On a steamy July morning, I followed my phone’s GPS to the coolest spot in Parco Sempione, Milan, Italy: the public library. The small, modern building sits on a knoll surrounded by mature evergreens and a bright flower garden; this particular day, dozing elderly rested on benches nearby.
Though Milan allegedly empties in the summer, the library at Parco Sempione and any number of other libraries I visited were full of silent patrons, intense in their concentration with books, periodicals, and at computers. Often I found myself looking for a seat, which surprised me because of the usual advise to avoid Italy in July and August “because no one is there” and “everything stops.”
But July and August is the only time I could spend five weeks away visiting family in the city, so July and August it was. And while I deeply respect the city’s overwhelmingly impressive art and culture and made sure to spend contemplative hours in Pinoteca Brera and the Duomo as well as hundreds of other significant heritage sites, I made a decision early to visit as many libraries as I could. My library-themed tour gave me a refreshing alternative view from opinion of the city found in guidebooks.
Because the selections librarians make for their collections reflect the interests of their patrons, I was particularly interested in displays and featured books and magazines. But on the day I climbed the knoll to Biblioteca Parco Sempione, I had walked several miles in the heat to get there and my first priority was one of the scarce seats, and the only one open was in the back corner. I plopped down and gulped some water, I glanced up to a propped copy of a volume of poetry that made me feel like the librarians here knew my tastes and saw me coming: Ballistics, by Billy Collins.