Just back from a whirlwind European trip with my daughter. We toured four amazing cities in three different countries in ten days! We saw some beautiful areas that will leave an impression for the rest of our lives. One of the funnier impressions from our trip happened when the bar we were in went into “lockdown – for our own safety.” Me and my daughter at the bar.
We were in one of the many small cafes/bars spread across the city of Milan, Italy on May 1. Now this date doesn’t mean much to us in the States, but in Europe it is equivalent to our “Labor Day” holiday. It was a Friday, and typically the streets would be filled with people bustling about on their way to/from work, shopping, dining out, etc.; however, the streets were fairly abandoned. This particular holiday held a special surprise to us unsuspecting tourists still on the streets around 4:30pm local time…
Presently in Milan there is an exposition going on called: (click on image to go to the web site)
The expo runs from May 1 through October 31, 2015 and is billed as “the biggest world event dedicated to nutrition.” On the surface it sounds as if it actually might be an educational opportunity to learn more about nutrition and be beneficial to those that attend it. I say “on the surface” because we did not attend the event to know for sure if it were truly beneficial, but at the very least it sounded fairly innocuous and something that most could get on board with to learn more about food and nutrition. It didn’t sound like something that would cause a riot or marching protesters and a “lockdown” of the bar we were in. But alas, we learned differently!
On our way to the bar (and I apologize for not naming the bar – actually forgot to write it down due to all of the excitement and well being completely honest – the drinks) that we would eventually get locked into, we saw police units decked out in riot gear at one particular road that we were trying to pass through. We didn’t think much of it and made up our own ideas of what was happening (a political figure was passing through the area, a hostage situation was going on in a nearby building, they had nothing better to do than stand around posing and showing off their uniforms and shiny new riot gear, etc.), until we saw a few more police units dressed the same way blocking off other streets. It caused us to be a little more concerned.
We were with our friends Simon and Sabine. Sabine, who is super smart and can speak five or six different languages fluently, approached a police officer who was not in riot gear and asked him what was going on. He told her it was nothing to worry about, “just a ‘few’ protesters worked up about the EXPO going on.” He went on to say that we would be fine and to continue on our way. We took the advice and continued on our merry way. Which is how we found the little bar that would unknowingly become our home for the next six hours.
As we were enjoying our beverages and snacking on some delicious (and nutritious) tapas, we heard a loud explosion. The bartender immediately ran over to the control switch for the steel shades to come down and cover the entrance. (Couldn’t help the photo op!)
I asked her what was going on, and in broken English she said that, “we would be safer in the bar than on the streets right now due to the protesters rioting.” I asked what the protest was all about and she informed me it was about the “EXPO.” The EXPO?? Wait! What!? I thought this was a peaceful almost sedate exposition about food! She said not according to the protesters, they think it is about “globalization” and corporations taking over the food source for everyone on the planet. Huh? How did we not read into that from the tag line about “nutrition”?
The loud explosion we heard, we later learned was from a car that was torched about two blocks away from the bar. There were a few US Army soldiers on leave for some R&R that were pinned down in the bar with us and a couple of them went outside to see what was going on with their own eyes. They reported back to the rest of us and rejoined the little “protest party” we created. I say, “Make Drinks! Not War!”
The “lockdown” as you might have guessed was “fluid” for the most part. People could come and go and the bartender would open and close the steel curtains to let people in and out. Smoking is still a large business in Italy and people needed their cigarettes. Even though there was tear gas in the air! The police responded in kind to the mild violence by deploying tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd. I took this picture from the front door of the bar and the cloud is about two blocks away. That is the closest we got to the action.
When we went into lockdown I asked the bartender what would happen in the bar? Would they continue to serve us? She said, of course!” It was a dream come true! Whoo-hoo! We turned the event into a party! We were drinking and eating and laughing with the other patrons who initially came in for a drink and to relax. Some were from Canada, others the US, and some locals. The reason it lasted six hours was more because of the fun we were having in the bar. The protest broke up about four hours or so after it started, but we didn’t let that stop us. 🙂
All in all the protest was fairly peaceful with the exception of a few torched cars. I don’t know how may arrests were made, but the police (and I give any police officer credit here!), were professional and did what most of us would not do, and that is knowingly put themselves in harms way. They had no idea how violent the protest could have turned into as there were (approximately) 25,000 plus demonstrators. It made our experience of being locked down in a bar an even more fun experience. An experience I’ll soon not forget!
Copyright (C) 2015 by Frank Cormier. All rights reserved.