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8–12 June 2019 (Sat-Wed)
My travel to Venice was a physical detour from my Westward journey, while my visit to Milano was a psychological detour, as I had to re-focus my thinking. Briefly, I had to establish myself as an academic (again) as my paper on conflict and confidence building in the Mediterranean had been accepted for presentation at an international conference sponsored by the Centre for European Studies at the University of Milano-Bicocca.
Preparing to make a presentation requires some discipline and so I arrived in Milano a couple days before the conference to prepare.
The Grand Hotel Barone di Sassj, my home in Milano and recommended by the conference organizers, was a typical 4-star hotel and a big disappointment.
Milano is a grand city that should be explored but this hotel is actually outside the city limits in the suburbs. How irritating - especially since I had a five-day hotel reservation (and no getting out - the hotel charged my credit card a month ago for the full amount with a no refund policy). I don't know why the conference organizers recommended this hotel as it is 3-km from the conference venue (not within walking distance).
To make matters worse: Milano has the most complicated Metro (subway) system. The Metro does not sell tickets by destination but by ticket class and there are so many ticket classes. Since my Metro stop was just outside the city limits it required something called an inter-urban ticket but try to find that ticket-class in the list of choices at a ticket machine made in the 1970's. An inter-urban ticket would appear as an option on some machines and not others. Once I even bought a ticket that would not let me enter the Metro - oh' that ticket is for somewhere else, I was told. So confusing and no one around to help. The Metro worked just fine getting from one place to another but getting in the system and getting out of the system was a problem. Milano: Worst Metro system on this journey - for sure!
So, it is Saturday night in Milano upon arrival and I think I should postpone my conference preparation and see what the city has to offer. Nothing in the suburbs but not far away is the Blues House. I am reminded of the great time I had at the Delta Blues Bar in Sofia. No more information is required and so I buy a ticket at the door without asking who or what is happening that evening. But after I sit down, I notice that the ticket lists the band's name as Presence and mentions the music of Led Zeppelin - one of my all-time favourite bands. How lucky !
Waiting for the band to start and a couple of fellows engage me in conversation. Seems they are part of the band - the keyboard player and the drummer.
When I tell them I am from Australia, Morgan, the keyboard player, tells me that he might have a gig in Brisbane in 2020 or 2021. A production company based at La Scala - one of the world's most famous theatre’s - is currently negotiating with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC - he knew this name) to deliver some kind of performance - most likely an opera. Morgan was not clear on the details, but I gave him my name card and told him to contact me if he makes it to Brisbane.
The music that evening was just grand (see picture). Such positive energy !
Sunday was spent preparing for my Monday afternoon presentation. My seminar presentation went really well, the next day, and I received several good questions. My Milano seminar will helped me improve my presentation - and hence the paper - for a much more challenging presentation in Brussels next week, as I am to present before European Union officials.
It is great to have a place to present my research - not much opportunity to talk about Mediterranean conflict in Australia - but the conference was very quantitative. Every paper but mine had complex models represented by mathematical equations. Seemed like I was with a bunch of economists.
I was confronted with papers that asserted that "the Chow-White test was used to check the joint null hypothesis of spatial structural stability."
I would present one of the equations that conducted this test now but it requires a keyboard with special characters (do look carefully at the picture with equations). I enjoyed the conference dinner and met some interesting people - even a Latino working for the Central Bank of Mexico - but decided to skip the conference on Tuesday (something I never do) and visit the City.
Googled contemporary art museums and nothing came up but the Galleria d'Arte Moderna. Well, there is a big difference between modern art and contemporary art museum but it was in a park so I went anyway (see pictures).
Nice park but modern art is not about poor-struggling local artists trying to make a living. Art is a tough business - as almost all the brilliant ideas have been done repeatedly. Occasionally, however, we will find something original that makes us stop and think - making the search worthwhile. In visiting the museum, I learned where they keep contemporary art in Milano.
Piazza Duomo has the world’s largest gothic cathedral and it is massive. Lots of people in the Piazza taking selfies - including myself - but no line to get into the cathedral. The Italians go over the top on size and style.
The Duomo and surrounding area is filled with so many things to see and do. It is the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci with public exhibitions down a street full of fashion-stores plus private exhibitions. Plazza della Scala is home to de Vinci's statue and The World of Leonardo that has a multimedia presentation on his inventions and art. What a creative genius.
Near the de Vinci statue is a large bookstore. I really don't need another book but the Travels of Marco Polo is for sale in English and so I thought - well, I should buy this book as part of my journey. I will try reading it when I find some time.
Plazza della Scala and the surrounding area has so many fashion brand stores. Perhaps the Milano business community invented the concept of "brand" in the 1960's. I'm not sure but these fashion-brand stores are everywhere. And each brand does not have a single store - they have multiple stores all over the city. I did not enter any but I took pictures - as their windows are a form of contemporary art.
Prada - a fashion powerhouse, I suppose - established la Fondazione Prada (the Prada Foundation) in 1993 and moved their contemporary art museum and related activities into an old whiskey factory in 2015. There is some great art and some work that is pretty questionable, as art.
I was particularly impressed by a 3 meter by 3 meter collection of 10 billion fly’s that had been trapped with a pool of resin. Files would land on the resin and could not escape - it seemed. It is not pretty - on close inspection, yes these were once real flies - but conceptually it is a brilliant combination of man and nature working together to create something unique. Pity about the flies...
Something that was pretty to look at but made no sense is three identical Belair Chevrolets from 1956. Each in perfect condition and each having a metal bar running through the windshield then through the car to the back window (see picture). These are long shiny steel bars one shaped as a triangle, one a cylinder and one a square. Go figure...
On my way back to the Metro station there was a large gathering of people outside what appeared to be a bar sitting at long tables. Upon further inspection I found that it was a combination hostel and bistrot called Madam. Lots of young people and lots of old people enjoying the evening. For the price of a beer it came with a buffet - mostly, various kinds of Italian pasta dishes. I sat down next to two young ladies one from Peru and the other from Nepal. Each had come to Italy to work and both worked at a cafe near the Prada Foundation. They were not staying at the hostel - I think they were there for the cheap buffet and to meet others. The entire experience made me realize that I should have stayed in hostels more often during my journey. Almaty Backpackers was a wonderful experience.
The next morning: Up at 4.15am for my 6.00am train to Paris and then on to Brest.