Two years ago today Paul and I had one of the most memorable, unexpected experiences we have ever had while travelling.
We were in Milan for four days. Unknown to us, one of the days fell on what is a major holiday in Italy, Liberation Day on 25th April, the anniversary of when the Nazi occupation of the country ended.
On the evening of 24th April we were heading back to our airbnb in the Isola neighbourhood when we walked past a large hedge behind which we could hear what sounded like a pretty fun party. Being opportunistic types, we decided to find out if this party was open to all and made our way inside.
It turned out the party was open to all; it appeared to be a neighbourhood event organised by local residents with red wine served in plastic cups, a DJ, a dance floor and homemade aperitivo. We tucked into the red wine and yummy food (which we paid for, though it was cheap) and had a dance, both of us delighted to be at this unexpected celebration which had such a fun, laid back atmosphere.
Then the music stopped and in its place came the soulful wailing of a saxophone. It was being played by a man in the garden. The man turned and walked out with everyone following, the Italians appearing to know what was going on but Paul and I completely clueless. He walked down the street continuing to play, with everyone following him like the pied piper, until he came to a hill and stopped.
The mournful music of the saxophone began to form into the anti fascist song “Bella ciao” which the crowd began singing along with. Standing there in that moment on the hill, the saxophone playing, the crowd singing “Oh partigiano, portami via, bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao…” I couldn’t believe how I had ended up in this situation. It was spine tingling.
When we got home we looked up this Liberation Day and discovered not only is it very much a big deal in Italy, there was a big parade happening in the centre of Milan for it the following day. It immediately became our plan to attend.
The parade was fantastic. There were thousands of people talking part and we walked alongside them through the city as they sang and waved flags and banners, soaking up the celebratory atmosphere. The parade ended at the Duomo cathedral, the square in front of the cathedral a sea of red. It was an awesome sight.
To all Italians celebrating Liberation Day today (in a time when we need anti facist movements more than ever) have an excellent time. I will never forget experiencing it in Milan.