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back to italy: milano vs torino

**warning: long post, which may offend some northern Italians and bore others. proceed at your own risk**

everybody loves a bit of intercity rivalry, and what better way to somehow digest my time in the north of italy into a local derby between two very different cities.

getting there and accommodation
I arrived in Milano after only a couple of days in Greece and was looking forward to settling in a little for 3 nights/4 days and staying in a comfy hostel. Getting to the Hostel was a nightmare, after having to navigate Centrale Stazione – with no tourist info, no working ATMs, no working ticket machines and amongst a whole bunch of construction, which may or may not have instigated this post. So by the time I got to the hostel I was a little frazzled. And the hostel, while quite well-run (thankfully, after Athens), it was like being back in school – lockers outside the classrooms bedrooms, you couldn’t go into the corridors between 10 and 3pm and the hot water system was at its best at 2am, after almost everyone was asleep, so it was all cold showers in the morning.

Not only was Porta Nuova station easy to navigate, even with their renovations, they had toilets AND a tourist information booth! gasp! AND on a Sunday!,
and then oh my god, what an amazing hostel, up a cute and windy street (and I haven’t bitched about the hill once since I’ve been here), overlooking the amazing houses and with a view into the hills of the city. The people on reception were fantastic, the bathrooms are amazing (hot water all the damned time and without a queue), only 4 in a room and even the beds are nicer (only 1 bunk, the other two are proper beds!). Plus the wi-fi is way cheaper and works in my room, rather than having to sit in the girls bathroom to get power/reception.

After the intensity of 2 Bienniales in a row, plus another one on the way, I decided to chill out on the art factor a bit and only see the main galleries and museums. On my first full day in Milano, I was stoked to see that around the Giardini Publici there was the PAC (Pinacoteca Arte Contemporarea), the Natural History Museum and the Museum del Cinema, plus another museum that I can’t remember the name of. So I went to the first museum - closed because of a strike, went next door to the PAC, closed for installation. Excellent. However, thanks to that I met Omar, a Mexican opera singer who had just arrived in Milano for his first season in the Choir at La Scala. We ended up having coffee and then hanging out in Milano together for the rest of that day. We went to the Natural History museum together, which was not only open, but free after 2pm (yay!) and then onto the Museum Del Cinema (also closed for some unknown reason, , surprise, surprise). Ha! By this stage, I was pretty sure I would see fuck-all art in Milano, but it didn’t worry me too much, really, not yet. The Milano Film Festival was on, so we wandered down to the Parco and checked out a really, really crap band playing for free on the Wrangler stage, saw about 10 mintues of a short film before having to head back to our respective hostels. So, for art, Milano is pretty shit. Thankfully, there are fantastic Mexicans in the opera who are great company.

So, my first day in Torino, after checking in, etc, I wander down town to check out what’s around the scene and to go to a contemporary art gallery that I read about in the easyjet inflight mag (which, by the way, is a very, very helpful little thang). I walked half way across Torino trying to find it and when I was told that I got the street name arse-about (Modena, not Modane), I went to the tourist info in the middle of town to find out what the chance was of getting to the gallery before it closed (at 8pm on a Sunday, mind you!). There, I had one of those traveling experiences which just make all the crud worthwhile. There was a couple who were chatting with the info girl (her family) and when they heard I was trying to get to the gallery, they offered me a lift as it was right near their house! What a couple of champions! AND they recommended that I also see Castello di Rivoli too!
And that was just the start of my art experience here. I’ll try to keep the blurb about them all brief, but, to be honest, I could go on about them for fucking hours:

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo
Silence: a fantastic curated show focusing on sound works and, for someone who thought she knew fuck-all about soundwork, I knew rather a lot of the artists – a few of the list of all-star cast included Vito Acconci, Doug Aitken and John Cage. The way they presented the show was fantastic - I got there too late to reserve a set of headphones (which was the way in which most of the works were projected), but thankfully that didn’t matter – I still got to experience about a third of the show without. A lot of works were played in a surround-sound room, lit with changing leds, from a touch-screen interactive menu – art based juke box styles. and it was amazing. Two other major highlights included Carsten Nicolai – who is an artist I had been keeping tabs on (ish) since seeing his work and performance back in 2000 at the Opera House as part of the Art+Music exhibition. His work floats my art/science/geek boat, and the work he had displayed was a chromographic (colour-based) projection of sound waves. So, each sound wave responds to a wave on the visual spectrum and he developed a sound piece to create coloured waves of a particular tone. OK, yawn if you have to, but I’m sure there are a few geeks who are with me on it.
The other work which was the highlight was Johanna Billings work Magical World again! yay! Twice in 2 weeks I’ve seen that work and I didn’t need the cans to instantly remember the song. I did find out that it was originally written by American songwriter Sidney Barnes.

Castello di Rivoli
While it was a little annoying that this place was mostly closed for installation given how long it took to get there, the permanent collection was easily, easily worth it. The old castle has been restored and extended and combined to make an amazing art gallery which houses some of the best contemporary art (including loads of installation) in rooms of the most exquisite baroque interior designs and tempera wall paintings. It’s combination is a winner and I’ve now got this dream that one day I want a work of mine to be in the collection of the Castello di Rivoli. I loved seeing the two Maurizio Cattelan works, and remembered seeing images of another, where he had made a hole in the floor and had a head poking up through it. The collection also includes site-specific work by Richard Long, the gold needle and rock image by gino de dominics and the none-sing, neon-sign by Bruce Nauman. I can’t convey how spectacular this gallery is and what an amazing collection it has. All about 40 minutes from Torino!

I’m off to see GAM (Galleria Arte Moderna) tomorrow and looking forward to seeing some more of Torino’s collection. According to my buddy at the hostel, it’s got some more classical pieces (probably from early modernity), but that worries me not – I’ve seen the sculptures in the courtyard and they’re already great.


In going to the Milano Film Festival on Friday evening, I got to check out the huge Castello Storzesco in the middle of Milano, the old fortress of the city in amazing condition. It was quite spectacular,the size and the power of the place was evident. Unfortunately, Moët & Chandon had booked out a huge chunk of the place, so you could only go into a certain section and only until about 7pm (instead of the usual 11pm). What was I saying about power?
Of course you can’t talk about architecture in Milano without mentioning the amazing Gothic spectacle that is Il Duomo – something like 325 spires and over 2000 sculptures, it is an amazing sight and I decided to go there on Sunday morning, during service, before leaving town. Unfortunately, I had my big backpack with me and the carabinieri who were searching bags were stunningly unhelpful in helping me find a cloackroom/baggage storage area to leave it because a) it was heavy and I didn’t want to lug it around or up 200 steps to the top and b) while I had nothing to really hide, the thought of 4 smug cops going through my underwear for the sake of church security was decidedly unappealing. So, no Duomo.

*marcus, remember that drivel I was going on about - that great baroque church that I thought might have been in munchen, well, I found it, it’s in fucking torino!

Suffice to say, I didn’t do all that much research into Torino before I got here – it just looked like a good place to go on the map, on my way to Paris, via Lyon. And, half the fun is in the discovery. So, imagine my eyes popping out of my head when I discover that both the amazing baroque churches I studied in first year art history, which were vital points of departure in both art and architecture, are in bloody torino! about 10 minutes walk from each other! and without the need for a bag search in either of them. in fact, I took photos! suck on that one milano!

San Carlo Borromeo, designed as the second church in a pair that overlook Piazza Reale (San Carlo Piazza) has amazing baroque interior, with blue ceilings, gilted edges, all the flows and frills you could want and beautiful tapestries. It’s truly wonderful and the baroque façade, although built later, is an absolute dream to draw.
Unfortunately, it’s completely overshadowed by the ornate and design brilliance of San Lorenzo (Arthur Lawrence, you’re completely right!). San Lorenzo departs again from the usual basilica rectangle model in being designed from a square, but has no straight lines as the main form of the church. The angles of the curves are based on atypical mathematical ratios and the painting/sculpture/detail interior is fucking brilliant. There aren’t any Tiepolo paintings, but there might as well be – the gods look down on you with all the foreshortening you need and the colours are just amazing. It’s also incredibly light, filled with an amazing amount of natural light, way more than any gothic church could hope for, and has a gorgeous pieta sculpture in the chapel. Gush, gush, more gush.

Of course you can’t go to Milano without mentioning the clothes and, well, while most of the clothes weren’t really my style, the shoes were to-die-for. Fortunately/unfortunately, I only have a small backpack which is already to the brim and a small budget which I’m hoping will still get me home, so no shoes were bought. However, I joined in the joy of my hostel roommates, shoemakers from Norway in Milano for the Shoe fair, and their gorgeous purchases.

The shit thing about that is the Milano is ‘solo di moda’ – only about the fashion. Hell, even the prostitutes at the bus stop outside the hostel looked like fashion models! Seriously, I knew it was big on fashion, but I figured that, not being overly fashionable, I would still find something there, but really, there is nothing. And actually, it’s quite soul destroying. Each day I would carefully choose my clothes, spend a little more time on my make-up, front myself for the day in the spirit of the city. And each day I would come back feeling deflated and full of self-loathing, after getting so many disapproving looks from the fashionistas who run the city, both male and female.

There are many fantastic shoes and clothes in Torino (that’s the Italian way, really, it’s all about the clothes and shoes, people), but to be fair, Milano just kicks arse in that regard. Gucci, D&G, Prada and Louis Vuitton do not have offices in Torino. But while everyone here is still very fashion conscious (like I said, it’s the Italian way), I’ve come back after my days in town still feeling like I deserve to walk on the planet, which is a bit of a relief.

football and music

These two areas I didn’t actually check out in Torino, but did in Milano and they were hilarious. I had the opportunity to go to an AC Milano game at San Siro, which was actually pretty cool – although not quite as good as I thought it would be – Milano played a scrappy game and, naïve or not, I think the MCG and Telstra Dome give San Siro a run for its money. But it was fantastic watching the Italians go mad for their calcio. And at half time to head to the bar and instead of lines of idiots for pissweak beer in plastic cups, the lines were with stylistas for espresso shots and loads of people standing around getting their caffeine fix – it was surreal, but rad!

Being in a huge city like Milano, I figured that there’d be some cool music/clubs on, so after accosting some punk kids in the park for info, I went to Club Zoe, out in the sticks and the ‘home of the alternative’ in Milano, only to walk into a gig for the worst band I have ever seen – Babylon were worse than the worst of synth-rock Eurovision crap and the crowd were loving it. I tried to be open minded, but after the 3-minute mark and a third of my drink gone, I really, really couldn’t sit through it anymore, so left and caught the last bus home, laughing all the way.

I found the Milanese (in general) to be the coldest and arrogant people I’ve come in contact with to date, which I was really disappointed about. They’re worse than Sydneysiders, way worse than Londoners and even more arrogant than the French are supposed to be. Perhaps it’s for the same reasons as London and Sydney, that there are that many people in the town and loads of outsiders, that the Milanese have to keep themselves extremely guarded, but it was tough. Kind of sad that the loveliest people I met there were from Norway and Mexico! ha! Asking for directions was like asking to fuck a family member, general chit-chat in shops, etc, was met with indignation and not even me being sick illicited kindness from hostel staff.

However, here, not only were my hostel room-mates friendlier, but also the hostel staff, compresse everywhere, people in the street and those in the galleries. And lets not forget out guardian angels who gave me, a complete stranger, a lift across town, for no other reason than to help another person out.

In spending the time I have in Italy (like I did in Germany), I keep trying to learn what it is to be Italian. Who are these people? I’ve come up with some strange little quirks I’ve noticed, including them always standing with one hand on their hip when drinking espresso or eating gelato at the bar and looking in shop windows. I’ve also realised that the Italians love their comforts, the things that reinforce to them who they are by what they are – their family, friends, food, shoes, clothes, handbags, mobile phones, football and coffee. their ‘casa’ – home. they’ll do anything to make sure that they have them around. they aren’t so good at discovering new things or going out on a limb. nor do they like being alone – in fact I very rarely saw Italians sitting on their own in the piazza and they’re always shocked that I’m traveling on my own around Europe. having said that, that’s just from spending 10 days here – although I’m definitely right with the hand-on-hip thing! ha!

PS just in case you're here for the first time, or you've forgotten, the reason my images are such crud is because my camera is broken. so you get a nicer idea of what's going on, just pretend that i've painted them instead - i know i am!

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At 26 September, 2007 09:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sono in modo da offensivo! Stranieri non meritate Milano.

At 26 September, 2007 14:42, Blogger lauren said...

paolo, questo solo il mio opinione. ci chiamo che ci vedo.

At 01 October, 2007 10:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you found that fucking church.

At 02 October, 2008 02:05, Blogger NoSync said...

You're right in that we basically don't give a fuck about tourists :) But it seems you definitely found the wrong people to ask suggestions and informations from. ;)

At 26 November, 2008 04:43, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to live in Milano.
I found them to be a bit old-fashioned and backwards. Many were arrogant, many were surprisingly racist ... 1950s style racism.
They are a conservative lot ... a bit reserved, and affected by their lousy weather. Milanese dislike taking risks, even if they compare themselves favorably to cities south.

Many Milanese dream of the states, like NYC, Miami, Bay area, but are cowards to move there... many will try to tell you how bad Milano is, just in case you want to stay to find a job.

Truth is, it's not that hard to find a well-paid job, as long as you have an education. But Milanese will try to get you to believe the opposite.

Italian women don't seem to be satisfied with Italian men. I found Italian women to be charming, as long as you isolate them one on one.

Overall I adore Italy, but there are other places more friendly... Roma and Napoli come to mind.

Overall, Milanese - like many Italians -are quite parochial, and anti-intellectual... not conerned so much with profound issues.


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