Benvenuti a Milano!
Upon reflection, this is my third or fourth time to Milan, and like all of my previous visits, I’m just passing through on my way to a more desirable location. OK, let’s just get it out in the open: Milan is said to be busy, polluted, and frankly, the least “Italian” of all the major cities in Italy. Indeed, when compared to Rome, it has an almost German/Swiss sense of purpose about it (however, I’m sure that someone from Berlin or Bern would heartily disagree). But yes, it has its appeal, even if in some neighborhoods you can be pressed to find the ubiquitous coffee bar in which to enjoy an espresso. Alas.
Then again, Milan and its surrounding region of Lombardy is the financial and industrial hub of Italy; the economic engine that produces a disproportionate 22% of the GDP for the entire country. It’s where all the major fashion houses are based. And you don’t have to fear for your life when crossing a busy street.
For the average tourist, however, Milan’s offerings are a little sparse. The Duomo is spectacular, then there’s Leonardo’s famous “Last Supper,” at Santa Maria della Grazia, and of course La Scala, the world’s most prestigious opera house. That’s about it. But I won’t be seeing any of those sites on this tour—I’ve seen them before, and my agenda has a different objective in mind.
Allow me to define some of these goals at the onset. One of my main desires is to highlight individuals and their stories. More specifically, perhaps, is how their stories reflect the present day country in general. Everybody knows that the mood in Italy these days is less than dolce due to the economic and political crises that have been lingering like a grappa-induced hangover since the global meltdown of 2008. This sentiment has been well-documented in books such as “Good Italy, Bad Italy,” and its follow-up documentary, “Girlfriend in a Coma,” as well as other films such as “Italy, Love it or Leave It,” and “Emergency Exit,” which shows the unfortunate brain-drain currently infecting the younger generation.
So I’m looking for some happy news. I want to find people who, despite the challenges, are determined to remain in Italy, and do their part to recreate that ideal dreamscape that so many of us want the Bel Paese to be. Ricks Italy, probably like your Italy, expects to encounter the charming agriturismo among rolling Umbrian hills or the quaint trattoria in Trastevere or a balcony overlooking Lake Como or a sunset glowing on the salt flats of western Sicily. Yes, I admit it…I WANT these things, and NOT Berlusconi, or transportation strikes, or graffitti on the beautiful monuments. (sigh)
Well, it starts today. Let’s see what we can discover together…