February 06, 2009

Milan: Lucky bull

If you caught my January 8 post, "Good luck charms: Washington's nose and llama fetuses," you know about my quest for lucky coins as I run my way through marathon training. I haven't brought home any heads-up currency since that post, but, as I've already nailed 25 of the needed 26 cents and still have two months of training left, I'm feeling pretty good.

The other day while on a run, I did stumble on a heads-up dime. Fantastic, I thought, as I reached down to pluck it up. It didn't pluck, stuck permanently as it was in the road tar. A paving worker must have dropped it during pothole repairs, or maybe a kid on a bike dropped it into softened tar on a really hot day. Now it's a permament piece of the street.

But it's 10 whole cents, and it's heads up, too lucky an omen not to take advantage of, so whenever I run the route that takes me over that dime I stop for a second and rub my sneaker into FDR's tiny, spectacle-free face. A little twist, and I'm off again.

A similar ritual is repeated hundreds of times daily in Milan's mid-19th-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a soaring glass and wrought iron arcade that's arguably the world's most elegant shopping mall.

Under the galleria's great glass dome is a mosaic of a bull, the symbol of Turin. Legend has it that spinning a few times on the bull's nether regions brings good luck. You feel a bit ridiculous standing there if the bull is occupied, trying to act nonchalant and not at all interested in jumping on the bull's jewels as soon as the current luck-seeker has vacated, but everybody does it, milling around waiting for their turn.

And it's not just tourists who twirl on toro's testicles.

Milanese, like everybody else I guess, take good fortune wherever they can find it, and, as they dash through the Galleria on their way to work or appointments or La Scala opera house adjacent to the arcade, many of them make a beeline right over the mosaic and perform an almost imperceptible heel or toe twist atop the bull's privates as they're walking. And they don't even look down -- they know exactly where those lucky bollocks are.