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Milan Gets Punk'd

Nicole Dalamagas takes a week out in Milan, Japanther style.

Published on June 15th 2011.


Milan Gets Punk'd

GrecoGreco3AM in Soho is somewhere I’d usually choose to avoid. Walking down Oxford Street, a road where thousands of people brush by every day without ever seeing each other, can be quite unsettling when the tourists, shoppers and city workers are all tucked-up away inside their homes. Aside from the few last dregs of a mid-week mash-up, these dirty, cobbled streets are mostly occupied with ladies of the night, junkies, roamers and oddballs. Setting off into the night from my flat on Tottenham Court Road to the Greenline coach stop at Marble Arch, I found the latter of these categories had multiplied somewhat, staggering through the streets like the zombies of some low-budget horror.

The ramshackle buildings and derelict walls hold an intoxicating beauty; there is an implicit sense behind each cobbled street and cracked paint door that the city itself is a living, breathing body in its own right. Just like wrinkles on the skin, every creak and cranny tells a tale of its age and background, so much so that even the very air that you breathe seems to carry the scent of a long and proud culture.

Img_0754Milan City StreetAs I waited with bated breath for the coach to arrive, one such fellow, wearing a not-so-subtle combination of pointed Loakes and novelty ankle socks, paced up and down the path before me, shouting ‘cheese’ at random intervals and laughing hysterically to himself. I glanced at the frightened lady next to me, who was tightening her grip on her suitcase. She glanced back in a way that suggested some kind of unspoken female camaraderie. At least we had each other.

I stupidly booked my flight tickets from Luton to Milan Malpensa, two airports, which could not be any further away from my chosen destinations unless they were on another planet. Yes, I saved a measly £20, but I also managed to successfully triple my journey time and maximise my chances of ending up cut up into tiny pieces by a cheese-shouting freakshow. Thanks for that, Easy Jet. Perhaps a name revision should be considered.

As I write, I am now on my fourth form of transportation of the day, a rickety old coach that smells of rotten feet, which is taking its sweet time to transfer a bunch of pissed-off passengers (myself included) from Malpensa to Central station. It’s now 10:15am. I hate everybody.

 

Ian Vanek %28T-shirt by Dodeci%29Ian Vanek, T-shirt by Dodici

On exiting the mobile hellhole, I’m greeted at the station by a grinning and bloody Ian Vanek of New York-based art project, Japanther, whose chosen method of transportation (a skateboard which he has just fallen off) is slightly more appealing, but perhaps a little less practical for the both of us. Japanther was established in 2001 by Vanek and his fellow student, Matt Reilly, whilst they were attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Over their ten-year strong history, they’ve managed to create quite a name for themselves, particularly through a series of unique performances, which have featured synchronized swimmers, giant puppets, marionettes, shadow puppets and even giant dinosaurs and BMXers flying off walls out of the back of a moving truck in Soho. Now, with a week off whilst preparing for the Bienniel in Venice, they kindly invited me to join them on their Milanese vacation.

 

Central StationCentral StationWe stayed in an apartment in Greco, a quartier just behind Central station, which, having never been to Milan before, I immediately found to be far less glamourous than the fashion-wrapped world I had imagined. However, this isn’t to say it was any less impressive. The ramshackle buildings and derelict walls hold an intoxicating beauty; there is an implicit sense behind each cobbled street and cracked paint door that the city itself is a living, breathing body in its own right. Just like wrinkles on the skin, every creak and cranny tells a tale of its age and background, so much so that even the very air that you breathe seems to carry the scent of a long and proud culture.

 

GraffitiGraffitiAlso, for anyone interested in graffiti, this city is like a porn film. I’ve never seen so many buildings covered in graffiti; even the subway cars are wrapped in a coat of bright images and fancy lettering. Graffiti has a huge history in Italy; ‘graffito’ is the name, which was originally applied to the wall etchings found at Pompeii and other Italian cities. There was also a collection of the graffiti of Pompeii published by Bishop Wordsworth in 1837, which provided a useful insight into the life of the ancient Romans, so it really is a significant part of Italy’s cultural heritage. Vanek publishes his own magazine about graffiti and, like many others before him, put ‘tags’ around the city streets (a tag is a writer’s name or alias). Although I don’t know much about graffiti, I am interested in the philosophy behind it, which is particularly poignant in Milan. People want to be remembered. It’s quite a profound idea to leave your mark wherever you travel, like a spray-paint footprint. There is also real feel of freedom behind it; art should not have a huge price tag like so much has today (Banksy, that means you), it should be for everybody to see and enjoy.

Accordion playerAccordion playerWhilst the boys went to a radio interview, I spent my first day exploring the local area. I found a sweet little food market beside the canal in Greco, which sold everything from courgette flowers to golden beetroots. No one spoke a word of English, but I managed to get by, pointing and signing and doing that ridiculous British thing where we mime as though all foreigners are deaf. It was all a bit like Charades. I also found a lovely park near the canal, where old, Italian men were playing Pétanque. That’s the main thing I really love about Milan; no matter how old or young, people enjoy their life and make the most of everyday.

CaneCaneLater on that evening, after driving around in a beaten-up truck for hours on end, we ate a few delicious homemade gelatos at RivaReno (perhaps the best Italian ice around), and some extraordinary pizzas at Solopizza. Don’t be fooled by their unpretentious exterior, Solopizza’s pizza is Neapolitan style, only with a thicker, softer base and is probably among the best and the cheapest you can find in Milan.
 I had the Champignon Pizza (€9), which was so enormous I had to take the most part of it home, whilst Ian devoured two whole tomato sauce pizzas (€6 each – apparently cheese damages the voice). There is also a great atmosphere inside the restaurant; the crowd is young, lively, and like most Italians, just that little bit boisterous (so probably best not to visit this one for a romantic date). Refueled, we hopped back in the truck and went to Magnolia, a bar in the middle of Linate airport. If you are lucky enough to have access to some form of transport, this is another great stop, particularly if you’re into alternative music. The venue has recently housed bands such as Liars, Beach House and Battles, but to be honest, even without the bands, it’s a must-visit just for the novelty of being drunk in the middle of an airport.

Ian VanekIan VanekOn the Thursday night, Japanther performed an impromptu gig at the Dodici Cycli Milano store, a fixed gear bike brand devised by Jacopo Volpe. They were supported by Milanese punk bank, Cane, whose revved-up set caused quite a riot. Keyboardist, Magda, who is affectionately known as Little Satan, sported little more than a tied-up bin-bag, whilst front-man, Mattia, wore checkered boxers and a batman mask. On looking around a crowd of carefree youngsters, who each sported Volpe’s signature T-shirts that read ‘Fixed Gear Church-Burners’, I have to admit that the Italians sure do make the English look like a bunch of wet rats. Gone was all pretense, as a sea of dancing bodies began shaking epileptically, like one huge, vibrating mass. And, once the feisty crowd had emptied and consumed a paddling pool full of beers, (which didn’t seem to take too long) Vanek and Reilly took their opportunity to splash off their post-set sweats inside the pool and join what was transpiring to be an orgy of beer-punk and bad consciences.

DoumaDoumaDying to scratch my tourist itch, I insisted on spending Saturday exploring the Douma, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. It took almost 500 years too build and its crucifix is said to contain a nail from the cross. No holiday to Milan is complete without a visit to this beautiful building, whether you are a devout Catholic or a hardened atheist. Even Vanek, despite protestations, took a step inside its enormous, embellished doors (although he did sport a church-burner T-shirt, so let’s not give him too much credit). I’ve long been obsessed with Gothic architecture, sparked by a love of Wapole and Poe, yet I found the inner ethics of the cathedral a little off-putting. Despite supposing to be a sanctum of holier-than-thouness, the blatant hypocrisy within the building is shocking. The shops inside shamelessly advertise and beg tourists to buy candles and other religious crap that they don’t really need.

Market by The Last SupperMarket by The Last SupperDisheartened, but still determined, we made our way to ‘The Last Supper’. The building had nothing on the Douma, but had a quaint air of peacefulness around it, that became especially potent in centre gardens where a beautiful stone fountain could be found, complete with frog statues, lush greenery and little market stalls at each of the corners. However, upon enquiring whether we could actually see ‘The Last Supper’, dreams were dashed once again when an awkward Italian fellow on the door informed us of the two month waiting list. Take this as a word of warning, if you are intending to visit Milan, be sure to make reservations early to avoid disappointment.

Hungover on Sunday morning, Ian and I took a stroll through the city on the hunt for a spot of vintage shopping, only to discover that absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, is open on a Sunday in Milan. It’s a ghost town. We’d spent the last night in Magazzini Generali, at a party humourously named, MEGAPARTY. Referring to itself as a ‘media space’, the club is supposedly dedicated to ‘quality music’, and although I beg to differ on that front, the DJs were pretty impressive and I couldn’t help but enjoy watching hundreds of Italians taking their tops off and shouting ‘megaparty!’

Img_0746Vintage BikeTo end five days of mayhem, we were lucky enough to catch a little of the Milan San Remo (Italy’s version of the Tour de France), which made several of my cycle-enthusiast friends extremely jealous. Then, after one last look upon the canal beside our apartment, I packed my bags and set out on the arduous journey ahead of me, feeling a little bit drained, but inspired nonetheless. I was very lucky to spend the time with Japanther, and see Milan from their point of view; in a city that primarily revolves around fashion, people often forget that there’s a whole other world beneath that, one which has a great music scene and art culture. And now for goodbye, I leave Milan with these Japanther lyrics:

‘Morning, good night, and good afternoon

I gotta go to work

Good morning, good night, and good after noon

I'll be right back

Good morning, good night, and good afternoon

I'll see ya later’

Follow @NicoleDalamagas on Twitter!

More Information

I booked my flights at EasyJet.com, prices start at around £100.

Travel to airport and back leaves from Victoria, Marble Arch, Baker Street and Finsbury Park stations on Greenline coaches, booked at Greenline.co.uk.

From Manchester to Milan Malpensa, FlyBe, BMI and British Airways flights start from around £100.

Listen to more from Japanther at Japanther.com

Be sure to check out Fixed gear bike store, Dodeci at DodeciCicli.com

Book in advance for The Last Supper at TickItaly.com

 

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