It’s true, my favorite Pepperidge Farm cookies were always the Milanos, the mint ones.

Paul Graham wrote an interesting essay in May about those social pressures that cities like to whisper into our ears. Manhattan tells us to make more money, he writes, and Cambridge tells us to read more books. What does Milan whisper? It tells us to buy more clothes. Even the sunburned Midwestern American tourists with gelato dripping on their hands are sporting nice threads.

And shoes. Shoes are everywhere. It is important to not walk too closely behind Milanese pedestrians or you’re sure to bump into them when they stop – just briefly – at the next shoe display.

Normally impervious to the commerce of clothes, I’ve also been suckered into the strange fashion fever myself. New jeans and two shirts. As most of my good friends and Flickr contacts know, I buy clothes about as often as the democrats take the White House, a good sign for Mr. Obama.

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Sadly, my suitcase is my closet and so I have said farewell to my old favorite jeans.


Milan is multi-culti. I realize it’s the 21st century and that the world is a salad bowl, but I still just can’t get used to Vietnamese-Italians, and Indian-Italians nor how the language takes new form as it comes out of their mouths.

But not their children. Their children speak flawless Italian, and gesture at their immigrant parents with stereotypical Italian impatience: basta, basta.

And Latin Americans! Good god, some days I hear more Spanish than Italian. I wonder if the same thing will happen to Italian here at the start of the 21st century that happened to Spanish in Buenos Aires at the beginning of the 20th.

Speaking of which, becoming acquainted with Milan is like finally meeting Buenos Aires’ parents after having studied her every gesture and idiosyncrisy. The hanging lamps in the middle of the street, the way ‘dime‘ somehow translates to ‘may I help you’, and the word ‘anana‘: it all comes from right here.


Religion lost, shopping won.

Some cities are built around single structures and so it is with Milan and her Duomo, the third largest cathedral in the world and certainly one of the most extravagant. Today its footsteps are covered with Italian, African, Latin American, and Asian youth, all with tattoos on their arms, cigarettes on their lips, and piercings all over their face. The only ones paying any attention to the cathedral itself are tourists, framing it perfectly in the viewfinders of their digital cameras so that the scaffolding is hidden.

Religion lost.

Right across from the Duomo is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Here is where you will find Prada and Gucci and all those other brands that you probably know better than I. Further down they are joined by the H&M’s, A&C’s, and other initial-based stores responsible for telling Bangladeshis and Chinese what is fashionable and then importing and selling it all. Today is Sunday, day of rest, but there is no resting in the world of fashion – metrosexual bouncers wait at the door to control crowds and keep Milan’s fire department happy.

Shopping won.

Even more interesting than the subject at hand last week was watching the interactions of all the health experts from around the world. At one point I was seated with a family from East Asia, a woman from anglophone Africa, and a man from lusophone Africa. The East Asian and the Anglophone were bonding over there shared Catholicism. The Lusophone, now on his second beer, asked his fellow African if new religions and religious sects imported from Brazil were gaining popularity in her country. Her expression became immediately severe and she said that people were trying to re-colonize Africa by introducing new religions that questioned the established values of the Catholic church.

I managed to hide all traces of irony in the tone of my voice when I pointed out that the Catholic church in the US is having to import preachers from Korea, Latin America, and Africa because it can’t find Americans to fill the posts.