Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Riprendere Vita...on the Lanes of Italia

 

I've been traveling quite a bit lately, feeling like a rock star on tour, in a way...if rock stars are middle-aged Americans who wear somewhat sensible shoes and suede vs. leather jackets and who can't remember all the words to the songs anymore! Let's see, about a month ago we left our home in Antwerp and with just two, two-day trips back for clean clothes, we have traveled to Lille, France, New York, Connecticut, Boston, Cleveland, New York again, London, Brussels, Lake Como, Milan and Venice and we are now enroute to Naples (the Florida one) via New York and Atlanta, then back to New York to Connecticut, and then back again to Antwerp. Of course then we will head to California for Christmas, why not? Seems fitting for aging rock stars, right? Or at least a corporate executive and his author-wife who have lost their collective minds and are trying to zig-zag through as many time zones as possible ('fall-back' happened for us in England). I'm tired but inspired, jet-lagging with tail-wagging. Okay sorry, that last line proves I'm exhausted and maybe not cool enough to be a rock star after all. I'm writing from somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, wings stretched (ba-da-dum) on to the next place, Florida...for an industry meeting, which to me, means a few more chapters (writing not reading) poolside, hopefully sipping mojitos. Instead of talking about all the places I've been lately, I'd like to share a bit of Italy with you, not only because it's one of my favorite places on earth, but because I learned some new things this time. In the past, I've been to Florence, Pisa, Siena, Tuscany and all its splendid hill towns -- but this trip, I was lucky to see the northern region, from the Swiss border all the way to the Adriatic Sea. Even though it rained almost the entire trip, I found I'm still, undeniably in love with Italy. I feel alive in Italy -- my senses, my heart, my mind all awaken and I find myself 'feeling' my way through each day. We arrived late in the evening to our hotel at Lake Como, and with the rain, a heavy fog was covering the steep mountains surrounding the lake. Out on our veranda overlooking the lake, the rain was falling lightly and boats skimmed the surface of the water, heading home for the night. We slept good that night, a light wind against the French doors surrounding our room. In the morning, we woke to the most magnificent view of the entire lake region, the fog lifting, leaving a blanket of clouds that only added more texture to the peaceful mood of Lake Como. Mr. Lane was off to meetings and I was off to Milan. A driver, Giampaulo, picked me up mid-morning and we headed back forty-five minutes to the fashion capitol of Italy. Milano is a historically rich city with cathedrals and palaces, famous designer boutiques and up and coming little gems that all devine fashionistas would love discovering. It's also a foodie heaven, with cuisine from Italy considered to be among the best in the world. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bad meal in Milano. If it's shopping you want, the department store, La Rinascente, can be found among the designer stores in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. This is Italy's equivalent to NYC's Bloomies or London's Harrods. The department store carries many of Italy's most popular brands, as well as, many others from around the world. If you're in a brousy mood, you can take a stroll around Cordusio-Magenta, a lovely neighborhood with small boutiques housing creations by Italian designers such as Massimo Crivelli. Of course, bring plenty of euro if you plan on actually buying anything. I bought just one special gift for one special person and easily surpassed my budget...but it was worth every penny, and I can't wait to see him open it at Christmastime :) Don't forget to take a Gelato break (I didn't forget...twice!) with flavors like dark chocolate, hazelnut, banana or orange zest ...yummy-perfecto! If you're more the cultural type, Milano will not disappoint...the city boasts wonderful antique shops bursting with furnishings from the High Renaissance period. The Municipal Modern Art Gallery has exceptional collections from the 19th and 20th centuries, including works by Picasso. If you are lucky enough to secure an advanced appointment, you can view Leonardo da Vinci's 15th century masterpiece, The Last Supper, at the Refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (icbellagio.com). The entire city is a juxtaposition of ancient and modern. Sky scrapers are going up to house fashion designer's growing need for larger headquarter offices, right next to gothic shorter versions that housed great innovators from centuries past. The financial district is home to Italy's stock market, Borsa Italiana, where banks house most of the surrounding buildings. Milan is the capitol city of the region of Lombardy and the province of Milan and is the second largest city in Italy.  This accounts for the many strikes and demonstrations in the news. In fact, there was a demonstration going on when I was in town, but my driver, Giampaulo, had a cool gadget that provided a constant stream of info about traffic and city related issues, so he knew where the strikers were at all times and kept me safely away from those areas (the demonstrators can be quite violent if not passionate). That day, they were striking against the bail out of Greece and the domino affect it would likely have on Italy's already weak and corrupt economy. Cost of housing per square meter in Milano is skyrocketing and only the very rich can afford most addresses in downtown Milan. You'd never know, other than by the cries from demonstrators, that Italy is suffering along with the rest of the world -- economically. The city is set up like a spider web, with rings of traffic encircling neighborhoods with the main arteries feeding down into the historical center where the largest cathedral in Italy, Duomo di Milano dwells. This Gothic church took nearly five centuries to build. The Piazza del Duomo surrounds the grand cathedral. In the evening, opera fans marvel at the gilded interiors of the 18th-century theater, La Scala, considered one of the world's most important music houses. The theater also boasts its own museum, with the history of Italian music from the 17th to 20th centuries. Before or after you hear the fat lady sing, you can grab a delicious bite at II Salumaio di Montenapoleone, a Milanese eatery nearby La Scala -- deliziosa!! If you are a wine-ufficiale, then a stop at L'Ulmet for a glass or two to leave you feeling relaxed and satisfied. Ahhh, vino! Le nostre preghiere sono state esaudite! (our prayers have been answered) I was surprised to see canals stretching through parts of the city that were originally constructed for shipments of marble to be transported to the center of town when the Duomo was being constructed or was it when the palace was going up? Well, whenever it was...a long, long, long time ago, complex waterways were developed, some of which have been buried under now, to make way for new buildings and roads. There are a few canals left, with ancient boats, reinvented as restaurants, still floating, although tied up, kind of sadly, on the low tide. The canals are no longer used for boat traffic, and unfortunately, in some areas, now seem to be used as trash receptacles...which is always sad to see. Milano is a bustling, wealthy metropolis, with a graffiti'd middle-class shoving up against its skinny, super-model sides...a hotbed for unrest and controversy. I must say, after a day of walking around Milano, no matter how interesting and gothic-modern, I was very content to return to the restorative and spiritual shores of Lake Como late that afternoon. I wrote into the early evening, a light rain tapping against the tiles outside on my terrazzo.  Mr. Lane returned from his meetings and invited me to join him and the staff from his division offices for dinner at Il Gatto Nero (a restaurant supposedly frequented by local-resident-movie-star-extraordinaire -- George Clooney) We both changed into dinner clothes (I was careful to wear something George would find attractive, even though it seems he's not attracted to my age-group, even though he's my same age) and were greeted by his colleague in the lobby for the very steep drive up the mountainside to the restaurant. Winding back down proved trickier knowing the driver had several swigs of Grappa with his cappuccino after several glasses of wine with dinner. But what a way to go if you were going to go...the incredible view, the mountains, it felt like we were suspended above the lake...if we propelled off the side of that cliff, if the car had lost it's grip (remember, it's raining and slick)...well, then all I could do was hope and pray that George Clooney would hear my screams and catch me -- rescue me and nurse me back to health at his gorgeous movie-star villa, which according to our dinner-mates was clinging to the same mountainside we were now traversing, like new skiers making our way down the slopes, back and forth, turning and crossing, turning and crossing, a few feet lower each time (I swear I saw dirt and rock falling down the hillside from our tires...Mr. Lane said I was crazy, but he too had shared in the Grappa-fest, so what did he know?). But alas, we made it back down to our hotel (George hadn't been needed after all) and by that time, the rain was coming down hard, but we found our way to our suite and out onto the veranda for one more look at beautiful Como. I didn't mind one bit that my best silk evening jacket (the one that would most certainly have caught George's eye) was getting drenched as Mr. Lane kissed me, like an Italian lover, right out there in the rain, leaning against the railing, the lake lapping against the ancient stone wall, two stories below, neither of us coming up for air, even when the wind knocked over the trellis behind us....no, for a few lovely days, we lived like passionate Italians, throwing caution to the wind, drinking whole bottles of wine as if it was Perrier, staying up late, laughing, saying things like, ciao and grazie a and scusi! Referring to each other as Bella and Ricardo (more romantico than Mr. Lane, si?). Ahhhh, Italy, I love you. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we found ourselves driving (Giampaulo at the steering wheel once again) three hours east, through white-wine vineyards to Venice, city of love. My heart be still. I can't tell you much about the rest of our trip, (privacy please) but it was wonderful, I can tell you that...and Venezia far exceeded my expectations. It was more beautiful than I ever dreamed and even more special than anywhere I've been in a long time. Do hire a gondola in the rain, late at night, off-season, when the only city lights are dim candles illuminating the centuries-old villas...and oh, be sure to choose the gondola with the guide who sings and whistles the greatest Italian love songs ever written, and who takes his time weaving through the canals and is the last gondola back to the dock. Perfetto! My life on the lane is winding, and ancient and romantica and deliziosa (and sometimes even a little dangerous) Ciao-Ciao!
Venice
Beautiful Designer Shop in Milan

Milano in the Rain

Lake Como in the Rain

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice Doorway

Lovely Lane in Venice


El Duomo Milano

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed traveling through italy with you, Caron. I hope you continue to have happy travels. Lisbeth

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