Glory & decadence


Still the idea that had come to Minister of Finance Trabucchi was absurd – namely to check whether tax evasion lay behind the cascades of diamonds displayed at La Scala. The very notion was offensive. Naturally, the news caused a sensation in the Galleria: the State was about to make people feel guilty about luxury, the very essence of Galleria’s brilliance. Within the confines of the Bocca historical bookstore, culture’s pulpit, men of letters spoke ironically, citing the titles of forthcoming works on the monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II; among regrets and sarcastic remarks, lips formed words such as “Grandeur and Decadence”. Hard on glory’s heels was decline. The Savini’s elegant tables meant for nightlife were now deserted, while the Zucca’s aperitifs were but a pleasant memory.

The beautiful and the cheeky no longer had a place to parade. This was the way to kill the Galleria. The zealous minister held responsible for having humiliated a place and tradition would be a most unwelcome figure for years to come. The truth of the matter was different and more subtle, hidden in the profound change underway in Milan in the post-World War II period. Eager to appear in the eyes of the world as a metropolis worthy of the name, the city had lost the habits both good and bad of an overgrown Lombardy town, which in the nineteenth century had made possible the construction of its “drawing room”, the mirror of an era and symbol of aspirations of the day, but no longer in step with modern tunes. It was no secret.

La galleria after the war, Federico Patellani

The gallery, Federico Patellani 1945

Mengoni’s arcade, great catalyst of urban life and worldly elegance, was losing ground to certain streets, especially Via Montenapoleone, which became the “in” place for seeing and being seen that the Gallery once was and had been expected always to be. Nostalgia was called on at this point to take the lead role. “The heart of Milan”, dear to Luigi Capuana, was about to cease beating. Why boast, “I was in the Galleria”? It had become little more than a shortcut; now no one walked through it with the same spirit as before, enjoying every step of the way.

No less than the bull on Turin’s symbol seemed confined in his once prestigious quarters, where he lived castrated ever since an old lady had tripped and hurt herself on a worn spot dug into his genitals by decades of pirouettes. Farewell to similar scenes in the Galleria intended to ward off bad luck, farewell to the strains of “Andemm in Brianza” at nightfall in the summertime when people queued up at the Savini’s terrace waiting for a table.

The menu then listed risotto giallo mantecato and a breath of air would bring relief from the typical sultriness of Milan, producing the illusion of being somewhere in the Brianza hills. “Let’s go to the Savini.” “I’ll take you to the Savini.”“They saw them at the Savini.” How many dreams, how many expectations, how much admiration these phrases once spoken about the Galleria contained. Nostalgia had also been knocking at the Savins’s door; but in vain. True, the restaurant had retreated inside, but it continued to carry on business despite changed conditions in Milan thanks to its international fame.
Without making a display of it, one sought table number 7, the most discrete, near the bar.

Maria Callas and Luchino Visconti at Savini restaurant. December 1954 publipper

Grace Kelly at Savini with prince Ranieri. 1950

Grace Kelly at Salvini.

The tête-à-tête of Princess Grace and Prince Ranieri of Monaco, a sketch of Charlie Chaplin personally drawn on the menu, a bouquet of roses left by Maria Callas on the sofa, the whims of Frank Sinatra, who once sent out for a packet of amaretti from Sassello for dessert – this was the Savini, witness of romances, temper tantrums and virtuosity, the place where a table was always waiting for important guests or those about to become one.But alas, even the Savin

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