As I celebrate a milestone wedding anniversary in Milan, I cannot help but see a connection between the beauty of youth and the buzz of age. Let me elucidate. Milan is a city steeped in history, yet utterly alive. The cobbled streets of the city center, historic monuments, the Duomo (of course) and a sense that this city has seen a lot, would make most feel like it is past its prime. Yet, Milan is teeming with life.
How so? Well, to start with, Milan has a freshness to it much due to a younger generation that has flocked to the northern financial and fashion center of Italy. the city is brimming with youthfulness, while set in a backdrop of old structures. Designers, entrepreneurs, students, etc., fill the city with fresh ideas.
One only need consider the fashion houses to appreciate why Milan stays so young while it is long in years. Window displays of the big brand houses and the offbeat boutiques reveal the vibrancy and creativity of new inspiration birthed in this city.
The Buzz of Milano Hospitality
But there is more to it. The vitality of Milan is displayed in how it shows hospitality, from the high end restaurants, small cafes on the street, and everything in between, there is a sense that the Milanese have a passion for service. And I love that about this city.
On our first night we visited the Niko Romito’s Michelin starred restaurant at the Bulgari Hotel. The service was exemplary, mainly due to a single head waiter, Nicolo, who made it his mission to see to that our experience was beyond our expectations.
Personally, I am a connoisseur of service, as much as I am of food. Nicolo demonstrated seva, by spending time to engage with us. He was enthusiastic in sharing his story on how he enjoyed working in hospitality, his love for food, people, languages and most importantly wines. He is studying to be a sommalier and we had the pleasure of enjoying his recommendations. Nicolo’s energy warmed us and, just like that, we made a connection.
City of Connections
Milan is a city of connections. It derives from the drive and vivacity (the “buzz”) that permeates every corner. And indeed that is how these links are formed, by the sheer adrenaline rush produced by raw energy.
In one of the local shopping venues we were assisted by a young man, who we assumed was a shop clerk. He helped us find the few things we wanted to acquire in a sea of selection. (Yes, there are endless fashion choices in Milan, needless to say!) Only after spending 45 minutes finding the right clothes that fit did we learn he was a buyer for the store. And he happened to have friends in Luxembourg. As nice as that was to hear, the connection was made by engaging and listening.
We spent another 15 minutes chatting about fashion, Luxembourg, Milan…it is a synergy of sorts that is at the heart of connecting with others.
Energy: A State of Mind
Yet, energy doesn’t come from youth alone, it is a state of mind. We have seen that same level of energy in numerous encounters. When the weather shifted and heavy winds and rain arrived, we were at a loss about whether to venture out. Fabrizio at the Principae Di Savoia concierge desk, jumped at the chance to help us sort it out.
The next night we just wanted to eat somewhere close to our hotel. Fabrizio asked “what would you like?”, followed by a few suggestions. But then he offered up his opinion. “Do you want the best pizza in Milan?” Of course! Within minutes he organized a table and we were off. It was only a 10 minute taxi ride, and it was worth the distance.
Le Specialità is a one-of-a-kind, authentic Italian eatery tucked away in the Porta Vittoria district. Talk about buzz! The place was packed (primarily with locals, which was a good indication of what to expect). The manager greeted us with “Oh, the Robinsons!” and then gleefully shot off towards our table while singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Well, hello Mrs. Robinson…Jesus loves you more than you will know…”
Oh, the Pizza!
Naturally, we had to taste the pizzas, as per Fabrizio, as well as the high fire burning wood oven that welcomed as well as commanded center-stage space. We opted for the “Trifoliate” and “Due Stagiono”. The artisanal pizzas arrived momentarily, thin and crispy crusts poofed up in high heat melting the soft buffalo mozzarella, crisping up the thinly shaved baby artichokes and mushrooms that had been cooked in garlic and olive oil.
Watching the other tables full of families and friends was a special treat. The audible deluge coming from diners, waiters and kitchen was music to my ‘hospitality’ tuned ears. The experience easily summed up my view of Milan. This is where things are happening.
Vitality is passed on from generation to generation. Yes, through DNA, but more so through the knowledge and experience of those who have come before.
Life is in the Genes
Take the Missoni family. Founders, Rosita and Ottavio Missoni, passed on their design philosophy to their children and grandchildren. And while the younger generation is handed the torch, it is the elders who do the “handing down”. This is not an easy thing to do, passing over one’s legacy. Yet, in the process we get to see how “older” designs are reborn by new hands.
By accident we stumbled upon one of Missoni’s design showrooms, tucked away on a side street in the Brera district. We were buzzed into the open aired courtyard, which revealed tall windows with displays of the quintessential Missoni designs. Just as quickly someone came to meet us at the door to explain the showroom was by appointment only. Disappointed, we exited, but not before a young American designer caught us and started to explain more about their Fall line and the some of the work they were doing. Fascinating.
A Cross-Section of Young & Old
The unique juxtaposition of old and new reveals yet another aspect to Milan. It is not easily intimidated. The Duomo di Milano – the Cathedral smack in the middle of the city, is a testimony to the city’s ability to go beyond the impossible. The Duomo took 600 years to build! Seemingly fragile due to the wear of time. Yet, the structure itself is incredibly sturdy and massive.
The triumph of such a structure surely demands respect. Not only for its architectural magnificence, but for the dedication required by the people who labored over it across the centuries. And they still do. Young and old work still to continue the seemingly never ending renovation.
Outside the cathedral is the Piazza del Duomo set in the center of the bustling shopping centers, restaurants and cafes. People flock to the piazza to bask in the shadow of a monument, while music plays across the plaza. There is no age here. Just people making the most of their time in a place of vibrant activity.
My reflections on Milan are best summed up by the Bible verse which says “Behold I am making all things new.”
Bring Some of Your Own Energy
Many make an effort to “feel” young when they miss the opportunity to “be” young, regardless of age. Take a lesson from Milan – share your passion and energy, whatever amount you are given on the day, to whomever you meet and wherever you are. This is how we will bring a newness to anything old.