Expo 2015: The Opening

I am really really lucky that this is the semester I’m in Milan.

I’m sure Milan is amazing all of the time, but it’s especially cool that this is the year Milan is hosting the Expo 2015! The Expo (short for Universal Exhibition) is what they now call the World’s Fair. Before coming to Milan I hadn’t even realized that such a thing still existed, but since the World’s Columbian Exhibition is my favorite part of Chicago history (I was the only weirdo who liked the Daniel Burnham part of Devil in the White City more than the serial killer), I was pretty pumped to find out that I was going to be able to go to a World’s Fair!

The Expo takes place every 5 years (the last one was in Shanghai in 2010). These things are a big deal and they last a long time – Expo 2015 (officially called the World Expo 2015 Milan, Italy) runs from May 1 until October 31. It’s also really cool that host cities get to choose the theme of the Expo. Expos are always about technical innovations and building a better society, but the hosts get to pick a specific focus. Shocking no one given Italy’s love for food, Milan has chosen the theme of Expo 2015 to be “Feeding the planet, energy for life,” focusing on how to best cultivate a healthy and sustainable food source to feed the world’s growing population.

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Since the start of the semester, we’ve been counting down the days until May 1st because 1) we’re excited for the Expo, and 2) we’re ready for all of the construction to go away. The entire time that we’ve been here, there’s been orange construction fences through Navigli, scaffolding covering the Galleria, and sawdust floating through the airports. As with every big global event like this, there’s been plenty of doubt about whether or not Milan would be ready in time for the Expo. Well, happy to report that the construction disappeared miraculously overnight, and the city looks wonderful!

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For those of you wondering about the huge stage in front of the Duomo, it was for the event that took place in the square on April 30, the night before the Expo officially opened. There was a huge concert featuring the famous Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli in addition to the chorus and orchestra of La Scala and various other pianists and opera singers.

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Not that I don’t appreciate Italian Opera, but I chose to go to the Martin Garrix concert that night instead. To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Martin Garrix before and only knew of one of his songs (for the clueless people like me, he’s an 18 year old DJ from the Netherlands. Yes, that’s right…18) . But I just went with it since all of my friends were going and since EDM is so big in Europe I could kinda swing it as a cultural experience.

The concert was literally insane. First of all, Martin Garrix is good. You might not believe me because I’m clearly not an EDM expert, but according to DJ Mag (apparently they’re a reliable source??) he’s the fourth best DJ in the entire world. His music was great, the lights were amazing, and I’m currently obsessed with his new song Don’t Look Down. Martin Garrix definitely has himself a new fan 🙂

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Before his set started, we did our best to push our way to the front. Everyone else had the same idea, so we got stuck in what was basically the equivalent of no man’s land where there was a ridiculous amount of pushing and shoving. It was incredibly cool to be that close, but it was also freaking terrifying because I was pretty sure I was going to get trampled. We lasted a good amount of time up there, and then went to the back where we could enjoy the music without fearing for our lives. Since EDM is literally the opposite end of the music spectrum from opera, I can guarantee I had a very different experience than everyone at the Duomo that night. May not have been as cultural, but I can also guarantee that I had more fun and I’m very very glad I went!

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So the Expo actually opened on May 1st. The Opening Ceremony was at the main open-air theatre on the Expo grounds, and included speeches from the commissioner of the Expo, the mayor of Milan, the president of the region, the prime minister of Italy, and the Pope. Again I wasn’t actually there, I was doing some site seeing around the city (more on my exploration of Milan in a later post). Turns out May 1st was not the ideal day to go on an excursion through Milan, since May 1st is Labor Day. Labor Day usually means protests and rallies, but because it also coincided with the start of the Expo the protests were much bigger this year.

Unfortunately for me, the biggest protest took place near the metro stop closest to the church and museum I was visiting. As the State Department has already emailed us several times this semester warning us to stay far away from any form of protests, I knew better than to get too close. I snapped a few pics from a safe distance – not really of the protestors but mostly of the police barricades and riot gear. Props to them, they seemed very prepared and in control of the situation.

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I honestly hadn’t thought the protests were that big of a deal, but when I got back to my room later that afternoon I saw a bunch of dramatic headlines like “Violence overshadows start of Milan Expo as police and protesters clash,” with pictures of burning cars, broken glass, and tear gas. I had been really lucky that this all happened while I was in the museum, the worst I had seen was the aftermath of garbage and broken windows and graffiti when I tried to take the metro (which was closed) back to Arco. (the two pictures of the aftermath on the left are mine, the one on the right is of the actual protest at the station that is from one of the articles)

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I am incredibly disappointed that something like this stole the headlines from a day that should have been a celebration of the city of Milan. While I am all for people’s right to protest, it is frustrating that there are people in this world, like the anarchists at this particular protest, who look for any excuse to be destructive and violent. I know that big international events like this are not always popular – I remember from Chicago’s Olympic bid, I saw it in Brazil for the World Cup, and I’ve been hearing about it for the last three months here in Milan. This next month will certainly be a challenge – safety will be a concern, the increase in tourists will be annoying, and the increase in transportation strikes will be incredibly inconvenient. That being said, I will never stop believing that these kind of events are a good thing. Over 11 million tickets have already been sold for the Expo, and I can personally vouch for the fact that Milan is going to gain a huge tourism boost based on the crowds I’ve seen in the center of the city. And even though I’m a business student, I don’t even think it’s about the money – I truly believe that the greatest benefit from an event like this is the unity and pride that brings the city together, and for this reason I don’t understand why any city wouldn’t want to host something like this. It’s going to be interesting to see if my opinion changes during the next month (though I’m confident it won’t!), and regardless of the situation I am unbelievably excited to be living in a city that gets to host an event of this magnitude!

Sorry for the rant, but this is a topic that I’m very very passionate about. I can’t wait to actually go to the Expo later this month (Bocconi gave us a free ticket!), and let you all know how it is! (Spoiler Alert: it’s going to be AMAZING!!)

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