What a nice way to welcome visitors to Milan, I think, wading my way under the pouring rain through the people selling umbrellas and offering trolley services for heavy suitcases, crowding around the bus from Malpensa airport on the dark pavement next to the Station.
Milan Central Station is an imposing building, of typical fascist grandeur, representing their ideals of strength, austerity, and Roman legacy, though remaining quite attractive. It’s been recently renovated and, besides the dimly lit, long, ancient stairs that have put to a test the fitness of countless travellers running up with their heavy luggage, there are shiny and slow treadmills parading through the luxury shops. The result of the makeover is that the interiors of the station has been turned, unsurprisingly, into a high-market shopping mall.
Leave the station and you will find the confusing mess of taxis to the right and buses to the left and, at the front, the familiar faces of homeless and junkies who survived the redevelopment, keeping themselves busy arguing, staring at the void, necking cheap strong lager and occasionally fighting.
Enter the gutters to the underground station and you’ll get the full package, with gypsies trying to trick naive tourists helping them to use the ticket vending machine in exchange of some coins, or other aiming straight to their pockets without even going through the effort.
And contemplating all this I find some harmony and, mostly, a great consistency: unintentionally the bulky central station managed to hone itself, through the years, to a perfect representation of what Milan is: old architecture and hyper-modern shops, ladies in fur coats hovering past homeless rummaging in the dirt, hopeful technology and hopeless inefficiency.
I walk away while two illegal vendors abandon their jumble to attack a gypsy who just managed to score a rather surprised tourist.
Is it wrong to feel a certain affection for such a controversial place?
Photo by Paolo Margari