A Milanese institution and an American institution all in the space of a week.
It’s less than a month now until the Milan experience is over. It’s sad that it’s come to counting down the days but that’s the way it is. One final week of classes to come and then a fortnight of exams. This week marked the first exam of the seven final exams that I am taking here, this one for my Italian language course. It’s hard to tell how I went, there were some areas that I just wasn’t able to think coherently about having gone into the exam straight after 6 hours of classes, but we’ll see.
In the meantime, this week has been a chance to engage in a local tradition as well as one from America, which have been welcome breaks from the onslaught of coursework.
The first of these was a Milanese institution that takes place twice a year, the “Derby della Maddonina” football game between local rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan. It’s been less of a blockbuster in recent years due to the teams being out of form, but they’re still the biggest games of the season in this part of the world.
A couple of the MA/MBAs had stayed up late a few weeks ago to be able to snag tickets as soon as they went on sale, and we managed to get cheap seats in the far upper tiers of the famous San Siro stadium. On the day, my housemates and I had a little aperitivo party before the game, with themed food representing the colors of each team; appropriate, since my housemate Adam is an AC fan, and I an Inter fan, so the game represented a house rivalry as much as a city rivalry.
Getting there was a challenge though; the stadium is close to a mile from the nearest metro station, but nonetheless the metro was packed solid with fans going to the game. We piled on and off, a swarming mass of red and blue. The streets were overrun with crowds all the way to the entrance of the stadium, drinking beer and eating panini from the countless food trucks that were set up along the way.
The San Siro itself is an old stadium, and very much a hangover from the “bad old days” of football, with heavy security and brutalist architecture. To reach the top tier you have to ascend a long spiral ramp that winds around a central column at such a gentle angle that it takes five minutes of walking to reach its peak.
Once inside, we pushed through crowds to find the section of the stadium with our seats, the location of sections in the stadium are often without signs, so finding the right part of the ground can be a challenge. Once there, we found that some fans had decided that they liked our seats so much they were going to sit there (this is typical behavior), and so there was a short and argumentative process of moving them on before we could sit down.
For all its fame as one of the great stadiums of the world, the San Siro looks and feels like a giant prison courtyard. Metal and concrete, ugly and claustrophobic. The concrete towers at each corner look as if they should be adorned with spotlights and sniper posts. Oversized plexiglass barriers cover every open railing. The tier of seats allocated to the most dedicated away fans is portioned off with a wall of netting, forming a cage in which to confine them.
All this being said, from where we sat, the view of the game was great, and the atmosphere was electric with its chanting and cheering. The football itself was at times a bit amateurish for what is meant to be top level club football, with some great chances going begging from both sides, but at least it was exciting to watch, especially when both sides managed to each score a goal, causing the crowd to lose their minds.
After half time, the Inter fans decided that it would be a good time to let off a stack of flares, and our end of the stadium became shrouded in smoke. The safety wardens simply stood around without a care. Compared to Australia, where flares are banned, it was a bit of a shock to see the nonchalant attitude.
We stuck around for a little while after half time, but in true Italian fashion, we decided to leave early to miss the crowd. After all, it was a Sunday night and we all had class early in the morning As it was, we didn’t miss much of the remainder of the game, which petered out into a 1-1 draw.
However, it was certainly a unique experience.
Later in the week it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving, and a chance for my MA/MBA colleagues to celebrate important traditions, and maintain connections with home. We all piled into one of the apartments to take part in the tradition of dinner and companionship (and turkey).
Being an agglomeration of all the MA/MBAs and their Thanksgiving traditions, everyone had to make a dish that was traditional to their thanksgiving table. There was turkey (naturally), multiple takes on sweet potatoes, corn, and the biggest tray of macaroni and cheese I have ever seen outside of a commercial caterer.
Unlike last year’s Thanksgiving, where almost all the guests were foreign students celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time, this year I got to be to odd one out at the table. So for my dish I did the closest thing possible to a traditional Australian celebratory dish, and brought something alcoholic. Being so close to winter it made perfect sense to introduce my friends to the marvellous Germanic drink Glühwein (literally “glow wine”), a spiced wine that is heated up before serving, and popular at the winter markets of Germany and Austria. Needless to say it went down really well.
Normally Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for friends and family, and this year was no different. Before we commenced eating, we each spoke about our experience here, and what was universally acknowledged was that we have all had a tough time here. Each of us had our reasons. However, what was also universal was that we were thankful for the support of our friends and our families, and most especially our fellow MA/MBAs in Milan. The experience has cemented the bonds of friendship between us, and we have all gotten to know each other on a deeper level. It was a touching moment (there may have been a group hug involved).
On that point, I am thankful to all of my friends and family, in Australia, the US and everywhere else, for all the support, goodwill, and patience they have shown throughout this past year. Milan has been tough, but it would have been even tougher without your help.
Back to the story… then there was dinner! It was tasty, filling, and there were oh so many leftovers to take home. One final note, when we went to say thanks, I mentioned that it was so nice to be made to feel like I had been adopted as an American… at which point I was shouted down by the MA/MBAs and told:
“Texan… Adopted Texan.”
It does have a nice ring to it…
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