Da Vinci and Milan Beyond the Duomo

We have spent two days or more in almost a dozen European cities. All were interesting, but of these I must confess that Milan is my least favorite. Some of this has to do with our travel situation: the weather was hot; we were tired from 10 days of traveling before we arrived; and transportation around town was challenging.

But it is also true that Milan has more of a gritty, modern city feel to it, and its charm is sometimes lost in graffiti-covered walkways, electric tram wires, and busy crowds of business people bustling down crowded streets. Actually, one of my most enduring memories of Milan is one I did not capture on film, although we saw it many times. The vision is a young, lean Italian man in his 20’s. He is dressed in a fashionable, trimly-cut suit, perhaps in pastel blue. On his feet are designer shoes, with no socks. The strap of his shoulder bag rests on his left shoulder, with the bag resting on his right waist. On his head is a bicycle helmet, and his hands grip the handlebars of a stand-up electric scooter that zips past the other cars, busses and motorcycles in traffic. And only the tourists would give him a second look, because in Milan there is nothing unusual in this scene.

We visited two other main attractions in the city. The Galleria opens on to the same square as the Duomo (cathedral). This sumptuously designed multi-story shopping area features high-end retailers that include Prada, Gucci, Tiffany and America’s other cultural contribution: McDonalds, which as you can see seems strangely out of place at the end of the dazzling classical architectural masterpiece shown below.

The other star attraction is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” a 15th century mural located on a wall inside the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. A ticket buys you a 15-minute time slot for viewing the painting, with only 18 people allowed for each slot (25 pre-pandemic).

Yes, the painting is famous, and there is obvious talent. But both Ellen and I were disappointed. Da Vinci tried a new method for this painting, using paint that quickly faded and flaked off. It has been restored so many times over the years that very little of the original remains, and what you see is more “faded glory” than masterpiece. So we were glad to see it, but a little sad at the same time.

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