Milan is the city of fashion, which is surprising since the city itself lacks all glamor and is far from pretty or ‘dressed up’. It’s mainly an industrial hub with the focus on the commercial market and the consumer – there are shops everywhere! While the men all dress up quite nicely (they do have a great taste in shoes), the women I have seen so far come across as having missed a few fashion updates. Yesterday, I spotted a lady who had dressed nicely, all in black, but then bright pink socks ruined the whole picture as they came out from underneath her calf-length trousers. Milano almost seems to tell me that it doesn’t matter how you look, it’s about socialising, friends & family and (naturally) food, which is strange since it is the city of fashion. Then again, with so many shops and stores around, the message that you have to buy, buy, buy (hard to miss the fashion updates, too), might be the disguised way of saying that unless you dress the part, you’re not a part of Milan.
Stuck in the anonymity of the city, Milan has got me longing for a sense of home. This city is like smoke, like a fog that doesn’t quite lift. Smoke from a smouldering pile of newspapers that won’t go out. It’s not that it holds a sense of anonymity, because I’ve always found anonymity to hold something mystical, something romantic, but it’s anonymous in the sense that it lacks a distinguishable character. It’s like a ghost – you can see it, but you can’t grasp it. It remains undefined.
Milan is urban in every meaning of the definition. It’s raw, bleak, high rise buildings, with a touch of pre-modern industrialisation. Venture just outside of the city centre and it’s like the buildings have been standing still in time while the centre itself is high-end, modern and minimalistic. Architecture-wise, this city must be some sort of dream – it seems that every single street has been carefully planned and thought through, adding up to the parallel roads running through the city, the intersections precise, the streets straight, singular and neat. Most of those streets and roads are grey, with cars parked for as far as you can see and your view is constantly obscured by streetlights, lampposts or overhead tram lines. The dirt of a city hangs in the air, this thick, smog-like dust. And at the same time, there are colourful buildings – big squares of a shade of orange, green or blue – and some flats are decorated with or completely covered in plants and flowers.
Milan is a red light. A green light. A bus passing by, the bell of a tram, the echo of a car engine at the end of the street. And then Milan is suddenly neat, symmetrical, organised and tidy. A clear effort was made to create a comfortable street with restaurants and their accompanying outdoor seating. It’s chatting and laughter, the sounds of clicking glasses, of cutlery on filled plates, or smoke erupting from underneath huge umbrellas. And yet, despite the overload of food and restaurants, a whiff of delicious smelling food is rare. In my nostrils is the constant scent of smoke and the grey, dust-like ghost that is Milano. Even the parks, though green, peaceful, quiet and full of nature (and far and in between, for that matter) carry roads that are chalky, dry and arenaceous. Within minutes, black boots turn into grey. The grass is green, but cut short. Bushes are kept in neat order. It is clean, but so tightly organised that it looks like someone is holding the parks in an iron fist, briefing the flowers every morning on where, and where not, to grow.
I am sure Milano holds a character. That is holds a sense of magic. It’s just that I am not under the spell of Milan, just like the ghost of Milan has failed to talk to me, as I am convinced that Milan also doesn’t necessarily wishes to house me. Instead, I turn to myself and find my own voice speaking to me. After 24 days of travelling, exploring and living on the road (sort of), this is the first time that I feel a certain longing for ‘home’. The need to find a true place of my own, a place where the city welcomes me with a warm embrace and where it continues to hold me tight, as I dissect the layers of the city bit by bit, as like unravelling the fog and watching the sun break through.
I thought that I had left that longing for home once I left. Once I gave in to my wanderlust heart and decided anywhere & everywhere would be my home for now. And I did, I did leave that longing behind as it was replaced with the finally satisfied desire to travel and being on the road.
However, I have not visited a city that hasn’t taught me a lesson. Milan proved to be no exception. Now that I’m here, learning this lesson, making sense of things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I wish to find home. No, I am still eager to move forward, keep walking this path I’ve chosen to see where it will take me and where we will end up. I just never thought that along the way, I would come across a stop that would make me aware of the fact that even while on the road, there is still a part of me that is looking for ‘home’. I don’t know if I was naïve in thinking that that particular part of me would quiet down for as long as we were travelling, or that I was stupid enough to believe that moving forward (in any direction, for that matter) would act as a temporary cure. All I know is that I hadn’t imagined sitting here, and yet here I am.
I realise now that in all those years, I never desired for anonymity, to become a ghost. I desired to fit in, just perfectly, to escape from the smoke and become something defined. I desire to slip into place, like putting on a perfectly fitting glove, and feel like I belong. Feel like home. I recall my earlier words and correct myself – Milan is not smoke. It’s a realisation masquerade-bullet that erupts from the smoke, the mouth of a gun on the other side and the bullet is the kind that you never saw coming.
It’s the middle of the night. Milan seems to be asleep – it’s illuminated with streets light, but quiet and deserted. I hurry to catch the 5 o’clock bus that will take us to the airport. Mace’s flight case makes too much noise in the dead of night as it wheels disagree with the uneven stones.
Two and a half hours later, we’ve checked in. Mace is being taken away and I head off to find myself a cup of coffee before slowly making my way to the gate. 25 days in Italy doesn’t feel like an awful long time and I feel a certain sorrow for leaving it behind. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling through this country and the list of people that I’ve met and were too kind is endless.
But for now, we’ll close the chapter on the Italy adventure. There is a new adventure awaiting us – it’s dragon-like breath is warm, enthralling and beckoning us to come, come on over.
England. Here we come.
To see the whole Italy series, please go here.