Having survived an imaginary crisis in Jordan hours earlier, I arrived in Milan in a less than ideal frame of mind. But this was Italy, and no one can be unhappy in Italy. It is too lovely and too delicious to have any room for unhappiness. I am convinced that the sunlight there has some sort of magical powers to melt away bad moods. And if that doesn’t do the trick, the handmade pastas and stracciatella gelato go a long way in restoring your sanity.
Driving into the city, I noticed a distinct lack of people on the streets. My hostel host later informed me that in fact, at the end of August, everyone and their mother packs up and heads for the coast to escape the heat of the city. The quiet of the city was surreal; it was as if I had the whole place to myself. Well, me and about thirty or forty other people, that is. But that’s okay. I can share the Duomo cathedral crowned with plentiful spires and statues, the gorgeous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping plaza lined with Prada, Louis Vuitton, and a distinctly out of place McDonald’s restaurant, dining space along the Canal with stone oven baked pizzas, and cooling off in the fountain by the Sforzesco Castello:
In contrast to the beautiful architecture and fancypants shopping of Milan were those residents left behind from the beach vacations, those who could not afford to take a holiday and those who stayed in town to service tourists like me who have come to Milan when the city is essentially closed for business. Most visible were the African street hawkers pushing their knock-off purses and hand-crafted bracelets on you as you walk by.
As frustrating as their relentless sales pitches can be (my personal favourite being one man who tied a bracelet on my wrist insisting it was free and then being angry that I did not want to pay for it…), I couldn’t help but wonder if some or most of them were part of the boat people phenomenon. How many of them were in Italy legally? How many had survived a dangerous journey in an open boat across the Mediterranean and evaded capture by immigration officials? I also doubted how much choice these people had in where they worked. My hostel host, who was Syrian, had mentioned to me that things had gotten easier for her community with the arrival of so many Africans, but only because the Italians would rather hire an Arab than an African. I often shake my head at some of Europe’s attitudes toward immigrants and immigration. Being from a place that aspires to embrace multiculturalism and help immigrants to adjust to a new life in a new country (not that Canada does a perfect job of this, by any means), I have difficulty understanding such unwelcoming attitudes toward newcomers.