Basilicas Park, as the area around my hotel is officially known (and which encompasses the Basilica of San Lorenzo, the Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio and the Colonne di San Lorenzo), was a virtual no-man's land -- as in, there were literally no men (or women) around. There were few signs of life, human or otherwise. Nearly all of the stores were closed (not even an open tabacchi in which to buy bottled water for 2 euros), and the only noises I heard were the sounds of the occasional tram lumbering by, none of which were the No. 3 that I needed to carry me to my home for the next three days.
I wondered, This is Milan? What happened to my hot, vibrant city? If I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere, I'd have booked three days in the Italian countryside. I suspected that it might be a holiday -- a suspicion that was later confirmed -- but Ferragosto apparently didn't have anything to do with the lack of daytime activity in my part of town. It would pick up only slightly over the next few days. (I was told that during the month of August, much of Milan goes to sleep as locals head "to the sea" on holiday.)
But when night falls, Basilicas Park, particularly the area around Colonne di San Lorenzo, is transformed into an entirely different thing. Well before the clock strikes midnight, it starts to become a bustling entertainment complex. (It's also the site of Old Wild West, a steakhouse where I had dinner on my third night in Milan, seated at a booth next to a map of Florida while staring at a photo of Civil War Union General and 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant on one wall and listening to a strange assortment of music that included R.E.M.'s "Leaving New York," Alabama's "Mountain Music" and LeRoy Van Dyke's "Walk on By.")
Far more than the Duomo, Basilicas Park appears to be the centerpiece of al fresco Milanese nightlife. Although clearly in August-lull mode, it nonetheless seems to be the most populated spot in the city center. Nearly everyone in town who is still awake at 11pm (yes, I'm old) must be here (or en route), not exactly twisting the night away but engaging in calmer evening pursuits like drinking beer while chatting with friends, walking around aimlessly, or just standing there, waiting for something to happen.
And holding court in the midst of it all like a proud pop star determined to thrill the masses: Constantinus Augustus, or rather, a towering, statuesque approximation of the Roman emperor. I'm too weary after a day of sightseeing on foot to get caught up in Milan's Saturday night fever, but I'm glad I stayed up past my bedtime for a brief walk-by. La movida Milanese -- the beat of the heart of the city -- will no doubt be the most indelible Milanese visual that I take with me when I depart for Venice.
Viva la movida!