Milano [ 2005-05-24, 8:36 p.m. ]

Wednesday, Train Station. We spring for first class this time on train to Milan – getting to Florence was such a disaster, got tickets but didn’t understand how to read them, didn’t realize there were assigned seats and twice sat in the wrong car and felt like total assholes entirely, especially since we were pissy, dirty, hungry from overnight flight and kept taking nice Italian peoples’ seats. So this time we upgraded – first class, which is much nicer than coach but also nicer because this time we have some semblance of what we are doing. We should end up in Milan around 2pm, and having dealt with the train station once before, I feel much better about this leg of our travel. I feel kind of bad as we pull out of Florence – I’m not sure we were the best travelers. We didn’t go to any museums at all, wandered and wandered but did we really “see” Florence? It’s lovely and charming but I’m starting to think we are spoiled rotten New Yorkers who have so much food, shopping, art at our fingertips that we get to a city like Florence and think, Eh, kind of run down…That is not to say we didn’t love it, and I especially the Oltarno are where our hotel was – I prefer trying to see the city like locals do rather than as tourists, so in that respect we definitely succeeded. But oops, we sort of forgot about all the art. And museums. And I never had the Tuscan beans I wanted to try!

I think Kent and I will like Milan a lot, although I know it won’t have the charm of Florence. Still it will be good for us to get back to the normal hustle and bustle of a city with city people doing city things. I do not want to fight my way through any more crowds from Indiana! There is a Nobu there – I know it’s not what you’re supposed to eat in Italy but I would kill for some sushi and good beer.

Wednesday night. Okay. So Milan done kicked our ass. I wish I could find the words to explain this city without doing it an utter disservice. But all I can say, over and over again, is that Milan kicked our ass. This city is intense. We got in yesterday at 3:00 and took a cab to our hotel. Initially we were both delighted – once we got away from the train station the streets turned pretty – old, lovely buildings that reminded me of Paris. I had heard that Milan was ugly and that Fascist buildings dominated, but really it looked beautiful – grand, old and a little gritty but grand nonetheless. We got to our hotel, which we could tell right off the bat was much cooler than us. Our room is very chic – distressed metal, modern art on the walls, etc. A small terrace with a direct view of the Duomo, only ½ block away. The Duomo here, by the way, is breathtaking.

After getting settled in, we walked out towards the Duomo, but first had the concierge make us two dinner reservations for Wednesday and Thursday night. He suggested traditional Italian, casual, on Wednesday, and more of a “scene” on Thursday. More on that later. But, we thanked him and walked into the huge Piazza Duomo. The church itself is such a sight – it’s enormous, and gothic, and it has an almost aggressive look to it, the spires are all THAT tall, and it is reaching up to God with all its might. It is beautiful. We walked and ended up at a castle. Really, a castle. Walked inside where there is a very peaceful park, lots of cats and school groups, lovely, with ruins and the day was nice and sunny. After seeing the castle we wandered through quieter residential streets and ended up in the Brera area, where we had panini and drinks, and did some people-watching. At this point I was 100% in love with Milan. It’s beautiful, but VERY fast-paced, which I liked after Florence. It’s a working city, and in the short time we’d been there we’d seen some of the best looking and best dressed working suits ever – we watched gorgeous men in perfectly tailored suits (and I mean PERFECT) ride by on bikes, totally unwrinkled. Women on scooters in 4” heels, everyone with perfectly tailored clothes and big, glam sunglasses. No one was overweight or sloppy, everyone was gorgeous and everyone was moving QUICKLY. At first I thought, “Ahhh, we are home,” thought that Milan was New York + Paris, maybe. Walked over towards the main shopping area – called the Golden Quad – at which point began our downward spiral.

Now, I live in New York and can SHOP, but this was UNREAL. The shops were SO glam, the shoppers were SO glam, it was all so, SO GLAM. Made Madison Avenue look like a shitty mall in Ohio. Not only did I feel like a fucking bumpkin in the big city, but I felt like I was a visual affront to all the pretty people of Milan, like me and my messy self were clouding their visual space and ruining the view. Eventually we were in Miu Miu and I gave up or gave in or whatever, and decided to spend some money in order to feel better. Healthy, no? I ended up with adorable slingbacks, but almost cried at least twice because it was so hard to get salespeople’s help. And when I asked for my size, all the pretty Italian salespeople conferred in a corner and I am sure they were talking about the BIG AMERICAN and her BIG AMERICAN FEET that were, if nothing else, evidence of the vulgarity of American culture and proof that we in the USA are fat, stupid, tasteless. And fat, again.

Took a nap at the hotel and got ready for our “casual” night out – restaurant was traditional Italian, but the crowd seemed very hip – rock star-looking guys from the U.K., fashion people, suits, girls in teeny tops. We sat down at 9:30, and the 11:00 crowd seemed pretty hip to us. Food was good – fine, not as good as plenty of restaurants in New York, but fine. I had risotto with saffron and sea bass baked with zucchini blossoms, Kent had pappardelle ragu and beef tenderloin. We had a nice Nebbiolo d’Alba to drink and gelato for dessert. Kent’s pasta was definitely the best of all the courses. It was all fine and good and as we left we laughed because the hotel concierge had said this place was causal and traditional, but it seemed pretty hopping to us. And we have been to plenty of cool, hip places (okay, maybe not plenty, but SOME), so we thought we had an inkling of what ‘casual’ versus ‘hip’ was. We were so wrong. SO wrong! Because Milan is intense and kicked our ass!

Thursday. Got up and had shitty pastry and coffee from overpriced tourist place near Duomo. I was cranky because I was having awful allergies. After breakfast we shopped a little bit, but it was largely disappointing. All the shops were lovely but we have them in New York too, and we have boutiques with interesting things and also things I can afford! Shops here are flashier and more expensive than what I wanted, ditto for Kent who was so excited for Armani but ultimately let down. Much of the Armani stuff looks like it is meant for 18 year old Euro-boys, not [boring] MBAs. Had lunch in the same area as yesterday, then went to the Duomo. Will finish telling about it, but need to sleep now.

Continued. Am now sitting at the gate of Milan airport and cannot wait to get home. Feel stinky and bloated and want to take a shower, even though I showered this morning. Hour-long cab ride to airport made me feel dirty, I guess. I am tired of traveling and feel quite disgusting, especially feel that hair is a mess and stomach is looming large. Hate to think that I gained weight on vacation but it is seeming quite likely as I sit here and try not to freak out about my stomach, the lack of air in the terminal, or the screaming kid doing summersaults near my chair. In this moment, I feel truly awful and cannot wait to be home. Yesterday was just too, too much.

After lunch we walked back to the Duomo. I should point out that the air in Milan is full of little white fluffy seed things – kind of like dandelions but smaller and lighter. I don’t know what they are, but they are everywhere and I think that I am highly allergic to them. Yesterday I was a sneezy, sniffly mess and took a Benadryl which made me slightly less sneezy but much, much crankier and more tired. Oh, and hungry. So, we got to the Duomo after stopping in many more shops and me getting frustrated and sneezing and getting mad at Kent because he said he was looking for brown leather slip-on loafers, and every single store we went in carried MANY brown slip-on loafers, but he would get quiet and look and look and then all of a sudden bolt from the store without trying on anything. I was tired and not feeling well and ready to PUNCH HIM DEAD. We got to the Piazza Duomo in the worst of moods, and I was at the point where all I wanted was to be alone. We sat on the steps of the Duomo and had lemon granita and contemplated the ways in which our day was sucking. Eventually a couple walked through the plaza with a little puppy that looked like Tuesday, and we watched the puppy trying to chase pigeons which cheered us up. We went into the cathedral.

It is a church meant to inspire awe, and it did, without a doubt. It is enormous, and everywhere you turn is something reaching up, up, up. It reminded me of Lord of the Rings – I forget the context, but in the movie there is a scene with huge pillars and statues, and that is how the Duomo felt. Enormous. After looking inside we walked around the corner and then climbed up to the top of the building. There weren’t as many steps as the Duomo in Florence, but when we reached the top, we were walking ON the roof, on marble, right next to the spires. It’s amazing to me that tourists are allowed access like that, but it was definitely worth the climb up. It’s interesting to compare the Duomo in Florence to the Milan cathedral – in Florence, from the top, the town is laid out like a postcard below you and it is easy to imagine that the city looks basically the same as it did 400 years ago. Terracotta as far as the eye can see. In Milan, the church itself is much more dramatic, much more in-your-face, Gothic where the Florence church is Roman. But from the roof, Milan is moving. It is a working city, it sprawls in every direction, there is pollution and congestion. The buildings nearest the Duomo are ancient and beautiful and you can see “old Milan” very easily, but once you look beyond the first few blocks, there are construction cranes everywhere. Milan moves very fast.

After the Duomo we wandered a bit more, and ventured into the Prada store nearest our hotel – the first Prada store. I tried on shoes but eventually bought sunglasses. (Interrupting to point out that I am still at the airport and that an announcement just came over the loudspeaker informing us of a strike from 12pm until 4pm, all flights that fall in that time are either delayed or cancelled. Ours is scheduled to leave at 12:20. FUCK.)

And then dinner. The dinner for which words cannot possibly be enough. At the concierge’s recommendation we went to Roberto Cavalli’s restaurant, Just Cavalli Café. It is away from downtown Milan, in a park. We went through two ropes – not velvet, but just as intimidating, and finally found our way to the restaurant, after navigating through hundreds of hot bodies at some PR event in the courtyard. Got to the restaurant, which was all hot pink, zebra print and gaudy chandeliers. And the place was empty. We had made reservations for 9:30, assured by the concierge that people in Milan did not dine late like the “wild Spanish.” But at 9:30, there was one other couple in the restaurant, and we were seated next to them. Soon, though, it filled up, and I mean FULL, with…supermodels. And Italian rock stars and football stars and other gorgeous people. Literal supermodels – ones I recognized from magazines – were EVERYWHERE I TURNED. I have never wished so badly to have my friends with me, because I knew I would not be able to do the scene justice. Kent and I were basically invisible, surrounded but the most beautiful humans imaginable, more beautiful than any I have ever, ever, EVER seen. I suddenly understood why so much of middle America is fat and ugly (am stereotyping, I know, there are uglies all over the damn place) – it is because God looked at Arkansas (sorry, Arkansas!) and said, “I’m sorry but Milan got all the pretty. We’re all out.” It was UNREAL. The women were so, so GLAM. Tall, thin, sexy, wearing next to nothing. The men oozed $$. I swear there were famous people there, everyone was staring at the tables on either side of us. Supermodels. Everywhere. I just wanted to go HOME!

Okay, we are on the plane now which seems promising in light of the strike. Air traffic controllers are striking but will first let us leave, I guess, which is excellent news because if we had to spend an extra night in the Milan airport Kent would divorce me, so cranky would I be. I hope I am not a bad traveler. I don’t want to be a bad traveler and I don’t want to be someone who only travels to touristy spots – I want to be able to experience cities and I want to “do” stuff. But maybe we did this trip backwards – Florence was sleepier, so maybe it would have been better to start in Milan, which apparently doesn’t sleep, then go to Florence and relax. Maybe staying outside the city, somewhere in Tuscany where we had the option to take day trips – or just lounge at home – would be ideal. This trip was good, and I enjoyed parts of it immensely, but right now, I just want to GO HOME. I didn’t feel that way about Paris when we went there. Paris felt like a place I could go over and over again and never get sick of it. Before coming to Italy I didn’t really know if it was Paris that I loved, or Europe, or travel. But I think I could live in Paris, and I want to go back very much. It was good to have that confirmed. Not that I didn’t love this trip, just that Paris to me was perfect. It was like New York, in that I could wander and wander and never get sick of it. I guess the biggest shock about Italy – well, about Milan – was how ill-prepared I was.

I really thought that as a New Yorker I would have no problem assimilating to the city life, and in the tourist areas, I was fine. But in downtown Milan, we were so far out of our league it was laughable. I really thought I’d be fine – I think New York has beautiful women and glamorous men, but it was nothing like dinner at Cavalli Café. I didn’t know women came that beautiful, and they were everywhere. As Kent said – and he gallantly tried to deny how obviously out-classed I was – with one small head swivel he could see 12 supermodels. We saw plenty of models in Milan, but I swear at dinner we were SURROUNDED by the most elite of all Milan. One woman - black, British with short hair and a bra-top – was holding court behind Kent and he said he kept thinking people were staring at him then realized the entire restaurant was staring at her. We left dinner around midnight, and the scene was just getting going. Like I said before, the food was blah but MAN, the scene! I felt smaller and smaller as the night went on. Then, this morning we had breakfast in the hotel and shared an elevator upstairs with a sullen model. I grabbed my suitcase, ready to get back to Brooklyn, where the people are gorgeous but still within this stratosphere. Take me back to New York, our little hick town.

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