Milan, International City


I’m a walker and I always walked in my city, to get from here to there took at least three hours. Now I live in Milan and I always take the same routes. The difference is that here, to get from here to there takes half an hour, as Milan is small compared to Naples. When I first arrived here and would walk from Navigli to Duomo or the Gardens on Via Palestro or Corso Buenos Aires, everyone was quick to list for me the trams and buses I should take to get there and I would say, but what for? It’s so close. And I would walk. In those days, some mornings in Piazza Duomo there were men in Alpini hats and I felt like I was in a little village. There was also Macondo, the post-political alternative venue, where people gathered to drink and listen to music and talk. Then Aldo Moro was killed. Then ’77 happened and the cities shut down. Then they reopened, but not from below—from above. Milan reopened too, and like all European cities, remade its image. The Northern Rail hub was embellished with a colonnade somewhere between pop, postmodern, archeological-industrial, and Western. In the middle of the Northern Rail piazza they erected a giant steel needle created by Claes Oldenburg that’s 60 feet tall with huge interwoven threads. Of Oldenburg’s work I especially liked the soft cloth typewriter, and for Piazza Cadorna I would have preferred a sculpture by Jean François Bory from 1970 called L’eternité. It’s an old model typewriter covered in gold with several toy soldiers falling down it. That might have been more fitting given our proximity to the Balkans, but Milan is the fashion capital and you need a needle and thread to produce fashions. In those days, there were none of those United Colors of Benetton mega-billboards, they hadn’t tried to install fountains to create piazzas, since in Milan everyone rushes from one place to another, from the office to home and from home to the office and there was no time to stop in a square. Now in the squares, as in all the international cities, only the immigrants have time to stop, gathering after nine at night to stop and eat a sandwich. Now there are areas closed to traffic lest we die early, and enormous skyscraping towers. The periphery of the city consists of skyscraping towers or tidy and clean little neighborhoods, with none of the kitsch you find on the outskirts of Naples where the signs and storefronts transmute from the Madonna del Rosario to the Western to Hollywood. Here everything is normal. That’s why people kill themselves. There’s no need for someone else to do it. They take care of it on their own like in the big cities in wealthy northern Europe. There’s no need for a shotgun or the Camorra. Here, everyone knows the drill. Climb into a casket or just sit in front of the TV and wait, like the man “between sixty and eighty” who was found on an “unpaved road littered with branches between Via Traiano and Via Gattamelata” . . . “an emaciated, elderly shut-in who died of neglect and was dumped out of fear.” I say he put himself in his casket. Or like Wolfgang Dick in Hamburg, who “died in December 1993 and remained sitting in front of the television with the Christmas tree still lit up for five years without anyone noticing.” Now Milan is international because there’s no more Magneti Marelli or Ansaldo and for years in the Ansaldo buildings they’ve hosted plays, concerts, festivals, just as in Naples Italsider is gone and the ex-Italsider offices now hold the City of Science. In Milan it’s good to walk because the road is always flat. You can’t see the sky and the circular layout of the beltway is sure to return you to your point of departure. The objective distances remain those of a small town, but the inner distances are abyssal because this city is a non-landscape which is a non-place. It isn’t like being at the airport or on the metro, non-places that are anywhere. Milan isn’t anywhere: it’s inside itself, inside its imploded non-landscape, with no volcano, no river, no sea, no mountain, no nothing except the hundreds of courtyards that bring to mind Stendhal, who admired them so. Coming out of the courtyards you encounter people of all kinds: yellow, black, white; immigrants, both integrated and clandestine; simple people, homeless people; businessmen, career women, women shopping for groceries. Today international cities are all the same. The difference is that here, to get from here to there, it always only takes half an hour, and the space of half an hour, in the time of the soul, is a flash—there’s no time to make a map, also because you always see the same things, unless maybe a new United Colors of Benetton pops out at you at the intersection of Via Pontaccio and Via Mercato. For those of us who come from a place where the landscape is too strong, it’s good to be in a non-landscape: that way you work better and you learn to die better, because you fear death if you’re looking at the infinite sea from the edge of a cliff or in the solitude of the mountains. Here, you train for death. For metropolitan, international death, for those sleeping caskets that they have in the metro in Japan and that maybe one day we’ll have in Milan too, to make the passage from temporary to interminable sleep easier. Either way, meanwhile, we’ll be ready.


Marosia Castaldi

Experimental Italian writer Marosia Castaldi was born in Naples in 1950 and passed away in Milan in 2019. Her considerable oeuvre includes the novels Per quante vite (Feltrinelli, 1999), Che chiamiamo anima (Feltrinelli, 2002), and Dentro le mie mani le tue (Feltrinelli, 2007). In English, an excerpt from the novel La fame delle donne [The Hunger of Women] (Manni, 2012) was published in Best European Fiction 2017 (Dalkey Archive).

Jamie Richards

Jamie Richards is a translator and editor based in Milan. She has translated numerous contemporary Italian writers, including Igiaba Scego, Gabriella Kuruvilla, Andrea Inglese, Ermanno Cavazzoni, Giovanni Orelli, Zerocalcare, Gipi, and Manuele Fior. She holds an MFA in translation from The University of Iowa and a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Oregon.

From In mare aperto. Copyright (c) Portofranco, 2001. English translation copyright (c) Jamie Richards, 2020.