Seven Italian Postcards
Card 2: Piazza del Duomo

Outside and just steps away, another marvel in stone begs bragging rights on the piazza-the ornate Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II of the 1860s, a cavernous arcade of shops and cafés built to celebrate the new kingdom, its first monarch, and the passions of the high bourgeoisie. Passing through the triumphal arch and under a lofty glass sky one enters the preserved world of La Belle Époque-a yellow monument to mercantilism and leisure, beautiful and hectic but never loud, and under the vaulted roof fur coats and silver tureens are still sold, as are gold watches, pastries, fine shoes, toys, Borsalino hats. Cocktails and cuisine hover as the smart set and tourists alike gather for lively conversation, shared space, glances, and plots. At this hour under the central dome a foreigner enjoys the amazing fact of standing in the middle of an Oriental Arabesque Italy-and the spirit uplifts in the charmed, hushed light.

Giuseppe Mengoni, architect of the Galleria and designer of Piazza del Duomo, succeeded brilliantly in his quest to link the old cathedral to his secular version (and thence to operatic Piazza della Scala, to the immediate north), and here in Milan you can't go far before running into this Gothic dreamscape of another world. I doubt we'll ever be saved by apéritifs or the promise of a gilded La Madoninna lifting her golden staff atop the Duomo's tallest spire-Mengoni himself, two days before the Galleria's inauguration, slipped from a scaffold and died, so it goes to show you. Everyone's got to believe in something, right?

Card 3: Plaza of Death

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