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Musings on Milan

It was a clear spring day when my flight from Paris touched down at Aeroporto Malpensa in Italy’s Lombardy region. I made my way to the train platform and purchased a ticket to take me into central Milan, a journey that would last about 45 minutes, giving me plenty of time to catch up on emails on my phone. After finding my hotel and settling into my room—a tiny compartment situated at the front of the building, made redeemable by its small balcony overlooking the street—I grabbed a map of Milan and headed back to the station to catch a train from Cadorna to Milano Centrale.

Arriving in the center of Milan is like being in any other major city center at first. There are loads of tourists and my first goal was to simply exit the underground station and go directly to Milan’s iconic symbol, the Duomo. Emerging into the daylight, I walked to the center of Piazza del Duomo and beheld the majesty that is the Gothic cathedral. The architectural style of the Duomo was unlike anything I’d ever beheld in person. The massive structure, which took 500 years to complete, drips with detail from the doors to the intricate facade. With thousands of marble statues adorning it and countless sculptural elements hidden in every nook and cranny, I spent quite a chunk of time circling the perimeter of the structure, calmly weaving my way in and out of foot traffic along with the occasional bicycle or taxi.

Finding myself a bit fatigued, I stopped to rest at a sidewalk cafe where I ordered a glass of wine and a panzerotti—a fried pastry triangle stuffed with tomato and oozing mozzarella—very Milan. My mind wandered along with my eyes—first resting on the magnificent building with its innumerable pinnacles, spires, and statues to the passersby on the piazza. Where did they all come from? What brought them here?

Feeling refreshed, I decided to head inside the Duomo. Once I got past the initial bustle of the entry, the cathedral proved to be different than I expected. After observing the altar, I seated myself toward the back and simply took everything in. A rather dark, cavernous space, the cathedral seemed more like a tomb than a place of worship to me.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was fatigued from travel and feeling a bit lonely, but the entire scene struck me as marvelous and melancholy all at once. How many men devoted their lives to this building? How many still are spending their days toiling atop scaffolding to restore or maintain important artworks and architecture? Here I was sitting in a place meant for reverence and worship, only to observe tourists from all corners of the globe dropping litter on the cold stone floors as they quickly passed from altar to sarcophagus to monuments in the transepts, taking photos with their smartphones and the occasional selfie with a statue of a saint they know nothing about—I found the famous statue of Saint Bartholomew to be an amazing work.

A church—a place meant to connect with the Divine—had ceased to perform its function and had morphed into a quasi-museum/tourist attraction. It was all a bit sad for me. And yet, all things must change, right? It’s the way people try to not change that’s unnatural. How we cling to the way things were instead of letting them be what they are. The way we replay old memories instead of forming new ones. The way we insist on believing, despite every scientific indication that anything in this lifetime is permanent. Change is constant. How we experience change— that’s up to us. It can feel like death or it can feel like a second chance at life. If we open our fingers— loosen our grips— grow with it— it can feel like pure adrenaline. Like at any moment we can have another chance. Like at any moment we can be born all over again.

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