“Via Gesù has a soul...”
Of the narrow and not so narrow streets that intersect in the regularly elegant grids of the world-renown Milanese quadrilatero –the plein air fortress of Italian luxury, well dressing and savoir vivre whose perimeter is indeed quite small, but whose appeal is immensely pervasive all over the world– via Gesù is an unicum.
This hush-hush piccola via –“street” being too much of a prosaic label for such an Italian feat of architectural poetry and uttermost harmony– is a linear successions of grand palazzos hiding beautiful gardens –some so big they once housed animals and even stables, causing a stir and some grumpy yet courteous fights in the neighborhood– Fifties and Sixties buildings and a continuous line of gentlemanly shop windows that still retain, in these days of massive globalization, an indisputable local flavour.
The reason for such uniqueness is simple: apart from its industrious activities, via Gesù is still a residential area, which means that luxe and real life intersect and interact naturally. It does not happen anywhere else, you know. Furthermore, via Gesù houses Milan’s most discreet and luxurious hotel –The Four Seasons– as well as the intoxicating beauty of the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi, a singular mansion turned into a cozy museum, plus the city’s sought after addresses for the happy few.
Via Gesù is a mixture of familiarity and ease, of privacy and business. It invites its denizens, the passing ones and the ones who have been living here their whole life –there are many, their stories and anecdotes creating a fable that is a magnet of charm of its own right, their elegance a testament to what being an individual of distinction truly means– to delve into the two activities that are integral to the etiquette of a gentleman, and a gentlewoman, worth their own philosophical salt: otium and negotium.
Which, in other words, means that via Gesù is at once a luxurious retreat and a busy shopping area. However, it manages to hide everything, even the hustle and the bustle, behind a pervasive aura of suffused calm. Indeed, a quintessentially Milanese quality.
On via Gesù, taking your own time to chat with the locals, gossip with the Four Seasons’ concierge and discover the latest news through a casual encounter with your discreet neighbors is not only possible, but mandatory, if the term would not suggest something forced. Because, you know, “forced” is the only adjective that on via Gesù is banned. For the rest, everything can happen, from stumbling into a pop star to exchanging ideas with an artisan to having a bespoke suit made for you.
Where else in Milano –and not only Milano– could you find the mansion of one of Italian fashion’s imperial dynasties –just as excessive and tragic– a palazzo that once belonged to another dynasty, of publishers, sitting alongside a convent turned into an hotel? Where else do you have the city’s first house equipped with electrical supplies and a hot-water shower sitting atop a cozy restaurant that’s a labyrinth of rooms and courtyards added one to another? Not to mention, of course, the shops old and new, all with their own little secrets.
Singularly, in a world that, more or less deliberately, is prone on forgetting everything as fast as possible, via Gesù keeps records of its own history: by word of mouth, in non official ways, yet still effectively. It is a street with memories in fact: one where every new addition, every change of owners at a given addresses, is just another layer of a rich novel in the making, not the sudden erasure of the previous page. Porters and residents, here, perfectly remember who lived where and when, what they did and who they got along with or not. Via Gesù is a small community, coalesced on mutual trust, gentle manners and uttermost respect for the street itself.
It was the joint effort of the “Via Gesù Society” –the association of the street’s residents– for instance, that made sure the via did not turn into a car park: they put flower racks instead. Napoleon himself deliberated in protection of such beauty, and the lesson remains.
Via Gesù has a soul. It is a burg now because it has always been, way back when this area was out of the Roman walls of Milano and fashion was far from the horizon. Later, it hosted commercial activities and housed some if the most elegant men in town. The fact that via Gesù turns now into a gentlemen street is just the closing of a circle and the opening of a new chapter that’s a prosecution of what has been written before.
So, take a stroll, watch around and enjoy. Welcome to la via dell’uomo.