It seemed like such a good idea at the time. We are here in Milan, less than two hours by train from the new Christo installation, and it seemed meant to be.
The location is a bit out of the way, so the Italian authorities expect only about 400,000 people to come for the 16-day event. Perhaps they were off by one zero. Or maybe it was just that 350,000 of them thought today was the best choice for a visit.
The end result is that the lovely day we planned turned out not to be so lovely. We left Milan bright and early, and had 10 minutes in Brescia to make our connection to Iseo. Imagine our surprise to find out that at least 500 people were ahead of us with the same agenda. Four hours later, we crept to the front of the line, meaning it was our turn to charge the gates if ever another little two-car train showed up. The Italian reporters who were filming the incredible line for tonight’s TV news really had a show on their hands. In many other countries, blood would have been spilled, given the 85 degree temperature and the forced intimacy with some people I hope never to see again in my life.
We finally got to Iseo at 3:30. And guess what? We were not alone. But we had a plan. Don immediately got in the very long line returning to Brescia, and I went exploring. I discovered a mob scene, needing to queue up just to get across the street. In true Italian fashion, there was no signage, but I could follow the crowds. At this point, it was about 90 degrees. I circled the entrance, saw an enormous line, went back to the exit and bought the tote bag. I just had no more strength.
Loaded with water and lemon popsicles, I returned to Don, who took his turn exploring. I stood in line watching old ladies collapse in the heat and ambulances lined up like buses, taking them away. Things improved when the firetruck started spraying us with water. It was that kind of heat.
Don had a different experience, thank goodness. And when it was finally our turn to charge the barricades (Think “Miss Saigon,” or “Last Train from Paris.”) Don was right behind me and then he wasn’t, so I assumed he got in the car behind me. But when we got back to Brescia, no Don. I searched high, I searched low. Eventually he came in on the next two-car train from Iseo. He is no match for those rapier-elbowed Italian mamas who want you to think you are separating them from the orphans they are travelling with. Yeah, sure. It was that kind of day.
You know, we have had absolutely zero train trouble over the last 88 days and probably 75 trains. But all our magical train karma dissolved today. As for the Christo exhibit, read about it here – or buy the book when it comes out. I managed to get a few long-distance shots. Not bad for being almost a mile away…
And here’s the coda, courtesy of the New York Times again. Our timing was impeccable, helping to break the back of the logistical plans:
Don’s Christo Corner
After taking six hours to get to Christo’s Floating Piers, I refused to leave without actually getting to walk on it. Leaving Jo to stand in line to get a train back to Brescia and then to catch another train back to Milan, I figured I had at least an hour to explore. I got up to the line that snaked around several switchback barriers (think Disney World). It didn’t look like it was moving, but I asked one of the cheerful young guides for an estimated wait time. Twenty minutes, she said. I was doubtful, but I did notice that the line was filling up only about one-quarter of the area allowed. I went for it.
It was hot. Some people brought their dogs (French tourists, no doubt) and their babies. The firemen were hosing down the crowd. Special attention was given to overheated dogs. The babies had to fend for themselves. The line did actually move along. The entire area of the town leading down to the actual floating pier was paved with the same saffron-colored material that covers the pier. This gets you into the mood of the installation.
True to the guide’s prediction, it took about 20 minutes to get down to water’s edge and onto the floating pier. The effect was remarkable. First, once I got on the water, everything got very quiet. Despite the great number of people walking around, I felt isolated and surrounded by the water and the beautiful landscape, fully embraced by nature, but on this wholly artificial floating platform. The contrast made the nature part even more intense.
Having walked through Christo’s Gates in Central Park several years ago, I got the same sense with this work. The Piers, I think, might be even grander and more intense than the Gates.
I was able to walk about halfway down the main Pier pathway to the island. Then, I knew I had to hurry back. Not how we expected to experience this remarkable work, but I got a great and memorable taste.