I moved to Milan on January 13th in 2020. Nobody spoke about the virus, even if at that time COVID-19 had already started spreading in Lombardy. Maybe the virus had travelled on a train like me. Maybe it had scattered in the large halls in the Central Station, holding on tight to someone’s backpack while he was going somewhere else.
Perhaps he had taken a taxi to the city center and who knows if he had bumped into the taxi driver who was so mad at Beppe Sala because of the works for the new underground line, the M4. «Instead of going through all this trouble, he’d better add other stops on the yellow line and it was gonna be okay. All this noise.. and then… all that money for nothing! We will be stuck in this situation until 2021».
What I enjoyed the most of the accommodation I managed to find, after months spent signing up to several rental companies online, is the area. It is close to San Lorenzo Columns, known as one of the most lively places of Milan nightlife. That place is very important to me. In that crossroad between Corso Porta Ticinese and Via Molino delle Armi, there is Farini where I had my first aperitif almost two years ago. At that time I did not know that one day I would move just there and honestly I thought that Milan was rather dull. Yet at that very moment I realized I was happy after long time. Rome, my beautiful Rome, had not been able to make me feel like that.
It’s not very different from how you feel when a stranger can understand you better than a friend.
Moreover, this area reminds me one of my favourite movie by Carlo Verdone: Damned the day I met you (1992). In the movie Margherita Buy lives in a flat just close to San Lorenzo Columns. I would say that the neurotic relationship between the two protagonists, Bernardo and Camilla, perfectly reflects the one between Milan and me.
I can’t stand it but at the same time it makes me have fun like few others.
In some periods I need to be far from her but, even if I don’t want to admit it, I know that I’m in love with her. In front of Farini there is a bookshop called Verso, one of the most lively in Italy. They organize book presentations and make good appetizers. On Valentine’s day there was a book launch event. They had invited the writer Marco Missiroli , a milanese of adoption, whose Atti osceni in luogo privato I had already started reading. It is a novel which is partly set in Milan and the fact that I knew almost all the streets mentioned in the book gave me the impression to feel at home. Actually, that night I decided to go to Tongs, at the Navigli, to have an aperitif with my friends. It was our first night spent all together in the trendiest place in Milan and it would be also our last light-hearted night.
In the end I went back home before the others because I was tired. This is why that evening is on the top in the list of my regrets with all the other things I have never done, I have never said, I have never lived to the extreme before the virus. While I am writing I feel unusual sensations. It seems I am referring to someone else’s life and I am writing as if I were observing from the top as an omniscient narrator.
The pandemic we are experiencing has marked a watershed between the before and after, creating a hole between these two time spaces. It’s difficult to speak about something which is still happening but I will try.
In the beginning what made me feel anxious was how the city was changing dramatically. I know that it is nothing if compared to the infernal situation in the hospitals and in many houses. Actually that deafening silence talked to me more than the 6 pm news.
Looking out the window and looking at the Columns, I could not hear any voices, I could not see the busy people in their everyday life any longer. Unthinkable for every city, but in particular for Milan.
It is not necessary to live here to know what Milan has become in the last years. If Rome is the place of inspiration, Milan is the place where everything starts.
She is the engine, the hotbed of new talents, the laboratory. The endless speed and pragmatism. She is not like the other Italian cities. She has become the city.
In the last few years I have seen a large number of young graduates who have moved to Milan. For my generation, which is so skilled as it has never been before, but penalized for a lack of perspectives, this city has become the only alternative to the idea of leaving Italy.
I do not want you to think that my relationship with Milan has no conflicts. There were periods during which I did not stand the idea to be confined to a place that, after all, did not belong to me, where I promised never to return, and that I consider responsible of this calamity. However Milan still reminds me a lot of things I cannot forget.
That evening at the end of January when I went to Feltrinelli bookshop in piazza Piemonte for the launch of the book about Craxi by Claudio Martelli ( a few days later I would see the film Hammameth )in a crowded cinema where people were so thrilled to see the story of the most popular milanese of the Italian history . I got there very early and a very elegant gentleman in his seventies started to strike up a conversation. He was very nice and he reminded me my grandfather.
While waiting for the beginning of the presentation I spent an hour listening to him telling me the story of all his life. He had attended the same school as Martelli, he had lived in the so called Milano da bere , he became a very famous entrepreneur, he fell in love with a woman from Rome when he was already married. Meanwhile the mayor Beppe Sala and the President of Lombardy Luciano Fontana had arrived. Suddenly a man who was sitting in front of me collapsed and we two, unexpected protagonists of the scene, had to help him to stand up while the shocked lecturers were calling an ambulance. In the end we wished each other “Good luck !” and we said good bye with the typical nostalgia which is usually felt when we are aware that something did not last long.
I also remember that morning when a lady sent me a message on instagram saying she had found my atm card. I was a bit buzzed and happy because I had spent the night with Miriam in a wine bar, and it might have dropped when I went out of the underground station. The nuisance of the long queue at the office to have a new card and the thought that someone was traveling undisturbed with my card were already haunting me. On the contrary the lady left it in a bar in corso Vittorio. She had put it inside an envelope on which she had written ” for Francesca”.
I remember that evening when I queued up for three hours to see ” The Law of the dreamer” by Daniel Pennac, inspired by Federico Fellini. In the beginning there were just twenty people but then the number of people increased dramatically. It was the first stage of the tour of the French writer dedicated to the relationship between Fellini and his dreams. They had chosen Milan for this important debut. Pennac started the performance by recreating one of his childhood dreams: the lamp on his dressing table starts dripping. The light becomes an uncontrollable liquid and fills the whole room, even the whole city like an irradiating tsunami .
If someone asked me about the end of this story I would answer just like that: it is like a regenerating light which hides everything and gives us the opportunity to start a new life. I sometimes think if the virus was with me in all those events I have just narrated. It was on the hands of a gentleman while he was sitting to listen to Martelli, on my ATM card or flying freely among Pennac’s words. Maybe Yes, maybe no.
Perhaps it is always the same story: in any outburst of life there is also a little death.
Once more Milan made me understand something that actually I already knew.