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A hotel in the Milan that used to be

Di Antonio Caneva, 10 Dicembre 2015

I recently received the book “Hotel Manin, Milano. Il Manin, un albergo, una famiglia a Milano”, written with great historical and emotional sensitivity by Stefania Nascimbeni, who has the merit of placing people at the centre of events.
In the preface, Professor Umberto Veronesi writes: “This book is both the story of a hotel, the Manin Hotel, which opened in 1846 at the time of the Five Days of Milan, and of a family, the Colombo family, who came to settle in our city in 1850”.
In 1904 Gianni Colombo purchased the Manin Hotel, and his family has been managing it ever since, for 111 years.
The book places the Colombo family at the centre of the story, depicting around it the developments of Milan and, through it, the history of our country: the two world wars, 1968, the Red Brigades, the Gulf crisis.
Just a few observations.
Last summer I was in Nuremberg and I visited the place of the trial that started in 1945, where the Nazi hierarchs were judged. In room 600, where the trial took place, you can go through the various phases of the proceeding: the photographs take you back to those moments so vividly as to make you shiver. As you follow the progress of the exhibition, however, what strikes you most are not the subsequent steps of the trial, however perfectly documented, but the personal stories of small individuals, chained, tortured, background characters of a tragedy where they were witnesses and victims. The human being comes back to playing a central role.
Last week I visited Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where two museums recount the history of a century, the twentieth century, as the country lived it: the Habsburgic Empire it belonged to, the First World War and the monarchy, the Second World War, communism, the declaration of independence in 1991 and the rebellion that made it possible. Here again, among the contributions of History (with a capital “h”), it is the individual people who stand out, with their day-to-day events and needs. The showcases display objects that belonged to ordinary people; in a letter written to his aunt, a certain Durban, jailed at the time of Natzweiler, tells her lovingly that he is well, and asks her to please send him a parcel with a towel and a piece of soap. History is all around, but the person is at the centre.
In the book about Hotel Manin, rich in fascinating and poetic memories, Grandmother Carlotta reminisces about no longer existing parts of the Milan that used to be: “Via Fatebenefratelli, I can still see the beautiful sunsets on the Naviglio, with the San Marco bell tower reflecting in the waters made pink by the sun going down, how peaceful!. It all ended in 1929 when they paved over the Navigli” or about life in the hotel, with the bombings that destroyed it on 13 August 1943: “My Manin, forty years of work, the doing of my Gianni, memories, peaceful years, struggles ” everything was over!”. It was not over, because the hotel was later rebuilt, and now it is managed by the young ones of the fourth generation: Davide, Nicola and Carlotta.
It is a fascinating book for the reasons I mentioned, and for the wealth of documents and pictures that take the reader through more than 150 years of history in the hotel and the city. It is a book to read in one go, like a novel of adventures as in fact is the story of the Colombo family in Milan.
The year is now drawing to an end, a year of lights and shadows, and this the last issue of 2015.
Best wishes to everybody, see you next year!

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