Report From Milan

Milan, Italy appears to be a city entirely populated by fashion models riding bicycles on the city’s frenetic streets. That is one’s first impression coming out of the monolithic Milano Centrale train station, built by Mussolini to reaffirm faith in his state. Despite years of allied bombing during WWII, the building is as imposing as the day it was built.

You Think It’s Easy Fitting into a Size 0?

I came to this medieval city to speak at another strategy luncheon, which was attended by readers from throughout Europe, from the surgeon hailing from Trondheim, Norway, to the Hungarian hedge fund manager. The Westin Hotel provided a spectacular lunch, as only the Italians can.

We discussed various breakup scenarios for the EC which come into vogue every time Greek debt gets downgraded, which is often. This is unlikely, given the modern European’s dislike for open conflict. Bring nationalism into the equation, and things could deteriorate quickly. Germany could bail, unwilling to refinance the debt of lazy, tax avoiding, garlic eaters. Southern Europe could do a disappearing act, unwilling to pay their debts to the sauerkraut eaters up North.

Yes, I Can Be Bribed

In either case, the European currency bloc shrinks, or disappears completely. It is just a matter of time before an opportunistic political party rides this fast track into power. The Germans will tell you from hard earned experience that this always ends badly.

I had exactly one free afternoon to spend in this amazing city. I visited Da Vinci’s The Last Supper at Santa Maria della Grazie monastery, looking for evidence of the conspiracy theories long ascribed to this masterpiece. I did a quick run through the Galleria and stepped on the bull’s balls, conducting three clockwise rotations to bring good luck. Looking at my performance since then, it obviously worked. The impact of the fashion industry on Milan is enormous, with every conceivable brand imaginable on show.

I managed to duck into the main Brioni store just before closing. There, I watched two Russian Mafia types in their thirties buy a half dozen exquisitely tailored, 200 thread count suits each for $6,000 apiece. That’s $72,000 worth of clothes…. for guys!

Alas, they don’t carry an American size 48 long in stock, it would have to be a custom order, so I left with only a couple of Leonardo ties in hand. It turns out that Brioni doesn’t manufacture suits for big guys anymore. The company has downsized production to fit Chinese and Russian customers off the rack, where the big money is these days. In any case, I happen to know that I can get the identical suit at the Brioni shop Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for a third less, plus they likely have my size. And I will be there in two months for a strategy luncheon.

The next morning found me in a mad dash back to the train station, my taxi driver artfully weaving in and out of traffic, where I boarded a first class Eurostar train. The engine powered North towards the Italian Alps, passing through the Milan slums. Retracing the route seen in the classic Frank Sinatra war flick, Von Ryan’s Express.

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