FRANCESCO MANDELLI ## Milanese from Osnago, 36 years old, actor

“I’m not originally from Milan, I have become a Milanese since I moved here in 2000, so I’ve lived here for about 15 years. I’m originally from Osnago, a little town near Lecco, about 30km North of Milan.

Seen from Osnago, Milan was the most interesting place one could aspire to move to, I’m talking about the end of the 90’s, around 1998. I remember telling my mom that after school – usually on a Saturday afternoon – I wouldn’t be coming back for lunch because I wanted to go to Milan with my friends, and she would say “How come, why are you going to Milan?” Because it seemed such a distant place at the time. Now, from a Milanese’s point of view since I feel I am one, I remember that at the time I was what the New Yorkers describe as “bridge and tunnel” i.e. someone clearly from outside the city… I was so obviously from the equivalent of New Jersey, in the clothes I wore, my facial expressions, the way I spoke – because the accent from Brianza is similar to the accent from Milan, only a bit more closed. For me, going to Milan was always like a great adventure.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever told this to anyone, but just like loads of kids my age in the mid 90s, I got into graffiti writing. One day, together with my crew which consisted of 3 people, we took the train to Milan for a day out, and then we decided to venture into Porta Garibaldi train station, to spray a few of our tags on the side of a train. After only about 5 minutes or so, since obviously at the station there are CCTV cameras everywhere, we looked around and there were two policemen sprinting towards us, holding their hats down, waving their arms in the air… we were totally busted. I was rooted to the spot, I didn’t even try to escape. I remember it was Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday) in 1997, and we found ourselves in police custody. They interrogated us, asking us all these questions like “Tell us, who is Noce”? – Noce was a well-known tagger at the time, who had written his name all over town, up in the most surprising, unbelievable places. They were like “Tell us who Noce is now, we know you know who he is”!! And I replied, “Look, seriously, we’re from Osnago, I have absolutely no idea who Noce is… I wish I knew him!”. Anyway, since I was underage, they had to call my parents and tell them to come and pick me up because I had been arrested by the Railway police. I remember their look of disappointment. You know, for someone from Osnago to be arrested in Milan for graffiti, they must have assumed the worst… ‘He must be doing drugs, or definitely sooner or later he will’’.

My first days in Milan I got slapped because I was working at MTV and sometimes in the street someone would yell out of the blue “MTV is shit! Asshole!!! “… I had arrived from Osnago, where everyone knows each other. Once a stranger in front of the bar Rattazzo, in Ticinese, with a beer in his hand, dreadlocks and an alternative look, insulted me and everyone else turned around to see who was being offended. It was very… quite… it was very humiliating.

It was very easy to find new friends, really easy. I have always heard that Milan is a very closed city. Look, the Milanesi open their front door to you, they invite you to come in, they are incredibly welcoming. Think of how many people they had to take in over the years. That’s more than hospitality…

People must learn to love the city more. It seems to me that everyone in Milan complains about being in Milan, everyone sees only the bad things and not the good things. It is easier and more fun with friends to say that Milan is bad and that one can’t wait to move to Rome. I love Rome, it’s beautiful, but I would never live there. That said, Milan must be loved more. It is not perfect. It has its downsides and has some aspects that I don’t understand and that make me nervous. For example, people who throw stuff into the Naviglio: dead cats, bottles… How can one do that? This means that you have no respect for the place where you live, that you don’t like it.

I remember once, near home, I got robbed with a gun. It was 2008. I lived in the center, near Porta Venezia, in via Eustachi. I parked the car and I saw a figure next to me who was opening the door, I turned off the car and… I said ‘you scared me’ because I thought – sorry … – it was someone that had recognized me… I had the reflex, however, to close the door immediately. He opened it, showed me the gun and got into the car, and then another guy got in the back seat: with the gun they took 90 Euros and stole my ATM card. That thing scarred me, big cities are also these type of things. I’m not saying that Milan is more or less dangerous than others. I find more dangerous than Rome, for example. Since it happened I keep a pair of eyes open, not just one…

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The Milanesi really like to go to Piazza Gae Aulenti, to see the skyscrapers, the new thing… I’m not saying that it was wrong to build them, but not there… you can’t build an 82 floor skyscraper in front of a banister house, which until yesterday had the sun shining in front. If you build a skyscraper right in front of it you are creating a monster. Why did they build it there? Because the price per square meter is higher, near Corso Como… if they did it in Bovisa… ah! I’m not going to live in Bovisa, if you give me a flat for free, then maybe I’ll live in a skyscraper.

I’ll say what is perhaps the most unexpected: Via Padova. It was my way to work, MTV, for ten years. I took the bus in Piazzale Loreto and went along Via Padova to get to Via Gioacchino Belli. Via Padova is unfortunately a strange street, sometimes there is degradation, immigration can be frightening, but I am very fond of it and it is perhaps the street in Milan that is more similar to Brick Lane in London. Just because we have built three skyscrapers Milan shouldn’t look like New York. This is the problem: before Milan was Milan and didn’t have to look like any other city, in fact, the other cities were trying to look like Milan. I hope Milan will go back to not wanting to look like anything but itself.

I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did in Bologna or Rome, I don’t think so: I felt like an alien for a long time, but then Milan immediately welcomed me with open arms. I find that Milan is an Italian city, but also the most European Italian city. Rome is a state in itself, it’s different, everything works differently than in Milan. It is not a North-South matter, careful, I mean that Rome is Rome, it has worked like that for thousands of years, nun ce dovete rompe’ le scatole (‘don’t bother us’), that’s how it works, famo così e ‘amo sempre fatto così (‘that’s how we do it and that’s how we’ve always done it’). Whereas Milan has always had to adapt, to try to keep up with the times, it has never been the capital, and if it wanted to keep up with other major European cities it had to work hard. So I hope that Milan will become, thanks to the Expo, a stronger beacon for Italy.

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