Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Milan's 'rudest' sculpture

Close your eyes and imagine Milan.

What do you see? Do you picture pizzas and piazzas? Do you think of the Duomo, the Castle or the Opera House? Perhaps you envisage a night necking Negroni in Navigli or a day gawping at Gucci in Brera.

Or maybe, just maybe, you think of this very large sculpture of a middle finger.

Welcome to Milan

It's officially titled "L.O.V.E." but known by everyone as "il dito" (the finger). The sculpture was designed by contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan, who donated it to the city on the condition that it be placed outside Borsa Italiana, Milan's stock exchange. In effect, it's our equivalent of the Wall Street bull.

The hand and finger are four metres high. Including its plinth, the sculpture measures 11 metres. In a wry nod to the Renaissance, it's made from Carrara marble – the same material used by Michelangelo and Bernini.

The ambiguity of L.O.V.E.

But who is the finger's target? Is it pointed at the traders of Milan's stock exchange who walk past each day? Milan's leftwing mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, thinks so. He called it "an open criticism of the international financial management that led to the great crisis of 2008."

However, although it stands in front of the stock market, it faces outward. When Milan's traders complained about the sculpture, Cattelan responded "It's actually more the stock exchange giving the middle finger to the world." He's also said "I have nothing against the stock exchange... I’m not giving the bird to anybody."

Cattelan suggests interpreting the sculpture as a maimed Nazi salute. By chopping off the hand's other fingers, he's attacking Italy's fascist past. This also tallies with the sculpture's location – Palazzo Mezzanotte, the stock exchange building, is a typical example of fascist architecture, built in 1932.

Will the finger linger?

Although there have been calls to remove the sculpture, a raised middle finger is less offensive in Italy than in many places. And several locals chuckle at the subversiveness of forcing privileged traders to look at it day after day.

For Cattelan, amusing or offending people isn't entirely the purpose. The point is to create an enduring image that could subtly shape public consciousness. "History is made of images. When we think about the Vietnam War, we think about a couple of images. An image can do a lot. I’m not saying this is going to be an image [in the way those couple of key Vietnam photos are]. But we have a chance."

Draw your own conclusions whether, despite his denials, he really does intend to flip the bird at the traders after all...

Missing Italy? Want to read more about la dolce vita? Then why not subscribe to Ciao Mr by using the 'Follow by email' box on the top right of this page.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The death of summer

My first summer in Milan is ending. I will remember it for many wonderful things. I'll try not to remember the weather. 

While England has been blessed with its best summer in years, Milan has been cursed with its worst. July was known as #lugliembre – July/December – on Twitter here because it was abysmal. August was scarcely better. 

I have learnt my lesson: never again will I hex the summer by acclaiming it at the start of June.

"This town, is comin' like a ghost town"

In August, Milan was abandoned as well as wet. 

When Augustus was Roman Emperor around 4,000 years ago, he introduced a public holiday known as Feriae Augusti (Augustus' rest). The fact that this holiday, renamed Ferragosto, still exists today gives you an idea of the pace of change in Italy. Not only does it still exist, but modern tradition also dictates that almost all Italians take their summer holidays in the weeks around the day itself.

So a few weeks ago, most shops shut down for half the month and virtually everyone in Milan headed south. The city was empty apart from foreign workers like me, a few people in the tourist industry, and the tourists themselves. 

A friend's photo, taken on a rare sunny day, shows how deserted it was. 

A tourist bus driving through a deserted Milanese street, © @AdWatcher

The abandoned streets were both eerie and comic. I walked around humming The Specials' Ghost Town and enjoying the solitude. It gave me time to think.

As the seasons are changing, so is my relationship with Italy. Last weekend I flew back to England for a stag do, but it no longer felt like home. That is not a bad thing. 

Many expats say they feel permanently displaced – their native countries have changed since they left, yet their accents always mark them as foreign in their adopted homelands. For me, that's not an issue, so far. 

I've been back to England twice since I left and I've grown fonder of it since emigrating. It now feels familiar and comforting, like an old teddy bear or a warm slice of my mother's Apple Crumble. But Italy is where I want to be. It is what excites me because it is both a source of surprises and, ultimately, a challenge to be conquered. 

I have no simile for it, but it is definitely home now.  


For those who've asked, part 2 of the guide to moving abroad is coming soon.

Missing Italy? Want to read more about la dolce vita? Then why not subscribe to Ciao Mr by using the 'Follow by email' box on the top right of this page.