Aside from the church of skulls, the only place on our itinerary that we did not manage to see was the Basilica di Sant Ambrogio which was founded in the 4th century, so I’m sure it’ll hang on a bit longer until my next visit. We did however manage to get back to La Vigna di Leonardo which gets its name from the small vineyard that Il Moro gifted to Da Vinci in 1498. I thought this might have been in appreciation for all his help with the canal locks, but I think it was actually for the Last Supper which, as mentioned in the last post, is in the church on the opposite side of the street. In any case he did not have long to enjoy it because Leonardo left Milan in 1500, entrusting his vines to the father of Gian Giacomo Caprotti, one of his apprentices. When Leonardo died in France in 1519, he willed his vineyard to his apprentice and to his servant, Giovanbattista Villani. The servant left his portion to a monastery and when Gian Giacomo was killed with a shot from his own gun in 1524, the land was taken back by the Sforza family who thereafter gave it to Giovan Francesco Stampa, and for the next four centuries the whole story was all but forgotten.
The vineyards are located on the grounds of Casa degli Atellani, which in 1919 was bought by Ettore Conti, a former senator and industrialist, whose daughter married the architect Piero Portaluppi, who began to restore the house. I don’t know when because I had a bit of trouble with my audio guide – the museum tour is self-guided – and I missed a bit, but in any case, during the course of the restoration work he uncovered three walls of frescoes that were painted around 1533. According to the museum’s website – if I understand the Italian correctly (and there is no guarantee) – the house and gardens were severely damaged in 1943 by bombing. The damage had the unintended consequence of unearthing the original rootstock of vines that Leonardo owned, a grape varietal called Malvasia di Candia. By this time, it was known that this was the site of Leonardo’s vineyard and at some later point still, dna was gathered from the long dormant vines. This became the basis for the vines that are once again producing wine. If I had known at the time that I could drink wine from the same grape as Leonardo had quaffed, I would have bought some because they sell it in the museum gift shop.
At the end of the tour I thought we might try one more time to just ‘walk up’ into the Last Supper, but I forgot that it is closed on Monday. So late afternoon we trundled off to MUDEC, a museum of culture divided into sections that includes a cabinet of curiosities, Native American and Asian collections and Chinese and Japanese artifacts. The museum is a contemporary adaptation of a building that was once a factory in Porta Genova, in another former working class neighborhood called Tortona. I was glad it is open on Monday – not the case with most museums in Milan – because all the weekend slots to see Banksy were full by the time we got round to reserving. It is an extensive exhibit that includes one of his most well-known works, the girl with the balloon, which is the one that shredded itself recently at auction. I like his work which I think is clever and subversive, and not all provocateurs are clever.
Opposite the museum is a cool bar called The Botanicals, while in the museum itself is an haute cuisine restaurant by renowned chef Enrico Bartolini, who also runs the more casual bistro on the ground floor. It is indicative of the whole area which is the design center of Milan, where cool hotels, bars and restaurants are mushrooming. Good restaurants in cultural institutions is a ‘thing’ here I have noticed; Fondazione Prada has the destination restaurant Torre, as well as the casual Bar Luce, as does the Novecento museum in the heart of Milan, where Ristorante Giacomo Arengario provides that rarest of combinations – a splendid view and Michelin-recommended food.
I rather wish the Smithsonian in DC would take note of this excellent concept – and I say this as a supporter and contributor – because the institution is a gastronomic wasteland, with the exception of Sweet Home Café at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Actually, the whole mall is a culinary desert unless you count the food trucks which are by far the best option, but after two or three hours standing in a museum admiring the art, some of us need a seat. I know The Smithsonian is looking at ways to increase revenue, so is there any reason why they can’t have one or more of the city’s increasingly renowned chefs to open at least one fine dining establishment and a few more casual bistros? I see no reason why the idea of a bit of art appreciation of an evening followed by a sumptuous dinner would not catch on, because as it is you can’t get in to any of the city’s best restaurants unless you book well in advance anyway.
Talking of which…..our last supper in Milan was at Ristorante Sadler, a Michelin-starred restaurant, which has the reputation of being one of Milan’s finest and we would not disagree. It is everything you would expect from such an elevated epicurean palace, without the stuffiness or hushed ambiance that is occasionally the hallmark of such venues. In addition to an à la carte menu, Sadler offers several five course, fixed menu choices. On our visit this included a traditional and innovative menu, a creative menu, a vegetarian menu and a fish menu. We both chose the first option paired with wines, and because I didn’t take any notes I forget what we had except that it included steamed lobster, black risotto and lamb chops and it was all delectable. I always think I will remember what I ate especially when it’s so divine, but I never do. I have tried to take notes on my phone but if you read this site regularly you already know how well that goes.
As a parting note; in Italy it is not necessary to tip American style. As a general rule most Italians don’t tip except as follows; in casual bars and cafés round up the bill by leaving a few coins. In taxis tipping is not expected although I’d suggest the same rule of rounding up the total and for longer trips round up to the nearest ten. You can give a bellhop €1 per bag, although again it is not mandatory, and €1 per night for housekeeping. (If you are in extremely fancy accommodation you might want to leave a bit more.) As a general rule, service in restaurants is included and if you pay by credit card you’ll see there is not even a space on the printout to add a tip. So if you want to leave something – and understandably it makes many Americans uncomfortable not to leave anything – have a bit of cash with you to tip. Between 5 and 10% should suffice, especially as most Italians don’t tip. (We did note however, that in the more touristy spots where they are familiar with the American practice of a 20%+ service tip, if you ask about tipping the servers will run whatever amount you want to give through the machine as a separate ‘bill’.) I don’t mean to be stingy about this – servers will probably never get ‘rich’, but they are paid a living wage for a perfectly noble profession that most take pride in doing well, and everyone has healthcare. In my opinion, it is not in anyone’s interests to go the US route of tipping for absolutely everything because people are not properly remunerated, have no health care and rely on tips to survive.