martedì, giugno 22, 2004

What did you do last weekend, then?

I've seen claimed many times by various English visitors that Milano is a dead city as far as touristic entertainment is concerned. I would like to try and set the record straight here now. Last weekend was a so-called "White Night" weekend. That is when Milano opens itself up with it's shops open and entertainment, music and art of all kinds, available for everyone right through into the wee small hours.

They estimate that half a million people, perhaps more, took to the streets until four or five in the morning for rock, jazz, tango and classical music, exhibitions, poetry readings, film shows, chess and draughts. Piazza Duomo was off limits to traffic. The pavements of Via Torino were as crowded as they are usually in the run-up to Christmas. The streets were so busy it was almost impossible to move with young couples, families and groups of friends everywhere enjoying themselves in the city centre. Bars and restaurants were packed. For the occasion, the portico of the church of Sant'Ambrogio was open to host ten philosophers, who offered their nocturnal musings on the ten commandments. An audience of 350 or more listened attentively as philosopher Giovanni Reale discussed Plato and the Existence of God. The organisers from the Teatro Parenti, who were not expecting such a large audience, had to add a hundred extra seats, because even the ten commandments can be fun, it seems.

"The main thing is living, moving and taking part", said 61-year-old Bruno as he waited for more than half an hour in the queue at Santa Maria delle Grazie, at 3 am, to see the Last Supper. Just this once, Leonardo da Vinci decided to stay up until four in the morning, to the delight of visiting art lovers. The queue was enormous, but people waited quietly and cheerfully for their turn to experience one of the great delights of the art world. After the Last Supper, what about a stroll to Porta Ticinese? Or, as 20-somethings Alessia, Vanessa and Manuele suggested, to the Duomo to see short films on the maxiscreen that had shown the European Championship football games earlier in the evening. And after that? On to San Lorenzo for the "Nostalgia de Milan" concert.

Last year, Rome's White Night was ruined by a power failure, the famous power blackout caused by a fallen tree in Switzerland - apparently. The fear that "Murphey's Law" would strike started with fears about the weather, worries which disappeared after a couple of hours of light drizzle, just as people were thinking about going home and plastic sheeting was being thrown over the tables in Piazza Duomo and the musical instruments in Piazza Santo Stefano, where the Centro Mogol was to hold a concert of music by famous song poets. But the rain relented. After fairly heavy rain during the rehearsals, it stopped and after a very short time, everything had dried leaving the fears of rain as a dim and distant memory. Piazza Duomo was packed, like everywhere else, although the manager of one clothing store in the Galleria was hoping for bad weather. "We're open until midnight, but in commercial terms, we're hoping for rain, because people will then take shelter in the Galleria".

The plastic-encased front of the Duomo discouraged only the Japanese tourists, who gazed wistfully up at the few spires still visible, cameras in hand, headsets in place, listening to the exhaltations of the Japanese tourist guide. The rock concert on the large stage set up by the RTL broadcasting station attracted entire families from as far afield as Saronno, Bassano, Parma and even Palermo. Fathers even applauded Paolo Meneguzzi, as their daughters waved deliriously and shrieked, "True, that I still love you true. False, that I cheated on you false...". Kids took improbable photographs with their video mobiles, as did the 30-somethings who had travelled from Pavia and Lodi to see the Pooh or Paola and Chiara. After serving as a tango dance floor, Piazza Affari was taken over by outrageously dancing young fans of House or Electronica music until about one in the morning.

But Milan's White Night was more than just a football stadium atmosphere. It's not every day you see the statue of Manzoni in Piazza San Fedele with a couple of pigeons on its head and a crowd sitting at its feet, in the street or on one of the few benches, listening respectfully to roller-coaster saxophone riffs. Nor is it easy to find in Milan a place where dialect singer-songwriter Aurelio Barzaghi from Vimercate is singing his "Ho vist un pret" ("I saw a priest"). It's provincial - or at best Italian country/folk - stuff, and not at all Big City, self appreciating music. Yet Aldo Beselli, his paunch prominent and showing his dramatically lined features, was singing away, "ma vegn in ment la prima dona biòta..." ("I recall the first naked woman..."), concluding sagely, "El mund a l'è di giuvin, sota a chi toca" ("The world belongs to the young. Who's turn is it next?"). Well, the youngsters were there, sitting on walls, arm in arm, swaying and deliriously happy. Dialect is back in fashion, and who cares if it's vernacular? Everything goes into this pot, to make a primordial, nostalgia-rich soup. It is no easy matter cramming all this in to a single night - "all this discomfort of choice", as Marta put it, on her way to Palazzo delle Stelline to hear a poetry reading with music.

Another group of young people, each with several ear or eyebrow piercings, proclaimed "every night should be a white night". Seventeen-year-old Fabiana enthused, "Being able to go shopping at midnight is great, isn't it?" Will she stay out until four? "Of course. I might not even go home at all". Her companion Claudio is an IT consultant. He remembers Rome's White Night last September. "Power cut or no power cut, we still had a good time". The evening's schedule for Andrea, beer in hand, is to "get seriously wasted". But Silvia is more cautious, "We're going to Porta Ticinese and we'll stop for a drink at the place that has put most stuff out. Then we'll take a look around"..

All in all, a great weekend, with literally thousands of happy, well behaved people of all ages and social classes, mixing freely and enjoying themselves immensely. The magic of Italy, putting it simply.

based losely on an item in the CORRIERE DELLA SERA