We know where we’re born, we can imagine where we will live and we don’t know where we will die.
Well, I would say that I am surely in the second step, since right now I live in Vigevano, small town in the province of Pavia and very close to Milan.
I was born and raised in Milan, big city (but not as big as other biggest foreign cities like Los Angeles or New York) in the region of Lombardy (northern Italy). Milan is the second most important Italian city (after Rome) because it is considered as the financial heart (or engine) of the country. People know it because of fashion, football (Ac Milan and Fc Inter, two strong football teams play here), business (that unfortunately sometimes goes together with corruption) and, this year, because of Expo 2015, the big world exposition with the supposed aim to discuss and solve the problem of feeding the world, especially the poor side of it.
So Milan is a big city, many people go there to look for a job, because it is a financial city, it is well linked to three airports and by train you can easily reach France or Germany, so everybody wants to do business in Milan (even despite the nowadays crisis) and people will hope to find a job right there. Since everybody wants to live in Milan, houses are quite expensive, the remedy is to find the house in suburbs of Milan, that however are well connected by bus. And since there is business, there is money, so there must be a way to spend them, so there are many pubs or shops where you can find everything (especially in the very centre of Milan there are some streets with very expensive shops, Via della Spiga e Via Monte Napoleone), if you have an average salary and you are satisfied of yourself, you only need some minutes in those expensive streets to change your mind and get depressed when you see some very expensive shoes or bags:). Life is very frantic in Milan, working is not everything but quite. Just imagine that one of the most popular sayings there is: Va a ciapà i ratt = vai a perder tempo altrove that means “go to hunt rats” meaning “go to waste time somewhere else”; so you can see the importance that people give to time and work. Time is money in Milan. Sometimes, trying to compare Milan and Rome, I imagine the first one like a ugly woman but very workaholic and precise, and the second one like a very lazy woman but who is so beautiful that you would forgive her everything. And I think it is an example of the rivalry between Milan and Rome: the first one is the financial capital of Italy and the second one is the place where government and most important institutions are, Milan is very efficient, precise, smart, Rome is slow, there are many problems but….it is surely the most beautiful Italian city.
When I was a teen I went to Vigevano with some friends of mine and I watched the Piazza Ducale for the first time, and I was delighted to see it, I think every time we travel there are some places that we never forget. Vigevano was one of them, but in a different way, because when I came here for the first time, I thought that I would have chosen this town as a place to live.
Yes, Milan is big, attractive, it gives everything but I am afraid that people become too much slave of time and money, and then work, and they forget something very important: the human touch, the feeling to be part of a community, the feeling that if there is a problem in the city, it is also our problem.
Of course I don’t mean that all Milan citizens are egoist and all Vigevano citizens are not, but I think that the smaller the town is and the more people feel themselves involved in problems, and of course tend to know each other more easily.
I wanted to live in a town that could give me everything I needed (and I don’t need everything), the basic services like school, hospital and so on, that wasn’t too big and not too small, well connected to Milan (because of course, I planned to go on working in Milan) and, also very important, with some history.
Nobody knows when Vigevano was exactly founded, but some documents dated 963 AD tell about a small town called “Vicogeboin” or “Vicus Gebuin” probably built for military purposes. Since the town is between the cities of Pavia and Milan, it often had conflicts with those cities. Things got better between 1400 and 1500 when Vigevano became an important town for commerce. In that period the town was dominated by three important families, first by Della Torre family, then by Visconti and at the end by Sforza Family. Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan and member of Sforza family ordered to build the Vigevano’s main attraction and one of the finest squares of Italy, Piazza Ducale.
This is the place that caught my attention when i visited Vigevano, this rectangle square quite fully sorrounded by arcades is something hard to forget. All around there are shops and cafes where you can drink something and look at the square, and think that despite the problems, there is so much beauty in life.
The town is not big, only 65.000 inhabitants, so even if there is enough privacy (or at least the feeling of it) some other times you might think that everybody knows everything of anyone. While when you go to the centre in Milan you won’t probably meet the same people, here in Vigevano if you go to the centre, you can be sure that you will meet someone you know.
Here in Piazza Ducale you will see old people sitting and drinking something at cafes, groups of teens talking, the whole family walking with the dog, two policemen to protect citizens (but who seem to know that nothing will happen, at least in that place), and few tourists that take pictures of the square and the Castle, which are connected with the square by stairs. Under the arcades you will find some jewelry and shoe-shops, cafes and other places where you can eat ice-cream (despite the crisis, it seems that there are more and more of them). Sometimes at weekends there are some markets held by people who come from other towns, to sell typical food from all the other Italian regions, or antiques.
However, the most important event here is the Palio of Vigevano: a competition of 12 teams that represent 12 historical areas of Vigevano of 14th century; I think right at this time, life in Vigevano reaches its best: many people in historical costumes fill the square and the castle, with their weapons, their typical food, their dances, their falcons, and you really feel to go back to the past, when surely life was hard but maybe less complicated than this one, and then you go on thinking about the streets you are walking in, those very old trees or buildings that always been there, despite the people that used to come and go, to live and die, and then I think that this life is so short and precious, and that sometimes we waste so much time.
The event is usually held in October, and some months earlier, in may, there is a similar one for children (same costumes, same situations, but competitions are held by kids). Of course there are pubs and discos also here, and there are also two football teams (even if they play in minor divisions) and there is a basketball team.
However, not everything is bright, if the crisis is felt in a city like Milan, you can imagine how it is felt here in Vigevano. In 50’s this town was very important for shoes production, an important journalist even noted, “in Vigevano there are many factories but no bookshops!”, unfortunately nowadays it seems that there are more bookshops than factories! I love books but when I walk in the street I realize that everyday shops are being shut down, because taxes are high, consumes falling down, so starting a company is everyday more and more difficult. Since there is no money, the city hall gets less money by taxes (that are still high), and solving problems of community is not easy.
And when things go bad sometimes people tend to look for someone guilty, so sometimes people complain about too many immigrants (mostly from africa, eastern europe and china) who are supposed to “steal” the work from Italians. But they forget that Chinese people always work a lot and go on buying and opening new shops here, that from Eastern Europe usually comes many women who work as nannies in houses to take care of old people, and that many Africans come here to Italy to work in the agriculture fields where Italians don’t want to work anymore. And what about Egyptians who go on opening kebab restaurants? If retired people can go on getting the pension it is also because all these immigrants came here to work and pay taxes. Sure, there are many immigrants that come here for illegal purposes, but it can’t be a matter of provenience or race, but it is a matter of laws and order.
Other bad side of living in Vigevano can be the relationship that people have with railway service, or better, the way that railway service treats people :). Like me, many other people decided to come to live here from Milan, and everyday we go to work to Milan. Vigevano and Milan are well linked by train, since within 30 minutes you can easily reach the centre of Milan. But sometimes trains have some problems: they are late, they suddenly stop because of damages, and so on, so if today you ask Vigevano people about the most important problem of the city, they would answer “the connection to Milan”, so they daydream about new roads to Milan, to build new bridges to cross the Ticino River (important river that practically separates the province of Milan with the province of Pavia), and so on. All these problems are reported in newspapers everyday, especially these days politicians talk about it, mostly because these weeks some elections were held in Vigevano to nominate the Major. But everybody knows that the roads or solutions will hardly come, because there is crisis and no money to build anything.
I am writing these things because I think they are helpful to understand the mood of people here: I think people have strong zeal here (because you need a strong will to wake up early in the morning to catch a train that might not arrive to destination!), not optimist about the future, who then try to enjoy the day, living day by day, enjoying the small (or big) things like a walk in the square, maybe a weekend in another town (instead of a week of vacation that they would have done some years earlier, when things were better), feeling themselves at the same time still close to Milan but somehow still far from it.
Do you think they are sad? I don’t think so, at least they won’t show you, they can always give you a smile when you meet them, they are probably scared, because nowadays planning seems to be harder than earlier, and Italians have always been very practical people who always gave the priority to their safety. So the idea of family, of owning (if possible) the house, to have a stable job, have always been very important in Italian mentality and life style.
However, I think it wouldn’t be fair to end this article with a sad mood, since we have seen that there is a lot of beauty in Vigevano, so it is always a place worth to visit if you look for it, even if, I think, the real beauty can be found quite everywhere: in the perfection of the nature, in the smile of happiness of someone we love, in ourselves, because we are unique persons and our lives are then unique, and despite all problems, that makes us special.
Photo Courtesy: The Author
(Redistribution of the photographs without permission is strictly prohibited)
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