In checking my site stats, it’s interesting which posts get the most views. The Pros and Cons of Living in Milano (as an Expat?) is consistently at the top, which makes me happy, that people somewhere are gleaning some value from it, and more poignantly, reaaaally makes me miss Milano. So, to you I present, an addendum.
Two and a half years later, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect.
I won’t recap too much of what I said in the original post from January 2016, but instead focus on what I miss now, looking back to my time there.
What I miss about Milano: Fashion
With great longing, I miss the base level of cultural appreciation for fashion. Even in major American cities, options for sartorial greatness can be limited. Let’s not even discuss Tampa (though, I have sniffed out the few here who do know their style vocabulary).
Italy is one of the countries most known for its apparel prowess and style sensibilities, and I didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of this while there.
I discovered so many fantastic brands that have little or no world presence, but hum along in an artisanal way, none too concerned with global dominance or sacrificing quality for volume and scale.
One of those brands is Care Label, recommended to me by a friend, the trousers from which I still wear today (have one in navy and one in olive). They’ve been through three years of abuse, and though they’re faded from washing, still fit well and flatter. The cotton has a slight sheen, like it’s been brushed, which makes them look more expensive than trousers made from cheaper cotton.
I also had the great pleasure to visit a brand showrooms and workshops to experience different forms of Italian artistry. Those covered on Remarqed include Fontana, Felisi, Buccellati, and Bottega Veneta Home. At Eligo (formerly SATOR), I experimented with bespoke shirting (custom-made from my exact measurements, with an abdomen-level monogram), a quintessentially Italian experience.
With the SDA Bocconi Luxury & Arts Club, we visited bigger brands like Kering Eyewear (maker of Gucci, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta eyewear), where it was equally fascinating to watch prototype sunglasses in production.
All of these visits and experiences were so special, and solidified my belief in the often unmatched aesthetic of Italian makers.
From the consumer side, I spent a ton of time thumbing through the racks at BIVIO, a resale shop where Dsquared2 t-shirts go for as little as €20 and I bought many timeless pieces I cherish: a blue cashmere Giorgio Armani coat; a gray Colombo cotton-cashmere sweater; a Paolo Pecora soft cotton blazer that hangs gracefully, has a deep navy color (almost black), and earns me lots of compliments.
Seeing BIVIO’s instagram posts, now, in absentia, is painful, because I so miss that ability to pop in a few times a week, browse, and often end up with some little treasure for a comparatively small price.
BIVIO’s owner Hilary really turned me on, even more so than I already was, to the impressive level of waste that fast fashion creates (she gifted me Overdressed upon my completion of school). By sifting through piles of clothes people want to sell to her, she has seen the changing quality of garments over the years. “Fashion” means many things to many people, and not all of it is created or assembled in the same manner.
I also took advantage of twice-yearly i saldi, periods of markdowns controlled by Italian law. I purchased items I’ve come to wear and love like my Bottega Veneta crepe-sole boots and Prada military green leather tote bag.
The bottom line is that I had a lot of fun with and easy access to the Italian apparel industry while in Milano, and I miss that.
What I miss about Milano: Simplicity
This may be the most significant 180° irony, since I regularly bemoaned the lack of consumer choice in Italy. Breakfast comes in only one form (cappuccino and brioche), no matter where you go, and food innovation is far behind the U.S. in terms of efficiency, macros, etc.
On the other hand, Italians fiercely defend their food traditions, an attitude which probably helps to maintain the country’s identity rather than diluting it with too much outside influence.
I always had to chuckle when I went to the faux-Starbucks coffee chain Arnold for an American-style iced latte, only to see Italian teenagers order spremuta (fresh squeezed juice) and pour sugar packets into them.
Looking back, the overarching quality of food there was just so good, it doesn’t really matter that I was eating tons of carbs. Here, I live on pre-made high protein, low-carb meals from Fitlife Foods and Fresh Kitchen, which I would legitimately miss (and did while in Italy).
But, in Milano, as in the rest of Italy, a simple two-shot caffè is €1.30. And it’s delicious. None of this $5 latte silliness.
While we Western Anglos spend a lot of time working ourselves to exhaustion, stressing and wringing our hands, indebting ourselves with endless credit (coping with our misery by spending money?), and buying everything from a big box (or more bizarrely, having it delivered to our homes), Italians make great efforts to slow down and savor the moment. They also don’t have big enough flats to hold too much stuff.
Everyone in Italy is basically guaranteed a month-long vacation each August. They don’t often work more than 40 hours in a week, and still pass lots of time face-to-face, at brunch, at dinner, at exhibitions and festivals, just enjoying each others’ company. We could take a lesson from that way of life, however old fashioned it may seem.
I sometimes wonder if not having as many opportunities to climb the professional ladder rapidly, as we do in America, is actually beneficial, because it forces young people to enjoy their lives outside of work while they’re young and healthy.
Other Things I Miss
- Aesthetics: simply put, it was easier for me to happen upon instagrammable moments in Italy. There’s so much beauty, thoughtful design, and curated vignettes, especially since Milano is a capital of design, in fashion, but also in architecture, furniture, and interiors.
- Language: it was hard, sure. But it was also sorta fun to be a “fish out of water.” I could be alone with my thoughts, and when I did need to speak, I felt proud of my regular improvement.
- Proximity: to other parts of Italy, to the rest of Europe. Sigh. Swoon!
What I don’t miss about Milano
- Crap weather: Coming from Florida, it was painful to adjust to sometimes days or weeks of drizzly, gray skies. Being wet while cold is pretty miserable.
- Public transport that is only half reliable: Milano has a comprehensive system, but it will often just not show up, which is frustrating if you’re on a schedule.
- Dog poop on the sidewalk: Maybe not in every neighborhood, but in any non-tourist area, dogs pretty much have free reign, which is disgusting and treacherous.
- Illogical processes: two weeks to get wifi turned on…banks that cannot serve customers because “the computers are down”…having to go in person to renew a transit pass. WHY!?
In the great spirit of the proverb “the grass is always greener…”, I have spent my life essentially complaining about my current setting, only to miss it later when I’ve moved on.
Perhaps it is a lesson to dig deep and appreciate whatever positives exist in one’s current setting. Today, I need to celebrate my easy access to beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico, cheerful sunny days, my friends and family close at hand, even the roundabout charm of Florida’s unsophistication.
That said, I intend to be back in Milano. I’ve thought it, and others have suggested it. I really did get along well there, all things considered, and made a ton of good friends and connections.
No place is perfect, but annoyances can fade away if you identify what is really important to you, which sometimes only happens after you’ve gone away (and written an update to your Pros and Cons of living in Milano post).