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Milan’s Mercato Centrale

Food culture or urban business?
by Federico Niola

by Federico Niola

15 November 2021

Reading time

3 minutes

by Federico Niola

by Federico Niola

15 November 2021

Reading time

3 minutes

Milan continues to try its best. There is certainly room for different opinions and value judgments on its merits, but the fact that Milan is trying to shake off the dust is hard to deny.
For me, those who experiment always get a thumbs up, even when it looks a bit like guesswork. The stores in the Mercato Centrale gave me the same feeling you get when friends hand you a drawing done by their child’s inner Kandinsky. Mum, Dad and Pluto the dog on a blue background. You always thank them and say it’s fantastic, and nobody ever asks if that’s what you really think.
The decorations on the walls embody an urban graffiti style that’s part of the grand plan of cutting the last ties to an archaic industrial tone and opening up to creative and expressive freedom. You might wonder what they mean, what they are trying to communicate. But why should we even ask ourselves the question? Can’t we talk about style and fun without getting all philosophical? We celebrate the aesthetics of the end in itself. We can never be sure, but who knows how much artistic value came from the simple fact that the painter ran out of red and used green instead. Let’s just pretend they are the child’s drawings stuck on the refrigerator door at home.

Italian, we missed you

They are also decorations that speak our language. In the recent past we would have viewed this linguistic choice with suspicious disdain, but that was back when we wore the mask of xenophilia in order to look modern and feel part of something beyond our own borders. We tried to say everything in English. Instead of “cibo” we would always say “food”; you can eat your “panino al prosciutto”, I prefer “street food”. Then you would go to New York and discover that the food there speaks Italian, for reasons we all know and that you only have to travel around Italy for a while to understand.
There is also a common trait that links the Mercato Centrale and, for example, Apple or Starbucks and in general the new non-places of modern Milanese life. The first time I walked into Starbucks for breakfast I felt almost out of place, sitting there with my big glass in my hand. Then I realised, The place had its own semantics, and if I wasn’t on a call or working on a budget or a presentation on my Macbook, then mine were different. Without meaning to, I could feel I was clashing with that “hype” aesthetic that is so popular in the new Milan. Me and a smiling Japanese lady in a yellow raincoat, unaffected by these local factors.

A coffee and a genius loci, thank you

Come to think of it, I didn’t eat anything. I just had a coffee. I was probably focused on listening to the genius loci and I can’t do two things together, I either eat or I think. OK, in the next life I must remember not to read Jung! But it is true that the genius loci exists, the soul of the place, the demon that owns it: try going to the Apple store and ask if they are a computer shop! I enjoy perceiving the soul of places. Don’t you ever do that?
What I want to scribble on my professional post-its and share with you is this: style is a very elaborate language and, like all forms of communication, it is also a bridge that connects people. Or separates them. That’s the difference, that’s our personal choice.

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