~judas kiss~

March 9th, 2008

perhaps all a person could say about Milano can be seen from the roof of Il Duomo…

We flew over the Italian Alps in the wee small Kia in the wee small hours of Friday night. All highways are dark here, even this Swiss autobahn with its speed limit of 130 km/81 mph. The liquid black is interrupted only by loooong tunneled expanses–the longest we traveled is St. Gotthard. It was built in 1882 and is nearly 17 km long–the third longest in the world.

I finally got the iTrip to work, meaning we could listen to my iPod over the airwaves. This was a joyous triumph given the dearth of any sound whatsoever on the radio and an hours-long journey unfurling ahead of us. Randomly I chose Led Zeppelin and in a breath I was transported to 1976.

these same mountains, on sunday afternoon.

It was such a visceral punch: I was seven years old, sitting on the sun-baked hood of my mom’s 1950-something white Ford station wagon, in cut-off levis and a tie-dyed tanktop, getting ice cream in my long pale blond hair and on my hand-made leather flip-flops as the asphalt shimmered in the heat and the radio sang I caught you smilin’ at me, that’s the way it should be, like a leaf is to a tree, so fine.

Something about this time of life right now is just primal, it is time out of time. Like looking into a mirror that is pointed at a mirror. (or as my insane kundalini yoga instructor gurmuhk says, “imagine you are on a ride, but the ride is you!”)


A road-worker well-lit and hovering on the side of the road waved his checkered flag at us in the middle of the black night nowhere. As we whizzed passed he morphed into a remarkably convincing automaton smiling in an orange jumpsuit.

I saw lovely wisps of cloud that just hung in the air, and then realized they were puffs of smoke from the buildings (i imagined) below and then realized they were the white layers of sediment in the epic towering cliff side that leaned over us. Vapor became stone.


And then we landed in Milan for a deliciously urban weekend.



Beyond the DaVinci Code hullabaloo which I will not give truck to here, another common rumor surrounding The Last Supper is that the same model was used for both Jesus and Judas. The story goes that a sweet-faced young man, a baker, posed at nineteen for Jesus.

Some years later Leonardo took a hard-bitten criminal as the model for Judas, not realizing he was the same man. There is no evidence to support this folklore and it would seem to overestimate the time it took Leonardo to finish the mural, but it charms anyway, especially if you empathize with a hard-bitten baker.

One must reserve weeks in advance to see the painting, but no matter, we had our own.

We began with a stroll though the beaux-arts shopping concourse Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, home to Armani, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana , Missoni, Gucci, Prada–the whole gang!



Then we wandered to Duomo di Milano which Mark Twain called …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!


The streets of Milan either radiate from or circle around this massive Gothic cathedral second in size only to the Cathedral of Seville in Spain. Construction began in 1386 and has been on-again, off-again ever since.


Milanese dialect includes the phrase Fabrica del Dom to describe an extremely long, complex, possibly impossible task.


Henry James said of the Duomo it is grandly curious and superbly rich…there is little refinement of design–few of those felicities of proportion which the eye caresses, when it finds them, very much as the memory retains and repeats some happy lines of poetry or some haunting musical phrase…more than any other (building) it represents difficulties mastered, resources combined, labour, courage and patience.


A small red light bulb in the dome above the apse marks the spot where a nail from the crucifixion has been placed.


The velvety puppet-theater (no intention to offend, but…) of the confession booths appeals to me. This was nearly the only one not in use.

A sepulchral chapel hidden below has a glass sarcophagus holding the remains of St. Charles Borromeus, cardinal of the catholic church and patron against ulcers, and of apple orchards and starch-makers.

James again (and alas no longer true–I had to casually steal this photograph), For the modest sum of five francs you may have his shriveled mortality unveiled and gaze at it with whatever reserves occur to you. The Catholic Church never renounces a chance of the sublime for fear of a chance of the ridiculous–especially when the chance of the sublime may be the very excellent chance of five francs.

The black mummified corpse of the saint is stretched out in a glass coffin, clad in his mouldering canonicals, mitred, crosiered and gloved, glittering with votive jewels. It is an extraordinary mixture of death and life; the desiccated clay, the ashen rags, the hideous little black mask and skull, and the living, glowing, twinkling splendour of diamonds, emeralds and sapphires.


The roof of the cathedral is a forest of pinnacles, spires, and flying buttresses. The sculptures have sculptures; the curly-qs have curly-qs. Enchanting insanity.

We lunched at Caffè della Pusterla, an airy turn-of-the-century cafe bustling at all times, which I had spied in a sleep-starved haze the night before. Excellent Tuscan wine list, lentil soup, walnut, pear, and gorgonzola salad, and smoked duck with prunes. Highly recommended.


a star tart through the ancient beveled glass pastry case.

inexplicable question marks float behind lil’ miss winesnout

We toured the canal and narrow lanes of the gentrifying Navigli neighborhood where on the last Sunday of each month an endless flea marche is held. (sigh.)

No flea for Kimmi, and no luck finding the exhibit of photographs by long-standing favorite, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden. As Ali said, with what I detected as a certain jealous glee, “no naked fawn-boys for Kimmi.”


But some interesting shops–anyone know what those antler-winged, horn-tailed creatures hanging from the ceiling might be?

As always, fantastic packaging abounded. Much of it was in the seasonal form of giant (far bigger than your head) foil-wrapped chocolate eggs in turquoise, lime, and pink. Below is my favorite theme of such imagery, which seems to say, “I lick my chops just thinking about eating myself–and you too junior!”


This style of pastry is all over Milan. This cluster I photographed as we flew past (this is how all my photos are made, Ali is a fast walker!) happened to be from Cafe Cucchi, a bakery and chandeliered tearoom famous in the 30s and 40s which we discovered in time to have the best coffee in all the land the following morning.

These flowers were everywhere too, men on the street selling them, women carrying them all over town. Turns out Saturday (March 8th) was International Woman’s Day (who knew?) and in Italy it is customary to present women with yellow mimosas on this day. In the shop where I bought the slippers (below), I tried to ask the very kind clerk about them–what she said was “for the woman.” I thought she meant all flowers, it is Italy after all…


Let’s hear it for women! Especially the ennui-filled sun-breasted kind!


and new stockings and velvet slippers!


And last but never least–naked fawn boys!


2 Responses to “~judas kiss~”

  1. Noria says:

    I just read about Women’s Day for the first time this week–apparently it began in the US, commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, among other things. But I guess we got tired of celebrating our womenfolk.

    Those Dulcia look like cannibal Peeps. Speaking of which, your gams and tootsies look good enough to eat.

  2. […] The biggest room, Grotta Grande del Vento, is Europe’s largest single cavern and so vast that the Milan Cathedral would fit inside. All one can hear is dripping. The damp air feels otherworldly and alive. […]

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