Friday, 27 March 2015

Waiting for Expo

As small children, my sister and I had a dressing-up box full of clothes that we used for acting out plays around the house. Its diverse collection included hand-me-downs and unusual garments from charity shops alongside items my mother had sewn. It wasn't uncommon to find a gold and scarlet sequined cloak sandwiched between a faded tweed waistcoat and an oversized 70s felt hat.

Milan Fashion Week took place a couple of weeks ago and most of its attendees seemed to base their clothing combinations on the contents of that dressing-up box.

Fashion Week is a biannual event here and it's always full of industry hangers-on strutting around in outfits that are more bizarre than beautiful. Oh, and then there's their hair. Don't get me started...

There are usually plenty of models milling about too, but they seem to dress relatively normally when not on the catwalk. Still, their builds and bone structures make them easy to differentiate from us mere mortals.

The latest influx of fashionistas was a taste of what's to come. This summer, Milan will host EXPO, which is expected to draw more than 20 million visitors.

Food, glorious food?

For the uninitiated, EXPO is a world fair which occurs every five years in a different location (the last was in Shanghai). It will take place from 1 May to 31 October and involve exhibitions from 140 participating countries.

The organisers promise "A platform for the exchange of ideas and shared solutions on the theme of food, stimulating each country’s creativity and promoting innovation for a sustainable future."

If you think that sounds well meaning but waffly, you're not alone. The people of Milan are ambivalent about Expo. No-one is sure what to expect.

Will 20 million people really turn up for what appears to be a glorified food fest? Will experts be drawn to exchange "solutions" for food when they could discuss them at, say, an academic conference? And most important of all, if everyone does turn up, how will the city cope?

Building Italy's future

Milan is Italy's most successful modern city, which is a bit like saying that Berlusconi has been its most successful modern politician. It may be true, but these things are relative.

Milan: home of scaffolding

Currently, there is scarcely any water in the Navigli canal, one of the city's main tourist hangouts. The water was drained in October, for reasons that are unclear, and has not been replaced since. Without water, the canal is a rat-infested eyesore.

Not only that, but much of the city has been being dug up since I moved here almost a year ago. Architects' pictures alongside the excavated areas promise pleasant paved spaces for pedestrians and picturesque fountains. The problem is that these were all supposed to be finished in time for Expo. Now, with the event a month away, they are still gaping expanses of mud dotted with cement slabs.

There is much to love about my adopted homeland, but Expo will provide a litmus test of how well modern Italy can deliver on its promises of being, well, modern. The signs so far are not promising, and a common worry is that the public transport will be strained past breaking point. But Milan could yet pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat.

One of this country's greatest strengths is its charm. If it can combine that with effective last-minute organisation, Expo might still be a great success. Watch this space...

From winter to spring

This is my first blog in months. The days since I last wrote have sped by in a blur of work and travel.

Since I came back from my Christmas break, I've visited Madesimo, Modena, Monaco, Vigevano, Prague and Parma.

In Madesimo, I went snowboarding for the first time. After a relatively promising first day, I spent most of the second day falling on my backside. In the end, I retired to the bar and stayed there.

Heading for a fall

In Monaco, I watched Arsenal crash out of the Champions League with the ragazzi of the Italian Arsenal Supporters' Club. After I turned down several beers on the coach at 9am, they insisted on feeding me homemade grappa at 10. Despite the disappointment of the match, it was a memorable journey!

Of the Italian trips, Parma stands out. It is a large, bustling city with plenty going on. Tomorrow, though, I am taking the train to somewhere truly exceptional. Ms Ciao and I are heading to Rome to spend a few days in Trastevere before Easter.

The weather forecast is 20° and sunny. For those of you back in London, I'm heartbroken to hear that your forecast is 14° and rain. I guess I'll get over it. Have a good Easter!

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