The Living Room Of Milan


By the time those years of protest came to an end, habits had changed. The privileged class had quickly learned to keep a low profile, now practising the art of worldly living in other more secluded spots. Milan was left to follow its proletarian bent. When the time was ripe for its rebirth, the Galleria could not ignore this novel vision of the city, much less the notice that suddenly appeared one day in Biffi window to announce that it was going out of business.

Society’s “drawing room” was no more, having disappeared along with its crinolines, top hats, dashing satin-lined cloaks and grandes robes en taffetas flambé qui criait du roissement de ses plis.

SIP public telephone in the Galleria. Photo Cesare Colombo

Renewal meant adapting to the customs and rhythms of the late twentieth century, even if the delightful Central European atmosphere had been distinguished by unforgettable elegance. Gestures became brusque; the quickened pace at the end of the century was marked by production and consumption on the run, with little time for the “shuffling of feet on the polished pavement.”

The original utilitarian concept of “passage” as urban transit made a comeback, with each individual being an involuntary protagonist of a show dedicated to the ephemeral, seemingly bent on repudiating the tradition that once made the Galleria a lieu de sentiments.

Football World Cup final in July 1982

Mario de Biasi 1985

Fast food Octagon. Boris Gradnick, ca 1986

The days of greetings, smiles, cordial handshakes and close participation in the lives of others were over; by now, people who crossed paths ignored one another looking past one another and preening without making a show of it. One got used to the spectacle of smartness parading next to the ridiculous. Above all, one hurried along as though late for a very important date.

How apt was the old definition of “way stations”! The pursuit of progress was erasing the memory Verdi, Puccini and the bands. Je me souviens des jours ancient et je pleure: Verlaine added his tears to the sobbing violins of autumn, but the Galleria could not care less about the wounds to the heart. Even the Savini: an institution worthy of historical landmark status, tossed in the sponge. How could the delicate flavor of its risotto compete with the smells given off by the fast food restaurant across the way where the mythical Biffi establishment once was located? Little by little, the news papers bitter view came to be shared. “Far form being the heart of the city. where business people ought to at least have the convenience of being sheltered from rain and snow.”

Despite the scornful remarks, the Galleria continued to be a suggestive spot that inspired respect; however open to criticism, its monumental quality and aesthetic code still guaranteed its existence: the great arcade was a link between past and present powerful enough to withstand ever increasingly more widespread modernist assaults.


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