Surely by now you see that these blog entries are as much for me as they are for you. Of course I want to show my trip to friends and family -- but I am processing, processing, processing exactly what this trip and these madonnas meant to me. I have bunches of people who are waiting with bated breath to hear about my trip (I'm lucky that way), but I also need to figure out the importance of this trip for me, and for my study of the black madonnas.
One thing that was a common thread, is that it was often an ordeal to get to the madonnas, and this was my first experience of this. A lovely but tiring day in Zurich, a mistaken train ride, arriving late in a strange place, and having to find my way. And of course, once I did get to Einsiedeln and the monastery, and get myself a room and some dinner, the whole church site was locked up for the night -- so I had my bath and still had to wait to see the madonna until the next day. The ordeal to find the madonna began to feel like my "rite of initiation" at each site!
The bulk of the time I spent viewing the madonna, shopping for not only souvenirs, but study materials, was on the following day, on Thursday. And then, after not enough time in Einsiedeln, I had to board the train to Milan. It was a short ride, really -- I think I boarded the train about 2:00 pm, and arrived in Milan about 4 (or 16:00, as the Europeans tell time on the 24-hour clock). Here are just a couple of pictures of my stunning ride through the alps:
My first sight was of peaks enveloped in clouds -- all very beautiful and mysterious. I couldn't help but think of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Law from God, and the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus was also encased in cloud -- the clouds are so often a sign of God's presence in the bible, and I surely felt God blessing this trip, and my sight of the Alps.
The view from the train was so beautiful -- I encourage any of you setting out for Italy to check the fares to travel through Zurich -- certainly if I had been in a hurry and disinterested in the madonna in Switzerland, I could have taken a train directly from the station, headed to Italy, and been at least to Milan on my first day in Europe (which was actually the second day of travel, since the trip over the Atlantic was an overnight trip, landing me in Zurich the morning of my second day).
I have to say, I felt like Heidi. Please ignore all the feedback from shooting through the window (like my hand and camera!) -- and see the cows. I also saw sheep, and many beautiful little vegetable gardens. I saw the landscape change from Swiss/Germanic/cold weather to Italian, warmer weather, more gardens still producing. It was mostly green, lush, and beautiful (this was September 24, keep in mind), even high in the Alps. I was also alone in my 4-seat "pod" for the trip down to Zurich, midday, mid-week. My only conflict was between writing in my journal, which I did, madly, and gazing at (and photographing) the scenery. Mostly I chose to look and photograph, figuring I could always write and reflect later, but I couldn't always attend to the beautiful sights I was seeing as I traveled through the Alps.
When I arrived in Milan, I found that the luxurious tourist offices of 2005, when I was in Italy before, had been reduced to a tiny booth and a plexiglas window, where I was provided with a city map and a photocopied list of local hotels. That was discouraging! in 2005, the tourist offices were places where one could come in, sit down, and speak English with a worker who was fluent in English and thrilled to use the internet to locate and reserve a room. I left the station with my map and list, and proceeded to orient myself to the streets and available hotels. Since streets are not posted on easy-to-read signs, but rather must be read engraved into the side of buildings, I had to walk, sometimes for blocks in each direction to discover what street I was on. From the station I could see a good number of chain and 4-star hotels, but I already knew I could not afford to stay in those -- and so my quest for a 1 or 2-star hotel began. I eventually did find a hotel (I'm sorry that I can't remember how many stars, one or two), with a very friendly young English speaking (sort of) desk clerk, who not only gave me a room with a bath included, but also searched out Oropa (my next destination) on the internet, and gave me directions about how to get there.
It was warm there, and I did not have air conditioning in my room; but by evening, it cooled considerably, and I could open my shuttered windows onto a courtyard, and it was fine. There were other windows looking out onto this courtyard, but they seemed to be mostly offices or rooms under construction/renovation, so no one was home later in the evening. I went out in the early evening, shortly after dark (the time of the traditional passagiata in Italy, after the day's work (which usually concluded about 7), and before the dinner hour (which began about 8), and found myself in a largely student neighborhood, which was not threatening, and allowed me to explore, finding a shop in which I bought a nice bottle of Italian wine, and a grocery store in which I found a bottle of laundry detergent (I carried lots of synthetic knit clothing, which I could wash out, and which would dry overnight). I also saw food that I could purchase in the morning for my trip to Oropa, to eat on the train for lunch -- and the usual large bottle of water (with gas, also called frizzante), to drink in my room, and also on the early part of my journey in the morning.
It was in Milan that I had my third kebap. These were a type of wrap sandwich sold in little shops run by Middle Easterners. They featured meat that in the US we call "gyro," or a large hunk of meat cooked slowly on a vertical spit, and sliced off thinly. The difference between the "gyro" that we get in the US and this new "kebap," was that this "kebap" also included a liberal garnish of fresh veggies, so it was a bit like meat and a salad all wrapped up in a tortilla: definitely NOT Italian, but delicious, filling, and cheap. Yum. I still had 2 1/2 weeks of time to get some lovely Italian dishes.
I'm sorry I didn't take any shots of Milan. I'm sorry I didn't get to see the Duomo -- the elaborate, sugar-icing, gothic structure that looks beautiful in any photographs I've seen of it. I'm even more sorry that I didn't get to see "The Last Supper." I knew I was taking this trip 6 months or more ago -- why didn't I book a reservation then? But when I tried it a week or two in advance of my departure, I couldn't get a tour. I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of Milan. It reminded me of New York, though -- big and dirty and a bit impersonal. I enjoyed my mini-walking tour of my own neighborhood, near the station and my motel -- but I left knowing there was so much more to do and see there. Once again, for the second time now, I had arrived in a strange place, and with minimal help, had managed to find myself to a suitable hotel, and then found dinner and a bottle of wine! Yay for me! To be continued, of course, as I head back north and back west in order to get to Oropa....