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Hemingway Adventure

Milan (first day)

Milan, Italy 
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Milan Central, my gateway to north Italy. Completed in 1931, it is on a monumental scale with five arched rail sheds, and a 700-foot-long concourse that's more like a cathedral. Décor is Art Nouveau with Fascist triumphalism thrown in. Mussolini was determined not just to make the trains run on time, but to make them run into the greatest stations in the world.
Michael Palin - Hemingway Adventure'They were watering the street and it smelled of the early morning.’

(A Farewell to Arms)

Eighty years on, the express from Paris, smooth as a missile, glides noiselessly into Milan Central, the station that was built in the 1930s to replace Garibaldi as the main international terminal. It is a mighty edifice, with soaring galleries, marble walls and classical friezes. If the Romans had ever got around to building a railway station (and, if decadence hadn’t intervened, it might have been only a matter of time), this is what it would have looked like. Which was, of course, the intention of Mussolini and his architects who resold the Roman Empire to the Italian people as a symbol of resurgent power and martial glory.

Nowadays, its massive forecourt shelters the very people Mussolini and the Fascists were so anxious to get rid of - foreign immigrants, from Africa, Eastern Europe and more recently, from Albania and Kosovo.

As a young reporter, Hemingway met Mussolini. He recognised him as an act from quite early on, when he and a crowd of fellow reporters were summoned into Il Duce’s black-shirted presence at the Lausanne Conference.

Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering Dictator ... I tiptoed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary - held upside down.

(Toronto Daily Star, 27 January 1923)

The imperial grandeur of the station is now a backdrop for vast and enigmatic black and white ads for Dolce and Gabbana, Versace and Armani - the new emperors. A stuccoed frieze of victorious Roman armies is half-obscured by a Pepsi clock informing us that our millennium has only 332 days, 13 hours and 6 minutes left to run.

Considering it is such a centre of high fashion, Milan is remarkably devoid of architectural beauty. Dajna, a local who is helping us with our filming here, is philosophical. Milan is all about making money, she says. It’s in the blood and in the history. The city has never been much concerned with looking good. She points out a group of people gathered around a window peering intently at a television screen. They’re not watching football or the latest Madonna video but the rise and fall of share prices.
Milan, Italy 
click to enlarge 
file size
Milan Central, my gateway to north Italy. Completed in 1931, it is on a monumental scale with five arched rail sheds, and a 700-foot-long concourse that's more like a cathedral. Décor is Art Nouveau with Fascist triumphalism thrown in. Mussolini was determined not just to make the trains run on time, but to make them run into the greatest stations in the world.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Milan (first day)
  • Country/sea: Italy
  • Place: Milan
  • Book page no: 44

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RELATED LINKS

  • Italy
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  • Day 3 
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  • All trains
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  • Full Circle
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  • Pole to Pole

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