A penchant for cardigans, spy novels and pop culture connections.
Gino De Blasio
I don’t dress particularly “like an Italian.” My height is questionable for Southern households. I have the terrible aversion to civility when the traditional Italian wafts around a degree thinking that a piece of paper alone makes them smarter than you. With all that said, I am still proudly Italian but perhaps not from the city in which I was born.
Naples is… chaos. Organised chaos that works into chaos theory – the mathematical idea that one small change can completely alter the way the system is run. In Naples, this would probably be making anything remotely work properly….
I have become anglo-saxonised to the point that loud noises (unless projected from an amp) and people who don’t form an orderly queue in a village fete can make me rather skittish. Like the building up to something more maniacal in a John Le Carre novel, perhaps eventually defecting to some other government and pledging allegiance – just as long as we have the necessary paperwork and the correct stamp to hand.
For many, in the South of Italy, it is known that I just don’t fit in. I’m too pale, too tall (I know I’ve said that but it really is an issue over there), too northern sounding – which means my linguistic inflection is not someone assuming a contorted, self mutilated eschewing of consonants and piercing vowel based sounds making a simple order at the bar for, “un café” sound more like a threatening reluctance to speak softly.
My football team isn’t Napoli — a contentious point some 32 years on — and I have an aversion to the beach which, for a Roman would be like having an aversion to a church – or a for a man from Wigan not liking, pies.
I am a defiantly different Neapolitan, one who has grown up abroad and equally one who won’t have a bad word said against it – even when Gomorrah is truer than most care to agree to – and one who isn’t ashamed to say, or ever hide the fact that when questioned, “where were you born?” The answer is always “Naples.”
But Naples doesn’t quite feel like home. It is MY home, but it isn’t quite me – if any of that makes sense.
Whilst my heart was stolen by Florence, my soul, my “find your quiet place” is, Milan.
It has captured an Italy that is fundamentally different to, well, Italy. It is open and industrious, it is cosmopolitan and avant-garde, it is blessed with commerce and infrastructure; it is for want of a better one line explanation; “the most non-Italian, Italian city there is.” And I don’t mean anything like Trieste which tries so desperately to be anything but Italian (and nearly introduced German as its first language), I mean, it’s Italy, organised and charming, prosperous and poor, fashion rich and business savvy.
That chaos that Naples thrives off, couldn’t be had in Milan. It would be akin to “causing a scene” and that is only for the models who seem to be in every bar, most nights, vaguely paying attention to their less than effervescent suitors…
The last sentence was a ploy, I apologise.
Milan is however a place where equally, I shouldn’t fit. I’m not good looking enough, my hair is wild and uncombed, I find the act of pretending to be busy more tedious than a 5-day game of cricket and I can’t stand people staring at me. It’s a thing in Milan, my only grievance being that maybe they’re looking at me because I remind them of someone from T.V. or a book, at best I could have been a GAP model in the 80s but as a rebellious, non conformist child…
There is a snobbish element as well. One that is so Milanese that I don’t think they realise they’re doing it behind their well hidden eyes in Channel apparel; men dress like they’re ready for photoshoots and the women look like they’ve just been on one. Appearance, and appearing to care about appearance, are paramount.
But then, there is this other side. One that makes my defiance look pale in comparison. One that matches La Scala with single handed doffs of the cap to a world leading university in business and management. One that homes two teams with very different fan bases – one, a fiery and passionate firebrand the other, an ever seeking title of “Italy’s team”, trying to please everyone, and no one at the same time.
You can’t tell who it is I support, right?
They have some of the world’s best restaurants, they entertain some of the best music, they are open to self criticism and they are the ticking machine that makes Italy run; without it, Italy, and Lombardy would be lost.
However, for me, their ultimate defiance lies in how they approach life. A city that persistently weaves the fabric (metaphorical and literal) of Italian-ness, embraces the things that make Italy, Italy and discard openly the things that also make it as well. The people who battled fascists during the war now stand against the new brand of right wing ideology not by shunning immigration, but taking a wider, more nuanced approach.
The city which allows old to mix with new is littered with streets where startups reside next to fifth and sixth generation businesses; finding ways to communicate and help one-another creating an exciting buzz and community.
A city where aperitivo is welcomed and not scoffed as “a poor excuse to not eat properly.” Because as we all know, aperitivo is more than a drink, it’s a habitual act, it’s “bella figura” in miniature. My last trip made me take note, more than it probably should have.
I sat and watched people pass by. Streets that overflowed with friends and acquaintances just chatting, having a drink, taking the time to chew the fat and nibble on snacks, a small buffet enough to also make me realise, “this is why they’re thin.”
There was laughter, there was playfulness, there was anger at the thought of politics or business even being discussed. There was also a man who at 11:30pm was still immaculately dressed in work wear. He looked like he was about to Reginald Perin at the end, disappear into some Milanese inner city street way and never be seen again.
No need for police, not a hint of trouble with alcohol in the street. This is what pleasant felt like, and at that moment, Milan had me. It probably didn’t want me, but it got me.
I understood Italy – as seen by foreigners who only visit Chiantishire but it had to be my way. It had to be in a non-neurotic, non anglo-saxonised way because that was the only way I could take it in.
A bar on the corner, a street full of people, a sense that “as long as you’re here to have a drink and relax, we’re fine with it.”
Milan stole my soul in the most defiantly different of ways.