Walking through the streets of Milan is endlessly entertaining to me. I find myself inventing errands to run, just to have a reason to step out and see, as Moll Flanders says, “what offers.”
What offers is an intense variety of texture, material, grace and grit—not to mention, architectural flop and flourish—which never cease to amuse the eye. And since my eye is American, it never grows completely accustomed to what it sees, instead finding everything eternally new and thought provoking.
One ubiquitous detail which I’m particularly fond of is the street level grills of the semi-interrati. Semi-interrati are the lower levels of palazzi—half, as their name suggests, under ground, half above ground. They house storage, office spaces or apartments. Some of their grills are well-maintained, while others are encrusted with urban grime. But despite their state of wear, they are often ornate reminders of the building’s architectural heritage and always invitations to imagine what’s happening down under, in the nether regions of the building.
These iron-clad openings into the semi-interrati reveal glimpses into other lives, other worlds: the mannequin maker, the jazz sheet music store, the antique restorer, the dog parlor. And at their most mysterious, they reveal nothing at all, visually. Just sound. I’ve encountered the subversive wails of a saxophone, the repeated bars of a practicing concert pianist, and most beautifully, the aria rehearsed by an opera singer—all emissions which arrive from below your feet but which elevate you from the street itself into a more ethereal realm.
My thanks to Ann Moore for copy-editing this post.
[If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy “The door within the door” and “Can I come in?”]
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