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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is right in the centre of Milan and leads from the Piazza del Duomo, cathedral square, through to the square in front of the La Scala opera house. Named after the first king of the united Italy, and opened in 1877, it is the pre-eminent shopping mall in a very expensive city. So if you take the time to wander through this arcade dedicated to high consumerism you may wonder why people are pausing in the central circle to spin around on the heels of their very expensive shoes. Closer examination will reveal that they are spinning on a mosaic of a bull – to be precise, on the poor creature’s testicles – and this reveals another side to the Italian character. They are an incredibly superstitious people. You can see this all over the country – in St. Peter’s in Rome the foot of the bronze statue of a saint shines from the constant caressing of pilgrims, as does the nose of the boar in the Mercato Nuovo in Florence and the right breast of the statue of Juliet in Verona. All this to ensure good fortune; but there is another aspect to this and that is the need to ward off bad luck or the malocchio, the evil eye. This manifests itself in many ways but one I will never forget was a driver on a tour who, whenever he saw an empty hearse on the road, had to seize his groin presumably to prevent anything untoward happening.

After all this, in case you are wondering, the poor bull at the start of this tale has to have his reproductive organs replaced at regular intervals as they are worn out by the constant spinning of the superstitious shoppers.