The five lives of Milan women
Milanese Women have five lives: often not by choice, rather, it’s the context in which they live that makes them so. Milan women, in fact, sometimes they would want to live in a village in the Tuscan coast or Puglia, where time flows a little slower, concerns are a bit more shared with others, children are safer and husbands come back home from work less stressed. But they don’t. So Milanese women are in the eye of the storm, every day. And it’s thanks to their expertise that they can keep up with this storm, standing right in the middle, where everything is a bit calmer, while all around is a whirlwind of frenzied activity and events.
This destiny is written in the DNA of any girl born and raised in Milan: living existence inventing a new role and a new purpose for themselves at every stage of their life. In this regard, we could cite as examples numerous famous Milanese women, but we will rather take into consideration only one, trying to draw a parallelism between this woman and the modern life of Milan women.
Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso was born in 1808, in Piazza Sant’Alessandro. In the first part of her life, that is, until the birth of her daughter in 1838, Cristina is a charming, curious woman that rebels against an arranged marriage and marries Emilio Belgiojoso instead. After realizing that her young, noble Romeo is a bad lot, Cristina takes over her life and starts traveling around Europe. In Paris, she opened a lounge where among others, have sat (and fallen in love with the beautiful Cristina) people of the likes of Alfred de Musset, Romantic poet and playwright, Honoré de Balzac, one of the greatest French writers of the 19th century, Franz Liszt, composer, German poet Heinrich Heine and Vincenzo Bellini, Italian composer. Cristina Belgiojoso befriends with personalities like Augustin Thierry, Adolphe Thiers and François Mignet. She falls in love with the latter, and becomes pregnant.
It’s a bit like what happens to young modern Milanese women in the first part of their lives. They spend their existence trying to break stereotypes and clichés, stretched towards the reality of a city that has so much to offer, but which is able, at the same time, to put you on the edge if you don’t take a firm grip on it. Girls between 15 and 30 who are born and live in Milan know it well: hard work and study awaits them, to become strong and lay the foundations for a competitive existence, where, as in the famous Savannah Story, every day you’re a prey and a predator, even unintentionally.
In 1839, Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso gives birth to her daughter Maria, and she enters her second life. Convinced that she could take care of her child, she has to cope with institutions instead, which don’t guarantee her the minimum welfare benefits. So she becomes practical and determined, and she opens a kindergarten, then schools, for male and female students, with the Milanese aristocracy looking at her with suspicion because they don’t understand the reason why education should be ensured for the children of farmers. Among these, Alessandro Manzoni.
A fate shared by modern Milanese women who, after passing the first difficult stage of their life, are catapulted into reality. And it’s a hard world out there for them, a world where things that should be granted become a cause for concern and effort instead, where everything must be gained, little by little. But just as Cristina, Milanese women roll up their sleeves and challenge flattering or arrogant environments to ensure their loved ones and their ‘Ego’ the right living space.
Here come the years of the Spring of Nations. Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso doesn’t wait to be asked and enters the third stage of her life, where she is a revolutionary and also a great trendsetter. After taking part in the Five Days of Milan, Cristina also participates in the events that were occurring in Rome, where she stands out for creating the Volunteer Nursing Corps, who work in the hospitals where wounded insurgents were taken. Cristina doesn’t scorn to recruit dames, middle-class ladies and even prostitutes among the volunteers. This of course causes her problems with the clergy; therefore, at the end of the adventure, she’s forced to seek refuge in distant lands.
The third life of modern Milanese women is characterized by the detachment from personal problems to start the fight on wider terrains, made of career developments and relationships to be strengthened. Shortly before the age of 40, Milanese women are stuck up and conceited, fully aware about their role in the world and in the city: by now they have the control, they promote revolutions in daily situations of their lives, day and night, they don’t care about judgments and are ready to judge without fear. It’s the run-up to early adulthood, the time when they’re fully conscious and need to find spaces where to state their individuality.
In early 1850, Cristina needs to find some inner peace. That’s why she takes refuge in the East, traveling between the Cappadocia, Turkey, Anatolia, Syria and the Holy Land. She travels observing things with a disillusioned eye for some time now, trying to capitalize her cleverness and determination also in those lands. She founded an agricultural colony in Cappadocia for Italian refugees and local farmers. It turns out to be so difficult to keep it together, that after a couple of years she quits, and this puts another scar in Cristina’s heart, which, however, further strengthens her. When she arrives in Palestine, she has no qualms about criticizing what European intellectuals considered an Exotic East: what she found was a decidedly male-dominated and lazy society.
To 21st century Milanese women, we are right “In the middle of the journey of our life”, the mature stage of life, but also the time when rational thought starts reclaiming its place and unfinished things need to be completed. This is the time when many modern women seek help in order to relieve their guilt, the deficiencies inherited from childhood, the perturbation due to small failures, which look like terrible monsters that haunt and hurt them. Hence, this is the time for their personal recovery, the most intimate one, which results in a total awareness of themselves, of their role in the world, of the final separation from their children without remorse and even a little from their husband. It’s the moment of truth, when ghosts disappear and the will to live is not just a playful thought, but rather a true value.
1860. When Cristina gets back in Milan, in her villa in Locate Triulzi, she’s not merely the grandmother of her little granddaughter, rather, she’s a much more complete woman now, and proud of her life. Tireless and indomitable she founds a newspaper, and writes essays on the status of women. She writes:
“Happy women positive about the future should sometimes think about the pain and humiliation of those women who preceded them in life, and remember with gratitude the names of those who have paved them the way towards a never before enjoyed, perhaps just dreamed, happiness!“.
Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso dies happy and contented on July 5th, 1871.
Milanese women living in the second decade of 2000, are fully aware about the value of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. So much so that they never miss the opportunity to reaffirm their power in the world and the city. Women aged 50-70 walk in the centre of Milan as haughty and conceited as the 20-30 years old ones, but have a much greater awareness of their self-concept, they feel proud to be women, mothers, grandmothers, and nothing can tear them apart. They master themselves and the world by dominating the city: no more requests, but ready now to give strong and concrete answers to all questions.
All our respect goes to modern Milanese women, as well as our gratitude for being able to make a little better this city and this world, every day.