Matt and I went to a conference last week in Milan, which meant most of our time was spent in the Fieramilano conference center, our hotel, or the neighborhood nearby. But I did manage to sneak out into the outer city to walk around for what felt like a very short excursion or two.
Despite only seeing a small slice, I feel like I have a few posts’ worth of stuff to say about Milan. However, I will limit myself, as I can also see I have not seen enough of the city to really get a feel for it.
Despite its duomo and some lovely old architecture, Milan felt like an industrial city to me, from the outer neighborhood’s slightly crumbling walls, the large apartment buildings and broad boulevards and car culture. Walking our neighborhood streets felt a little like walking through a small Chinese city.
I think Milan is mostly finance driven, despite the fashion. Even the old town is marked by the insurance and banking industry. (Or perhaps I should say especially the old town?) The large companies have their headquarters in gracious palazzo-like buildings around a square on the other side of the shopping center (well, hello, Prada!) from the duomo, and diagonally from the square that holds La Scala on another side.
I confess I did not go into the duomo itself (or into Prada!). The ornate façade was enough for this trip, and the piazza outside was a circus. Men I assumed to be African immigrants were selling weird bracelets and schmutz to feed the birds — pigeons were everywhere, and at one point a gaggle of men watched as their colleague attracted several to perch on his arm.
At the same time, a tent went up flying a Libyan flag, with people on bullhorns, yelling in Italian. Two young men popped up on the statue at the center of the square to put up the flag, quickly jumping down and taking the flag with them before the police came. I have no idea what they were saying — Italy is having immigration problems, especially last week with the arrival of African immigrants that Qaddafy supposedly pushed toward Europe in retribution for the ongoing NATO attacks. I can only imagine that their policies and slow bureaucracy help swell the ranks of the people housed in what amount to concentration centers. Could Italians actually be rallying over this? And after Sweden, I found the homeless people and Roma begging on the streets a bit shocking.
While we were there, Milan had elections — and firmly said no to Berlusconi, another political circus. From what I’ve read, the industry giants in the city have begun to turn against him, and he had positioned this election for a new mayor as a kind of referendum on him and his party. I *think* the left got the upper hand, but there seems to be something more that needs to happen — a runoff, maybe?
I wish I understood Italian, so I could comprehend what was unfolding, on the political posters, in the Duomo’s square. Nevertheless, the graffiti was beautiful, the weather was fine, and next post, I promise to talk about the fashion and the food!