domenica 4 gennaio 2009

Il Capodanno a Milano

I flew back to Milan on the afternoon of the 31st December. At the airport, I was struck by the number of Scottish men striding around the place in kilts (always a nice send-off) and assumed that they were probably off to wreak havoc in the bars and piazzas of any European city unfortunate enough to be an EasyJet destination. Little did I realise that New Year's Eve in Milan would make your average Scottish Hogmanay street party look like afternoon tea at the Women's Institute...

I took the (inappropriately named) Malpensa Express back into town and celebrated being back in Italy by eating focaccia for lunch. A few of my friends were already back and we had been planning to go out for a meal, but when we realised that the price of a set menu was around 80 euros and all the restaurants were either closed or fully booked two of my friends decided to organise a pizza making party at their house.

After the pizza, we packed a bottle of “champagne” and some cartons of cheap wine in our bags and headed out. The streets were surprisingly quiet, apart from a few guys setting off fireworks down a side street near the bus stop.

That all changed when we got to the Duomo. Even as we emerged from the metro, we could hear loud bangs exploding overhead. We looked up to the sky, expecting to see colourful displays of fireworks, but there were none. Just the cathedral, the Christmas tree, groups of people hanging around and a whole lot of smoke. And what we heard were earth-shattering bangs that shook our nerves and seemed to shake the historic cathedral to its foundation stones.

What in fact was happening was that the groups of people were setting off firecrackers. Big ones. And they were throwing them into the piazza, at each other, and in the direction of anyone who happened to be standing nearby. The few policemen who were actually present were cowering under their riot gear and doing very little.

How dangerous the firecrackers actually were I do not know, but the explosions were certainly big enough to be terrifying. Normally any street party in Italy is filled with families and people of all ages, but this was mainly groups of young men for whom a buggy with a baby in it, a dog or the inside of a moving tram was as good a target as anything else.

We escaped from the Piazza del Duomo as quickly as possible, hiding from the blasts under the arches of the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele. We tried to find a safer route across the piazza using the metro station, but people were throwing the firecrackers down the exits too. Eventually we made it out and headed towards the castle. Outside the castle the situation was the same, but this time with the added interest of the traffic.

Luckily some of my friends were braver than I was and decided that we should investigate what was going on in the park behind the castle, where there was supposed to be an actual fireworks display. The park was beautiful. There was thick snow on the ground and the trees made wintry silhouettes against the frosty sky. Bars in log cabins were selling mulled wine and apple strudel. We didn't have to wait long before the fireworks display started and, in its snowy setting, it was spectacular. It went on for almost half an hour, with the fireworks getting bigger and more impressive every time, until they seemed to burst towards us, filling all the visible sky. We drank the sparkling wine and toasted the new year in English and Italian. We even did a very loud but somewhat mumbled version of Auld Lang Syne, which was cheerful even if nobody else knew any of the words beyond the first line. And that was my new year!

Felice anno nuovo a tutti!

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