ON our first day in Milan, our Italian guide kindly offered to take us to Montenapoleone. That’s the place, he said, where rich people, like rich Malaysians, shop.
My first instinct was to say no for obvious reasons, but my curiosity got the better of me. A picture of that famous street with those famous names would make a good Facebook update, I thought. And who knows, I may even bump into the who’s who of Malaysia’s A-list. After taking in the imposing Duomo Cathedral, we walked past the Ferrari shop into a relatively quiet road leading up to the bustling Montenapoleone. A Lamborghini parked at the top of the road was enough to tell me that we were in the right place.
Milan is that kind of a city — brand names scream at you from every nook and corner. Gucci tempts you from across the road, Versace dares you from around the corner, Prada lures with dignified silence. Crossing the road the Italian way, dodging Vespas and taxis, I remembered when I was about eight crossing busy Orchard Road in Singapore to look at Robinson’s. That was the place to shop if you were a somebody during the 1960s.
I recalled holding on to Pak Lang’s hand tightly, asking him for the umpteenth time: “Where are we going?” He said simply: “We’re going to see where the rich shop.” Forty-odd years on, I was to experience that same feeling — standing outside Armani, Ferragamo, LV and other names with funny jumbled-up letters, shocked at their price tags.
“Those without a price tagsa, usually you can’ta afforda!” our companion offered kindly, with a shrug of his broad Italian shoulders. Well, that was subtle enough. But it didn’t dent my ego at all as I hadn’t come to Milan to shop. Besides, my husband had advised: “Don’t buy until you can pronounce them!”
But what about those who gloated about their DIKNEY bags (DKNY) and OINX (Onyx) tables? It’s almost sinful, isn’t it? I still remember the time when I received a fax from a friend to check the price of a Ferragamo. I wondered why would someone sitting in her office in Kuala Lumpur want to know about the price of an Italian dish in London!
Well, I had since progressed, and there were many more famous Italian names that I had come to see. It started last month, when during a visit to Paris, in between appointments, I told a friend that I just needed to see Mona Lisa. Ten years ago, I had queued for half-hour under the French summer sun, only to come face to face with a stamp-sized portrait of the lady with the mysterious smile. In my mind, it was a picture larger than life, but the disappointment didn’t last long. I had returned to Paris to get reacquainted with the famous lady. Leaving The Louvre with several portraits of Mona Lisa, I promised to start a collection of famous paintings by famous names — on fridge magnets, of course!
A few days ago, I visited museums in Munich which housed Rubens, Van Goghs and Picassos, among other famous names, enough to last me a lifetime. Van Gogh’s Sunflower nearly had me in spasms of delight in that sedate, dignified gallery of the New Art Museum. The same could be said when I came eye to eye with Monet’s Water Lillies. Suffice to say, I left clutching a few Monets and Van Goghs to adorn my fridge.
On this maiden Milan visit, I was thrilled to visit more museums with more national treasures hanging on their walls. Yesterday, it was Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The guide’s explanation of Da Vinci’s mathematical approach to his famous artwork left almost everyone speechless. Every little detail of expression: a frown on the forehead, a curl of a finger, all tell a story.
Next, we headed to Lake Como, Italy’s third-largest lake. A cruise across the lake to Bellagio, a paradise for lovers of silk and leather goods, gave us a sweeping view of the Italian landscape, with clusters of villas with intriguing frescos dotting the hillsides. Once in a while, the boat would slow down so we could feast our eyes on villas belonging to George Clooney, Versace and Sir Richard Branson. One villa, with a garden of palm trees and cascading greenery, had been a location for a James Bond movie, I was told. How’s that for name dropping?
This article first appeared here