I was last week in Milan for work. I had never been to Milan but I had been a few times in Italy, in Sicily, in Rome, in the Sestriere ski resort and near Turin. I knew Milan by my parents who travelled there regularly for business – they worked (and my mother still does) in fashion sales. I knew the city as the background of some books or movies, like Eco’s « Foucault’s Pendulum » or the movie « Miracle in Milan » I saw a hundred time when I was a kid. Of course modern Milan is slightly different from the 1951 post-war city so I did not really recognized it.
I was only 4 days in Milan but a few things did strike me. First, for the first time in my life, I felt very tall. I am not short, just average – usually but apparently not in Italy. Most men in Milan were shorter than me. It was nice.
Milan looked like a mix of Rome and Paris, mostly Paris. But some kind of lesser Paris. Smaller, less beautiful, less interesting, less everything. It is a nice city but something seems to be missing, there was no clear identity to the town. Rome is messier and poorer but feels more alive and interesting. Like the difference between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with the significant fact that Tel Aviv is a really unique city even if it is not as cool, pluralistic and trendy as it sees itself.
Everybody was talking about how hard is the economic crisis in Italy, and I must believe them but I did not see any signs in the streets that the situation was so bad. I remember Israel in 2002 when we were in the middle of a deep recession – in fact a smaller recession than the one that has befallen on Europe since 2008, but with the tiny addition of suicide bombers. I remember the closed shops, the empty cafes and restaurants, the general mood. I was only a few days, mostly in the center of the richest town of Italy, but I saw none of this. On the contrary I saw luxury cars and a showing off of wealth that I never see in Israel, even in Tel Aviv’s best areas. Israel’s GDP per capita is now higher than Italy (at least at purchase parity power), but Italy still bests us with centuries of assets and wealth. Nevertheless, everybody was talking about the crisis and really feeling it.
But the thing that most amazed me what the almost total absence of children, babies and pregnant women. The first day, after work, I spent hours walking the city – I like to know a city by foot – and saw absolutely none. Zero. Nothing. Out of hundreds or thousands of people I crossed in the street. I started to notice a few afterwards, and many where apparently sons/babies of immigrants and tourists. I knew that the fertility rate of Italy was low – around 1.3, lower than most Europe, lower than France (2 children per woman) and of course than Israel (3 children) – but seeing it is impressive. They really have no future. Unless, a miracle happens.