Strad­dling the north of Italy like a ruby-lipped suc­cubus, Milano is a city of dreams. More specif­i­cal­ly, the dreams of a strange cabal of mani­acs whose mil­lion­aire mis­sion in life is to dic­tate what you and I should wear, find attrac­tive, and com­pare our­selves unfavourably towards… Despite the inher­ent flam­boy­ance of the fash­ion world and its var­i­ous istas, Milan is a sur­pris­ing­ly grey and humour­less metrop­o­lis …  unless, as I have often sus­pect­ed of fash­ion, the joke is very much on me.

Of the three objects of inter­est in Milan I longed to see, I suc­ceed­ed in vis­it­ing its beguil­ing Goth­ic cathe­dral, and the revamped La Scala. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I missed out on Da Vinci’s “Last Sup­per” because of a strike by its cura­tors. Instead, deter­mined to get some (any) cul­ture, I got an eye-open­ing after­noon wan­der­ing the Gold­en Quad‚ a top­sy-turvy land where peo­ple are either mod­els, or des­per­ate mod­el wannabes, Amex­es glit­ter­ing in what lit­tle sun leaks through cloudy skies. The streets of the Quad, par­tic­u­lar­ly Via Mon­te­napoleone, are lined with sports cars, BMW peo­ple movers and hum­mers, almost all with black-tint­ed win­dows, and armed angels to watch over them, whilst their respec­tive Mod­el, Actor or Sul­tan nips into Armani for some­thing to wear to Elton John’s hen’s night. Or something.

What can I say? I’m both dis­gust­ed and hyp­no­tized by the caper – oooh, so that’s a Rolex! – but quite uncon­scious­ly find myself blue-steel­ing‚ like every­body else here, walk­ing purse-lipped down streets full of beau­ti­ful peo­ple, pre­tend­ing not to fan­cy any one of them. (Just as, I’m sure, all the mod­els and actress­es were only pre­tend­ing not to fan­cy me.) The Quad is hard to escape, with so many colour­ful crea­tures swarm­ing around. Unlike a lot of oth­er curi­ous, yet bud­get con­scious tourists, I can’t bring myself to actu­al­ly go into any of these stores. I just find the idea of spend­ing that much mon­ey on knick­ers and spats a lit­tle creepy. And when you do see mor­tals wear­ing the real­ly fan­cy stuff around Milan, it just looks sil­ly, like those chil­dren dressed as pump­kins in an Anne Ged­des’ cal­en­dar. But it’s all just a bit of fun, real­ly. Only, why isn’t any­body smiling?