‘Aesthetic is everything here’, my friend and recent Milano-inhabitant explained to me as we clambered into a narrow cage lift (or a cupboard, as they sometimes were). It was reminiscent of the 1963 film Charade with Audrey Hepburn, and despite my initial anxiety, I was never once failed by the retro technology.
Laura continued, ‘In Britain, we think we’re being innovative because we make everything look like a spaceship’. It’s a hard point to argue. But contemporary style doesn’t always have to be uptight, white or with stainless steel effect. Britain needs to lighten up and brighten up – our obsession with fast and disposable lifestyles affects the people we are and the culture we export.
Milan is Italy’s fashion capital and is much more industrial that other Italian cities. Still, amid the high-flying, power dressing routines is a laid back attitude to culture – as interesting as the galleries and museums are, it’s easy to absorb art through everyday life, in architecture, marble flooring and art deco designs and patterns. And I can’t believe that our compartmentalising British approach to such things has muddled our priorities.
Now, before I continue, I must stress that at no point during the next few sentences do I wish to suggest that we should be free to climb and conquer all rooftops in Britain, but being allowed to experience the cityscape of Milan from the roof of the Duomo was exhilarating for two reasons: 1) you will gain an overwhelming sense of perspective (and a decent sun tan if you stay long enough) and 2) it recreates a sense of freedom, only before experienced as a child when clambering up trees and over walls that were strictly forbidden. Yes, I thought as I stood reapplying sun cream and taking snaps, take that Health and Safety regulation. I was, in my own way, rebelling against everything that stops me doing the same on St. Pauls Cathedral in London.
When I returned from my travels on Tuesday morning, I learned of the man who was almost arrested in Braehead for taking a photo of his daughter. To use a popular phrase from one of our most prized cultural assets – Chewin’ the Fat – they’ve taken that too far. Do rules and regulations really make us safer or are they oppressing us? We are living far from freedom – paranoid and scared. Newly built schools and universities are oppressive and prisonlike. Art and culture is preserved in buildings – we can go there if we want to remember a time when we were great. British culture isn’t lived, it’s looked at in glass boxes. It doesn’t exist in our everyday lives, and perhaps that stops us being great again.