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‘I’ll come around and pick you up’, he said, in a to-die-for Italian accent. ‘Ten minutes. Be ready.’ ‘Okay’, says I. ‘I’ll go down and wait on the street so you won’t have to park. What’ll you be driving?’ ‘I’ll take the Ferrari,’ says he. Nothing like waking up in Milan and getting straight into the thick of a rather stylish way of life.

I’m not that into cars … usually. I’m more of the ‘does it come in any other colour’ rather than ‘how fast can it go in 60 seconds’ type. But I’m sucker for old cars – cars that were made as cars should be made, ones you can sit in and feel the road beneath you and hear the revs as the speed notches up. And while a 18-year-old Ferrari doesn’t go any faster than a normal car, it sounds like it’s racing. From the low-slung leather seats, it’s like looking up at the world from beneath – a wonderful feeling. And not a bad way to have a quick tour of the neighbourhood.

I’ve been to Milan a couple of times, and each time there’s something new to see and more to learn about this lovely city. I had no idea that back in the early 1900s, the streets we were driving on were actually canals. In old paintings, Milan looks a lot like Venice. Neither did I know that Monte Stella, a hill in the city park, is an artificial hill, made from the debris of buildings bombed during WWII and the last remnants of the old Spanish Walls that once surrounded the city.

stadium milan

Given my complete lack of interest in soccer, other than the mighty Békéscsaba Elóre, it’s not all that surprising that I didn’t recognise the famous San Siro football stadium for the mecca it is for many. Home to both AC Milan and Inter Milan, the former having it all to itself until 1945, the stadium seats more than 80 000 … now that there are rules and minor inconveniences like Health and Safety regulations. Back in the day, it could take 100 000 on a good day. There are talks though that each club might well be building its own stadium – going down the 45k-seat, branded route that has turned international football into a multinational business. The stadium sits on prime real estate and the surrounding parks are the focus of many a developer’s fantasy. And what a loss that would be to a city where greenery is still fighting its corner.

 Libreria Don Durito Milan

For all its style, though, Milan has still retained an undercurrent of contrariness that sets it against societal norms. One gem of a building near Lotto, a squat to all intent and purpose, has been occupied by a group of people whose mission, as emblazoned in graffiti, is to ‘occupy, assist, and produce’. It’s now home to Libreria Don Durito, a revolutionary library that has been on the go  for ten years. The best Google Translate can do to explain its rationale is:

Fantasy and irony. As Don Durito we want to preserve the fantasy and a laugh even when the government launched a military offensive against us. Every day when we open the windows of our library we know why we are here; because we resist and build libraries, occupied spaces, popular universities and why we are still here reading and to read, to do slam poetry, to play and sing, to break the loneliness of the people, to be together in cord tied between mates, siblings .

What a wonderful mission, cause, raison d’être, whatever you want to call it. That’s something I could happily sign up to.

Tony Cragg Milan

As if that wasn’t surprise enough, when I ventured inside the D’uomo, I found a sculpture by Tony Cragg, a British artist whose work I quite like. It is probably the last place in the world that I’d have expected to see a piece of his on display. He says, of his work, that it’s ‘very often about the structures that lay beyond, behind, and underneath the things we see’. This piece is part of a celebration of ExpoMilano 2015, which opened for six months in May and attracted millions to the city.

Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, [hosted] from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan [became] a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries [showed] the best of their technology that offers a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo [involved] international organizations, and [expected] to welcome over 20 million visitors to its 1.1 million square meters of exhibition area.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them.