The time I came to Milan and knew it would be in my future, I leaned out the window of my room at the Hotel Spadari and looked down on the old orange trams coming straight toward the hotel, then turning sharply at a right angle, guided by their tracks and juiced by their overhead wires. I fell in love with them before I fell in love with the city, and before I fell in love with the person for whom I moved here.
From that day forward, the Milanese tram has held a special place in my heart and a peculiar power over my mood. This clunky, slow-moving vehicle with its herky- jerky way of progressing through the city quite simply makes me very, very happy. The old ones are the best ones. Orange or deep yellow, with wooden fold down stairs, side-benches, leather straps, and ornate glass light fixtures. The rear of the tram, designated for standing only, features a sort of “bay window” from which one can watch the city slipping away backwards, bending graceful overhead as it does so.
I’ve had amazing conversations on the tram, which I take from time to time with a friend or visiting relative, as they are the perfect backdrop to the natural start and stop of long, winding dialog. Especially the kind aimed at making up for years apart. The changes that occur outside the window perfectly punctuate the jumps from one topic to another. The grace of Vincenzo Monti, the vivacity of downtown (il Centro), the visual anarchy of the further-out neighborhoods, or the somber grey of some of Milan’s oldest facades. A physical journey perfectly adapted to an emotional one.
Final notes: 1. Tram tickets are available at tobacconists and news-stands. Upon entering the tram, they must be validated in the yellow box situated behind the conductor. 2. It is said that the San Francisco streetcar was originally based on the Milanese tram. 3. This post is dedicated to my brother and to Jean.