Reflections in Windows, the Duomo, Trams... And a Car too many... A Sojourn in Northern Italy

"And the road gave me its songs,
that know the grain that swells in the ear,
the flower that whitens the olive groves,
between the blue of flax and the narcissi " 
    Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)

I’m not sure why I’ve found it so difficult writing this particular entry...  but too much of a good thing can be positively overwhelming, and with every turn on this trip to Lombardy and Piedmonte, there was always something that could be captured in the view finder... with reflections in the urban architecture, a series of doors in a mountain village, pictures of alpine villages, pictures on a frozen lake and waterfall, a Renaissance town, Milanese trams... even the graffiti on an old railway wagon was artistic with its arcing red and cream aerosol streaks and delicate rusty punctuation over an arial fonted majuscule... 

This was my first trip to Northern Italy. I had done a little research before, but with friends' local knowledge, I decided to just go with the flow to fit in the obligatory coffee stops...  and like a gentle post cappuccino jaunt along the street, I thought I’d share here  some of my many many observations and creative musings:

1.  The age of things...  Italy might have always been at the forefront of the fashion and car industries - but its coats are thin contemporary veneers holed like emmenthal cheese, the marvellous antiquity and ugly decay gaping through in equal measure ( the Italians I met were very quick to highlight their grumblings about the corruption in the political system as they saw it and the societal and intellectual poverty as youngsters continue to leave the country for better economic prospects ).

2.  And away from Milan and Turin, to the north, a landscape of lakes, mountains with their shrines and winding roads, and to the south, arborio rice paddies which struck the visitor on her inbound flight to Milan - neat neutral toned rectangular abstracts - which when irrigated in spring would become steel and silver toned watery blocks...  natural mirrors... 

3.  Milan and Vigevano, too, are fascinating cities with contrasting histories - and roots that architecturally at least, demonstrate elegant Renaissance flourishes, with a strident angularity and Futurist sharpness coming to the fore in Milano.  

From a photographic perspective, what became obvious to me however was that as we crossed from the most manicured of urban landscapes into the wildest of idylls, Man’s influence was still to be found... for the landscape appeared to be touched, if only transiently, with a crumbling ruin or shrine dotted here or there on the steepest and remotest of mountain sides...

Somehow, I felt I needed to pay hommage to this activity in some way, in my endeavours to capture a regional ‘thumb-print' rather than adopting a raw isolationist perspective, seeking out the pure and untainted.

4.  So I decided to embrace the Human and as I wandered the Milanese streets, I realised that even the sky was not untouched. The blue was sliced up into a beautiful geometry of triangle and parallelogram bordered in black. Occasionally these would be shot through by a spark, or a mechanical winking light halting, or giving the tram and its pantograph permission to move onwards. What an extraordinarily fascinating anachronism these trams were, the clanging sounding a warning that an antique wooden and wrought ironed carriage on tiny wheels - faces pressed against condensation obscured glass - was rattling and wobbling its precarious way over even more antiquated polished metalwork in the road. Around the cathedral (Duomo), the trams passed, Beaux Arts stonework and balconies framing them beyond these limits... and pedestrian traffic was channeled, assisted and obfuscated by them...  as the Milanese, known for cutting the hastiest business deals in Italy, swept from street corner to corner in fur coat, suit and phone at the ear +/-  dog in toe, or in bijou carrier. 

No time for this was more evident than the ‘traditional’ weekly evening parade of Italian glitz and ostentation...  the ‘Passaggiata'. Here people looked each other up and down like boxers ready to spar, gauging weak points in one another's couture styling. Most were respectfully admiring from afar, enjoying the excuse to be out in one’s finery, but these events can mark the locality’s pecking order and tempers and teeth can be borne in the rush to get in line. Fights break out over parking spots...  serious stuff for the ardent fashionista.

5.  Glass glass every where... the reflections. A world in reverse order like Leonardo’s hand dimmed by vitreous imperfection or city residue. A shop or café window reflected world that framed in my mind some of what enshrined this part of Italy. And yet the view was an intimate one I believe, each pace changing my world view completely in tone, shadow and hue... coffee cup, crucifix and hand-bag melding with spire, and pastel drawn grand façade, a scene so transient with the interruption of noisy shadows clickclicking past...