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MILAN EXPO

Published in Verve Magazine

FOR THE SECOND TIME only in the last 100 years, Milan has trumpeted a loud clarion call that proclaims proudly, “Look what Italy can do!” Back in 1906, only about 40 countries participated in Milan’s first Expo. In that pre-historic media era when only print media ruled and that too with limited, localised readership in the developed, industrialised world, the event went largely unnoticed globally. It hardly mattered since the world did not face serious environment and food challenges as it does today.

Milan Expo 2015 โ€“ which started on May 1 and will go all the way up to October 31- addresses a fundamental issue, urgent and pressing in its insistence.Will there be enough food in 2050 to feed an estimated 10 billion people who are expected to inhabit Planet Earth, with at least half that number on or below the poverty line? This concern has been syntesised into a single theme, “Feeding The Planet,Energy For Life Expo 2015.” Food therefore takes centre stage in the modern incarnation of a fair that was born in London in 1851. An incorrigible foodie who is also interested in nutrition, I eagerly looked forward to my visit here.

I was pleasantly surprised that my metro travel from Milan’s historic centre of the Duomo took only 25 minutes. Security was even tighter than at Mumbai airport, but once inside, I was dazzled by the sheer size of it all. Consider this:The Expo site is spread over, hold your breath, one million square metres (approximately twelve million square feet). This mother of all exhibitions sweeps away the usual, monotonous format of boastful national pavilions. Learning lessons from the criticisms that Shanghai Expo faced in 2010, this exhibition’s Design Director Matteo Gatto told me that “We first ensured our layout would not discriminate between the rich and poor countries. Everyone was given equal space.”

Personally speaking I was blown away by the site design inspired by the Roman traditions of laying out cities. The traditional Roman Castrum here is shaped like a cross with two large perpendicular streets known as the Cardo and the Sacrum. Along the main avenue, over 140 countries (India being conspicuous by its absence) have set up their own pavilions. But they have not been allowed to do whatever they fancied. Each participant had to guarantee full compliance with the regulations to ensure that visitors are offered an unrepeatable, eco-friendly experience.

The detailing and enforcement of the rules has paid off. Its an experience quite like anything else on the planet today, a stage where all actors have made their voices heard. Dicoveries and adventures abound, all within the food concept. From Brazil’s giant climbing frame to Turkmenistan’s twinkling traditions to Belgium’s faceted glass dome; from United Arab Emirates pink concrete walls to Lithuania’s touch screen excitement; from USA’s 35,000 sq ft glass pavilion to Russia’s giant canopy looking like a pointed missile next to Estonia’s wooden shed, the interpretations are inventive and endless. Imagine individuality being translated 140 times and you will get a mental image of what I mean.

And that’s not all. For the entire duration of the Expo, several fixed events happen daily at different locations. Twice a day,a parade is staged on the Decumano site, enriched by dance, music and special effects. At 1.30 pm every day a cooking show takes place that gives visitors free recipes of global cuisines. Brought your children along? The Children’s Park is a permanent home to eight different installations that keeps the young ones busy with all kinds of fun activities. From 7.30 pm, many pavilions come alive with DJ sets and cocktail bars. The piece de resistance for me is the nightly show Alla Vita (Cheers To Life!) by the world renowned Cirque du Soleil. Blown away? Quite so.

THE FIVE BEST PAVILLIONS

The themes and countries that best interpreted the central spirit of Milan Expo 2015

“BREATHE”, AUSTRIA

Air is an essential component to the health of food and humans and it is an indicator of ecological balance. Starting with the element of air, this pavilion gives visitors the opportunity to connect with the most well-known aspects of the country.

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“SAVING OR WASTING”, SWITZERLAND

The pavilion focuses on an important point: there is a limit to resources available and to exceed that limit is to deprive other visitors of the same opportunities. Its project focuses on the availability and distribution of food resources in the world.

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“NUTRITION”, ITALY

You can’t miss the enormous Tree Of Life sculpture at the entrance which has shooting fountains and laser lights set to music. It’s enchanting, entrancing and sets the tone for what is exhibited inside: The Made in Italy brand of style and creativity.

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“FEEDING THE WORLD WITH SOLUTIONS”, BRAZIL

Brazil has interpreted the theme by providing a number of solutions connected to its technological capacity within agriculture contexts.

PAVILION ZERO

The door of the Expo, the beginning of all the stories Placed at the entrance to the Expo site, the Zero Pavilion condenses the philosophy of the Universal Exposition through a narrative itinerary of great theatrical impact. Furthermore, it is the only pavilion at the site featuring the participation of the United Nations.