Archive for March, 2011

No…we didn’t experience one (I don’t think…).

Miracle in Milan is a film by Vittoria de Sica – you have probably heard of The Bicycle Thief – one of the most famous expressions of Italian post-war Neo-Realism.

About a month before our trip, a Twitter acquaintance wrote about seeing it. He graciously offered to send me a DVD copy made from an old VHS tape – because, unfortunately, there’s no DVD version for Region 1 (that’s us).

(It was – not surprisingly – featured right at the entrance of the Society of St. Paul bookstore that’s behind the Duomo.)

I meant to watch it before our trip, but didn’t, and I think I’m glad. I finally got to it this past weekend, and my enjoyment of it was enhanced by having been to Milan.

Not that most of the action takes place in the middle of the city – not at all. Most of it occurs in the outskirts (of the time – 1951) – where those displaced by war have settled in shantytowns. Miracle in Milan is a fable.  An old woman finds a baby in a cabbage patch, raises him for a few years, then dies. He’s sent to an orphanage where he lives until adulthood. After he leaves the orphanage, he ends up in that shantytown and emerges as a cherub-faced, cheerful leader.  There’s conflict involving those who would purchase the land on which the poor and displaced have created community, and a quite astonishing climax at the Duomo which is, in its own way, eschatological. Really.

Not the final scene – but one of the most arresting scenes in the film:

Toward a Kingdom where “Good morning!” really means Good Morning.


An interview with de Sica about the film.

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Alton Brown was in town tonight – on tour promoting his Good Eats 3.  

As always, he was patient, entertaining, and generous with his time. Bullet points, because after a year and a half-long truce, whatever it is that floats in the air in these parts that hates my eyes has gone to war again.  And they just want to shut. 

  • As Brown fans well know, Good Eats is done except for a few specials in the can.   Repeats are now the highest-rated programs on the Cooking Network (not to be confused with the Food Network.) He’s trying to get FN to reach agreement to stream them on Netflix – and any and all fan encouragement is..encouraged on that score.
  • He’s got a new series in the works called Alton Brown’s Food Files.  He’ll also continue with the Iron Chef franchise.  He remarked that his one appearance on The Next Food Network Star – during which he was (after the fact) accused of being “mean” to contestants  –  was so popular that he’s been asked to work on all the episodes of the next go-round of that series.  Not a surprise – that program is so wretched and the potential “stars” are so weak that Alton’s presence lifts the whole sad affair up almost enough notches to watch it.  Sometimes.
  • He might write a book about his diet.
  • He’s a licensed pilot and drives (?) his own plane around the country to these events.
  • He answered a question about what his favorite vegan recipe was with a lengthy discourse about how vegans were pretty easy to bag because they are tired all the time and ended the answer with “spit-roasted.”
  • He was very patient with the endless series of questions about what’s your favorite…….?  or who’s your favorite…….?  
  • He’s a fan of bourbon.
  • Said he’d thought he might do an international version of Feasting on Asphalt, but ultimately decided that Anthony Bourdain has cornered that particular market. I don’t know about that – they are quite different personalities, and I could enjoy both men exploring the exact same cultures, knowing that both would emerge with slightly different takes and emphasize different aspects.
  • Brown took some online heat for his Fanifesto – setting out the limits for Alton-Fan Interaction and the reasons for them. But it’s really very reasonable – and especially so since he is so generous with his fans. He wants to be fair, to give everyone some time – and if a few monopolize that time with excessive demands, then it’s harder for him and for everyone else.  People with younger children (ahem)  and women who were pregnant were brought to the front of the signing line, and – as he said – he’d sign anything that wasn’t a body part or wasn’t alive.
  • Oh, and in answer to a question about kitchen renovation he told a young couple to not waste their money on fancy tile and such, but to spend that money on a really boss stove.
  • And then he fought Godzilla.

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Been back since Tuesday night.  Then real life took over again – school/karate/Stations/speaking/Mass/etc.

I have a speaking engagement tomorrow at a local parish so that’s where my mind is this evening.  So just a picture so this will qualify as an actual blog post:

The first is as I took it (badly)- the second is the same photo Picnik-ized so you can better see the dismayed demons in the lower corners.




Santa Francesca Roma.

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Lake Maggiore waterfront, Stresa.

Gorgeous. Gorgeous.

It was between this and Lake Como for today.  In studying up on both, it seemed to me that there would be more to entertain my traveling companions in Stresa. I had big plans for the day – I wanted to do the Parc (previous post) and the funivia to Mattarone and take a boat out into the lake, preferably over to Santa Caterina, where there is a monastery built into a mountainside and/or Arona to see the humongous statue of St. Charles Borromeo. (Private boats and a few public were running to the Borromean Islands but the sites on them don’t officially “open” until next weekend so I didn’t put them on the list.) Well, we didn’t rise as early as I had hoped so we ended up not arriving in Stresa until 12:30. The Park took longer than I thought it would – we probably could have squeezed in the funivia but I decided it would be better for us to get back to Milan closer to seven than nine, so the Parc was all we managed of that over-ambitious plan.  It was fine. It was enough.  It is astonishingly beautiful there – I imagine it must be crazy in the summer, but today, though busy, was just right.

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The potential culprits:

Nothing about the donkeys or llamas, though:

Parco della Villa Pallavicino.


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Buona Domenica

Chiesa SS. Redentore – 10 AM Mass.

Packed. Every seat filled, side walls and back wall three people deep.

It was obviously the children/young people’s Mass, for many of them were seated in the first rows together without parents. Young people provided the music – folk/pop – but there wasn’t much of it because there was an 11 AM Mass coming up right after this.  The priest was young and very dynamic and self-aware of that fact – very dramatic during the Eucharistic Prayer, moving out into the congregation during the Sanctus which involved some sort of hand motions as well as clapping, it probably goes without saying.  It could have irritated me but I preferred to not allow it to, so glad was I to be there among so many others, so many young people, in this gorgeous setting, in Christ.

No Creed.  Sign of Peace after the Prayers of the Faithful. I think the Agnus Dei was before the Lord’s Prayer.

So is this that “Ambrosian Rite” you people speak of?


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You will be assimilated

Train station, Stresa.

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We visited the Natural History Museum this morning. I’m normally not that interested in stuffed wild animals and even less interested in photographing them, but this one pulled me in by way of high drama. Perhaps my memories of the Field Museum, the Natural History Museum in New York City and others is faulty, but I don’t remember any of them being so focused on the basic dynamic of survival.   The vast majority of the window displays captured a moment in which prey was either being pursued or consumed, complete with blood and guts. If there was no hunting going on, bird droppings were featured. I include some of the descriptions to give you the full effect of the constant tragedio of the natural world.



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Strada Nuova, Pavia

Took a thirty-minute train ride to Pavia this afternoon.  It was marvelous. A bustling, walkable, compact little city, a university town (the University of Pavia being one of the oldest in Europe – currently celebrating its 650th anniversary).  A market featuring chocolates, other candies and baked goods.  St. Augustine and Boethius.  Quite something.

Corridor, University of Pavia

Chocolate Sicily (the rest of Italy above. I wasn’t tall enough to get a good panoramic shot, even holding the camera above my head)

Exterior of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro

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Your Father Knows

It was certainly grand being atop the Duomo today.

We showed up there about 11:30 and found the line to climb the stairs up to the top quite long. Too long for us at that moment, certainly, so we decided to do something else and see if the line might be shorter in a couple of hours.

So we walked through the Galleria to see the statue of Leonardo that stands tall in front of La Scala. Michael gave us a speech in which he declared that it wasn’t fair that Leonardo got a big statue while all the people who actually built the models of his drawings that we saw yesterday in the science museum were ignored.

I then decided that I wanted to find the Alessi store which I’d marked as one of my few shopping destinations. We found where it used to be – it’s moved. Not too far away, but far enough. So we turned up and found Via Dante, obtained snacks and walked for a bit up to the American Bookstore where I replenished the nighttime reading supply. By the time we returned to the Duomo, the line had dwindled to nothing, and we climbed right up…the 100+ stairs. Which was not as bad as a German on the way had led me to believe as he passed us, counting. He was at about 92,  we let him edge by us, then he turned and said, “There’s over 500, you know.”  I was relieved to find him wrong.

Anyway, the point of this post was not to be a travelogue, but a note on what my thoughts kept returning to while we were up there amid the grandeur, reflecting on the astonishing accomplishment and all it meant.

I kept coming back to this:


In a corner, facing into the building, a hundred feet up in the air.

When it was carved, before the era of tourists tramping through, who would see it? Who would ever notice the perfect little plant hiding there? Who would praise it, write about it, celebrate it, give its creator a bonus for it? No one, probably.

But there it grows, beauty hidden from every eye but God’s, and that, it seems, is enough.


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