EUROPE 2011: Milan, Italy – Part 2

The Milan Galleria

After a substantial buffet breakfast, we left the Boscolo Milano for our first stop of the day, the Brera Art Gallery. While I love modern architecture, I also have an abiding appreciation for historical buildings, which is one reason I am drawn to Europe. My imagination runs wild thinking of what life must have been like in these cities and villages years before America was even discovered. And the countries hold a certain fascination for me because of my European heritage.

From the moment I entered the courtyard of the neoclassical structure, I began snapping photos of the fourteenth-century monastery, which was converted into a gallery by Maria Theresa of Austria. Three minutes into my photo shoot, Dave tapped me on the shoulder and gave me that “Come on” look, so I followed him into the gallery as he was saying, “The first works of art were mainly paintings that arrived in Milan after the suppression of churches and monasteries.”

After three hours of viewing frescoes, other paintings, and a few sculptures, all beautiful to behold, then listening to my history-buff husband explain the historical and religious significance of each piece, I admit to growing a tad antsy. He was relaying how the collection had been substantially enlarged during the Napoleonic era, when an extraordinary number of works were confiscated all over northern Italy as a direct consequence of Napoleon’s policy. In Napoleon’s view, Milan was destined to become a capital and therefore needed an art collection of its own.

By hour four, I found my mind wandering and I started looking around the gallery, seeing it as a potential site for a chapter in my next Darcy novel. Maybe she would meet an informant here? He’d pass her a note . . . a clue to something? My thoughts were running the gamut when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Dave was finally ready to leave for our next stop, the Sforza Castle.

Again Dave waited patiently while I satisfied my architectural fix through photography; then we headed inside to see the Rondanini Pietà, the marble sculpture Michelangelo worked on until his death in 1564. The piece depicts the Virgin Mary mourning the dead Christ. I was particularly interested in seeing it since I had seen the Pietà housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, during my visit in 1969.

Hungry, we both took a few final pictures of the exterior of the castle (not easy with all the tourists lurking), then walked toward the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with lunch and some shopping in mind, precisely in that order.

We ate on the outdoor patio at La Locanda del Gatto Rosso. For once, I passed on the risotto—although I was tempted—and ordered the special of the day, freshly made, al dente linguine heaped with shaved parma and mushrooms in a white wine cream sauce—rich, filling, and absolutely delizioso. We politely declined dessert, being more interested in checking out the shops, but I soon lost interest in the stores since I was so taken with the architecture of one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.

Built between 1865 and 1877 and named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy, the Galleria consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting an octagon and covers the street that connects Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. The central octagon is topped with a glass dome.

The Galleria, nicknamed Milan’s drawing room, is a common Milanese meeting and dining place and contains luxury haute couture retailers such as Prada and Louis Vuitton, to name just two, in addition to retailers of jewelry, books, and paintings, and restaurants, cafes, and bars.

On the floor of the central octagon are four mosaics portraying the coats of arms of Italy: Turin, Florence, Rome, and Milan. Tradition says that if a person kisses the bull’s genitals on the Turin coat of arms that this will bring good luck. The practice has created a hole on the bull’s genitals, and no, I did not add to the damage.

After a lengthy photo shoot, I put away my camera, did some light shopping—remember, if you buy it you must carry it—then said goodbye to this mesmerizing glass-enclosed mall for our next destination—the Duomo.

The facade of the Duomo is covered in white marble and the layout is in the form of a Latin cross. The inside can accommodate up to forty thousand people. It has 135 needles on its spires, with the statue of the Virgin on the highest. There are around 3,400 statues and ninety-six giant gargoyles. Access to the cathedral is through five large bronze doors. But what struck me in particular was the light that filters through the Gothic windows into the interior, creating a solemn atmosphere, contemplative and moving.

We wanted to stay longer, but we had reservations to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Italy’s most famous and most visited painting. We had purchased our tickets two months in advance and even then only two time slots were available. Due to the painting’s popularity, only twenty to twenty-five people can view it at one time and each for a maximum of fifteen minutes. And because of the mural’s fragility, humidity is strictly regulated. The refectory is climate controlled, so visitors must pass through dehumidifying chambers before they can enter the dining room where the mural is located.

Leonardo painted The Last Supper at the request of his employer Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The original mural occupies the wall of the refectory (dining hall) in the convent of Santa Marie delle Grazie and measures fifteen by twenty-nine feet. He began the fresco in 1495 and finished in 1498—quite an accomplishment for the known procrastinator.

The fresco depicts the moment immediately after Christ said, “One of you will betray me.” The twelve apostles react in different ways; their movements and expressions are magnificently captured in Leonardo’s work. He focused on the impact of Christ’s words and on the apostles’ reactions to those words. All display horror, anger, or shock. Only one, Judas, has his face in shadow, and his hand clutches a small bag. Thirty pieces of silver, perhaps? Only Christ is calm.

Unfortunately, Leonardo did not work in the fast-drying and stable watercolor fresco technique of the time, but used experimental pigments directly on the dry plaster wall. Within five years of completion the painting began to flake. Da Vinci repaired the damage, but it continued to crumble. Further damage ensued when a curtain was hung over the painting for “protection,” trapping moisture and causing more paint to flake with every touch. Two hundred years later, Napoleon’s troops used the wall and mural for target practice. And Jesus has no feet in the painting, because around 1650 someone decided to add another door to the refectory and the only logical place was in the middle of the wall. The mural suffered other mishaps too. During World War II a bomb flattened most of Santa Maria, sparing only the wall that bore Leonardo’s painting. A miracle, perhaps? And for a time, the refectory was used as a prison. The fact that the painting survived at all, and in such good condition (although it did undergo restoration over a twenty-one-year period) is a miracle unto itself.

We arrived at the convent early, but already a crowd of eighteen had assembled for the next showing. After we cleared the dehumidifying chambers, we filed into the refectory. Too soon our fifteen-minute viewing time had come to an end. I tore my gaze from Leonardo’s spiritually moving piece to spend a few minutes admiring the painting on the opposite wall of the dining room—Crucifixion, which dated to the same period and was painted by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano.

The next morning, our last in Milan, we window-shopped for Italian furniture; we had no intent to buy, only to marvel at it and enjoy. Then we ordered espressos at a sidewalk cafe where we lingered to watch the procession of men and women who passed by, each flawlessly decked out in Milan’s finest—an ongoing fashion show.

At noon we took a taxi to the Milan airport, rented a car, and drove to Bellagio on Lake Como.



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Pat Krapf’s Blog Hop Post {Techno-Thriller Author}

When my editor, Caroline Kaiser, approached me to participate in a blog hop not only had I never heard the term, but I had some reservations. I was already blogging on my website and blogging takes time. However, given the opportunity to talk about writing, especially about what I am currently working on, was hard to pass up.

1. What are you working on/writing?

At the moment, I am dividing my time between wrapping up edits to Gadgets, the second novel in my Darcy McClain thriller series, and fleshing out the details for my fourth Darcy novel, which is set in Texas where I live.

In my thriller series, Darcy, my main character, owns a giant schnauzer named Bullet. In real life, I too have a giant as my constant companion. While walking him one day on the trails in Keller (the town I lived in then), he came across a trashbag floating in a nearby stream. I made the mistake of opening the bag. Horrified, when I discovered the putrid remains of something, I contacted the police. They informed me that someone had shot a deer out of season, butchered it, then discarded the carcass. Of course, my imagination ran wild and this is how my fourth novel came about.

2. How does your work/writing differ from others in its genre?

The Darcy McClain Series can best be described as a techno-thriller series since the backbone of my novels are centered on technology and science. The twist? On occasion, I do crossover into the science fiction genre if I feel that a certain element will enhance the storyline. For instance, in Brainwash, Darcy must face an army of telepathic humanoids and attempt to outsmart them or be killed.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I began my literary career writing romance, but soon discovered I wasn’t good at it, so I decided to write about what I did know. For years, I worked in the health care and aerospace industries, so technology and I were a good fit. A friend suggested I write a series. She loved following a “continuing character,” so I took her suggestion.

4. How does your writing process work?

I grew up overseas. When it came time to attend high school I lived in Liberia and the country didn’t have a good school system, so I enrolled in correspondence courses from the University of Nebraska. I would have my father wake me at 5 a.m. when he woke to get ready for work. I’d start my studies at 6 a.m. while my brain was fresh and worked until noon. During the afternoons I wrote poetry and short stories. I didn’t feel I had a book in me. Not then. This regimen has stuck with me until this day. The only difference, my normal quitting time is around five p.m., not noon.

My main focus before I begin any book is to nail down my technical subject: nanotechnology, genetics, cloning, etc.. I outlined my first novel, but as I polished my craft, I abandoned this idea. I felt it served no real purpose. After I write each chapter, I stop to edit the chapter. I have never written an entire book without reading and rereading prior chapters. This method, I feel, helps to move the story along, at least for me.

Sometimes, I have a clear view of a beginning and an end. Other times I do not know how I will end the book, but leave it up to my character to resolve. In one Darcy McClain novel I fell in love with a title, then wrote the book around the title. In every case, so far, the storylines in the series have come from real life experiences. In Brainwash, Bullet discovers a USB in an arroyo in Taos. A similar incident occurred in real life, but the USB was a floppy disk. From there, I let my imagination run the gamut until the entire book unfolds.

Rather than outline, I found synopses to be more helpful in locating the deficiencies in my storylines. While I hate writing them, they can be invaluable to a sound manuscript and excellent material to draw upon for back cover copy and other promotional materials.


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Maryland: An Author Is Born

Nancy Drew Books

In Havre de Grace, Maryland, I am sitting on my bed in a room of white French Provincial furniture. The windows are close to the ceiling line, so I can’t see out. Doesn’t matter, as my attention is on the assignment of the night: to read the next chapter in my book. From first grade to third, my progress reports all ring with one negative theme—my reading skills suck.

In third grade, my teacher informs my parents I will never go to college if I don’t improve in reading, so as a concerned parent my mother spends evenings reading with me. The sacrifice is no television except for Friday and Saturday nights. Reading feels like punishment, but in reality my teachers have done me a huge favor. By age nine I had become a voracious reader, no longer interested in TV if I can get my hands on a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book. I vow to write a novel—one day.



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