Old Carousel in Piazza Gae Aulenti. The wonder ride.
The limelight shines on Piazza Gae Aulenti, now more than ever an attraction for adults and children alike, thanks to a special guest: the Old Carousel, one of the largest ancient merry-go-rounds in Europe. The structure, brought back to old glory thanks to the skilful art restorers of Modena, opens to the public like a bridge to the past, which makes adults look back on their memories of old rides, and makes the entire District remember the Varesine amusement park of the former Porta Nuova. A marvellous time machine that, according to its owner Marina Formaggia, does not only perform a socialization role but it is even a form of therapy. The Portanuova Old Carousel awaits you in Piazza Gae Aulenti from 18 February to 30 March.
PN: What brings an old merry-go-round in one of Milan’s most futurist districts?
MF (in conference call from Freiburg, Germany, where she lives): It is a look at the past amusement park of Varesine that entertained Milanese people with its rides from 1973 to 1998.
PN: Did you hang out at Varesine area when you were a child?
MF: It was a second home to me and my two sisters, who are also carnies and owners of two other carousels. It all started the day my great-grandfather married the carny from the bumper cars of the Arena Civica centre, then continued with my grandfather who brought go-karts to Varesine. Today, as the fourth generation, we pursue the family tradition, and for me, bringing this merry-go-round to Piazza Gae Aulenti is a bit like going back to where it all started, as I once lived in Via Galilei.
PN: How was it back then?
MF: From our house, over a historic newsstand, there was a hill which was used to become a mudheap when it rained, but this didn’t discourage visitors from coming over, because the area was vast and full of attractions. I remember the carnies, the smell of candyfloss, the range shooting, the ping-pong balls bouncing over the goldfish bowls, the circus vans…
PN: And how did it end?
MF: We held on until the last day, then we went away with a tear and tried to be a traveling show, which was not easy for a mother who lived in Varesine for decades. It was more natural for my father, who had more of the nomad mentality with his bumper cars. But this kind of life is a life school because ever since your childhood you learn to accept changes of plan, city, school, and friends every month. This makes you stronger and more open to new people, as ephemeral the relationships may be.
PN: What do you think about the neighborhood now?
MF: I was in Milan a few weeks ago, and as I walked across the BAM park, I remembered how, before the District opened 10 years ago, Ambra Orfei set up a beautiful winter circus without animals – just acrobats – under an immense pavilion at the foot of the Bosco Verticale construction site. We placed our carousel beside the structure, also to give a touch of colour to a context still at the dawn of its renovation. Everything today is new, sparkling, and truly fabulous, whilst back then, where the UniCredit Tower stands, there was a rather disheartening – ugly, even – landscape. When you walked further than Corso Como, you already felt you were in the suburbs.
PN: Let’s go back to this time machine and its landing in the house of your memories.
MF: For us, it is not only a return, but also a finish line, because even if we’re always on tour between Alba (Cuneo) and its Truffle Festival, Lecco, Bellagio (Como), Vigevano (Pavia), and Bergamo, Milan l'è semper on gran Milan (Milan is always the great Milan)! We wanted to go to Piazza del Duomo, but when we saw the resurrection of the area we were born in – Portanuova – we immediately placed it at the top of our location wish list. And here we are, with one of the largest historical carousels in Italy (the Antica Giostra Toscana in Piazza Repubblica, Florence, is the other one), an attraction we dedicate strictly to town centres and never to amusement parks, to give it the context it deserves. And the renewed Portanuova is, by all means, the right place for our time machine.
PN: How is handling such a cumbersome structure, logistically speaking?
MF: You can assemble and disassemble it like a Lego and carry it on trailer trucks. It requires significant means and resources. We are three sisters handling three merry-go-rounds, and we also need to manage maintenance and bureaucracy, including training courses, first aid, fire prevention, and concessions.
PN: Is the Old Carousel only for children?
MF: No! Every horse can carry up to 120 kg (265 lbs). Every ride goes with an ancient tune, like that of a music box, and once in a while with a song by Modugno or a piece of operetta. In any case, now that I live abroad I notice the difference in the adults’ approach. In Italy, parents go to the ticket booth to buy a ride for their sons, sometimes asking for a free go to keep them company, while abroad it has always been normal to see a grown man or woman, even alone, shamelessly riding the carousel. But things are changing in Italy too, and we see adults hopping on just to take a selfie to share on their social networks, but ending up having enormous fun. Because going up and down astride a wooden horse with that childish music in the background is a true form of therapy. I see it and have seen this every day of my life: everyone smiles because they are cuddling their inner child. Although they’ll never admit it, it’s the children who take their parents to the amusement park! And now more than ever, people need to socialize and have fun outdoors. Could there be a better location than Portanuova, on an ancient merry-go-round? Or, let me repeat myself, a time machine! On one hand, it restarts after 25 years and reminds us of the age of the Milanese amusement parks that delighted kids and adults for, again, 25 years. On the other hand, it brings us adults back to our childhood.
PN: Do you have any artistic talent?
MF: I do not sing nor dance, but I cook beautifully.
Portanuova Old Carousel
• Size: diameter 12.5 m (41 ft); max height 8 m (26.2 ft); lateral height 5 m (16.4 ft)
• Seats: 70
• Galloping horses: 6
• Hopping figures: 22
• Total weight: about 12000 kg (26450 lbs)
• Transmission: Electromechanical
For more information: www.divertimentistorici.com