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MILAN
The metropolis is still “to drink”
(…and “to eat”)
The smog of a few decades ago is now just a memory and the Unicredit Tower, the tallest building in Italy, has overtaken the height of the “Madonnina” that stands on top of the Duomo.
The cult of high-quality food and wine is becoming more and more widespread.
Fashion, art galleries, “in” restaurants and craft workshops, looking forward to Expo 2015
by Franco Faggiani
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Milan. The Duomo. Photo by Franco Faggiani

On the clear week-ends of October, people used to take trips out to the nearest hills of Brianza, the hills that act as shawls to the Pre-Alps and as a spot from which to gaze over the plain. Not that this is a particularly pleasant place, but because from there the adults could proudly point to a puff of grey illuminated by a golden streak in the distance. The puff of grey was really the smog that enveloped Milan and the ‘dazzling streak of lightning’ (really the reflection of the sunlight on the golden copper) was the Madonnina, erected in 1774 on the highest dome of the Duomo, up at 108 meters. Indisputable symbol of the city, along with the ‘biscione’, as they call the dragon in the shape of a snake which was a feature of the heraldic coat-of-arms of the noble Visconti family, who ruled over the city for more than two centuries.

These days you can hardly notice the smog from those hills (thanks partly to the four subway lines, the four central railway stations and the officially imposed limits on traffic in the center of town) and the Madonnina has disappeared. Not removed, just the opposite; the Duomo of Milan has recently undergone wide-ranging restoration work, rather, hidden by the modern and eco-sustainable skyscrapers, with their mirror-effect windows, that tower over the 19th century rooftops. With the Unicredit Tower, inaugurated in 2012, that points its shining finger up to 231 meters. Nothing when compared to the World Trade Center in New York, more than twice as tall, but it is still the highest building in Italy and the Milanese people are proud of it. This new headquarters is the new magnetic pole of the city, in the heart of the historical district of Porta Nuova, in a kind of well-matched marriage between smaller buildings with austere exteriors housing restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, stores selling refined craft articles and places that, rather than being “fashionable”, are crowded with people from the “fashion world”. For people to wear on screen, on photo shoots, on catwalks, in the showrooms that are mushrooming in Milan and give their best in two periods of the year: mid-September with the International Fashion Week, and in mid-April, with the International Furniture Fair. Two events that are not only a display of brilliant creativity and a period of trade in refined products, but a global opportunity (considering the origins and the number of visitors) for a quick-fire exchange of ideas on ‘life to come’. These are well-tried-and-tested events which will also open up the way to the city’s most important and exciting event, Expo 2015.

To achieve that desirable aim, the city is now looking like a lively building site, which, however, is not particularly annoying; rather it makes you feel part of the future development, the projects, new designs and research into the new in every sector. One of the most popular developments is in the food department (“record-breaking sector”, say the newspaper headlines); quality products combined with the art of fine eating and even finer drinking. New places to eat are springing up; traditional, ethnic, futuristic and unusual, like Feltrinelli-Red, which accommodates kitchens and wines in amongst its bookshelves; fashion shows and art exhibitions enjoy a toast with Italian bubbly, and art does not snob a wine-tasting experience, either. All in all, research and supply of good taste in all senses. There is a good example of this (opening from 1st October) in ‘Larte’, at no. 5 via Manzoni, in the very central house that used to belong to the poet Carlo Emilio Gadda. More than 400 square meters in which good wine, fashion, design, quality food and avant-garde art rub shoulders together. A restaurant/gallery/boutique, if you like. A good deal of what goes to make up “la bella Italia”. Of course there are still, especially thanks to international tourism, the guided tours that take place in the streets that form the ‘fashion triangle’ a few yards from the Duomo, and what gets called the “la movida” on the Navigli, where, come evening, the canals designed by Leonardo da Vinci become a liquid link which connects up the drinking places, the artisan workshops, the antique dealers and the art galleries. Old streets, with shiny paving, quiet courtyards gazed on from the windows of bohemian garrets, as the city gradually spreads out into the surrounding countryside.

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