issue #23: Slow living
1. A Sweet Life, cheered by bicycle rides looking for forgotten corners and old letters: seeing things a bit in slow motion, taking time to savor them. To use a cycling term, at what point in your life did this slowdown occur? When did the awareness of this “slower” way of seeing things come about?
I think I can say that it is an innate characteristic, also because of the kind of studies I did. In fact, I have a degree in art history, so I’ve always had a natural inclination to observe anything, whether it’s a building, a table, or a person. I’ve always tried to pick up on what was around me. Even more so, studying art history you have to focus on details that you don’t catch at first glance: in an exam on a giant painting, for example L’Ultima Cena, the professor asked what was painted on the table, the color of the robes and the ripples of the colors. It is an attitude that my mother also passed on to me, particularly about houses, people and clothing. I cultivated it over time based on what she told me. I had no idea it was going to become a career goal, I’ve always been telling people about art places and painting through social media, ever since the Snapchat days and through blogging: I would go to an exhibition and tell people about the paintings. Already that approach is slow life: people have to stop, it’s not content you appreciate if you don’t have the time to be able to appreciate it. Personally, I am not a slow person… In fact, I am the opposite! I’m always going fast and trying to fit in a lot of commitments and interests. Perhaps it is a bit paradoxical that I express this joy for slow life, when sometimes I don’t even know what it is. For me, therefore, it is not important how many miles per hour you ride your bicycle, but whether you observe during the ride, or whether vice versa you are caught up in the rush and proceed with your eyes closed. Despite the fact that I am caught up in the rush, if I see a building I like, I stop and remember it, or I return to it more calmly.
Those who watch my content know this, I never share information live, I prefer to gather all the materials first and then, when I am at home quietly, I rework them: if I want to look up information for half an hour about the architect who designed a building, I want to do it without the anxiety of knowing that people are waiting for my post. Often we ourselves are the ones who (unnecessarily) rush us….
2. Using a metaphor, we can say that you have two tools: one is the bicycle, the other is the community: what is the relationship between these two worlds? Have you ever turned a virtual relationship into a physical relationship, perhaps for a bike ride? You recently had your bike stolen, has the community helped?
Unfortunately the bike was not found, it was a grief (laughing), that bike was a gift from Luca, my partner, and it represented a lot to me: it was my first new bike, in fact I always had old bikes from my brother, my father and my mother. I always rode my bike, whatever the weather was over my head. With the lockdown, the agency where I worked fired me, and so my “personal revenge” against everything that was happening to me was to take very long bike rides, for example all the way to Robecco sul Naviglio. That’s where what I call “tour militari” come from: particularly long rides where we discover our surroundings, and which also inspired my book “Milano mon amour”. So the theft was a really critical happening for me… At first I also felt out of place at the thought that the world was falling apart and I felt that way about my bicycle, however, that’s where I realized exactly what value it had for me. And, broadening the discourse, how even a small thing can have immense value: think of a bike maybe inherited from a deceased parent… the difference with the car is that the car also has economic value, the bike has only sentimental value… Going back to my community, it has been emotionally supportive as I realised how much for them I am not just an online creator, but there is a sort of elective affinity. A few days ago a girl wrote to me that she has been following me since the days of the blog, so we are talking about ten or twelve years ago, so I become in a sense part of their daily life and they of mine. Little by little so we also start meeting each other on the street, they stop me and say very nice things to me that I don’t even think I deserve. One very nice aspect is that I start to understand that there is a cross-generational thing, it’s as if with my storytelling I can engage both the very young girl, who maybe has a more mature taste than her age, and the grandmother. Sometimes it is the mother or the father who suggests the daughter to follow me. This in my opinion is invaluable, unlike giant communities, in which they can get attached up to a certain point, in mine instead they know that I am one of them, we are on the same wavelengths.
3. Speaking of those places of the heart, what are three places that represent a safe place that you willingly return to, beyond an aesthetic issue, that make you feel really good?
First of all is the Rotonda della Besana, a very Milanese, neighborhood place. My grandmother used to take me there as a child, because she lived on Corso XXII Marzo. I have the memory that we used to go to the toy store and the newsstand, and then to the Rotonda della Besana. Over the years I then went back there many times, even right after the lockdown ended, I went there on my bicycle to read a book. For me, as I wrote in the book, it is a place of peace, thought and reflection. From there I made both pseudo-important life decisions and decisions about where to go on vacation with my friends. Another place I always like to return to is the Monumental Cemetery, because that too is a place of childhood. My grandmother used to take me there as well, because there was the family tomb, in which grandfather was also in. Over the years I have always tried to make people understand that it is not a cemetery but it is a museum, so you really find all the styles of art history of the last hundred and fifty years, and it is a masterpiece that we have in the city. It’s often seen as a fearful or creepy place, but instead it’s about us, our stories and our families, our art. Then within it are a series of masterpieces, from Pomodoro to Castiglioni. In talking about Milan, I think it is a must to talk about the place where the Milanese are buried; I have accompanied both friends and relatives there.
Another place is La Ciclabile del Naviglio Grande, I try to go there a couple of times a year because it gives me a sense of freedom. You go from the beginning of the Naviglio, which is a very “loaded” area, to then going past all the signs in the countryside, it’s beautiful… So when I wanted to get away, a little bit from the work situation, which was making me suffer, a little bit from the city, because we had been locked for months in the apartment, I just remember this great feeling of freedom.
4. Two of the places you mentioned are related to a childhood memory. What is your relationship with the past?
My book starts with the story of my family, not because it is interesting per se, but to get across my roots, how in the end I have always felt destined for this city. With all the ups and downs, the escapes and returns, in the end I have always been here. This concept people can apply to any place: one who has roots in another city will find himself in my words if he is born there and if he decides to return. The theme of returning is very emblematic of the period we have been living in, I think this attachment to roots and who we have been in the past really appeals to certain people. Maybe this thought is less preponderant in younger people, however, it is present for example in the 60-year-old lady who has lived in place and then returns there, or who is retired and has decided to return to the place where she was born. We Italians in general are a bit like that, we may travel around a lot but then we go back to where we were born and raised, or we stay in the place that we have realized we can call home. I think in general we are very melancholic, we have a strong sense of the past. The past is really stuck in our faces, even when we don’t want it to be. So this constant questioning, about what has been and not what will be, is part of us and our culture-it’s a beautiful side but definitely melancholy. I always say, we never totally move on, something residual always remains, even though we may rationally know we made the right choice.
5. What definition would you give to the term fascination?
For me what can be fascinating is what inspires my curiosity, so I tie fascination mostly to that. It is far from immediacy. I don’t immediately tie myself to something, maybe I look at it, observe it and come back to it, and I fall even more in love with it…. I tie this concept especially to buildings: we pass a hundred times a day under a building, and maybe it has a very interesting history, more than aesthetics, which sometimes can also be a superficial concept… For example, when I visit historic mansions, I am much more impressed with the ones that are lived in, maybe even more decadent, where there is investigation and reception. Compared to those that are restored so finely that they lose that aspect of original charm and connected to times past.
6. You speak very freely about your private life, your love and passion for fashion beyond the conventional genre (I’m thinking of Chanel jackets and skirts). Is this a way of doing things that has always belonged to you, or was there a time when you felt free to be free?
I think it has always been this way, as a child I played with Barbies and I came out when I was seventeen, it was a very short period when I hid… But at the same time, the maturity of knowing what I like and what I am I have acquired over time. This concept is also related to the way I experience fashion: in high school I used to dress differently from others. The other day I had a kilt and today I have a plastic cape. Although I am not particularly confident, I know what I like. I am not saying this out of conceit, but maybe I can help someone who is afraid to do so to put themselves out there. This is also “doing community”: some guys write to me that they never had the courage to do or wear something, but now they do because of me. I am certainly not the solution, however, I can inspire confidence.
7. One of the reasons we decided to deal with the theme of slow life was listening to the podcast “Carla, una ragazza del Novecento”: a granddaughter who finds the diary of her own grandmother, Carla, who lived throughout the Italian twentieth century. A true document on the evolution of customs and society, seen through the eyes of a worker, an ordinary but strongly emancipated woman. Since this is a podcast based on a found diary, I was wondering if you keep a diary, and if so, what do you tend to write in it? Do you have a particular frequency? At what times do you turn to this journal?
Yes, I have been keeping a diary for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a child. The first one was given to me at the age of 7, under the Christmas tree at my grandmother’s house. In 2002 I started my first serious journal, and from there I have never stopped. I can say that I have a whole transcribed history of my life, with a random frequency, never imposed. It is something I always recommend, not as an imposition, but as a way of living one’s intimacy. No one thinks that our memories will be transcribed, so it has to be an activity done only for oneself. If I have to think of an average cadence, I would still say weekly. I really write everything in it: my daily life, my high school grades, my moods, what happens to me… I always wrote as if it were a letter addressed to the personification of my journal, which therefore has its own (secret) name. I always write where I am, the date, and the incipit is always the same; I have been writing exactly like this for twenty years, every single time…. It is precisely a letter, I talk about me, about how it was going at school, about my coming out: in fact, when I recorded the podcast, I dedicated an episode to this topic, and I went back to those pages, some of them I actually reread. The beauty of the diary is just that, going through how you were and how you became over time. The griefs, the feelings, the family fights, the evenings. It’s a conversation with myself, writing something down there means it’s important to me, maybe even just at that time…. There are people who are no longer in my life but they are there, so they represented so much. It allows me to kind of have everything clear, like I have a thread, and that thread represents all of me, in joys and sorrows. The journal also helps me and balance the time that passes well. Generally I write on Sundays, as a first thing I make a note of how I feel: sad, cheerful, worried, reflective, relaxed….
8. Let’s talk about podcasts (which you’ve produced by the way): as a user, are there any podcasts that are must-haves for you that you would suggest we listen to?
Yes, I am a user of them but not as much as I would like. I listen to them when I am traveling, especially when we are in the car, for example, to Liguria to my parents. One that I really enjoyed is Pablo Trincia’s Il Dito di Dio, about the Costa Concordia event, how it was written and dealt with. Another example is Indagini, a true crime. I happened to listen to it during a trip to France, we were deciding the components of the two cars based on sharing the podcast. Then I love the historical ones, from Alessandro Barbero to Bistory, because I really like historical biographies.
9. Beyond the projects you told me about, are there any projects you are secretly working on?
2022 was a year of metamorphosis because I wanted to go beyond Instagram: not because I was bored with it, but because I would like there to be side projects that would allow me to not just be part of that virtual container. In general, I would like to write more, maybe even with a view to turning my tours into something written, which is not just a pretty picture. I would like them to become real stories, maybe in a paper format…. What is certain is that, despite the reflections about the future, I want to keep surprising myself; the day I am no longer surprised, I will be scared!
10. The last question I ask you is related to an object: what is one object in your home that you have never given up and would never give up?
It is a painting I inherited from my paternal grandmother, which also has a very beautiful story. It is a worthless painting in itself, but I have always looked at it since I was a child. It was one of the first things I would go to my grandmother’s house, say hello and then go look at it-it has always been in the same place. I always told myself I would want it, and I finally got it, though not easily (laughing). It depicts a three-quarter-length woman, dressed in a hat and a lace cape; she has a beautiful look. I see an innate elegance in it, which only these 19th-century paintings can portray. I also see in it a passion for details: the lace, the hat, a ribbon, a coral necklace. In general I see myself in it as a child, looking at it for hours. I had written a letter on purpose to my grandmother to ask her to give me that painting, so that I could always carry it with me even when she would no longer be there… And so it was: she owned things of far more desirable economic value than that one, but I didn’t care, I just wanted that one…