I’m going to pick out one part today.
at the Milan Expo. In THE Milan, you know, the one in Italy. By the way the Expo is an underated attraction. Sure there are some odd translations here and there, but it’s a coming together of countries across the globe to entertain, feed and educate the world… well, mostly Italians in this case, but I felt really lucky to get to be one of the people there. This is what the world’s fairs of old have morphed into. Remember “Meet me in St Louis”? This was Meet me in Milan. Every five years a country hosts and the host country picks the theme. Last time it was China and the subject was “Clean Cities”. Which I know if very important, but sounds as sexy as a flushing toilet. The Italians hosted and they picked food, or rather feeding the world. I had assumed in our jaded, TV, social media age the quaintness of the world coming together for education and recreation would be over. But, oh no. It felt like the United Nations meets Disneyland. It runs through October and just in case you can get there I would advise you go.
We visited different countries, ones that we know, France.. great food, natch. Holland… which had a ferris wheel restaurant.
The most charming, whimsical eating experience I’ve ever taken part in. The kids and I got in, thinking it just and old ride and then the lady said, “no, would you like some wine or beer?” Well, yeah, sure. I sipped Rose as we went around, next round we got Rex a grilled cheese, then another round or two a sweet crepe. It went very slowly. We loved it. Another little food truck at the Holland area was offering “Silent Disco”, okay, what is that? Dancing with myself! I love the irreverence.
Each country had a different take on the theme of feeding the world. USA took it seriously. As we walk up there was President Obama on a loop saying we have to figure out how will we feed 9 billion people by 2050? I got choked up. From seeing homefolk abroad and the enormity of that proposition. Then you walk at your pace to different areas where there are video presentations from chefs, farmers, etc talk about how they are trying to create food that is sustainable. It was educational, and important, yet I couldn’t help but be amused when I saw that USA had one of the odder translations at the Expo
We went to places we’ve never been, Turkey ( best tasting rice), Estonia ( one of our faves… when do we go), Poland, Russia ( impressive, but we were NOT going buy the Putin T shirts), Bolivia ( a mini pavilion in the are with countries who didn’t speak the mega bucks) and places we are unlikely to ever go, Iran, Zimbabwe.
Strangley there was a big pavilion for Sudan. I didn’t get to it, but I was curious.. how are they feeding their people with civil war? But, that’s what’s interesting about the Expo. You get a lot for your travel dollar. A sampler of countries and culture. I said the the man I bought tea and spice from in Iran Pavilion, “I feel like I’m doing something illegal to be here.” He said, the government is not the people, that Iranian people love Americans. I didn’t want to belabor watching the hostage crisis as a child. Let’s move on.
Russia had clearly spent some rubles on their pavilion.
By the way, USA was the only pavilion that was privately funded ( Source: USA pavilion). Russia showed off it’s grains and grain based beverages if you know what I mean. There was a line to sample some Russian delicacy they were handing out. I thought of making a joke about Soviet era bread lines, but thought better of it. Makes me seem older than I am the way I know history. Rex really wanted to go to the top of the pavilion which was hot, so we didn’t stay long. The roof top was partly given over to a Sky bar like cocktail lounge where the vodka was available.
We were most moved by the former Soviet bloc countries. There is an earnestness there. As if they are saying , “We survived Nazi’s, Soviet Union and now we are HERE!” They really celebrate their food, dance, customs. The Polish were very smart. They thought of EVERYTHING. People will be tired, okay, big couches in front so people can relax. While there a stage with music and stunts by off road cyclist, which is a big deal in Poland.. who knew? Everyone will want to charge their phones. Free charging stations. Free cotton candy made to order.
That’s before we even walked in! There was a beautiful upstairs garden surrounded by mirrors. Showcasing what grows in Poland. Rex went twice, “mommy, this is enchanting.” It was. Mark noticed we were there just in time for a Chopin concert by an award winning Polish pianist.
We listened entranced. Later the same spot was used to show wordless videos of different Polish chefs cooking. It was probably the most beautiful food photography I’ve ever seen. Rex and I didn’t want to leave and only did so because Viv and Mark were downstairs in the cafe waiting for us.
They had a 3-d movie of the history of Poland in about 8 minutes they covered over a thousand years. Spoiler alert, lots of wars. They showed what they produced, great water, grain, vodka. They had beads for the kids to make bracelets. They had a Chocolate Village!
It was good propaganda… We walked out impressed and ready to fly to Poland. Lord knows they have been through a LOT and keep trucking.
I know what you are thinking: How was the Estonia pavilion? Swinging good time!
Did you know that swings are big there? Well, they had swings on every level. One way you were indoors, the next you were out. Great little sandwiches at their cafe too. Plus, they know sometimes you just need to crash.
From there we went to the Vatican pavilion. It was small, but was basically pictures and videos of the poor throughout the world. While one can feed their face at the other places The Vatican asks us to consider those who do not have enough food. Then you get a complimentary pope magnet when you leave. My kids curled their lip at it. I had made them finish their cotton candy before they entered and all they got was this dudes blessing? Um, did you see that kids don’t have food..? Okay, let’s keep moving
In Zimbabwe I spoke to a nice man there about his country. They had a yummy soda that was from some plant they have there. They also had some hand cream.
“why is it all written in Italian?”
Him, “No one was going to buy the Zimbabwe cream, but our ingredients manufactured in Italy, people like that better.” Makes sense. We show how we are ready to embrace the culture for a few minute and not get into the into any dictator talk
They were in the area with smaller pavilions. Next door was Bolivia
I went for 3 days and didn’t scratch the surface. The kids were with me for 2 of the days and they loved it. While there were bigger message in some places, a lot of pavilions featured their local cuisine more than weighty issues. Rice from Turkey, is a winner. Best I’ve ever had
Turkey had a pretty outdoor pavilion,
though the first day I was there it was 100 degrees
and I ran to..well, crawled to the French pavilion which had air con and the best beet soup I’ve ever had.
We all enjoyed the Iran pavilion.
Though their exhibit was wanting.. some herbs, a little music, yawn, but they had a great shop and we got cool spices, tea and cross cultural connection. I said to the nice man working there, “I feel like I’m doing something wrong by being here,” He seemed optimistic about US Iran relations improving if the Nuclear issue was soon to be resolved ( full disclosure.. I have next to no opinion on it). “Iranians love Americans.” I told him how I love the Iranians in LA. Nice people, great tea, good sports in soccer ( I left out that I hate the remodeling some have done in Beverly Hills). It was a people to people moment like Eisenhower had once envisioned.
Which is really kind of why the Milan Expo is so great. Because I don’t have the time, money, energy, shots to go to all the countries represented here, but I get a little taste of them. Well, actually since I think I ate my weight in food while I was there I also got to taste the diverse, delicious food of our world. Hopefully, it will sustain us.