the torsos was interesting for having been deeply etched, by acid perhaps, dribbled from above, as if to suggest monumental age.
The Chiese de Santa Maria della Grazie was pleasant to sit and have a rest in. I recall walls white with plaster that was covering up earlier decorative graffiti, some of which were being uncovered. We thought you needed advance tickets to see the Last Supper in the adjacent building. Perhaps you didn't, but we didn't feel like bothering to go see.
We were tired and footsore. We skipped the Hare Krishna cuisine and just took the metro back to our hotel. We ate at a pizzeria in the neighborhood, albeit a eatery that seemed to cater to tourists: it was called Grog, and displayed a drawing of the B.C. cartoon character.
From the Munich airport on Wednesday, we took the S-Bahn to the Marienplaz in the city center (where station announcements were in English as well as German). After hunting around a bit and asking directions, near the Victuals Market (Viktualienmarkt) we found Buxs, which Ayşe had learned of (again, from Happy Cow). It was like Le Commensal: vegetarian, serve yourself, pay by weight. There was a broad selection.
After our lunch at a table outside, Ayşe bought an espresso from a stall at the Viktualienmarkt. Ayşe said “Danke”; the woman said “Grazie!” She was apparently Italian. Otherwise, the people walking around the Victuals Market looked like Americans, either because they tended to have common ancestors, or because they dressed with a similar preference to comfort over style.
The weather in southern Germany was sunny, as it had been in northern Italy; but there was a new and refreshing crispness to the air too. We had just a bit of time to walk about before heading back to the airport. We ducked into the Frauenkirche for one minute before finding the subway. I just remember a long tall nave lined with white columns.
Sitting in our plane at the airport, we waited for a long time before being told that somebody who had checked bags did not show up for the flight. The baggage handlers couldn't find his bags either, so they started unloading the entire hold. Eventually the bags were found. Then we were told that the monthly software update was not going smoothly. In fact the captain came into the main cabin to apologize for the delays. He even spoke a bit in Turkish. In time, we were in the air and on our way home.