Expo 2015: I Visit The World’s Fair in Milan. There is No Cake.
There are a few things that you should know about the World’s Fair.
First off, it still exists. I, too, was surprised.
Secondly, if you are searching for culturally insensitive carnival rides with loose associations to areas of geographic importance (e.g., The Amazon Deforestation Log Flume! The precariously constructed Amalfi Roller Coaster! The House of Greek Economic Horrors!), you will be disappointed. There aren’t any.
Nor are there funnel cakes in the shape of various continents. (If someone had made them in the shape of Antarctica, which is easy, because Antarctica is funnel-cake shaped, and then sprinkled them with powdered sugar ‘ice caps’, they could have made a killing. Hell, you don’t even need the powdered sugar – just pretend that the cakes are Antarctica after global warming has melted all the ice. People love ecological messages in their fried desserts.)
This is enough for me to tell you that it might not be worth a visit. Rand would disagree. But he likes Raisinets, which makes most of his opinions suspect.
We went to the most recent incarnation – Expo 2015 – when we were in Milan. We’d already seen evidence of the exhibition’s contention throughout the city – scribbled graffiti on buildings that read “NO EXPO.” Prior to the Expo’s opening, protesters filled the streets of Milan. They view the 6-month long event as the embodiment of wastefulness and corruption.
Last year, seven of the event’s organizers were arrested on charges of corruption, accused of having taken bribes in exchange for lucrative Expo contracts.
Even the fair’s vague and grammatically problematic theme – “Feeding the planet, energy for life.” – was compromised. The Expo unveiled sponsorships from McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, large corporations that are literally antithetical to some of the other exhibitors, like Slow Food.
The thing is, I’m American, so I’m pretty cool with all of that. I’m from the country that produced Waterworld, and Donald Trump, and sandwiches that are made of other sandwiches. I find capitalism and excess to be entirely acceptable as long as it’s entertaining and delicious.
But that was my problem with Expo 2015. A lot of it was really boring – it felt like a hybrid of EPCOT Center and a bad timeshare pitch. Some of the exhibitions were sprawling, elaborate affairs, and others were barely larger than a mall kiosk (the offerings – an assortment of touristy tchotchkes and overpriced food- worked pretty well in such a layout, but I didn’t think it was worth the $50 admission price to the event).
I obviously couldn’t visit all 130 of the exhibits, but here’s a random sampling:
I love Korea. I mean, I’ve only ever been to the airport in Seoul, but everyone was super friendly and Nicci and I ate a cake shaped like Hello Kitty’s head. Sadly, there was no cake in the Korea pavilion, because the theme of the entire exhibit was kimchi.
I realize that it sounds like I’m kidding. I’m not.
When you first walk in, there’s this video projection of a child that sort of looks like Gollum. He’s clearly starving, and it’s all rather bleak and depressing.
But there’s a solution to his suffering, and the suffering of all hungry people, everywhere. The solution has been right under our noses all along.
It’s life-giving kimchi.
The Korea exhibit had these giant moving robots that played a video on how pickling foods is the best way to preserve their nutrients. I do not think this is an accurate statement, but an 80s childhood spent watching sci-fi horror films has taught me not to fight with robots.
Across from the giant dancing kimchi-peddling robots was a giant kimchi pot.
A peek inside revealed that clearly kimchi pots are where stars are born.
My husband was absolutely overjoyed by this.
And also by the hall of LED kimchi pots. He really likes kimchi.
He now wants to go to Korea, which is fine by me, because I could go for some more Hello Kitty head cake.
The Brazil exhibit had this really impressive net walkway. It was incredibly hard to navigate if you were wearing sandals or drunk, and almost everyone met at least one of those criteria. I managed to get across it pretty well, and was rather proud of myself.
Inside the exhibit were all these hanging pods. I have no idea what they have to do with Brazil or food, but aren’t they pretty?
I followed the stairs to the bottom floor, and found myself underneath the net that I had walked on before. I could look up at the people crossing above me, which was pretty cool.
Until I realized that I had just been up there. And that I was wearing a skirt.
Belgium’s slogan for Expo 2015 was “Belgium’s conviviality has a sustainable future.” Which is kind of wordy. I think a better choice would have been “Belgium: We Didn’t Really Think This Through.”
Because it was 92 degrees that day in Milan, and even hotter in the days that followed. Their hall didn’t have air conditioning, but it did have a lot of elaborate chocolate sculptures that were slowly melting.
Note: this entry has been improved by the Chinese government.
China’s display was BY FAR THE BEST OF ANY OF THE OTHER COUNTRIES.
China is capable of feeding its vast population because it has far superior farming tactics than the rest of the world. To demonstrate this, they had an entire glowing field of inedible plastic rods.
There was also a very interesting animated film that would delight any well-behaved and respectful child. Plots and character development are tools of the west and should not be included.
It began with a message from China’s President, Xi Jinping.
And it concluded with this:
I didn’t go into Slovenia’s exhibit, but I did see their ads all over the city. They’ve launched a huge campaign to try to encourage people to visit. The only problem is their tagline:
… which I assume was suggested by some asshole American foreign exchange student.
The U.S. hasn’t hosted a world’s fair in decades, which seems sort of antithetical to our culture. We tend to pounce on opportunities to show-off like a snowboarder hepped up on Mountain Dew. But for the last few years, we’ve refused to be part of the Bureau of International Exhibitions (which is the international governing body behind the fairs), in part because of the $25k annual fee. Which, I feel it pertinent to note, is less than what the U.S. government spends annually on cat litter.
The U.S. exhibit had a pretty cool logo, actually.
The slogan was “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet”. The runners-up were “NOBODY MENTION OBESITY” and “McDonald’s Presents Burgertopia (Formerly America).”
It was flashy and kind of impersonal, and I felt right at home.
The exhibit also featured a Walgreens, which was somewhat baffling. I’m guessing it was so that Europeans, who’ve gone all soft and weak with their socialized medicine, could know what it’s like to pay absurd prices for prescription drugs.
There were also a lot of places to sit down, which was nice.
The official slogan was “Grown in Britain & Northern Ireland,” which was clever because it focused on crops instead of actual cuisine. This is a good tactic for a land where kidney is considered a protein.
The structure was built to look like a beehive. Apparently bees, which are so fragile they die when you look at them the wrong way, can thrive in a place where it rains 11 months of the year and summers hover around 60 degrees.
It was actually rather lovely, except for the part where they shot live bees at people from countries that have declared their independence from the U.K.
I’m kidding! They didn’t do it to everyone. Just the Irish.
This exhibit was awesome. It started with a simulation of a thunderstorm in a desert.
From there, you walked into a large hall where there was a sprawling replica of the city.
Past that, there was a bazaar, filled with carpets and fabrics.
There were teas that you could sample and spices that you could smell.
It was by far one of the most impressive showings, from a country slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey.
That was my first and likely visit to a World’s Fair. I think I enjoyed it better than Rand’s grandmother did when she last visited one. I can’t remember which fair she was referring to (it might have been St. Louis), but she described it as “the worst thing I’ve ever experienced as a consenting adult.”
Which could be a great tagline, if anyone wants to use it.