Milan Cathedral and Strangers on a Train 2


Before leaving this morning we did a very short visit to the Duomo – Milan Cathedral to you and me. We’d been there before but I’m afraid the memory has melted into a conglomerate of churches I’ve visited in Rome and Florence and God knows where. At the same time I don’t know how I forgot it, because it’s a glorious experience. There’s a massive piazza out front – acres of space, as though this wasn’t in the middle of a big international city. On it Africans and a few Asians ply their trade. The Africans appeared to be selling small bundles of cords. Instinctively I said ‘No thanks’ and instinctively I felt guilt for so doing, especially for failing to even establish eye-contact with them.

The entrance to the Duomo is manned by a few soldiers and police – a bit like airport security or shops in Belfast in the bad old days. A chap with a metal detector, a list of things you can’t bring in, a line-up of people waiting to be OKed. We couldn’t bring our suitcase in so we had to take it in turns looking inside. I went first and searched out 10 .00 a.m. Mass. It was said at the back of the main altar and you had to approach an official chap who stood beside a ceremonial rope blocking entry. You then had to ask him where the Mass was on; he repeated this a number of times as though he’d never heard of anything remotely like it; when he got tired of doing this he moved to saying ‘La messa’ (I think) a number of times, then pulled back the rope and gestured you in and up some steps. The congregation wasn’t more than thirty in number, nearly all old or older. Two priests concelebrated, one an older man (about my age, God help him) and another in his forties, thin and dark-haired and slightly stooped, with glasses that were too big and showed magnified eyes. He moved slowly and intently and made me want to tell him to cheer up for God’s sake. While the Mass proceeded, a man with a mop moved around the altar, near enough requiring the priests to lift their feet so he could do under them. The Duomo itself is …wonderful. Majestic. In fact it’s like an ecclesiastical answer to the Milano Centrale station. There’s the same huge scale, the same tremendous height to the ceilings, the same dwarfing of everyone who moves through it. But where Mussolini’s piece of work squats on the ground with big shoulders and threatens to put a half-nelson on you, the Duomo reaches skyward at every point and threatens to pull you up to heaven. And it’s also so much more colourful than the station – dull glints of gold peeping out from the greys on the altars, stained-glass windows lighting the darkness like gorgeous strawberries.

We just made the 12.05 pm train back to Forte. A nice Aussie-Italian in the queue offered to be interpreter and let us go ahead of him, but neither he nor anything else was going to stop the small and quarrelsome young woman issuing tickets from giving us change veeeeery slowly. When I asked her (admittedly a second time) what platform we’d get the train on – we were down to five mins to go at this stage – she squawked very loudly ‘I DO NOT KNOW WHAT PLATFORM!’ I do not know what stopped me reaching for her noise-making neck – maybe a lack of time. We ran along the various platforms, peering at the signs; the last one (of course) was ours and we hurled ourselves on board, making it with…two minutes to spare.

On the train I got talking to a young couple, the woman of whom was reading ‘The Tipping Point’. I asked her if it explained everything and she replied without apparently seeing anything ironic about my question. No it didn’t, she said. They were from NY and she was on a sales thing in Italy and he was tagging along. He said he was in real estate, then he said he wrote plays or at least comedy. He knew of Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson, and as he left he hurriedly explained that he’d have a play on Broadway in about a year’s time, called ‘Fat Camp’ and if we were in NY we should come and see it. ‘Did that invitation include an implicit come round backstage afterwards and then go on to Sardis with me and my crowd?” I asked Maureen. She said she thought it probably did.

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