They’re laughing down below

1957-1966
MM1 Underground Line, Milan, Italy*

Though now it’s my cousins who work in the underground, I was the first. Then they called me Plastigum 56, now they say Planicrete. My date of birth was printed on the bags. Had it been up to me, I’d have attached something like a vehicle number plate too: MI for Milan.

What a town Milan was in those days, the roaring ‘60s. The postwar years had yielded to an economic boom reverberating everywhere. What a place! It was a real pleasure to see the factories pumping iron from morning to night. Not for nothing do they call our town the country’s motor. The fog was a lot thicker then than it is now. Me and me mates in the factory used to say the city ‘was a jot greyish’. We worked at Mapei in the Cafiero headquarters. We enjoyed working the night shift. Saturdays were best ‘cause no one worked on Sundays. We had fun and went as often as we could to the Derby for a few more laughs. No, no, not the football match that’s still played regularly twice a year. I’m talking about the cabaret of that name.

The Derby was a famous nightspot. A host of comics and entertainers started out there. One laugh after another, it was. After the set on the way home at night, we’d talk about a lot of things. Even about travelling beneath Milan’s streets. By the underground, the metrò.

That was my turf. I knew all about it. I told them that the idea was already in the air by the early 1900s when only horsedrawn hackneys plied the city’s streets. The first real projects got to the drawing boards in 1920s, I said, explaining that the initial construction sites started in 1957. That was the work on the Red Line, the central Underground line of Milan. I kept saying to my friends “They’re still digging now and don’t need me yet. But you’ll see, when the time comes to the screed admixtures... to the coatings for the ceiling and walls, that’s when they’ll call on me.” I took my leave one night, saying something they’ve never forgotten: “I’m going home by metrò. I don’t need a lift!”

And what a site it was down there. What a job! What fun we had! I knew all the punch lines the comics used in their acts at the Derby by heart. I repeated the jokes every day. Everybody laughed. A festive, curious crowd gathered to take the inaugural ride the day the Red Line opened on 1st November 1964. Some still remember seeing a small group in sidesplitting laughter, their ears glued to the walls of the subway passage leading up the Cordusio metrò station stairs. It was my fault. Just couldn’t resist it. I was telling them a joke.

* From the first Red Line in 1960s to the Yellow in the ‘90s and the Purple today, Mapei has always supplied the products the contractors who have built Milan’s Underground could count on. Indeed, Mapei has been a site-partner for the construction of underground systems throughout the world, devising specific approaches and supplying special admixtures needed for tunneling.

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