Well, I say a ‘quick’ trip… Not flying, and living in a town whose train connection to the rest of the world was severely nibbled by the Atlantic, recently means that a day in Milan requires a full day to get there and a full day to get home again. In spite of once living in Italy for 3 years, I had never been to Milan before. I didn’t see much of it on my arrival, arriving at 9.30pm (after leaving home at 6am and a train journey which, in part, included travelling through snow-topped mountains in the Alps), it was as much as I could do to wander round the corner from where I was staying for a quick pizza before turning in.
The next morning, after a walk through a great park called Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, I was the guest of Fondazione Cariplo, one of the largest philanthropic foundations in Italy, who fund lots of sustainability, local food and related issues. Their current call for applications is focused on “Resilient Communities”. I had been asked to talk particularly about Transition in the urban context. The Fondazione’s offices are in an amazing palazzo, an incredibly beautiful space. I was speaking to a mixture of Fondazione staff, representatives of local initiatives who have been funded by them, and some other key people from the city and surrounding regions. My presentation led into some fascinating conversations about the challenges of doing this kind of work in Italy.
After a delicious and locally-sourced lunch there, I had a couple of hours until I was due to give my main public talk. I sat in the park in the sun for a while, then wandered down to La Scala, the city’s famous opera house. It was an area full of shops selling Versace and other ridiculous and vastly expensive fashion gubbins. My favourite was this ridiculous suit in one shop window. Never mind the comical stance of the mannequin, but who wants a see-through suit? Call me old-fashioned, but I have never met another man who has pined for a see-through suit.
I wandered into an incredible shopping precinct that is quite breathtaking in its elegance and beauty. I had a rather disappointing straciatella icecream (usually the King of Italian Icecreams). I saw, for the first time, Il Duomo, Milan’s extraordinary cathedral, which is really quite something. It was let down only by the huge TV screen on its side playing adverts.
The plaza in front of the Duomo was buzzing with tourists, basking in the sunshine. It was time to head to the venue for the talk, at Centro Congressi Fondazione Cariplo. It had been well publicised, with quite a lot of advance media in the Italian press (for example, La Provincia, Avvenire, and Valori). I did a couple of interviews and then it was talk time.
About 300 people had shown up, not bad for 3.30 on a Thursday afternoon, and the talk was also being screened live online, which was viewed by nearly 1,500 people. After an introduction, I spoke for about 40 minutes, giving an overview of Transition and where I see the potential in scaling it up. Managing to not repeat my mistake from my last visit of speaking so fast that the translator had to signal me to slow down, it all went very smoothly. You can watch the talk I gave here.
We then had a long questions and answers session where I tried to understand the questions asked of me in Italian (I speak it pretty well, but nowhere near as well as I used to). Topics included how to do Transition where people don’t have a sense of community, the skilfulness or otherwise of engaging with mainstream politics, the role of ecopsychology and how cities might reinvent their relationships to their rural hinterland.
All went rather well I thought. Then I headed off into the evening with members of various Milan or near-Milan Transition initiatives (there’s a fair few Transition initiatives in Italy, check out the map). A fine bunch of folks they were too. Equipped with Brompton bicycles, impressive electric bikes with a box on the front that can carry goods or people, with tales of initiatives to restart local wool production, vegetable gardening, brewing and much more, they were the usual eclectic, friendly and inspiring bunch you find doing Transition around the world. It was a great pleasure to spend the evening in their company.
We went to Upcycle, the “Milano Bike Cafe”, a cafe cum centre of bicycle culture in the city cum shared workspace cum all round rather groovy spot. About 20 of us sat around a long table (see above) and were treated to some rather delicious local food, whilst also working our way through a selection of local craft beers from a couple of local breweries. In particular I was very taken with the beers from La Buttiga brewery in Piacenza, in particular an American Pale Ale called Sogno Doro (“dream of gold”) and an Imperial India Pale Ale called Psycho. Both were exquisite.
It was an evening of great company, good conversation, lovely people and some fine beer. The next morning I was up at 5 for the train home, finally getting home at 9.30pm. Tiring, but great fun. Lastly, I’d like to send ‘Get Well Soon’ greetings to Cristiano Bottone, who was going to join me in Milan but who was laid low with the flu.