Better Food, Better Expo
Milan lets food take centre stage at 2015 World Expo
You’d be forgiven for touching down in Milan and not realising the World Expo was taking place just a few kilometres outside of downtown. There are no Haiboesque characters adorning shop windows or government banners with state-sponsored mottos plastered around freshly completed construction projects.
No big infrastructure overhauls took place to get Milan ready for an influx of visitors – indeed barely any mention or advertising of the event is visible around town. At least when compared to Shanghai 2010’s all out effort to promote the Better City, Better Life-themed fair. But this is Milan, the fashion capital that doesn’t need to host a one-off event to reinforce its place in the world, or use it as a stage to bolster its own ego.
Organisers are quick to point out that the Shanghai Expo was a special case and Milan should not be seen as trying to emulate the China-sized experience. In fact, they distanced themselves from the previous host’s experience of “overblown structures and massive queues”, and decided to instead stress Milan’s sustainable design and intransigence of the park structures themselves.
The organisers won the bid with the timely theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, and expect to attract 20 million visitors over the six-month run from May to October. In contrast, Shanghai’s 2010 Expo ushered in more than 70 million visitors at an estimated overall cost of more than USD $45 billion of infrastructure upgrades alone. Most of those were locals, but it was an impressive feat no less.
This amalgamation of food-energy themes in Milan left the better funded pavilions, like France and the US, some leeway to tell a tale of harnessing their country’s particular agricultural past, while at the same time promoting home-grown innovations. Using less energy and fewer resources to feed a growing population was the general theme of the day.
Like always, some countries took the Exposized opportunity to market their country as a tourism destination, while only loosely tying back into the theme by highlighting a few foods. The architecturally pleasing China pavilion explained Beijing Duck and tea whilst dazzling crowds with a giant light installation and a short video. Overall, it was more dazzle than content, though the country had a tough act to follow (itself), following its turn as 2010 host. The vacuous content didn’t seem to deter the crowds, and the pavilion boasted one of the longest lines at the Expo site on our visit.
Instead of grouping the smaller and lesserfunded countries into huge geographybased pavilions, like at the Shanghai Expo, organisers stuck with the theme and organised them instead into food groups and major crop clusters. Some countries attracted crowds with a fortuitous ‘cocoa & coffee’ groupings, while others, like poor Togo and Venezuela, were stuck together in the ‘cereals & tuber’ category with few crowds to show for it.
Milan, faced with bidding and winning the event during a global economic crisis, sought to placate a wary (and protesting) public, by playing down the costs and scale, while still putting on a successful event. Only a few buildings will remain after the event, with no large monuments or grand attractions to show for the six-month run.
Just as much of the Shanghai Expo site is finally now taking shape and developing into office centres and amusement zones, Milan hopes its site will also be a “lynch pin for the future development of the north-western quarter of Milan, providing opportunities for a new mixed use quarter with housing, offices, hotels and public buildings” according to organisers.
It’s easy to dismiss the high-minded goals of the organisers’ educational and food-producing utopian visions, but that certainly doesn’t detract from a fun day exploring the pavilions. Even without much prior planning, our day’s visit filled quickly with activities such as cooking demonstrations and tastings, piano concerts and ceremonious sake barrel openings (a tip of the cup to you Japan.) And of course, half the fun is wandering around the pavilions themselves, marvelling at what exactly each country wants you to know about their culture (Poland is, in fact, #1 in the alcohol industry for Europe).
Come mealtime, the decisions get harder as this is truly a showcase of the world’s varied cuisine. To indulge on horse steak medallions at the Kazakhstan pavilion (delicious), or truffle pappardelle in the Eataly dining complex (equally amazing)? Thankfully, you’ll probably have time for both, as it’s hard not to spend at least one full day at the site, even if it is dwarfed by Shanghai’s vastness.
With all the lofty goals on display of feeding the planet with better production, local ingredients and sustainable yields, we couldn’t help but chuckle at the huge crowds gathered at the McDonald’s pavilion, even if it was put towards the rear of the park.
It is a good reminder that for much of the world’s population, affordability is at least as important as the ‘local’ or ‘organic’ label when it comes to feeding their family.
Where to Stay
Where to Stay
Could there be anything more quintessentially Italian than staying at a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani himself? The luxury brand has transformed a former office manzione in the heart of Milan’s fashion quarter into a showcase of thoughtful luxury, accentuated with Armani Casa furniture and modern, minimalist style.
Each of the 95 rooms and suites has a fully enclosed entryway, unlocked from the inside with your personal tablet control centre, for maximum privacy and security. It’s a chic, tech-heave experience that even forgoes door handles for a more streamlined look in the hallway. The hotel’s signature scent, ‘renaissance’, lightly permeates the building. Everything down to the soap is branded Armani, of course, and the hotel’s 2-storey suites feature private gyms, and small kitchens where the catering staff can prepare your private event.
Perhaps Armani’s most indulgent touch is dedicating the top two floors’ city views to spectacular common areas, with an award-winning restaurant and bar, as well as a penthouse spa, gym and relaxation pool with amazing views under a nearly all-glass roof. It’s enough to make you reluctant to step out and actually experience the city, but if you must, there are several floors of exclusively-Armani shopping below the hotel, to make sure you’re properly attired.
Rooms start at €495 for a weekend in August. Web: milan.armanihotels.com