Fuel: 2 parts caffeine + 1 part Aperol Sour

A young Ernest Hemingway’s passport photograph

creativity |noun| the use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work

I had visitors – that’s why I’ve been cybernetically silent. There were pressing issues. I was busy enjoying their company. I was busy scandalously ritualizing early afternoon Aperol Sours in the sun-baked window of a worn-in (rather than -out) cult bar in Brera. I’m not secretive – I’ll tell. I was busy mixing with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Lucio Fontana in Bar Jamaica (or Giamaica, as it used to be spelled). The smoke was a bit thick from all of the time-warping, so I’m not sure if I got the Hemingway that was recovering in a Milanese hospital from his World War I injuries or the one painfully reminiscing about the nurse who broke his heart during that time. (And thus, from pain, A Farewell to Arms was born. Ernie heartily agreed with my “embrace your scars” mantra. “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places,” he self-quoted. “Come on,” he said, “let’s get matching tattoos across the street.”) Patrons tend to pay their bills now at Bar Jamaica, although that was not always the case. Their list of famous moochers is headed off by non-other than a certain dictator whose name starts with an M, ends with a –lini and has a –usso in the middle.

I’ve found it’s the older places I like the best. In these, the walls and heavily varnished furniture have absorbed decades of conversation – like the tavern-owner in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities that keeps records of the revolutionary clientele’s conversations in her constant, encoded knitting.

An amusingly snooty guidebook I bought when I arrived in Milan mentioned a neighbor of Bar Jamaica’s – the Marc Jacobs Café in Piazza del Carmine. Don’t get me wrong, if anyone at Marc Jacob’s wants to send me the Hayley stripe dress (size 0), I won’t complain. But that bait would be very necessary to get me to sit at one of those tables during aperitivo hours. Bar Jamaica is to that kind of place, what Hemingway’s devastatingly good looks are to Donatella Versace’s plastic surgery binge – nothing about tormented beauty, all about tormented self-worth. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, if Hemingway’s face is his autobiography, Donatella’s is her work of fiction.

Give me middle-age men drinking Campari mid-morning, give me yocos (young cosmopolitans) drumming away at their MacBooks, give me fur-clad ladies drinking matching colored tea with slices of lemon, give me waiters in bow ties and I’ll give you a kiss, because that means you’ve brought me to Caffé Cucchi – another favorite! Working our way through marocchinos, I vented to my visitors yesterday that Milan can be exasperatingly secretive. There are all of these decadently frescoed rooms to visit (but only when there happens to be an exhibit going on), all of these fabulous art collections (but by appointment only), innovative private galleries (lodged in interior courtyards behind forbidding wrought iron gates), intriguing shops (where you need to be buzzed in), wonderful conferences and libraries (for members only). There are world-renown cultural experiences to be had (such as Da Vinci’s Last Supper or a performance at La Scala), but only following gargantuan planning. (Thank goodness at least Michelangelo’s Pietá Rondanini at the Castelo Sforzesco is easier to chat with.)

This week, for instance, I was on my way to pick up my friends at their hotel, when something familiar stopped me dead in my tracks. What was this I saw out of the corner of my eye (through a crack in a gate, across a misty quadrangle, under a sputtering streetlight)? The La Scala logo denounced, a mere stone’s throw from my loft, the location of the Ansaldo Workshop – where I have been trying to book a visit for some time now. From the clues I pieced together à la Hercule Poirot, the decrepit industrial titan bearing this badge appears to be not only where the theater’s costumes and sets are made, but also a buzzing cultural center for new artists under the name Officina Creativa Ansaldo. But I guess Time Out has never heard about it, since their site has no mention of it. (Actually, I’m convinced their pulse of the city is taken telepathically.) Even the Daily Secret folk – who take seriously the art of discovering a city’s hidden in’s and out’s – don’t seem to have an active operation in Milan. Are they, just like me, having trouble cracking this nut open? Is the Milanese culture set convinced that secretiveness is the only thing that will keep us tuned-in? Isn’t content more to the point? I find this a suspicious strategy, but maybe I am tormented as well.

Matisse said that creativity takes courage. My take is that the creative process does not exhaust itself only in the making, but also in the giving.


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