Wednesday, January 14, 2009


No holiday in Milan is complete without a trip to Como. The Milanese speak highly of the scenic beauty of the place. Not in the grudging way that Melbournites acknowledge the beauty of Sydney harbour, but with real affection for the place.

Como, like seemingly everywhere, is about an hour away from Milan by train. The trip takes you through an area of small farms divided by stands of ruinously old trees. Grey and leafless they soften the edge of the crystal mountain light. Off in the distance the Alps march majestically toward the horizon looking precisely as they should. In fact, they look so stereotypical that there is an air of artificiality about them as though they are a remarkably accurate and remarkably large papier-mache model of themselves.

As the towns roll past the train windows their names come over the speaker system. A male voice reels them off. Clear, precise and beautifully modulated, like a language tape, he intones “Como Largo…Como Nord…Lamazzo”. You expect him to go on “Lamazzo means eels. Repeat after me. My 'overcraft is full of lamazzo”. Please note - this train did have a ticket inspector; so ignore the advice I gave previously.

Como is undeniably pretty. A series of small towns, possibly suburbs, fringe a narrow lake that stretches for about three miles along a glacial valley with rather handsome snow capped peaks at either end. For centuries it was the summer playground of popes and potentates, a delightful place for the occasional house-arrest, and an odd but understandable centre of attraction for revolutionaries. It was also a, if not the, centre of Italian silk production and thus fabulously wealthy. That was until, as it was explained to me, the perfidious Chinese flooded the market with their cheaper inferior product. “Er…” was all I could think of in reply.

Its productive heyday over Como remains the playground of the rich and fatuous. We took a half-hour cruise during which the tour guide ignored the area's rich cultural history and merely parked the boat in front of one vast waterfront estate after another and rattled off names such as 'Pirelli', 'Visconti' and rather proudly ' George a Cloooney'.

It puzzles me as to why the glitterati, when trying to escape the attentions of the great unwashed, go to such places as Como. They might as well stand in the middle of the street wearing a sandwich-board bearing the slogan “World famous celebrity - please don't stare”. The rich who find the attentions of the cruise boats too much to bear have palazzo perched on the sides or atop the near vertical slopes that line the lake. This requires several to have their own funicular railways or elevators to take them from the mundane reality of the valley to their empyrean eyreies. I imagine that such modern touches are for the nouveau riche - the old money get carried to their doors on the shoulders of their flunkies. This is probably just envy speaking.

There is not a great deal to do in Como if you don't have a spare couple of thousand Euros to spend on cutting-edge fashion and even more tasteless furniture. Actually it wasn't all tasteless, but what wasn't tasteless was pointless eg: tiny models of modernist furniture ie: Bauer chairs etc. However, Como does have a museum/temple dedicated to Alessandro Volta the father of electricity - you have got to like a people who venerate scientists. Much to the amazement of the invigilators Shiralee and I paid the entrance fee and went about photographing the installations.
It being a Sunday the town was full of families out promenading. Handsomely attired smiling families of the kind you see in real-estate ads stroll about between merry-go-round, ferris wheels and other forms of childhood entertainment. The town square was being prepared for the nativity play. This was going to be a huge event to rival Baz Lurhman's 'Australia' with, apparently, a more plausible plot and better acting. They had real donkeys, sheep and even a camel. The chorus was rehearsing while a bunch of little buggers dressed as little angels were being corralled by a slightly harassed angel wrangler. It was too cute for words.

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