Friday, March 22, 2013

Most of us had decided that we would go to Mass at the Duomo, some for the drama of a service in the third largest Catholic church in the world, some for the music, and others to celebrate mass.  A guard separated the tourists from believers.  I guess Gordo either looks too much like a tourist or too much like a non-believer:  he wasn't allowed into the worship section of the cathedral.
I was raised a Protestant, so the pomp and circumstance in a high Catholic mass always startles me.  Here there were several priests dressed in red and white;  one, who I believe was the Cardinal of Milan - the one who might have been Pope - was in scarlet and seemed quietly diminutive at the back of the altar, others in scarlet seemed to aid him in some way; the altar boys were in white.  There were about 12 guys up there, pretty impressive.  The choir was in the left nave.  Their voices sounded beautiful, but a bit lost in that huge space. 
It was cold in that church on this rainy day.  After an hour the raw weather got to my frigid feet.  I was glad when it was over, so I could go back to the hotel and get more clothes on to warm up.

Gordo and I went to the 7th floor of the department store Rinanscente for lunch.  There is a high-end, food court with really good choices there.  You can have sandwiches, sushi, salads, burgers from faster sit-down, bar-like places or you can have full service at a place there that we didn't want to wait in line for.  I didn't find out what that restaurant is.  Gordo and I split a panini and salad and had a wonderful lunch.  Then we bought some gifts at their food shop in the middle of the store.  The chocolates looked wonderful but I did't succumb.  There chocolate shoes and purses, along with usual easter eggs and chicks.
That afternoon most of us packed.  After all, we would depart the next morning - very early.  I thought I would have so much room in my suitcase because I had brought some things which I had distributed to people.  But to my dismay, I had to sit on everything to fit it in.  Dirty clothes just take up more room than clean ones. 
At 7:30 we met in the lobby of the Hotel de la Ville and made our way to L'Opera, their restaurant for La Nostra Cenacola.  (our Last Supper).
Our dinner began with my little speech of gratitude to the group for giving me the best trip I've ever done.  Everyone in the group was wonderful; all were different, but all were flexible, tolerant, forgiving, happy people.  This was a dream group.  Martha Edgar was thanked for being the inspiration for the trip.  Maria Ferrante was thanked for belting one in the Baptistery.  Donna was thanked for trusting me.  The ladies from Chi Ca Go were thanked for being their spark and being reps of the Pope!  Gordo was thanked for his great help and sacrificing a week of family and work.  What a group.  And then Don got up to thank me on behalf of all with a gift and a card.  Then Irene got up with a gift.  And then I cried like a baby.
Thank you so much, Don, Linda, Inez, Jessie, Maria, Martha, Joyce, Irene, Donna, Joan, Bruce, Kimberly, Olga, Dori, Gloria and Chela, Maryane and Kathleen.  I hold you dear in my heart.
We went to bed, woke up to snow, and left for the airport, skidding and careening along the streets and autostrada of Milan and environs.  All of us made our flights home.

DAYS 5 and 6
Friday, March 15, was an entirely free day.  Six people (Martha, Joyce, Jessie, Olga, Chela and Dori) took a chauffeured trip to St. Moritz in the Alps.   Gordo went back to Cremona.  Maria and I met to discuss our October trip to Milan.  And in the afternoon most of the others took a second tour  with Andrea and went to both the Castello and the Pinoteca Brera.  I think it was an exhausting, but exhilarating day for all.
That evening we met at Cantina della Vetra for dinner.  Joining us were Martha's friends Lorenzo and Aurora. 

Martha and Lorenzo
It was a good end to a good day.
On Saturday morning, very early, we hoofed over to Foro Buonoparte, near the Castello, to catch a bus to Lake Como.   The group totaled 48, so it was more like a cattle herd, but the guide, Davide, was very good and read the group well.  We first arrived at Villa Olmo, a huge house by the Lake:

Linda and Don:  very much in love.

As Martha learned, so ungracefully, the WC there is not for the faint of heart.  Find someplace else for relief!
We then walked to the mouth of the funicular:
Scenes from the funicular:
                    And scenes from Brunate:
Donna and Irene

Bruce tells great stories at lunch.
And scenes from the Lake during our boat ride:

And the train station in Como:
That concluded our trip to Lago Como.  We got on the bus and rode back to Milan.

Thursday afternoon we were to have a tour of La Scala, but we were bumped in favor of some Milanese VIPs and could not do this, unfortunately.  However, the in-detail tour at Ansaldo gave us a lot of insight into the workings of the opera house.
Therefore, I took the opportunity to go to the roof of  Duomo on this beautiful, clear afternoon.  I learned that the Symphony from La Scala played up here one summer night!  Dizzying.   Here are some photos of what I saw up there:

And I could see the Alps, faintly ....
And the ants below!!
It was fun to come up here and be surrounded by centuries old sculptures smiling to God.
When I first wrote about this day, I forgot to include our evening activity:  we went again to La Scala to hear Kathia Buniatishvili, a Russian pianist, perform Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2  with the Filarmonica della Scala.  I was in a pretty dead zone as far as the piano was concerned, but those who were in the live zone heard every one of her fluid notes.  Jessie was enthralled.  The orchestra ended the concert with the Symphony No. 3 by Rachmaninoff.  It was a decidedly Russian evening.

Quite early in the morning on Thursday we had a reservation at Ansaldo, the production facility of La Scala.  We took a bus to its location, somewhat far from the Hotel de la Ville, but still in the city of Milan.  Ansaldo is located in a former steel factory.  Because it produces the sets and costumes for La Scala's future performances,  photography of this proprietary material is not allowed.  
We entered into a narrow hallway to see a model of La Scala.    It consists of not only the old building which you see here, but also a white boxy addition to the right back, which  you can see the top of in this photo.  To the left back, is a round addition.
The box was recently added and holds a much enlarged stage, a fancy, high tech mechanism for quickly switching sets, and set storage space.  Sets are mostly made of foam core these days.  There is some wooden structures, but the wall facades are polystyrene and canvas.  The round addition holds offices.
Next we walked onto the first of many catwalks to view canvas painting in progress.  Canvas is spread on the floor in a football-sized space.  When we were there, there were 2 canvasses filling this space.  Everything is done by hand - no autoCAD designs are superimposed to do the set design quickly.  First the canvas is prepared to accept the charcoal designs and later paint.  I suppose this is like Gesso.  I guess the set designer sketches the design which is then proportioned to fill the canvas.  It is then drawn onto the canvas using a large compass and straightedges.  After the design is drawn, it is slowly painted by a troupe of people who hold bamboo sticks with paintbrushes attached to the ends.  Very carefully, these painters tread upon the canvas and gently paint the designs.
We saw both the Gesso-ing process and the painting.  The Gesso is applied by spray cans, not brushes.  It really stinks in there, despite an air filtration system.  There was a huge "No Smoking"  sign.
All along the catwalk above the canvasses, there were models of the sets of various operas, sometimes several from the same opera performed during different decades, depicting different fashions, styles, and technical advances.
We next went into the prop room, where the people were building landscapes out of greenery and sculpting large figures.  It's really a pity I have no photos, because I can't remember everything that was there.  What was striking was that these were all (150+ total) artists and artisans working at their craft.  You could feel that energy.
There are overhead cranes and conveyor belts left over from the steel mill days and which are now used to carry the heavier parts of the set design to the assembly room.  We passed through the carpenters' hall where smaller parts were being produced.  What we noticed there was that no one was wearing protective gear.  OSHA would have a fit.
Then we came to the final set room, where the set is assembled and completed.  This particular day the set was probably 3 stories high and must have been at least 3000 square feet.  It filled about one-third of the room.  We were in a huge facility!  I don't know what opera this set was for.  Someone else might remember ....   or we might not have been told:  proprietary knowledge.
Off to the costumes.   In the hallway was a rack of sample costumes from which we saw the minute detail even a sample has.  Samples are made to determine the proper effect of the singer's movement, to ensure that a singer doesn't fold under the weight of an armored suit, for example, or to make sure that hats stay put during an excited aria. 
We only saw a small part of the storage room for these.  Here in glass cases were dresses worn by Maria Callas (I forget which ones, but maybe someone will remember...) and others.   Approximately 1000 costumes are made each season; others are refashioned from the huge wardrobe room. 
We were not allowed to view the actual sewing room, partially because the seamstresses need to focus and can't be interrupted, but also because many of the cast come in for fittings and do not like to be caught in compromised situations!  It's unbefitting.   I would have liked to see shoes being made, but alas, shoes are contracted out someplace, so that wish was never fulfilled.
So  our tour of Ansaldo gave us all a deeper appreciation of the work that goes into an opera;  it is indeed a piece of work for many.



After our trip to Cremona, we had a dinner reservation at Osteria Stendhal in the Brera district of Milan.  We had to postpone leaving the hotel because someone came to the lobby with news that white smoke had just been emitted from the chimney at the Vatican.   We waited....  no news.  So, I made the executive decision to leave.  The walk was longer than expected and we had some very anxious Catholics with us.  Who will it be?? 
You must understand that our Chicago contingent consisted of four ladies, all of whom were from South America:  Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia.    Catholic countries.  Olga, Chela, and Gloria were very intent upon learning who was elected.  Others in the group were too.  Would it be a continuation of conservatism or would it be an acknowledgement of the world-wide church?    The Chi ca go ladies stopped people  in the street as we walked to Stendhal to ask them if they had heard who the Pope was.    No word yet.
But as we walked into Stendhal, the news was at hand:  the cardinal from Argentina, Francis.  Excitement, Pride, Applause.  During dinner, Dori was on her iPhone looking for information about him and informing us all about the direction the church was headed in.
This was a very exciting, historical evening that for our group will be forever associated with the trip.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

We sandwiched ourselves comfortably  into a mini-bus and took the hour-long ride Cremona.  Lombardy is a very flat area, with lots of field agriculture, very unlike Tuscany or Umbria where hill towns, vineyards and olive trees predominate.    We were met at Piazza della Liberta by our guide Elena.

We walked through the streets  to get to the main piazza.  Here are some photos of the town, which is very warm - a town one could easily live in.




Some private homes of Cremona have recently been restored, leaving absolutely gorgeous gardens for us tourists to peek into.
We reached the main square and found it to be market day.


But we came here for some art and music, not flowers, which were beautiful.  (You'll see more later!)
Elena gathered us around, under the portico and out of the rain,  to tell us about the history of Cremona and to describe the Duomo and Tower.  The church is actually quite massive, especially from the inside.   There are many frescoes, one of which (on the wall between the front doors and below the rose window and faux-framed) Napoleon tried to unhang and abscond with.   Luckily, he didn't succeed because it is a fresco.



   The octagonal building is the baptistery, which Maria Ferrante made very special for us:
After a few tears and ringing ears, we left to continue our tour of Cremona.  We went to the recital at Town Hall, where every day at noon one of the 12 antique Strads, Guaneris or Amati's is played to maintain them as live  musical instruments.  The curator played on this Wednesday.  Every day he also polishes and does any necessary maintenance on the instruments.  We didn't get photos of the collection since photography anywhere near the fiddles is strictly forbidden.
After a delicious and filling lunch at La Scuderie, we next ventured to  Yael Rosenblum's violin workshop.  Here Yael gave us an excellent summary demonstration of how to build a violin modeled after the Cremona masters.  As if any of would ever do that!  Eh, Gordo?  Below are a few photos of that demo:
One of her finished cellos or is it a viola di gamba????

And then Gordo got to play her newest violin:
And then Yael played:
This about completed our day.  It was a great day and brimmed with wonderful music and memories.
I leave you with another one of mine.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

MUSIC IN MILAN - March 10- 18, 2013, Day 2.

We started our first full day in Milan with a walking tour of the central city led by Andrea.

This is Andrea, our trusty and knowledgeable guide.
You'll see many umbrellas in this series of photos;
the weather was a bit inclement and cool for a few days, but we did have a couple days of splendid weather, especially Friday and Saturday.  On our departure day, it snowed.
Andrea showed us a shortcut to the Duomo, our starting off point for the tour.  The cathedral took over 600 years to build and you'll understand why in subsequent photos.  It is very intricate, has tons and tons of carved marble, and must have been a structural engineer's nightmare to build.  However, labor was basically free.
But before I get to the Duomo, some photos of our distinguished group:

Most of them take lovely side pictures, eh?
OK,  now here's exterior of the Duomo.  My inside shots were bad, for the most part.  Flashes   weren't allowed, so the photos were very dark and unpublishable.

The Duomo is doing some blatant advertising
 to pay for some of the costs of its multi-million
 euro maintenance costs.
Detail on the front facade.
This is part of the floor near the entrance.  All along the brass line are mosaics representing the zodiac, upon which a ray of light streaming through a small hole in the wall of the cathedral settles at different times of the year.  The sign nearest the hole is lit during the summer solstice; the sign farthest from the hole and therefore the most oblique is lit during the winter solstice.  It reminds me of the Incan clocks at Machu Pichu.

And then directly on the Piazza del Duomo is the Galleria Emanuel Vittorio, Europe's first enclosed shopping mall.  It is grand.
Floor mosaics in the Galleria:

And our group at the Gallery  ... near the bull ...
After a quick lunch, we took vans to go to  Santa Maria delle Grazie, where  DaVinci's The Last Supper is painted.  Our guide seemed to think that we only had reservations for 2, not 20.  I felt as if I lost my cool - at least I asserted myself - and we did all get in.  Photos are not allowed here because the fresco is very fragile.  I had read that visitors have to go through a dehumidification chamber before entering the room, but I didn't feel too raisin-y after being detained in the chamber.  I think it's more a crowd-control mechanism.  No more than 30 persons are supposedly allowed in for 15 minute sessions.  Our guide spoke for a long time about the painting and DaVinci after we entered; we were allowed less than 3 minutes to see it up close, which here means at least from a distance of 10 feet.  The fresco is large and is so much more impressive than images in books.  The expressions and actions of the disciples really relates to their personalities as gleaned from the New Testament.    Anyway, after three minutes the guard yelled for us to leave.  We had no time to see the fresco  opposite of the crucifixion painted by a local guy many centuries ago.  We were shuffled through  to the gift shop.
Seeing The Last Supper should have been a real highlight, but the handling of visitors is  reminiscent of cattle herding.  T'wasn't too pleasant.
I do have some photos of the church, Santa Maria delle Grazie:



Milan is a great walking city.  It is geographically large, but somehow it can be broken down into decent sizes and non-intimidating pieces to walk about.  In the older city center, the buildings only have 3 or 4 floors, so it reminded me of Boston when I first arrived there in the 60's.  Although it is in Italy's most prosperous  area and is "the" business city of the country, its bustle doesn't seem as hectic as New York's, which I was told it resembled.  After all, it is in Italy, where folks know la dolce vita.
Fashion and design are omnipresent,  not only in the Golden Rectangle where all the big fashion names are, but in  small galleries and boutiques on side streets house avant-garde and experimental designers, as well as keepers of the older guard.  For me, it was fun to look.  In our group, I think the Chicago Four took quite full advantage of that aspect of Milan:  clothes, hair salon visits - very nice results - and the general joy of purchasing something and then looking great.
We had a pretty quick and early dinner (for Italy) at Agnello, just around the corner from the Hotel.  It was wonderful, quite simple - only 3 courses!  And the risotto was with Barolo wine and pecorino cheese.
Enough about that.  Tuesday night we went to La Scala for the first time.  It seemed to be  sort of an oxymoron, because we saw Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollaender.   The choreography and set design were very unexpected:  the sea was transformed into the office of a shipbroker;  storms at sea were represented by the cast waving about along with the zinging of the violin strings.  The general consensus of our group is that we would have rather seen a different opera - maybe Verdi or Mozart, but being in La Scala was a dream come true for many of us.  The red curtain.  The golden box seats.  The comfortable, plush red seats.  The beautiful white ceiling.  The chandelier.  The  foyer.  The acoustics.  The wonderful attire of the guests.  The orchestra.  The voices.  The little translation screens.  It was all perfect.  And I cried tears of joy at the end - just to be in a such a beautiful moment (or 3 hours).
I think some of the others have photos of the house, which I'll post when I get them.