forty-one. Milan, II (+ Moscow hors d’oeuvre)
as usual, concluding the last city from the next. Red Square is distant in the window frame of my dinghy but friendly accommodation; one gets the sense that we’re illegal, or protected, in this get-up of non-signage, door codes, and dark hallways. in my frenetic journey from the airport to the city centre I sensed an amazing and mystifying city of Cyrillic tongue, gargantuan warehouses, minute huts, and facadeless housing blocks (I had a Singapore relapse at one point in the train-ride). the Metro more beautiful, and more deep, than any subterranean rail system i have ever seen: lonely violin performers eek out a living through sad songs that reverberate off these buried marble hallways. it’s like being within a Russian tome. middle-aged women with metallic blonde locks and hardened eyes monitor turnstiles, gates, check tickets amidst swarms of humid, noiseless, pushing commuters . . . the energy here, or the brief shot that i have absorbed, is adolescent punk and intoxicating.
i rewind to Milan: an easy city to wander, yet not full of idiosyncratic minutae that make recounting every route worthwhile; themes appear easily enough.
Milan is a trade-fair city, and though everything is resting right now, come September the hotels will be chock-full. Fuksas’ infrastructurally-sized glass roof at Rho Fiera is currently closed, but gaping from the gate is enough to see its massive (mostly) elegance. for all of its length it is inverse-thin. more interestingly, however, is its placement at the current-city periphery, the terminus of Metro Line one. adjacent is a major highway construction site. the old convention center (Fiera Milanocity), in the process of being decommissioned, was once no doubt the ‘periphery,’ a testament to Milan’s growth and her intentional planning: outer areas are classified into ‘zones,’ each with its own Integrated Plan boasting architecture-to-be. this Fiera Milanocity will be turned into a high-rise ‘green’ luxury residential showcase featuring Hadid and Liebeskind. currently, the city is vying for the 2015 Universal Exposition, true to its decades’- old engagement in global fairs (ex: Gio Ponti’s 1933 100m. tall Torre Branca, next to the Triennale, built in 2 months for the ‘Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts + Modern Architecture Exhibition”). like Jo’burg’s FIFA, Shanghai’s 2010 Expo, and Beijing’s Olympics, these events are tickets to development and a blessing for some, a disaster for others (shack-dwellers are particularly vulnerable to displacements in the name of world-city beautification, as in the case of Jo’burg).
the linear park: noticeable at the Public Gardens, near which I stayed, and the Parco Sempione, near Stazione Nord. in both cases a major vehicular thoroughfare has separated the parks near their edges, resulting in a narrow band of green of cleaved green. these linear ‘parks’ become transitional zones between roadway, tramway, and backstreet (at the Public Garden) or between roadway and railway, serving as a buffer from the walled rail-bed (Stazione Nord). my guess is that the parks came first, the roads small routes within them, that have grown over time. in general, the ‘transition’ is prevalent at all scales in Milan: the doorways lead to deep open foyers which open onto verdant courtyards, or, at churches such as S. Ambrosia or S. Lorenzo Maggiore, the ruins of a gateway are left standing to claim the territory of the church square (at S. Lorenzo the detached Roman columns are a popular nighttime hangout for beer-swilling teens). the old canals at the southern edge of the city center (in particular the Navigli Pavese) are decommissioned for all practical purposes but continue to organize housing and retail around them, serving again as open space with frequent bridge crossings. the southern half of the Pavese remains no-nonsense, but upon crossing the locks north of V. Tibaldi (where the bridge provides shelter for a small homeless population), the canal suddenly becomes a tourist domain: the water deepens enough for restaurant-boats, shade-trees proliferate as do cafes and bars.
the public transit in Milan is well-run but mostly unremarkable, and a 1 euro ticket is good for 75 minutes of riding on bus, tram, or metro. (not quite Hong Kong’s Octopus card, but more integrated than Moscow’s stand-in-line system). strangely, for a city of design and incidental beauties, the metro was a displeasure i found myself avoiding in favor of the trams, with their creaky automatic step-down stair, polished wood and brass, accurate time-tables (often electronically posted through minimal sidewalk signs) and ‘see-and-be-seen’ population. the linescapes of the tram are beautiful, often running through grass and tree-lined. compare the metro, steamy, unadorned and oddly inconvenient: you must always go to the center in order to go back out, and in a city of such manageable scale, to walk the hypotenuse is often a more appealing option. the metro’s pluses are its readability above ground, in the way of sidewalk ventilation grates, and its graffiti, which is a thick phenomena all over Milan (currently provoking a ubiquitous anti-graffiti poster campaign). in some stations the graffiti is commissioned and embraced, generating well-crafted murals. the city-wide graffiti doesn’t stand in isolation, however, and seems to be part of a culture of verbal-visual communication; unending blocks of poster-advertising render walls and fences into colorful accretions of events and happenings. signage, in general, is embraced, and navigating the city by car or foot without map is surprisingly easy; each piazza, of which there are many, is used as an opportunity for orientation.