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The manifold moods of Milan, among fashion, science and fears – and crime fiction can help us figure them out

What’s the mood like in Milan, nowadays? Changeable but nonetheless intense, compelling, troubling.

A supportive mood, inspired by Ukraine, invaded by the Russian army – blue and yellow patches appearing in the squares and on monuments, political and cultural declarations, an air-raid siren to signal the show is about to begin at Andrée Rush Shammah’s Teatro Parenti theatre to emphasise the sympathy we, here in front of a stage, feel for the Ukrainian people who are holding out despite the bombings.

A scientific mood, thanks to the inauguration of the first experimental laboratories at the Human Technopole, boasting five incredibly sophisticated microscopes that allow for the sequencing of a hundred DNA strands simultaneously in 48 hours: science and research, health as a key public good and awareness of what’s needed to improve the quality of life.

A reminiscing mood, due to the 30th anniversary of the “mani pulite” (“clean hands”) operation and its criminal investigations of bribery, giving rise to a profusion of books and conferences, as well as critical and self-deprecating stories, although widespread corruption continues to shame decent administrators, companies and citizens.

A violent mood, with children’s gangs that, coming from the outskirts and outlying neighbourhoods, rampage through “a Milan that sparkles”, causing brawls, robberies, stabbings. Marginalisation, unrest, social recrimination, a frenzied desire for quick cash to be spent on disposable goods. “Nightlife under police watch to stop complaints” proclaim the headlines of Milan’s major newspapers, acknowledging the exasperation of those who live on the besieged streets and squares of the city centre.

A fashionable mood, with catwalks, models, stylish window displays in the Quadrilatero upscale shopping area, black Mercedes cars and chauffeurs, not a chance to find a place to eat or sleep if you haven’t booked it weeks ago. All it’s glamour, with some recognition here and there of the difficult times we’re experiencing (no music at the Armani fashion show).

An innovative mood yearning for long-term changes, such as old neighbourhoods being revived (like the NoLo – North of Loreto – one, in the north-east area between Viale Monza, Via Padova and Via Greco, which we discussed in our blog post from two weeks ago) and new trendy settlements in the south-west area surrounding the Fondazione Prada, nicknamed Pradate, with its contemporary art and luxurious feel.

Then again, metropolises are just like that: changeable, multifaceted, their complex nature embodying their beauty, their wealth, their perdition.

“Milan is the only place that comprises all of Italy’s merits and faults”, pronounces Gianni Biondillo, urban architect by profession, author of crime novels by passion, leafing through the pages of his latest book, recently published by Guanda, entitled I cani del barrio (The neighbourhood dogs). The story sees our beloved hero, inspector Ferraro, investigating the attempted murder of an entrepreneur described as “ethical, much courted by politicians, who built his fortune fighting the mafia and organised crime”. The inquiry begins in the Quarto Oggiaro area, where the author grew up, and then meanders towards Viale Padova (NoLo, once again…), Corvetto, Rogoredo. Neighbourhoods whose roots are steeped into difficult social settings and that are still undergoing anthropological and social transformation. Actually, “inspector Ferraro is not the protagonist of my books – Milan is. Everyone thinks I write crime fiction, but it’s just my way to do some city planning, I write essays that interpret the city.”

What it all boils down to is that one of the best ways to try and understand and narrate Milan is to rely on its literature, such as its crime, or noir, fiction. According to Alessandro Robecchi, the creator (for Sellerio publishing) of Carlo Monterossi, author of trash TV programmes and detective by accident, “Milan is small, locations and sections of society lie side by side. For instance, in the San Siro neighbourhood, within an area 200 metre wide, you will find both a footballer’s mansion and the destitute casbah that’s arisen in Piazza Selinunte. Pockets of hardship emerge in the so-called residential areas: it’s such discrepancies, existing so close to each other, that make narrating Milan a pleasure.”

Thus, the choice made by the Corriere della Sera for the cover story of the latest edition of its culture supplement “La Lettura” (“Reading”), appears particularly shrewd and appropriate. It’s about “Milan’s crime fiction”, its roots going back to the books of Giorgio Scerbanenco (it’s worth noting, considered recent events, that he was of Ukrainian origin and changed his name, Vladimir Scerbanenko, so as not to feel alienated in his adopted city), and it looks at stories, settings and literary styles by authors such as Biondillo and Robecchi, mentioned above, as well as Luca Crovi, Gian Andrea Cerone, Enrico Vanzina, Hans Tuzzi, Andrea G. Pinketts, Rosa Teruzzi and many others.

Tuzzi explains that “Milan has always been an experimental lab where decisions affecting the whole of Italy can be tried out first. This trait, as well as its abrupt accelerations, makes it an emblematic city and the most modern and European among Italian cities, also in terms of crime. Its hoard of wealth and money causes shadows and social conflict, and these are all contradictions that suit the crime genre as conceived by André Gide and Carlo Emilio Gadda – stories that represent our times precisely because they revolve around very specific crimes.”

Milan as a paradigm, then, in these restless, tense, controversial times – yet, this could well be the reason why it makes for interesting living, as well as writing.

What’s the mood like in Milan, nowadays? Changeable but nonetheless intense, compelling, troubling.

A supportive mood, inspired by Ukraine, invaded by the Russian army – blue and yellow patches appearing in the squares and on monuments, political and cultural declarations, an air-raid siren to signal the show is about to begin at Andrée Rush Shammah’s Teatro Parenti theatre to emphasise the sympathy we, here in front of a stage, feel for the Ukrainian people who are holding out despite the bombings.

A scientific mood, thanks to the inauguration of the first experimental laboratories at the Human Technopole, boasting five incredibly sophisticated microscopes that allow for the sequencing of a hundred DNA strands simultaneously in 48 hours: science and research, health as a key public good and awareness of what’s needed to improve the quality of life.

A reminiscing mood, due to the 30th anniversary of the “mani pulite” (“clean hands”) operation and its criminal investigations of bribery, giving rise to a profusion of books and conferences, as well as critical and self-deprecating stories, although widespread corruption continues to shame decent administrators, companies and citizens.

A violent mood, with children’s gangs that, coming from the outskirts and outlying neighbourhoods, rampage through “a Milan that sparkles”, causing brawls, robberies, stabbings. Marginalisation, unrest, social recrimination, a frenzied desire for quick cash to be spent on disposable goods. “Nightlife under police watch to stop complaints” proclaim the headlines of Milan’s major newspapers, acknowledging the exasperation of those who live on the besieged streets and squares of the city centre.

A fashionable mood, with catwalks, models, stylish window displays in the Quadrilatero upscale shopping area, black Mercedes cars and chauffeurs, not a chance to find a place to eat or sleep if you haven’t booked it weeks ago. All it’s glamour, with some recognition here and there of the difficult times we’re experiencing (no music at the Armani fashion show).

An innovative mood yearning for long-term changes, such as old neighbourhoods being revived (like the NoLo – North of Loreto – one, in the north-east area between Viale Monza, Via Padova and Via Greco, which we discussed in our blog post from two weeks ago) and new trendy settlements in the south-west area surrounding the Fondazione Prada, nicknamed Pradate, with its contemporary art and luxurious feel.

Then again, metropolises are just like that: changeable, multifaceted, their complex nature embodying their beauty, their wealth, their perdition.

“Milan is the only place that comprises all of Italy’s merits and faults”, pronounces Gianni Biondillo, urban architect by profession, author of crime novels by passion, leafing through the pages of his latest book, recently published by Guanda, entitled I cani del barrio (The neighbourhood dogs). The story sees our beloved hero, inspector Ferraro, investigating the attempted murder of an entrepreneur described as “ethical, much courted by politicians, who built his fortune fighting the mafia and organised crime”. The inquiry begins in the Quarto Oggiaro area, where the author grew up, and then meanders towards Viale Padova (NoLo, once again…), Corvetto, Rogoredo. Neighbourhoods whose roots are steeped into difficult social settings and that are still undergoing anthropological and social transformation. Actually, “inspector Ferraro is not the protagonist of my books – Milan is. Everyone thinks I write crime fiction, but it’s just my way to do some city planning, I write essays that interpret the city.”

What it all boils down to is that one of the best ways to try and understand and narrate Milan is to rely on its literature, such as its crime, or noir, fiction. According to Alessandro Robecchi, the creator (for Sellerio publishing) of Carlo Monterossi, author of trash TV programmes and detective by accident, “Milan is small, locations and sections of society lie side by side. For instance, in the San Siro neighbourhood, within an area 200 metre wide, you will find both a footballer’s mansion and the destitute casbah that’s arisen in Piazza Selinunte. Pockets of hardship emerge in the so-called residential areas: it’s such discrepancies, existing so close to each other, that make narrating Milan a pleasure.”

Thus, the choice made by the Corriere della Sera for the cover story of the latest edition of its culture supplement “La Lettura” (“Reading”), appears particularly shrewd and appropriate. It’s about “Milan’s crime fiction”, its roots going back to the books of Giorgio Scerbanenco (it’s worth noting, considered recent events, that he was of Ukrainian origin and changed his name, Vladimir Scerbanenko, so as not to feel alienated in his adopted city), and it looks at stories, settings and literary styles by authors such as Biondillo and Robecchi, mentioned above, as well as Luca Crovi, Gian Andrea Cerone, Enrico Vanzina, Hans Tuzzi, Andrea G. Pinketts, Rosa Teruzzi and many others.

Tuzzi explains that “Milan has always been an experimental lab where decisions affecting the whole of Italy can be tried out first. This trait, as well as its abrupt accelerations, makes it an emblematic city and the most modern and European among Italian cities, also in terms of crime. Its hoard of wealth and money causes shadows and social conflict, and these are all contradictions that suit the crime genre as conceived by André Gide and Carlo Emilio Gadda – stories that represent our times precisely because they revolve around very specific crimes.”

Milan as a paradigm, then, in these restless, tense, controversial times – yet, this could well be the reason why it makes for interesting living, as well as writing.